Assisting The Teacher: In-Class Downtime, Part II

This is part of a series of posts called ESL Assistant Teaching Tips. I’m writing from the point of view of an assistant ESOL instructor in academic English classes at a community college. For background, here’s why I love assistant teaching, and here is what the basics of the set-up look like. I hope that other assistants will find this useful, and that this wonderful classroom model will spread!

Last week, I talked about the reality of assistant teachers’ down-time during some class sessions and suggested some in-the-moment strategies to make the most of that time.

This week is about what to do as soon as possible to prepare for the inevitable lulls.

Look Ahead

Are there any predictable days when your usual role of circulating, conferencing, etc. isn’t going to apply?

Take a look at the course schedule and find out. Keep an eye out for anything that doesn’t look like a “normal” class – quizzes, midterms, library visits, guest speakers, etc.

These are days you should have in mind.

Think of What You Can Do

There are lots of suggestions in last week’s post about what you can do when you’re not needed to be hands-on teaching during class. But it’s not an exhaustive list.

Think broadly: what can you do to help the teacher? The students? Yourself?

Think differently: what creative tasks could you do? What mundane tasks could you do?

Think ahead: what is coming up after these unusual class sessions? What would be useful prep that could be done during your class time?

Just remember to stay within your job description as defined by your school – you don’t want to step on any toes.

Talk To Your Teacher

After you’ve looked ahead and thought of some activities you can complete during in-class down-time, find a moment to speak with your teacher or email him/her.

Ask if you’ll be needed in your usual capacity on those special class days. You can also point out that in previous semesters, occasionally there were times when you weren’t needed in the moment, and that you like to have an alternative plan for how to spend the time.

Ask what you can do for the class during those lulls, planned and unplanned.

Then, communicate your top three or four suggestions. Chances are great that your lead teacher will be delighted to take you up on at least one of your ideas.

Working During Class

When the time arrives to get some things done for your teacher during class, it pays to expect interruptions and distractions.

Maybe you’ll be writing samples for the next unit during an in-class writing exam. Maybe you’ll be grading homework while the class listens to a guest speaker. Maybe you’ll just be reading ahead in the class’s novel while they go over homework. But in any case, you will be in the classroom and thus on-call.

There’s a chance you’ll end up being called over to help a student with the technology to submit their exam, or that you’ll find the guest speaker fascinating, or that students need your help in going over the homework.

If you’ll be writing samples, I recommend outlining first. It helps you get your ideas down quickly, and it gives you a road map to help you get back into your writing groove again efficiently after interruptions.

If you’ll be grading homework, use an answer key. If there isn’t one, make one. Label your piles of “to grade” and “graded” so they don’t get mixed up. This wouldn’t all be necessary if you were alone in a silent room, but in class, it’s different.

If you’ll be reading, pencil a quick summary or reaction note in the margin of every-other paragraph or so. Also have a simple bookmark handy. Yes, this will be slightly slower than just reading straight through. But you’re in class, so you will not be reading straight through anyway. These simple tweaks will help you quickly respond to interruptions and easily return your mind to the book again.

 

Planning ahead for down-time really takes your assistant teaching game to the next level. It’s satisfying, your lead teacher will love you, and the whole class will benefit from your well-considered work.

 

You’re reading Assisting the Teacher: In-Class Down Time, Part II, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Goals, Patience, and Distraction

When I first started working at the learning center, I felt really new.  The teachers and students all had way more experience there than I did and I often responded to questions with, “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out.”

I was really, really looking forward to the day when I stopped being “the NEW coordinator” and became “the coordinator.”

That’s not the kind of goal I can keep in the forefront of my mind.  It’s all about just doing your best across a long string of days, and I wasn’t about to start repeatedly asking myself, “Are we there yet?”  So I moved my focus to other things: volunteer management,  schedules, conferences, teacher observations, new classes, and a hundred other things.

(By the way, research actually shows that one important strategy for maintaining patience is to distract yourself.)

Maybe a month ago I had an opportunity to chat with one of our students.  As we talked and she asked me for advice, I realized that I had automatic credibility because of that long string of good days I had worked.  I wasn’t new anymore.  It was a Pinocchio moment in which I became real.

It felt great to achieve that goal from over a year ago.  While I think I was right to not think about it all the time, I’m not sure I had to completely forget about it.

For those goals where you need to take your eyes off the prize, how do you not completely lose sight of them?  Do you just rely on chance circumstances to remind you?

Analyze Smart

I looked back at last week’s posts on investing time.  I still think the points that I made are valid, which is a good sign I guess.  

Something that framework overlooks is analyzing why the present feels the way it does.  Why do I feel overwhelmed today?  What is weighing on me?  What can I do about it?

For me it came down to a large, long-term database project I had taken on.  I was having a lot of trouble finding time to work on it; even though it was a huge investment in the program’s future, it kept getting trumped by the mini-crisis of the day.  

Time was very seriously running out.  Whenever I flee the office to work off-site I feel like it’s a bit of a cop-out, but I put any of those reservations aside.  The database was too important to worry about that.  I badgered around the office until I found a PC laptop to borrow.  I looked at my calendar, saw some blocks of time with nothing scheduled, and then I scheduled them as busy.  I told my supervisor I would be working on the database off-site at those times.  

Then I did it.  And we now have a database.

Why did it take me so long to do what I knew would work?  Is working at the local Bean Factory actually a cop-out?  What could I have done if I’d had no choice but to work on-site?