Diary submitted by Darija T., Valencia, 2020
How to foster a sense of community in school and classroom?
Working in a school, either public or private, inevitably means cooperating with colleagues of same or different field of interest. It also implies facing and handling group of students on a daily level. In order to do their job well, a teacher must invest time and effort into creating a good relationship with both teachers’ staff and students they teach. In the text below, I will reflect on my attempt to establish those relations while undertaking my TEFL internship in Spain.
Arriving into unfamiliar working environment, especially if it’s in a foreign country, can be rather intimidating. This was the case for me upon my arrival in Valencia in the beginning of my internship. Everything was new – city, people, language. School in which I came welcomed me and immediately introduced me to their teaching context so I started teaching in no time. I became a part of an amazing teaching team which provided me with so many valuable lessons, related not only to professional, but personal growth too. Very soon I came to understand that the great atmosphere in the school was due to teachers’ joyful spirit. Not only they were cheerful, but also helpful and understanding, a true team indeed. After observing their mutual relations, I started to adopt and then apply them. Those simple acts, which are often taken for granted, are in one way or another enhancing a sense of community within a school. The first one which I would like to highlight is entering the school or a classroom with a smiley face. A smile is simply contagious and when seen, is very likely to be returned. Another important, yet simple act which promotes sense of community is asking questions to your colleagues and paying attention to their answers. Simple questions such as How was your weekend or How did you spend your holidays show enthusiasm and interest. Last, but not least are the praises or compliments colleagues give to each others. They are related mostly to their professional work, such as I really liked how you managed that pronunciation class, but can also be more personal, such as I like your new sweater or a haircut. Compliments like these, when received, make people feel better and contribute to a positive atmosphere in a common working place.
It is important to enhance this sense of community within the classroom as well. Having a good relationship with the students has a positive impact on the way lessons are held and the overall atmosphere during the classes. So how can EFL teachers promote sense of community? First of all, by remembering the names of their students. I would say that this is the crucial first step teachers must take when entering the classroom. After noticing effort teachers made with remembering their names, students will be more likely to engage in communication with them. Furthermore, my short, but valuable teaching experience taught me that students appreciate teacher’s individual approach to them. That means memorizing the part of language they struggle most with and helping them overcome that issue. For example, I have a student who struggles with using negation in sentences. After seeing her struggling with it, I made an effort and explained how negative sentences are formed and in which way they differ from Spanish examples. I also corrected negations in her written work and wrote a note about it. Now every time she does a good job using negation sentences, I praise the progress she had made. Another thing I find worthy is showing interest in students’ life outside the classroom. Teacher should act professionally and with a distance, but asking question every now and then about things that are going on in students’ lives can make a difference. For example, I have a lot of students who besides taking English classes do separate studies related to their future career. They had an exam period after holidays and complained about how much they have to learn. On following classes I would ask them more questions about it, for instance How did it go, Which exam is the most demanding one, etc. Simple questions like these show that teacher is there not only to teach their subject, but also to create a more meaningful relationship with their students and make them feel more comfortable in the classroom.
It is important for a young teacher with little or no experience to create an environment pleasant for teaching. In that environment, a teacher should have a good relationship both with students and their colleagues. With some effort and acts (like the ones described above), an enjoyable, and suitable for work, atmosphere will be created.