From Job to Job: What to Bring, What to Leave

Matthew Turner
Matthew Turner
By Matthew Turner

In April, the beginning of a new academic year in Japan, I will be leaving my current teaching position and moving on to another. I currently work on the program focused on developing learners’ oral fluency skills through topical discussions. Although the teaching context in my next job is similar, and the country and city the same, the transition process will put me into an unfamiliar situation. However, I take comfort in knowing that I have the options and ability to take with me lessons and experiences learnt from my current teaching post and leave behind some less useful things. In this post, I will give a brief summary of a reflective conversation I recently had with some of my fellow peers who are also moving on to pastures green, reflecting on our keepsakes from our current job and items that we wish to leave behind.

Taking Effective Classroom Practices

Unanimously, we all agreed that we would like to take with us elements of effective classroom practice, or at least what we think that to be. Firstly, something that we have all learnt to do in our current teaching positions is keep target language input manageable in each lesson, and make classroom expectations explicit and achievable for all students through a combination of tasks and instructions. Looking back at previous teaching jobs, we thought about the amount of lexical items, language functions and/or grammatical features that we once brought to our learners, as well as our approaches to language use and practice in our classes. We felt that, in moving from one teaching job to another, there are very few reasons why this ethos cannot be continued and maintained, and that we would like to keep favouring quality of learner output over breadth of input.

Taking Elements of Classroom Management 

We also reflected on our institution’s approach to using English as the sole medium of instruction. Although this practice is often contested and debated in the related research literature, my colleagues and I mostly shared the feeling that learning and language development can be successfully achieved through this means. Finally, some of the group reflected on how disciplined they had become in intervening less when communication breakdowns occurred between learners, and instead opted to leave space for negotiation of meaning and understanding between learners themselves before giving any explicit support. We additionally felt that as the years went by in our current teaching position, we all spoke less in class and vastly economised our teacher talking time, which we felt was to the benefit of our learners.

Taking the Ethos of Unity

We will all be leaving a unified program, a program where multiple instructors not only develop and teach the same lesson content to various groups of learners, but work together to ensure a consistent and equitable learning experience. Although this sense of togetherness will be missed and may not be revived in our future teaching roles, we all felt that we would like to continue to strive for unification with our new colleagues, trying to quell any potential disparity in assessing students and reach common agreements on curricula goals.

Leaving Behind Constraints

It was hard for our group to think about what we would like to leave behind as it was a lot easier and much more fun to reflect on what we would like to take forward with us. However, something that was continuously mentioned was the word constraints. Although leaving a unified program will leave us feeling slightly exposed and somewhat directionless, we also agreed that we will also feel less constrained in some respects and be able to operate more autonomously as teachers. In working within a unified curriculum, it is not always possible to teach exactly the way one wants to, deviate a great deal, or make wholesale adaptations. We are therefore looking forward to being potentially re-acquainted with teaching approaches that we have all come unaccustomed to over time, things like working with vocabulary, project work, reading and writing skills. We are prepared to set a variety of homework activities, something we never thought we would find ourselves saying. We are happy to be leaving behind the rigid pacing of our lessons and relative inflexibility of the curriculum. We will no longer feel pressured to complete elements of our lessons within a given timeframe, and instead will look to build in more flexibility with timing where possible and necessary.

Leaving Behind Past Identities and Roles

Finally, we all reflected on our changing roles and identities as educators entering new positions. Some of us are happy to not feel an expectation or burden to conduct research and write articles, while others are looking forward to the greater scope and freedom to such activities. Some of us are happy with shifts in focus, such as moving from being a language teacher to a content-integrated language teacher.

I hope I could show with this post that moving from one job to another gives teachers a chance to reflect on both positive and negative aspects of a teaching position and consider what experiences can be left behind and what can be packed up and taken with. If you and others around you find yourself in a similar position, why not take the time time to come together and talk through this transitional process collectively? Your shared experiences from one job can create a more comfortable bridge into a new stage in your teaching career.

Teaching a deaf learner: A new experience


Matthew Turner
Matthew Turner
By Matthew Turner

On paper I’m a fairly experienced teacher, having taught for almost 10 years at the time of writing this. Over that time, I’ve also undertaken various forms of professional development and worked in numerous classroom settings. In many respects, I can no longer be thought of as a newbie. However, back in April of this year, I was very much placed in the position of a newbie for the first time in a while, when I was given the challenge of integrating a deaf class member into a compulsory oral English communication course. In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had a learner with any kind of hearing impairment, nor by extension have I really experienced teaching a student with a recognised or self-identified disability. In in-service courses, such as my MA program, my DipTESOL, and even my pre-service CertTESOL, there was never a module, workshop, or focus on teaching English as a foreign or second language to learners with disabilities. This is an issue that has already been raised by my peers. Robert Lowe (2016a) in his article for the Modern English Teacher magazine commented that provisions for SEN – (Special educational needs), are scarcely discussed issues on the above mentioned programs. Lowe suggests that teachers that enter the “ELT profession by following the most common training routes (not including those teachers trained in the state sector) are unlikely to have received any substantial guidance in how to teach students with SEN” (p.73).

