When didn't the wheels fall off? #tdsigcarnival

This post has been written as my contribution to the IATEFL TDSIG 2017 Web Carnival- if you happen to be reading this post on or before the morning of the 28th January 2017, click on the link for details of how you can watch the live sessions. If not, click anyway - you might find recordings, links to other blog posts and all the other cool work the TDSIG is invovled in.

Just another day in the classroom...
The difficulty with this particular topic is narrowing the focus down to one moment. There have been several classroom clangers in my career, some that could have been avoided with better planning and more awareness, others that even a seasoned professional would have struggled to have seen coming, prevent, or keep under control.

There was my first lesson with my first ever class, an elementary group of adults in Turkey - it had been going quite well until a student asked "How old are you, teacher?" I honestly answered '21'. There was a queue outside the office of the DoS during the break. I was 25 for the next four years.

There was the time I decided 'Being Around' by The Lemonheads would be a perfect song for an intermediate level group learning the second conditional. It makes me cringe simply to think about the lesson now. Yes, plenty of examples of second conditional but a high degree of unfamiliar vocabulary plus a room full of students not well-versed in 90s indie rock made for a painful 45 minutes.

There was my move into teaching kids and the class when, taking advice to be firm and uncompromising too literally, I spent 20 minutes repeatedly entering the room, glaring at the kids who would not stand quietly before announcing 'again' and, well, doing it again. Routines! I simply didn't have an effective start-of-the-lesson routine in place.

Oh my! There was the morning when a kid, without any warning whatsoever, puked his guts all over the desk. Chaos ensued with cries of "I'm going to be sick!" reverberating from every corner of the class. Unfortunately, one kid was not over-reacting and actually did follow through. Or up. Or both. Ugh! I hastily left the room to get the corridor manager's help and saw a girl arriving late. "Hello teacher!" she said with a smile on her face and a cute wave as she passed me. Before I could turn around and say 'stop!' I heard a wretch and a splash, and sure enough... there she stood in the class doorway, pebbledash on her shoes and her Minnie Mouse backpack still on her shoulders.

Oh, the technology! We've all had the moments when the internet is not working when we want to play a YouTube video the entire lesson plan hinges on, or we turn up to class to see a gaping hole under the desk where the computer should be. How about booking the computer lab for a lesson to test out a digitised text-reconstruction activity you have designed for your MA with deadlines looming, only to find the room locked with no sign of the ICT teacher or janitor, both of whom woud later claim they thought I had requested Thursday not Tuesday?

Moving on to a time when I was becoming more aware of the wider world of CPD, I once spend an entire introductory lesson to an IELTS course referring to the 'IATEFL exam'. I only realised when a students asked me what the difference between the IATEFL and IELTS tests were!

Forgetting about a timetable change while working in Gabon, I once walked into my classroom prepared to do a 'My perfect school' lesson with Year 5 and 6 EAL students only to find the Year 11 IGCSE English B class in there. We still went ahead and did the lesson and they came up with some serious suggestions for improving the facilities and opportunities available to high school students on our campus. I just didn't show them my illustrated model example paragraph containing a bouncy castle and an ice-cream machine on every corridor.

Almost my entire Trinity Dip TESOL face-to-face experience when I suddenly forgot how to manage time efficiently or reach outcomes within a 60-minute lesson. Years of teaching in a non-language school environment where an approach of "We'll come back to this after break/in tomorrow's lesson" had caused me to get lax in the fundamentals of planning a 'tight' lesson and I had to relearn quickly. I just about managed it.

And onto my current job in Bahrain. Teaching beginner teenage learners for the first time. Being told that as we were more then halfway through the academic year, they should be at 'a decent A1 level by now'. Failing to see the column on the register that listed 12 of 15 students as newly enrolled. True beginners, nowhere near ready enough to get into groups and brainstorm questions to ask their new teacher. A three-hour lesson plan had to be quickly scrapped and we spent the afternoon working on common vocabulary, writing letters (the alphabet kind, not the communicative kind) and basic "Nice to meet you" dialogues.

That's just a sample of the things that have gone wrong. However, there are lessons to be learned in all of them. Some moments made me reflect on how I present myself to my learners, others caused me to investigate better classroom management techniques. I also realised (the hard way admittedly) that there is a lot more to consider when selecting authentic materials than the grammar they contain.

Being prepared, not just planned, is another key point to take away from some of these experiences - check and double-check the equipment, the room booking, the timetable, and the information on the register. Make sure your pens have ink on them and your flies are done up (ah... didn't mention that one until now, did I?)

Most importantly, be prepared to adapt - in some of my early 'wheels fell off' moments, I made things worse by pushing on when it was obviously not working but in the more recent moments, I was able to recognise the situation early on and make the lesson more suitable to the students in the room.

Oh, and if a kid throws up in class, just get everybody out!


  1. Ok, major EWW. And LOL @ IATEFL test. Too much... ;) Thanks so much for sharing, Dave. I'll like this to the #tdsigcarnival webpage

    1. Still not tempted to work with pre-teens then Tyson?


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