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Dr-David-Banner

TEFL (some thoughts)

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Dr-David-Banner

I used to work in this school although it was several years ago. Things will have changed a lot. Back in the late nineties, the economic crisis was still pretty bad over there. The school was doing fine, though.
I did TEFL teaching for some years. Amazingly there were aspects of it where I had some success All in all, though, I had no idea whatsoever about my neurological differences and I'd never realised back then I learn very differently to other people. By that, I mean, 99 per cent of people evolved to take in information through groups, teachers, social means of education. Teaching is essential for them. Without a "teacher" or a "course", the average person cannot thrive. What has hardly been realised is it is possible to study successfully without teachers or courses. That applies to languages. True, in my own case, my dominant language strength is more theoretical but I still managed to use audio recordings to then be able to understand speech.
I think the problem I had with TEFL was that to teach others, you need to be able to relate to their need for verbal communication. Also the various systems of "entertainment" where you were supposed to make up activities to keep the class interested. This is just not the way I taught myself. Also I hate to do things systematically. If you think about it, children learn to speak but they never learned around a system of fragmented activities. No child does verbs one day, pronouns the next week, sentences the next month and so on.
Still had I known then what I know now, I would have realised certain limitations in my ability to relate to group teaching.
By the way, they did not like my teaching at all. It was all down to personal connection which I lacked.

Edited by Dr-David-Banner

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Sanctuary

An interesting post David. There is a lot of emphasis these days in teaching on technology, techniques and resources and while all can be useful the most important element is personality - or at least how personality comes across in a classroom situation. Personality and social and communication skills are though the hardest things to change. It's certainly not the case that very good teachers have to be "fun-loving extroverts" - indeed that type of personality can sometimes irritate students and allow a desire for popularity or making learning "fun" to distract themselves from the key aim of successful learning. Successful teachers have this ability to motivate students, gain their confidence, keep them focused and are able to "tune-in" to what the students - who may have very different abilities and backgrounds - need for the best learning. All these are difficult skills. Neurotypical teachers can also struggle but it's much harder for someone with autism to succeed as teaching and learning (especially in a classroom situation) are so dependent on social and communication skills. This doesn't mean that people with autism can't be good teachers but it will be harder for them. As you mention it may make a difference if the autistic teacher knows of their condition and can make due allowances. It may also be helpful if managers and maybe colleagues know so they can offer better support; it may even be helpful if students know as well. I don't know how common it is for autistic teachers to be "out" in the ways I've just described and of course some may feel being open will not help their situation but it would be interesting to know how well teachers (or other employees) fare when their condition is known.

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Nesf
17 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

I learn very differently to other people

How do you learn exactly?

17 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

y that, I mean, 99 per cent of people evolved to take in information through groups, teachers, social means of education. Teaching is essential for them. Without a "teacher" or a "course", the average person cannot thrive.

My experience is that students need a combination of tuition and home study to learn most efficiently. Most students choose to learn with a teacher or on a course because the social aspect gives them an incentive to learn, but also becasue they need structure to keep them motivated, but that certainly doesn't mean that they can't learn on their own. Personally, I do both, I can learn through tuition and on my own. I don't need a teacher, but a teacher can help by giving feedback which I might not get if learning on my own. For me, learning a language is an academic exercise rather than a social tool. I am academically, rather than socially motivated, whereas most people are socially motivated.

 

17 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

Also the various systems of "entertainment" where you were supposed to make up activities to keep the class interested.

These are supposed to recreate the natural way childrem learn a language by exposing them to the various media that they would encounter in real life. I don't have a problem with using these and employ a wide range in my lessons, including word games, videos and interactive online video games. I find them very useful, because they divert attention away from me as the main source of stimulation and attention, and onto the activity. Kids ask for them, look forward to them and it helps to keep them motivated.

17 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

Also I hate to do things systematically.