I want to use this blog post to describe what I learnt from the experiences teaching a deaf student, with my hope that this piece will help to raise awareness of this undervalued area of our profession, and give you the reader some practical considerations for the classroom. Throughout the time I taught my hearing impaired learner, who for anonymity purposes I shall call ‘Kikuno,’ I kept a diary. After each class I would reflect on an aspect of the lesson that went well, that didn’t work at all, or anything else of relevance. I will refer to my diary as I write this blog.

The teacher as newbie

My class was an English discussion class, a class that required the ability to actively listen and respond to other people’s ideas and express opinions. Kikuno couldn’t speak, nor could she hear the discussions she was involved in. My plans that worked in other classes simply wouldn’t fit this group of learners, and so I had to adjust to the situation before me. The challenge, however, was to allow for integration and not make too much of the obvious differences. There were three areas in particular where adaptations were made. Firstly, I had to script my teacher talk. Before the lesson, I wrote down all of my planned teacher talk on separate sheets of paper that reflected the stages of the lesson. This allowed for Kikuno to follow my speech with the guidance of her note-takers (two student volunteers, one working as her voice, the other as her ears). This largely worked, however I complicated things by improvising, or going off-script. This got better over time as I disciplined myself to stop doing this, ultimately better scripting my instructions so that realtime modifications weren’t necessary. Secondly, the timing and the pacing of activities needed to be reconsidered. With a deaf learner as a member of a discussion group, everything takes a little bit longer. For example, the opinions spoken by the other learners needed to be written down and shown to Kikuno and Kikuno’s own ideas had to be conveyed via the note-takers. I learnt that short pair-work activities, mingling tasks, and other staples of my teaching simply wouldn’t work. Generally, I had to spread everything out, and give everyone more time and space to produce what was required. Finally, I made things a lot more tactile and visual. Phrases for expressing opinions, reasons, and examples were placed on the table for all the learners to use with Kikuno. I also insisted on hand gestures so that Kikuno would know who and when was taking their speaking turn in the discussion.


The learner as newbie

For my learners, it was largely the first time that they’d interacted with a deaf person, let alone shared a classroom with one. For Kikuno, it was the first time that she’d been in a learning environment that wasn’t tailored for hearing impairment. Throughout the process, the other class members quickly learnt the boundaries, particularly the speed at which they should speak and their conduct in discussion tasks. The learners got better at observing the note-takers’ and Kikuno’s styluses, and paying attention to the disparity in speed between spoken and written English. Kikuno also learnt her role in discussions, taking in all the other members’ points of view first before skillfully delivering her own. I also encouraged her not to prepare her ideas whilst she was simultaneously taking in everyone else’s opinions. She gradually learnt that other members would help her to develop ideas collectively, by asking follow-up questions. Over time everyone became more comfortable with the inevitable silences, which led to richer and more meaningful discussions. The other learners came to better understand the value of teamwork in discussions, often holding back the urge to ask questions themselves, in order to give Kikuno the chance to ask one of her own.


A new experience for the institution 

This was also a completely new situation for my institution. Throughout the process, I learnt the importance of collaboration with different groups of people. Meetings were routinely held to discuss the best ways to move forward, ideas were exchanged, some of which made it to the class while others were seen as unviable. Concerns and appraisals were also expressed, everyone continuously learning from one another. Above all, everyone learnt the importance of listening to Kikuno herself, for she is the one who could tell us the most about effective procedures. Everyone took note of Kikuno’s insistence and desires to be a fully integrated member of compulsory English program and were happy to run with the uncertainty that such a situation brings. This collaborative process involving Kikuno, various support staff, and myself appears to reflect and is in keeping with Lowe’s (2016b) SEN framework for continuing professional development. Lowe suggests four steps: 1. Student consultation, 2. Internal coaching and mentoring, 3. Outside support and training, and 4. Cascade training and recycling knowledge. It’s at the fourth stage that I find myself now.

Not such a newbie now? 

At the time of writing, Kikuno continues to study English, albeit with a different instructor who is likely experiencing the same things that I went through. I now find myself offering my thoughts as advice to her new instructor, which has left me with a great thirst to know more about similar stories and related research in the wider teaching world. Unfortunately, literature dedicated to the teaching of deaf learners in ELT is decidedly lacking, and as I hope my post has shown, the process has very much been trial and error. However, I’m pleased to say that I’ve found some wonderful resources along the way. Fellow iTDi contributor Naomi Epstein’s thought-provoking blog Visualising Ideas is dedicated almost entirely to her experiences in working with deaf and hard of hearing students. I have also found a handful of works that focus specifically on deafness in language learning education, namely Strong (1988) and Swisher (1989), while a more recent title by Judit Kormos and Anne Margaret Smith (2012) provides formative reading around the subject of specific learning differences.  So I’m still a newbie, and I’m happy with that. I feel lucky to have been given such a challenge at this stage in my teaching career and will endeavour to make it a part of my continuing professional development through practice and research. I hope the field will also take it on as more of a serious issue.


