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On Being a Language Teacher

On Being a Language Teacher: A Personal and Practical Guide to Success

Norma López-Burton
Denise Minor
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    On Being a Language Teacher
    Book Description:

    On Being a Language Teacherprovides an innovative, personal approach to second-language teaching. Through illustrative personal anecdotes, this text guides new and aspiring language teachers through key pedagogical strategies while encouraging productive reflection by classroom veterans. An ancillary website provides online videos to complement the text by showing an experienced teacher applying the book's lessons.

    In a market dominated by dense theoretical approaches to language pedagogy, this text provides an instantly accessible, practical set of teaching tools for educators at all levels. Its accessible style and affordability give it the flexibility to serve as either a primary or a supplemental text for teaching assistants, students in credential programs, or undergraduates in applied linguistics courses.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18958-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. To the Reader
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Impressions Left by Teachers
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    Being a painfully shy child, I found my time at school to be an ordeal. I never understood what compelled adults to repeatedly ask, “Do you like school?” What kind of a question was that?! What kind of kid likes to sit quietly in a chair all day fearing the moment she gets picked on by the all-powerful teacher? And as if that were not enough torture, being sent home with homework was a reminder of the stress of the day. It never ended, not even on weekends. The only refuge was summer. “Do you like school?” That was the...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)

    • 1 The First Day of Class and Lesson Planning
      (pp. 3-20)

      I was admitted to the master’s degree program at the University of California, Davis, in January 1981. Most graduate students start in September. At UCD most graduate students have no teaching experience at all. Back in the day, the only requirements to be in charge of a language class were that one be a graduate student and be fairly fluent in the language one was about to teach. New graduate students got a three-day orientation before they met their class for the first time, and they also had to attend a methodology class that met four hours a week for...

    • 2 Introducing Grammar and Vocabulary
      (pp. 21-38)

      You have successfully survived the first day of class and have learned about the importance of lesson planning. Next in the instructional sequence is to start providing language input and to optimally present the grammar and vocabulary. In Part II we will tell you why this has been shown to be the best way to teach a second language, and we will describe the theories that support it, but for now, take my word for it.

      One of the teacher’s most important roles is to provide language input. What students hear and understand from the teacher, they will most likely...

    • 3 Communicative Tasks
      (pp. 39-76)

      In a student-centered classroom, communicative tasks are the main event. Communication is the reason why the students have memorized vocabulary and studied the grammar. As teachers, we have to distinguish between the knowledge of the rules and the capacity to use those rules in an efficient and appropriate way. Imagine yourself learning how to use a sewing machine, learning about the different fabrics, threads, and colors, but never being given the opportunity to sew a garment or make a quilt. Tasks are the hands-on creative stage of learning a language. We have to sit down in front of that sewing...

    • 4 Teaching Culture
      (pp. 77-94)

      Teaching culture has always been part of the language curriculum one way or another. Teachers know they should include culture, but often don’t know when or how to go about it. Back in my TA days, teaching culture meant setting aside one or two days out of the term to show some slides, bring exotic foods to class, or listen to music and ask the students to sing along. I used to pick the day before a holiday or a three-day weekend because half the class was not there and the remaining half was not mentally there either, so nothing...


    • 5 History of Second Language Acquisition
      (pp. 97-114)

      The world began with Noam Chomsky. Not the physical world, of course, but rather the world of modern linguistics, the world from which this book and thousands of others are direct descendants in the theoretical sense. Before Chomsky, most people thought languages were learned the way a human learns history or biology. Furthermore, most teachers went about teaching those languages, particularly second languages, using techniques like grammar, translation, and repetition—methods that had been developed hundreds of years ago in an attempt to keep Latin and Classical Greek alive among the elite. (Picture British schoolboys standing in front of classmates...

    • 6 Standards of Foreign Language Teaching: The Five C’s
      (pp. 115-123)

      During the 1980s there were major shifts in attitudes about education, and a movement began to introduce national standards for all subjects. As part of that movement, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities funded the enormous task of examining the state of K–16 language instruction in this country to see how it aligned with the latest research in second language acquisition (SLA) and pedagogy. This endeavor was a collaborative project, and instrumental to its work was the participation of the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

      The National Standards Collaborative Board found...

    • 7 Factors Impacting Second Language Acquisition
      (pp. 124-138)

      In your beginning language class there are two students who sit near each other. Both come to class regularly and do all of their homework. Both seem to be paying attention and interacting with others. From chatting with them after class, you know that neither has had much contact with the language you teach before taking this class. At the end of the semester, the first student gets an A on the final exam and can carry on a simple conversation. The second student gets a C on the test and during the oral exam stares blankly at you as...


