Hello to everyone on the forum!
Just a question that’s been bugging me today. I was observed earlier, and my feedback was all good, apart from that relating to ‘atmosphere’.
I teach adults in Shanghai, often in very small classes of 1 to 4 students, in addition to a few larger classes. I have two and a half years experience now, but most of my previous experience was teaching children.
Anyway… I was observed teaching just one other student today, and afterwards the observer said I came across as a little cold and too much like ‘an Oxford professor’. This is the third time I’ve had feedback criticising the atmosphere in these small classes. Another time a teacher said I needed to treat students more as customers and not students, but I find it quite hard to get my head around that one.
I tried really hard to engage with the student, laugh, smile, make eye contact, and ask interested questions about their life, but they still seemed quite nervous throughout the whole lesson, something I’ve noticed about a few of my students.
I really would welcome some ideas about where I might be going wrong, and what I can do to improve the atmosphere in the class. I wonder whether this might be a hangover from teaching kids, a cultural issue (I’m the only British teacher in the school) or an age issue (I’m 24 and most of my students are older). Or something else?
Any help would be most appreciated!
I think you need to ask the observer for very specific feedback. Ask them precisely what you said that was wrong and what you should have said instead. Ask them exactly what it was that you did that was wrong and then ask what you should have done.
Having witnessed many observations from both sides of the table and then as a teacher trainer observing the observers I’ve seen people make general impressions based on little more than a rather vague general impression they have of the teacher.
Your observer needs to be highly specific and point out actions and language you used which (they believe) is inappropriate; they need to give you the precise changes they need to see and hear.
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I think you need to ask the observer for very specific feedback.
I absolutely agree. The fact that you are having to ask this question in the forum means that the feedback you received from your observer was neither helpful nor specific.
Vague comments from the observer about atmosphere and coming across like an Oxford professor don’t help you at all – you need specific examples of what you said and what you did at specific points in the lesson that you can easily identify. The whole point of highlighting such areas for improvement in an observation is to then discuss together what you could have done differently and how – to come up, together with the observer, with an action plan to put in place to improve those areas. From what you say it doesn’t sound like you’re getting this discussion or action plan.
I would do exactly what ICAL suggests – ask for clarity and specific suggestions about what to do differently and how.
Hope that helps.
Thanks for the help guys!
The observation was a peer observation this time, and when I asked for more information the other teacher seemed puzzled about why I was so worried!
She said I should try and create a more relaxed atmosphere, but when I asked for tips she told me things I thought I was already doing, such as those things mentioned the post above. She said sometimes my body language indicated that I wasn’t interested, such as fiddling with a pen or puting my hands on my head and leaning back. Also my praise somtimes sounded a bit flat. I don’t feel any of these observations really get to the issue though!
I think my real question is how I can get students to feel more relaxed in my lessons and give positive feedback that doesn’t sound phony.
I think my real question is how I can get students to feel more relaxed in my lessons
Part of it is about finding out what makes your students tick. Remember that no two students are the same – as well as having different reasons for learning English, they also have different expectations, different fears, different previous language learning experiences, different hangups, different ways of responding to praise and constructive criticism, different ideas about how a teacher should act according to cultural norms, and so on.
So, as the teacher you need to be prepared to adapt to all these things. Putting your hands on your head and leaning back will be absolutely fine with one student, but perhaps inappropriate with the next. An "Oxford professor" approach (as your observer described it) will work very well with some students but not with others.
Adjusting your approach in response to these different factors comes by being aware of how what you are doing is going down with the students. Try to always have one eye/ear on this (and the other on the content and plan of your lesson).
and give positive feedback that doesn’t sound phony.
The same goes for this really – as I mentioned above, different students respond to praise differently. A student lacking in self-confidence, for example, will likely gain encouragement from plenty of praise. In general though, don’t over-praise – a firm and confident "Good" with a smile and then move on.
Hope that helps?
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