Kormos, J. & Smith, A.M. (2012). Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Lowe, R. (2016a). Special educational needs coordinators in ELT: A necessary step? The Modern English Teacher, 25(2), 73-75.

Lowe, R. (2016b). Special educational needs in English language teaching: Towards a framework for continuing professional development. ELTED, 19, 23-31.

Strong, M. (1988). Language Learning and Deafness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swisher M.V. (1989). The language learning situation of deaf students. TESOL Quarterly, 23(2) 239–258.

Playing a Fearsome Teacher to Fearful Learners

matthew turner profileby Matthew Turner

In a conversation with a teaching colleague after class at the start of the term, we talked about how fearful our learners appeared to be feeling towards us and how perfectly normal the feeling is after all. While we both agreed that we wanted to make our learners feel comfortable around us, their new classmates, and within their new environment, I recalled the fear that I’d previously felt being a learner. Fear isn’t always such a bad thing, perhaps a little bit of fear might be a useful classroom tool. With this blog post, I want to unpack what I mean, what my experiences have been, and think about how a learner’s fear of the teacher might be something worth harnessing.

As teachers we often aspire to be like educators we’ve met or been students of. For me it’s my history teacher Mr. Cunningham back when I was about fourteen years old. He entered our classroom on his first day at our school and immediately told us all to get out. He sent us out to the playground confused, books and bags in hand. He then invited us back into the classroom one by one, choosing appropriate seats for us. Mr. Cunningham told us to sit where we were told and be silent at the start of each class; he’d made us fear him. As each class progressed, Mr. Cunningham’s persona followed a common path: he’d begin authoritatively, then get us laughing and make sure we left the class having learnt something, and then return to being scary all over again the following day. The element of fear was palpable and ever present amongst us. We were forever aware of what would happen if we stepped out of line, so everyone was so eager not to do the wrong thing. I remember one time Mr. Cunningham stopped an amusing anecdote mid-sentence to deal with two older students smoking outside behind our classroom. After handing down a scolding, he returned to our class and concluded his story, without a hint at what had just occurred.

It wasn’t just down to a sense of fear that I feel inspired as a teacher and felt determined as a learner. Mr. Cunningham was a very engaging and thought-provoking individual. However, fear for me at least was a motivation to work hard in his class because I knew what could happen if I didn’t conduct myself correctly. As an English teacher working in Japan, I think again about this fear that I felt at the start of term all those years ago, and I want to replicate it in some way with my learners. I am by no means the kind of a teacher who has a short fuse or expects learners to do everything as told, I’m open to a bit of mischief in the right places. But it’s an act I feel I must play at the start of term at least in order to get groups of learners on my side. There is no way of knowing if Mr. Cunningham consciously knew what he was doing or thought the same things, but I’ve indeed taken away a lot from his way of doing things.

Using, maintaining, or adding an element of fear to the classroom is not something that has hard or fast rules, I feel that it’s more of a tone that has to be recognized and conceived. In the first classes of term, everyone and everything is new. The learners don’t know you, and you don’t know them; it’s the complete fear of the unknown. As a teacher, an early aim should be to set expectations for the learners and establish the right path forward. From teaching similar courses in the past, you know the journey you’re about to lead them on and you know their potential. However, some teachers may want to expedite the process and reduce tension in the class by trying to be friendly from the get-go. This could have a negative effect. I feel that the air of uneasiness and fear could be left to sit for a little longer, making this a great chance to set clear expectations. If the learners are too relaxed with you and each other, rules could also become relaxed. Here’s an example.

I work on an oral fluency-focused English program, a program where learners are assessed on their ability to use different communication skills effectively with one another in discussions tasks. One of these communication skills is to negotiate meaning in English, with L1 use being discouraged and often penalized. Although I’m not entirely convinced with an English-only policy, this is a rule that I feel needs to be established early on. In the initial lessons of the course, if learners overtly and knowingly flout this rule, I feel it’s my duty to address this immediately, and not always in a measured manner. If learners are clearly called out on this straight away, they could be more likely to remember the incident in the future, monitor themselves and others, and work harder not to do it again. Of course, it’s always our duty as teachers to help them to understand why something is a problem and how to remedy it. Like Mr. Cunningham with the smokers, I reveal my ‘dark side’, a glimpse behind the curtain, and then continue onwards. Hopefully, the learners recognize where the lines are drawn and when lines have been crossed.

In class I’m hard to please and try to demand more. On the inside I’m constantly amazed and in awe of what my learners achieve, but I tend to use praise and outward satisfaction sparingly. This is my teacher self, a persona that plays with fear for the good of the class and learning. As teachers, perhaps we could understand the fear that our learners are feeling, and rather than try to reduce it, we could get into character and be a little fearsome ourselves.