Here, I am different: I thrive on being systematic. I love systems of grammar, verb conjugations, learning vocabulary. I need structure, not chaos, I want to order things. I love looking at an unknown language ans trying to pick out the grammatical structures and work out the grammar rules, finding patterns in the chaos, like detective work :)

17 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

No child does verbs one day, pronouns the next week, sentences the next month and so on.

Modern textbooks are getting a lot better. Now, the approach is to allow children to 'discover' grammar for themselves, rather than have a teacher stand at the front of the class and dictate rules to them. More of an emphasis on practice, rather than theory. Also, one must bear in mind that the way in which a person learns changes as they develop. Young children have a narrow window of opportunity to learn a language naturally up til the age of about 7, after which the brain changes and the window is lot, they then need a more structured and systematic approach to learning, the kind of approach now employed in most textbooks.

17 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

Still had I known then what I know now, I would have realised certain limitations in my ability to relate to group teaching.
By the way, they did not like my teaching at all. It was all down to personal connection which I lacked.

Same here. This is why I now no longer teach groups in schools, only one to one, but I also lack that connection. I need to sell my work, my results, rather than my personality. I can help students improve their grades or pass their exams, and this is what I sell. I tend to rely on my materials and method being stimulating and providing motivation, rather than my personality. This is how I compensate.

 

1 hour ago, Sanctuary said:

Personality and social and communication skills are though the hardest things to change.

Yes - it's not possible to change them if you are autistic, and one needs to compensate, as I explained above. I'll never be a 'fun-loving extrovert' but I get results.

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Dr-David-Banner
14 hours ago, Nesf said:

How do you learn exactly?

My experience is that students need a combination of tuition and home study to learn most efficiently. Most students choose to learn with a teacher or on a course because the social aspect gives them an incentive to learn, but also becasue they need structure to keep them motivated, but that certainly doesn't mean that they can't learn on their own. Personally, I do both, I can learn through tuition and on my own. I don't need a teacher, but a teacher can help by giving feedback which I might not get if learning on my own. For me, learning a language is an academic exercise rather than a social tool. I am academically, rather than socially motivated, whereas most people are socially motivated.

 

These are supposed to recreate the natural way childrem learn a language by exposing them to the various media that they would encounter in real life. I don't have a problem with using these and employ a wide range in my lessons, including word games, videos and interactive online video games. I find them very useful, because they divert attention away from me as the main source of stimulation and attention, and onto the activity. Kids ask for them, look forward to them and it helps to keep them motivated.

Here, I am different: I thrive on being systematic. I love systems of grammar, verb conjugations, learning vocabulary. I need structure, not chaos, I want to order things. I love looking at an unknown language ans trying to pick out the grammatical structures and work out the grammar rules, finding patterns in the chaos, like detective work :)

Modern textbooks are getting a lot better. Now, the approach is to allow children to 'discover' grammar for themselves, rather than have a teacher stand at the front of the class and dictate rules to them. More of an emphasis on practice, rather than theory. Also, one must bear in mind that the way in which a person learns changes as they develop. Young children have a narrow window of opportunity to learn a language naturally up til the age of about 7, after which the brain changes and the window is lot, they then need a more structured and systematic approach to learning, the kind of approach now employed in most textbooks.

Same here. This is why I now no longer teach groups in schools, only one to one, but I also lack that connection. I need to sell my work, my results, rather than my personality. I can help students improve their grades or pass their exams, and this is what I sell. I tend to rely on my materials and method being stimulating and providing motivation, rather than my personality. This is how I compensate.

 

Yes - it's not possible to change them if you are autistic, and one needs to compensate, as I explained above. I'll never be a 'fun-loving extrovert' but I get results.

