Dealing with Difficulties
There is no shortage of literature on the difficulties teachers can face: for example a recent issue in TESL EJ described the problematic situation of high school teaching in Spain and the US (Garcia Laborda, 2006), and a great article described the importance and professional development in China (Hu, 2005). Both papers show that there is little question about the changing roles of teachers and students in many parts of the world- especially in Europe, Latin America and the States. Many teachers even feel alienated and discredited.
Chapter 1, Large classes and classroom management, intends to show how to work with smaller groups so it can be inferred that larger classes could be subdivided to address their problems individually. They also stress the importance of timing and pacing, the optimization of space, and integration of the four teaching skills. They consider, however, that there are little things like knowing the students’ names, using eye-contact and other that are easy to do and facilitate “feeling in control” of large classes (p. 9) and avoid the feeling of being lost. Additionally, they provide ideas for managing: class starters, handling latecomers (worth reading, p. 19), classroom dynamics, drilling, speaking and finishers (p 16-37).
Chapter 2, Discipline problems, is probably the most attractive chapter (do not miss the “creative” list of problems that a teacher can find in the classroom). The authors try to approach classroom chaos positively. Thus, as in the first chapter, the idea is to gain the ability to isolate the problems and be positive about most of the work, rather than feeling pressure due to the fact that teachers have to deal with the same problematic kids between two and four times a week (which makes at least 70 times a year- very stressful!!). The writers “suggest a range of tips and activities for beginning to tackle the most intractable of all classroom problems” (p. 7). The authors divide discipline problems into: overt (shouting, chewing gum, fights etc.) and covert (arriving late, not paying attention, sighing noisily etc.) (p. 39). This chapter focuses in diffusing discipline into the class, establishing rules and regulations, raising awareness, building good behaviour (p. 51-54), tasks to facilitate discipline and the effect of surprise in class control (p. 42-56).
Chapter 3, Mixed-level classes, sets an interesting but realistic axiom: all classes have students with different competence levels (p. 57). Therefore, all the classes in the world are mixed-ability classes. In that sense, teachers should try to benefit from the constructive aspects of this reality through exercises in which the best help the weakest, a humanistic approach common in previous Prodromou publications (1999). A second possibility is to assign different activities to students with different levels of proficiency (maybe through additional exercises or requesting more from the higher students). Another possibility that is usually provided by most textbooks is additional exercises for early finishers or better students). Prodromou and Clanfield also state that it is important to pay especial attention to different cognitive styles. This is quite natural since in some instances an unbalanced teaching style can produce barriers to language learning. They also summarize their point of view in a list of important aspects to keep in mind when working in this multilevel context (p. 59).
Chapter 4, Homework. According to the authors, this is a forgotten resource both in and out the class. For Prodromou and Clanfield, students need to not only get engaged with homework but also value it as a source of learning. Additionally, it is stated that homework should correlate with the class and the writers give interesting tips on homework correction (p. 104-105) with a special emphasis on humanizing it and taking care of the students’ positive perceptions about their work and esteem as learners.
Chapter 5, Teaching exam classes, is most likely the least innovative and necessary chapter since some good books have been published lately (even with the same title, see review by Garcia Laborda, 2007) but they also suggest that this can be boring for the teacher who may be like an “examiner” or devote most of his time to drilling for the test and forget about the beauties of being a teacher. Besides, students need to trust their teacher and not to be challenged in excess or even turned down. Readers will probably not want to miss some advice on how to eliminate anxiety in this type of student (“error or terror”, p. 113), and provide the best input and feedback.
Chapter 6, Professional development, deals with ways to increase the teachers’ self-esteem and self image through personal reading, professional writing and personal development. Additionally, they state that team teaching or, at least, teaching cooperatively can also help both the experienced and inexperienced teachers through activities like: constructive teacher meetings, attending or organizing workshops, teachers groups, teaching observations, exchanging classes and getting parents and the school involved. The book finishes with a good and complete reading list for personal development.
Overall, the book is clear, easy to follow and reader friendly. Although the section on exam classes is not really necessary since other publications have covered this point well, this publication intends to cover an area that is common to all the teachers everywhere in the world, and thus, absolutely essential. Therefore, this publication will be of interest for experienced and inexperienced teachers, those who teach in private or public institutions alike, in many different countries and with different cultural groups and it is, in summary, useful for most of us. In conclusion, it is a valuable tool for all those who need or want to share better experiences with their students on a daily basis.
Jesus Garcia Laborda, PhD. has taught English, including Business English, in Spain, Croatia and Bosnia. He has also taught Spanish and (currently) English for Tourism Studies at the Polytechnic University at Gandía, Valencia (Spain). His research interests include low-stakes language testing, English for Academic Purposes, and language teaching methodology. He has published book reviews in many leading education journals, such as TESOL Quarterly, ELT Journal, JALT Journal, TESL EJ, Eurocall Review and TEFL.net.