Special interest column - Developing teachers by Sandy Millin

Do you remember your first year of teaching after you qualified? How did you feel? For me, there was a lot to get my head around: a new country, a new language, new books, a new lifestyle and a whole new way of looking at my language. I’ve heard it said many times that if you can survive your first year of teaching, it gets a lot easier! So what can we do to help new teachers? And what can they do to help themselves?


One of the most important things all teachers can do is reflect on their lessons. What worked? What didn’t? How would you do it differently next time? With all the pressures of lesson planning, paperwork and actual teaching, it can be hard to find time to stand back and think about your lessons, especially for new teachers. Often we only really do this when we are being observed, but it should be an ongoing process.


Perhaps the simplest reflective structure is one based on six questions:

Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?

These words can then be expanded into complete questions appropriate for each individual lesson, as well as being built on for future lessons. The teacher can choose whether to think about all six questions for a lesson, or to focus on just one. For example ‘Who?’ could become:

  • Who did all the talking? Did the students get enough STT? Did one student dominate?
  • Who had trouble with following the instructions? Why do you think this happened? Do you need to make your instructions clearer?
  • Who benefitted most from the lesson? Was this the person you expected? Why do you think they benefitted more than other students?
  • Who needs more time to work on what we covered? How can you incorporate this revision into future lessons?

‘Where?’ could be:

  • Where were the students during each stage of the lesson? Did they move enough/too much?
  • Where did the class take place? Could it have happened somewhere else? Would a change in environment be beneficial?

When? Where? Who with?

Here are a few suggestions to help make reflection a part of the everyday practice of newly-qualified teachers:

  • After each lesson/day, encourage teachers to spend one or two minutes of ‘quiet’ time just thinking about the day.
  • At the end of their first week, and at regular intervals thereafter, encourage the new teachers to meet a more experienced teacher for an informal chat about their week. What were their best moments? What do they feel they need help with? This could be formalized within a mentor system, but simply chatting helps too.
  • If there is more than one new teacher at the school, ask them to share their experiences with each other (with or without a more experienced teacher present). This can really help to combat the feeling of isolation that can be a problem when you start teaching, as well as reassuring them that they are not the only one in this situation.
  • Some teachers may want to keep a reflective journal (see link below) to record their progress as a teacher. The journal could be in notebook form, recorded as audio/video files to listen to/watch later, or even in blog form. By using my blog to reflect on my lessons, I have been forced to think about my opinions of various aspects of ELT, as well as receiving advice from many teachers around the world on how to improve my teaching.

The most important thing to emphasize to new teachers is that time spent reflecting and sharing experiences is not time wasted. Instead, it can make teaching a less stressful and more enjoyable process.

Further Reading

Dale Coulter (IH Rome) has written an in-depth guide to reflective practice for newly-qualified teachers, including advice about journal writing, action research and getting subjective feedback.
http://bit.ly/DaleCoulterReflectiveTeaching (case sensitive)