There is something odd about my information processing. Only recently I found I wasn't entirely alone in it. Anyway, not only do I struggle to finish activities but I don't study anything in order. I even study backwards. Right now I've been reading material randomly, often backwards or from the middle. I study language this way too. The lesson develops itself as it takes place. The results come later and not in any consecutive order. So, in cases where personal communication has been a hindrance, your brain can adapt and come up with alternative information processing. In my case too highly visual. This was a problem when I started to teach as my employers liked systems and organization with planned lessons. Not the way I learned. In fact the first year at uni was a disaster! I failed all my exams. I was being pushed to use methods that had never worked in the past with classes and lectures. So, I failed and had to redo year one. Years later I dumped these class methods and learned to follow my neurological pattern. This is mostly theoretical and less applied. Experience teaching was better with single classes as some just wanted to talk and be corrected. Large company classes saw me kicked out rapidly. I was employed by Sanyo to teach staff and complaints were made pretty quickly. Of course, that upset me as I'd no idea why I was being brushed off. Now it seems I have all the answers. Autisics have been accused of being somehow fakes with strong memory and pointless information gathering without genuine understanding. Yet you can approach any subject theoretically. There may be more aspects to language than being fluent. Personally with Spanish I loved to pair Castellano terms with South American equivalents. Such as "manejar" meaning to drive instead of "conducir". Or I'd group all the variants of a noun such as picamaderos or pajaro carpintero (if I recall correctly). The merit of being autistic is in different perspective. It's just a new angle to explore something.

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Nesf
6 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

Anyway, not only do I struggle to finish activities but I don't study anything in order. I even study backwards. Right now I've been reading material randomly, often backwards or from the middle. I study language this way too. The lesson develops itself as it takes place. The results come later and not in any consecutive order

I think I understand - you gather information randomly like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and then fit them together to make a whole. Nothing wrong with that. People should have the freedom to learn by whatever method they find most effective and which suits them.

6 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

Large company classes saw me kicked out rapidly. I was employed by Sanyo to teach staff and complaints were made pretty quickly. Of course, that upset me as I'd no idea why I was being brushed off. Now it seems I have all the answers.

I had similar problems - I found the whole lesson planning thing very difficult, didn't really connect to the students, found it hard to stick to the plan, classroom management problems, was considered slow to react, a boring personality, dry and not fun and engaging enough. This is why I need to choose materials that are interesting and engaging, rather than rely on my personality.

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Sanctuary
2 hours ago, Nesf said:

I had similar problems - I found the whole lesson planning thing very difficult, didn't really connect to the students, found it hard to stick to the plan, classroom management problems, was considered slow to react, a boring personality, dry and not fun and engaging enough. This is why I need to choose materials that are interesting and engaging, rather than rely on my personality.

You could have been talking about me! I suspect most teachers with autism have had similar experiences or received similar complaints. For most of my career I didn't know I had autism (indeed I didn't even know what it was); when I came to the realisation I had it I didn't have a diagnosis so I couldn't ask for or expect any special consideration. I'd be interested to know whether teachers whose autism is diagnosed and declared are given extra support (they should be) and whether it helps them to be more successful. 

Teaching is one of the ultimate multi-tasking activities and therefore is challenging for someone with autism who is less adept at juggling different demands. Teaching one-to-one has its challenges but there's no doubt that teaching becomes more difficult as the number of students increases, especially if the students are of very different abilities and motivations. It's not just the business of addressing different ability levels but it also means more students to monitor in terms of behaviour and the potential for students to lose focus and maybe misbehave increases with the number of students as it often results from them "firing-off each other" and seeking an audience for their actions. The amount of marking and reports also increases with the number of students. In many societies such as the UK teaching is also now more challenging due to a tough, target-driven culture plus numerous government and school initiatives. Students generally expect lessons to be much more dynamic and engaging than in past decades so that puts further pressure on teachers and even neurotypical staff can find it overwhelming.

I think it is possible for autistic teachers to succeed but they often have to put in a huge amount of work and mental effort that can lead to considerable stress and sometimes burn-out. Your choice of one-to-one tuition is a good one as it reduces the demands of catering to numerous students in a group. If larger groups are taught working with narrower ranges of ability, maybe in a special school, might be another strategy. University teaching which is more focused on expertise and lecturing is another option but can be difficult to obtain and insecure. If an autistic teacher is working in a school i feel they need a reduced workload, smaller classes, fewer different courses to deliver and less severe targets. Unfortunately all these things may be difficult to provide given the demands schools face but if autistic teachers are to be given the best opportunity these are some of the adjustments they need.  

