Getting ready for a new academic semester is a stressful time for many teachers of Arabic, especially if they are new to the profession. There aren’t many training courses and most of the times programs don’t implement any type of instructional coaching.
If you are teaching Arabic, know that being well organized will have a huge impact on the success of your course. Being prepared can help reduce your anxiety at the beginning and throughout the semester and it contributes to having positive interactions with your students.
Here are a few things you can do before the first day of class:
If your language program has a compulsory textbook, obtain a copy ahead of time and familiarize yourself with it. Once the semester starts, many teachers’ frustrations arise from the fact that they didn’t take the time to understand the pedagogical rationale behind the textbook or because they didn’t examine the type of texts and activities included.
While it’s true that we don’t have as many textbooks and materials as in some European languages, there’s a decent amount of published materials that work well in the classroom. If you are new to teaching Arabic to adolescents and adults, I recommend that you start by exploring the titles published by Georgetown University Press, Routledge, and Yale Press. You will find several textbook series, grammar manuals, dictionaries, literary readers, and other materials that can supplement beautifully and effectively your main textbook. Knowing what’s available and where to find it, will save you a lot of time once the semester is rolling.
Don’t wait until last minute to draft your Syllabus, or you’ll end up doing edits until 2AM the night before class. Having the Syllabus finalized a few days before you send it to your students is crucial, because this document contains essential information on attendance policies and grading that you shouldn’t change once the semester starts. Otherwise, you risk losing the respect of your students and you open the door for resentment and conflict. If you work with other colleagues on teaching the same course (which is common in many institutions), it’s even more important that you discuss and agree on the Syllabus ahead of time.
This allows them to read it in detail before coming to class and it gives them the opportunity to think of and prepare questions related to your course. If you share the Syllabus on the first day of class, students won’t have the time to reflect on it’s content, and you could be even depriving them from the opportunity to enroll in a different course than yours. Put yourself in the student’s shoes: Wouldn’t you like to know as much as possible about a course before attending a class? I would.
Tell your students that you are excited for a new Arabic semester and that you are looking forward to meeting and knowing each one of them. By introducing yourself and showing excitement before you meet students, you set the tone for the first day of class and, hopefully, the remaining of the course if you keep the same attitude. I recommend that you send this email a day or two before you meet your students. When you do this, ask them to read the Syllabus and any other materials you deem necessary for your Arabic course. But please: Do not assign any homework.
If you’re new to teaching Arabic, I recommend that you start by planning your classes weekly or bi-weekly, until you feel comfortable with the materials and the pace of class. Knowing what’s going to be covered every day and the homework assigned, will help you figure out how much homework you’ll need to grade and what materials must be prepared for each class. As you’ll soon discover, developing time management skills is a survival strategy, especially if you teach several courses or you have a lot of students. With time, you’ll be able to prepare your daily schedule for the whole semester and share this road-map with your students from the very beginning.
Whatever course management system is used by your institution, try to set up your grade book and upload all course materials (syllabus, daily schedule, rubrics, external links and materials, etc.) for maximum transparency and efficiency.
If you have everything ready 24 hours before you start the semester, your first week of class will go smoothly. You’ll be able to focus on class preparation and you’ll enjoy working with your students. Moreover, you’ll come across as a professional teacher in the eyes of your students.
What else do you recommend teachers do before starting their semester?