    • 8 Types of Teachers; Dos and Don’ts
      (pp. 141-177)

      Part of my job at the University of California, Davis, is to train and mentor new teachers. To that effect, I teach a methodology class and also visit each teacher once a quarter (three visits for new teachers), followed by a meeting to give feedback.

      Although I have seen some amazing individuals who seem to have been born teachers, most of us mortals learn on the job, modifying what we do based on the supervisor’s comments, reading sometimes unpleasantly accurate student evaluations, or learning from unsuccessful or embarrassing moments in the classroom that are quickly followed by “Note to self...

    • 9 The Captain of the Ship: Classroom Management
      (pp. 178-201)

      If you stop to think about it, having one person step in front of thirty other people and take charge of their activities, behavior, and learning for an hour is a remarkable feat. But teachers do it every day, sometimes five times a day, and some of them do that with adolescents, no less. To top it off, we language teachers do this remarkable feat in a language that for all or most of our students is one that they are in the process of learning.

      How is this possible? For one thing, by the time they reach junior high...

    • 10 Heritage Language Learners
      (pp. 202-221)

      If you work in a region where the language you teach is spoken by a significant portion of the population, it is very likely that you will have students that are often referred to as “heritage speakers.” The language has surrounded them since birth as the medium of adult conversations, the banter of cousins, and the words flowing from the radio and television. For many, their only means of communication during the first years of life was this heritage language.

      Yet during childhood or adolescence, most of them went through a process in which English took over as the dominant...

    • 11 Including Students with Disabilities and Learning Differences in a Language Classroom
      (pp. 222-235)

      For those going into teaching in this millennium, the question is not whether you will have a student with disabilities in your classes. The questions are: How many students with special needs will you have? What kinds of disabilities will they have? How can you best incorporate them into your classroom? How can you best help them reach their learning potential?

      According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 5 percent of children between five and seventeen years of age have significant disabilities, and another 8 percent have learning disabilities ( Many of these students will go on to college or...

    • 12 The Use of Technology
      (pp. 236-256)

      Technology does not make a great teacher. From the lowly piece of chalk and the venerable printed word, all the way through to the most spectacular, digitally enhanced, online collaborative learning space you can imagine, technology is simply a tool. It can make you look cool; it can make you look the fool. Ultimately, what you do with it is what makes all the difference.

      Used properly, technology can be a wonderful tool for language teaching. We’ve got PowerPoint, document cameras, music CDs, DVDs—digital media of all kinds. And now, of course, we have the Internet—we can find...

    • 13 Assessment
      (pp. 257-294)

      I can’t say I ever liked taking tests in school. Not because I didn’t know the material—I was a bookworm after all—but because I was afraid the test would not adequately measure what I studied. Sometimes the test would be too long, and in a hurry to finish, I’d make silly and costly mistakes, fall for the unfair trick question, or be surprised by some question I didn’t know was going to be included. Argh! If any of those things happened, I knew I would be unfairly classified as a B, C, or D student, which brought unpleasant...


    • 14 Hitting the Job Market: Getting a Job at a University
      (pp. 297-315)

      The last job interview I had was over twenty years ago. Much has changed since then, so my advice in this chapter comes from graduate students who have been successful at getting the jobs they wanted. I especially want to thank Kelly Bilinski and the other graduate students who have candidly told their experiences to their fellow students in panels and talks. I thank all these students for graciously submitting to my interrogations so I can better prepare each new crop of job seekers.

      I also speak from the point of view of someone who has had numerous interactions with...

    • 15 Hitting the Job Market: Getting a Job at a High School
      (pp. 316-337)

      The moment has arrived for you to marshal your efforts and begin the very important step of launching your job search. Allow me to begin by offering three pieces of advice: start working on your curriculum vitae (CV)tonight, begin breaking in a new pair of leather shoes for your interviews, and start thinking about the possibility of taking a job farther away from home than you previously considered viable. These three recommendations are simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stepping into the secondary education market, but they are also symbolic of three processes that you...

    • 16 Surviving the Political Jungle
      (pp. 338-354)

      Congratulations! You landed the position! You are ready to take on this exciting job and show the world what you are made of. But beyond the responsibilities of planning classes, studying the textbook, developing syllabi, starting committee work, and getting to know your students, there is one essential element you should keep in mind as you move into your professional future: politics.

      High schools and junior highs do not have the reputation of being difficult places politically (at least not for the adults!), as long as the principal is supportive. Universities, on the other hand, have very bad reputations. The...

  10. Appendix A: Chapter 3 Sample Task Activities
    (pp. 355-363)
  11. Appendix B: Chapter 12 Sample Lab Exercises
    (pp. 364-370)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 371-376)
  13. Index
    (pp. 377-384)
  14. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 385-385)