Don’t become an obsolete Arabic teacher

Successful teachers invest in their personal growth. Sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.

Whether you received pre-service training or not, mastering the art of teaching takes more than a few semesters in the classroom. First of all, it requires an unconditional love for your profession. But love that isn’t nurtured… fades away. So how do we keep our inner teacher ignited?

Ideally, you’d want to work in a place where administrators encourage and support their faculty to develop themselves on a regular basis. If this isn’t the case, though, you’ll have to be proactive in finding learning opportunities that keep you informed and up-to-date in regards to what’s happening in language education and in TAFL.

As a teacher of Arabic, you can refine your teaching skills and keep in touch with pedagogical innovation in many different ways. It requires some investment but, on the long run, it pays off. Here are 6 things you can start doing today:

Check out new TAFL publications

I mentioned this in my previous post. Familiarizing yourself with the latest publications and resources is an opportunity to revise your curriculum and incorporate new materials into your syllabi. This enriches your courses and it helps you escape the routine of teaching the same textbook over and over.

Sometimes, access to certain publications requires financial investment (depending on where you live/work). In these cases, I recommend that you first reach out to your library or supervisor to help you purchase or subscribe to those resources that are relevant to your courses. For example, the specialized journal Al-cArabiyya: The Journal of the American Association of Teachers of Arabic is a good place for reviews on published textbooks and materials related to TAFL, but access to it isn’t cheap.

Remember that TAFL publications aren’t always in print format. We have some free websites dedicated to the teaching of Arabic. My favorites are Mumkin, Khallina and Aswaat Arabiyya, all of which include audiovisuals and ready-made activities.

Read second language research

This is, by far, one of the best strategies to keep engaged with the profession. There are hundreds of journal articles, books and blogs that are incredibly inspiring. Even if you don’t do research yourself, reading about second language education helps you revisit your values and discover if you are applying them on a regular basis.

If you are not research oriented, there are still very powerful publications for language teachers than can help you improve your practice. My favorite series, for this purpose, is probably the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Browse it, and you’ll find amazing titles that will make your Arabic classroom a more interesting place.

Attend workshops & conferences

There are plenty of conferences in second language education, and many include pre-conference workshops. In the US, ACTFL and NCLTCL are well known among Arabic teachers. In Europe and the Arab World, there are also some conferences and symposiums dedicated to TAFL, and the best place to learn about them is Arabic-L (see next section).

While attending a conference requires some financial investment, it might be worth traveling to these events, to learn new pedagogies related to the Arabic classroom, and also to network and make meaningful connections. This is, for example, how I got my first job in the US: MESA was being held in Montreal (2007) and I decided to travel right before finishing my MA. I ended up having 3 unplanned job interviews and working at UT.

Subscribe to TAFL newsletters

The most well known mailing list in our field is Arabic-L. If you aren’t subscribed yet, now is the time! You can’t afford otherwise. (To access their archives click here, and use the search box to look for specific topics.)

Teachers of Arabic can benefit from this mailing list in multiple forms: You get to know about international TAFL conferences and workshops, new publications, job openings, questions of concern to instructors and linguists, and you can even use it to announce that you are on the job market 🙂

Interact on Social Media

Interacting with your colleagues on social media is very effective for sharing materials, activities, and to ask for advice and receive quick tips and tricks. My two favorite places are a Facebook group called جيل جديد من أساتذة العربية and Twitter.

On Twitter, I recommend following Rasha Soliman and أمريكية صعيدية. There are many other amazing people out there, but today these are my top choices 🙂

Ask for feedback

Whether it’s feedback related to our teaching techniques or other aspects of our job, receiving feedback on performance is crucial for our growth and professional maturity. Here are two things you can do:

  • Invite a colleague to visit your class, at least once a semester. If you do that, think of a particular aspect of your teaching that you’d like to improve and request specific feedback. It’s important that you had established a relationship of trust with this colleague, so that you receive honest feedback. Otherwise, s/he will give you generic feedback that won’t be very helpful.

  • Video-record yourself in class, and then analyze your performance and students’ reactions: the way you stand in class, how you speak to your students, or use the whiteboard, or explain grammar, your facial expressions, or your students’. While no one likes to see him/herself on camera, it’s super important that you watch yourself in action, from time to time. It can reassure you that you’re on the right track, and/or you’ll notice things you’ll probably want to change. Remember: learning is an ongoing project and there’s always room for improvement.

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Connecting with your profession on a regular basis is replenishing and nourishing at many levels, because you create for yourself learning opportunities through which you can grow and keep a healthy attitude towards your job and students. Otherwise, you risk becoming an obsolete teacher that doesn’t add value to the workplace.

What about you? How are you taking control of your professional development? Share with us!

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