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Dr-David-Banner

Generally speaking, TEFL Is a good idea for anyone on the forum who likes languages and travel. If you are hindered by Asperger issues, teaching itself can be difficult. From experience I can state company classes at a high and serious level demand specific personality skills. On the other hand individual classes or possibly regular groups are easier. Back then had I been diagnosed and more aware I could have juggled my system. Most EFL teachers make poor money but get to fund travels to other countries. The best place I taught was Spain in.the 90s. I actually made friends too although my undiagnosed issues did significantly strain friendships over the longer term and lose me students. Japan used to be the dream place to teach English as the pay was brilliant. If I was doing it again I guess I would try Uruguay or Argentina or Peru. 

 

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Nesf
19 hours ago, Sanctuary said:

Teaching is one of the ultimate multi-tasking activities and therefore is challenging for someone with autism who is less adept at juggling different demands. Teaching one-to-one has its challenges but there's no doubt that teaching becomes more difficult as the number of students increases, especially if the students are of very different abilities and motivations.

Yes, precisely, and teaching in groups was always more than I could handle for various reasons. I don't multi-task well, never could juggle more than one thing at once, I just don't process fast enough, and simply don't know how to handle issues due to a lack of intuitive people skills. After an observed lesson, I was told that I wasn't picking up on and responding to things going on in the lesson - students talking and starting to act up, things like that. Classroom management was always an issue, and kids tend to pick up on and exploit to the full a teacher's weaknesses. Issues need to be spotted and addressed straight away, before they have a chance to escalate and get out of control, but I was not able to do this. Also, I just don't have that comnnection with them, my bosses noticed this too and made comments on it.

19 hours ago, Sanctuary said:

I'd be interested to know whether teachers whose autism is diagnosed and declared are given extra support (they should be) and whether it helps them to be more successful.

I think that targeted training would help with things like classroom management. Unfortunately, when I came to TEFL and did a training course, they taught you how to teach, but not other useful skills like classroom management. I have seen some YouTube videos on the subject, but the proposed still solutions require good intuitive people skills, which is something that I just don't have. I think that teaching generally is a very difficult career for people on the spectrum to be successful in, due to this need for good social skills. I can see them coping with being university lecturers, but not school teachers. I only teach one-to-one now, but find it hard going and I really am stretching myself to the very limit or my capabilities. Every year I go through a cycle of burn-out and recovery - luckily schools get a long summer holiday.

Another issue I had was with getting on with my bosses and other members of staff. I never could get my head round staffroom politics- I just don't do these games -  I didn't fit in and the other members of staff didn't like me. I found myself saying or doing the wrong thing, not doing things I was supposed to (but didn't realise it), doing my own thing which was not in line with the general, often unspoken ethos of the school, getting upset over various issues with other members of staff and not picking up on the undercurrent of things going on behind the scenes.

7 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

Generally speaking, TEFL Is a good idea for anyone on the forum who likes languages and travel.

Unfortunately if you have a language degree, there's little else you can do in terms of a career, apart from translation, from which it is really hard to make a decent living from. I deeply regret not studying sciences at A level and university. I would have made a much better engineer or researcher. Now I'm stuck with TEFL. I need to earn money to survive and there is nothing else I can do, I have no other qualifications or skills.

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Sanctuary
14 minutes ago, Nesf said:

Yes, precisely, and teaching in groups was always more than I could handle for various reasons. I don't multi-task well, never could juggle more than one thing at once, I just don't process fast enough, and simply don't know how to handle issues due to a lack of intuitive people skills. After an observed lesson, I was told that I wasn't picking up on and responding to things going on in the lesson - students talking and starting to act up, things like that. Classroom management was always an issue, and kids tend to pick up on and exploit to the full a teacher's weaknesses. Issues need to be spotted and addressed straight away, before they have a chance to escalate and get out of control, but I was not able to do this. Also, I just don't have that comnnection with them, my bosses noticed this too and made comments on it.

