Tips for English Teachers in a New Year

New Year, New You… but in the New Normal… What does this mean?

Levelup English teacher in front of a whiteboard

Needless to say, 2020 was an unprecedented year in new challenges for teachers both on a personal and a professional level. Everyone has been directly affected by Covid-19 one way or another. We, as teachers, may have had the virus, lost someone who we knew well or even more likely, had to support students through the same traumatising events, within our role as pastoral carers. At the same time, our entire systems of pedagogy and the learning environment have been completely upended. We have found ourselves with school closures, teaching half classes when open or teaching online, all with varying degrees of success. As events have rapidly progressed, so our teaching has had to adapt to new rules and regulations. LevelUp English has also been busy adapting both our Englisch Projektwochen and Klassenfahrten to meet demand at short notice! Yet, we still endeavour to keep our students motivated, to keep them learning and to remind them that this new normal will, at some point, be a thing of the past.

LevelUp English has these care tips for you, based on our own experiences of working with students during this time:

1. Create a Shared Language:

Students can find it difficult to express their emotions with the right words, which often enforces the idea they are being misunderstood. Create phrases and words with your class (maybe as a short English starter!) to try and untangle their emotions and behaviour. In English, we often use the phrases, ‘losing the plot’ and ‘having a meltdown’ to describe extreme frustration or stress.

2. Honesty and Empathy are Best Policy:

No one is clear at the moment how 2021 as a year will turn out and so, we believe it is best to be honest with students. Instead of empty promises and false cheer, you can better reassure them by telling them the truth and what facts you know.

Teaching Tip: Shared discussion could take the form of writing 2021 predictions together as a class, an activity that LevelUp teachers had a lot of fun with! Alternatively, try reading news articles of vaccine progress so that you can focus on positive news. Older students in particular will respect you for communicating with them like adults.

3. Active Listening is Key:

More often than not, students need you to do nothing but really listen. After speaking, let the student have time to reflect on what they have said. Bizarrely, sense-making processes within the brain switch off when it is under stressful conditions, especially in trying to put things into perspective. Teachers, as authority figures, can feel reassured by leaping into ‘action-thinking’, empowering us to feel as though we are doing something to help. We can end up making assumptions about what the student feels and then taking inappropriate action. In order to exert a genuine and helpful influence, we are better to guide them in their own sense-making through active listening. Ask more questions, give students proper time to try and explain their worries or concerns and then come back to check on them at different intervals. This is not about lessening practical support, but acknowledging that the current Corona crisis is a hugely complex issue that can not be resolved easily. Allowing someone to speak their mind and get things off their chest is normally a great release for stress and can help them to change their own mindset.

Teaching Tip: As a class activity, students could write a diary in English over the course of the week, helping them to see their own overall attitudes as well as mood on different days. A reflection at the end, would be worthy of a group discussion, so that students can empathise with others’ experiences and align them with their own.

4. Be Aware of Repetitive Behaviour:

We all have different levels of resilience to the same situations and you may find that some students are more able, or have better support to cope than others. Ask yourself the following questions to spot behaviour from those who are overwhelmed:

  • Is the same behaviour happening repeatedly? If so, is it daily or weekly?

  • Are their social functions being affected e.g. relationships with friends, family?

  • Has attitude to their school work changed or are they making less academic progress?

  • Are they able to calm down and reflect on their negative actions?

You may have to have conversations with other teachers, a student’s friends and even parents in order to dig deeper into underlying issues. Take care - as well as speaking to the student, it may take some time before you are able to approach them about what the real cause of their recent behaviour is.

5. Share Good Mental Health Exercises!

It is always good to remind students that teachers are human too! If you have communicated your clear understanding of a student’s current state of mind, they will be more open and trusting to suggestions that you may make. Base these on your own measures for mental health. Modelling our own thought processes in reaction to worries and concerns can show great problem-solving that will help to focus a student’s attempts to do the same.

Teaching Tip: This could be as simple as an English cool-down at the end of class such as:

  • Name three fun things you are looking forward to this weekend

  • Name one person you would like to speak to tonight

  • Name three activities you are looking forward to in 2021.

LevelUp English has been keeping in touch with many students who have reached out to us during this difficult time. So many limitations on travel and real exposure to the outside world has had a particularly negative effect on students' motivations to engage with learning. In response to their wishes, we have had a focus on returning to some exciting learning opportunities such as our week-long, residential courses (Englisch Klassenfahrten) held in stunning locations throughout Germany and our in-school Projektwochen. Book for Spring and Summer terms so that students have a concrete goal to work towards in coming months. Click here for more information or to contact us directly with your enquiry.

By Suzanne Uprichard

Academic Content Manager