I think that targeted training would help with things like classroom management. Unfortunately, when I came to TEFL and did a training course, they taught you how to teach, but not other useful skills like classroom management. I have seen some YouTube videos on the subject, but the proposed still solutions require good intuitive people skills, which is something that I just don't have. I think that teaching generally is a very difficult career for people on the spectrum to be successful in, due to this need for good social skills. I can see them coping with being university lecturers, but not school teachers. I only teach one-to-one now, but find it hard going and I really am stretching myself to the very limit or my capabilities. Every year I go through a cycle of burn-out and recovery - luckily schools get a long summer holiday.

Another issue I had was with getting on with my bosses and other members of staff. I never could get my head round staffroom politics- I just don't do these games -  I didn't fit in and the other members of staff didn't like me. I found myself saying or doing the wrong thing, not doing things I was supposed to (but didn't realise it), doing my own thing which was not in line with the general, often unspoken ethos of the school, getting upset over various issues with other members of staff and not picking up on the undercurrent of things going on behind the scenes.

You're right that "people skills" and making a connection with students are ultimately fundamental to teaching success and they are very difficult to improve. Almost all other aspects of teaching are amenable to training and support but social and communication skills are much tougher. Nuances of tone of voice, facial expression and body language can all create extra problems for autistic teachers and it's easy to slip-up often without realising. There may seem to a mismatch between the autistic teacher's words (which may be well-judged) and their non-verbal communication, e.g. words of praise may be delivered (not intentionally) in a flat, monotone manner which suggests they are half-hearted or even insincere. As you mention there is a lot going on in classrooms and autistic teachers may be more likely to miss things, perhaps concentrating too much on one element or task. Neurotypical staff seemed to have an effortless sense of what was going on without the very conscious monitoring I had to do. Confidence is also a huge factor in teaching and problems in classroom management or lack of rapport with students can result in unconfident classroom demeanour which is seized on by some of them - the resultant problems leading to a further loss of confidence and so on.

All these are generalisations. Autistic teachers may do very well with some students and classes and their unusual personality and sometimes unconventional approach to teaching can be well-regarded. However on the whole they find life more difficult and their appeal is more akin to that of a cult film or TV programme rather than a mass-market success. I'm not sure if any autistic teachers are "out" about their autism with their students or classes - it could (if properly explained and supported) lead to better treatment but it's also possible it could make them even more of a target.

As regards relationships with other staff I generally got on well with them and I feel my unusual personality was appreciated by most, although not to the point where I developed close relationships and I was certainly never part of any "cliques" or "networks" unlike some staff. However it did sometimes take me quite a while to become established. I'm not the sort of person who can go into a workplace and quickly develop relationships with other staff. I tend to be quiet and reticent but that can be misread as being "distant" and "not fitting in". Given time I become more integrated but unfortunately judgements can be made long before that point. Perhaps staff whose autism is known are judged more supportively in this regard but it's also possible they don't get the job in the first place or get it but are viewed as "vulnerable", "likely to crack-up", etc.

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Nesf
4 hours ago, Sanctuary said:

Perhaps staff whose autism is known are judged more supportively in this regard but it's also possible they don't get the job in the first place or get it but are viewed as "vulnerable", "likely to crack-up", etc.

Yes, this is the problem - since teaching is about verbal and social communication, an autistic candidate is not going to be seen as an ideal candidate for a teaching job. Or if they come out as being autistic, they are probably going to be scrutinised and viewed with suspicion. Whether they are supported or not will depend on the insitution, but the schools where I worked are unlikely to employ an autistic teacher, or any teacher with any kind of disability, expecially the more commercial or competitive schools.

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