Transitioning TESOLers From Student to Teacher

I can’t lie.  They make me teary every time—end-of-term programs, graduations, new teacher induction ceremonies, even the last day of class will sometimes render me misty-eyed with pride. The past 2 weeks in the United States has marked the end of our university autumn semester, marking the entrance of hundreds of new educators into public and private schools, and other institutions worldwide.

On the path from teacher training to classroom career (see Farrell, 2003, for scholarly research on this topic), one aspect that I’ve personally found challenging is how to encourage novice teachers to start acting less like students and start thinking more like teachers. One main issue stems from the way future teachers deal with their own academic performance.For example, many of them will ask permission to miss class (or worse, they will miss class without notification), miss assignments, or turn in assignments late.  They might  be tweeting or Facebooking or Snapchatting when they should be paying attention in class.  They might ignore assignment or lesson plan guidelines or rubrics.  What’s worse is the subsequent discussion about why they have the grade they’ve earned, and/or what extra work they can do to possibly make up any points they’ve lost.

These academic maturity issues seem to indicate that the identity shift from student to teacher hasn’t really set in, but how to help that come about?  Most of the suggested ideas center around cognitive modeling (Eggen & Kauchak, 2011) or apprenticeship—the act of making your own thinking explicit to your students, or exhibiting certain behaviors that you hope students will imitate.  This is a big skill for language teachers to use with English learners, so the more you can model your thinking as a language teacher educator, hopefully the more your future teachers will use the same strategy with their ELLs.  I brainstormed some ideas via Facebook with TESOL teacher education professors who work in Sweden, Armenia, and the United States, and below are some of their excellent suggestions:

  • Empathy Exercises: Ask the student who is asking you for a favor what s/he would do if s/he were in your position, and then defend their answer. Sometimes giving them the autonomy to practice or make an evaluative decision might help them be aware of all the factors involved (courtesy of @lindahl_tesol)
  • Self-Evaluation: Instead of grading all assignments, papers, and exams, allow future teachers to evaluate their peers’ or their own performance.  This can help heighten their awareness of what makes a quality product, as well as help them experience the thought processes that a teacher undergoes when grading.  Co-constructing rubrics with your students and then having them use those to self- or peer-evaluate can also increase their understanding of the criteria of an assignment, as well as give them some guidelines for their feedback.
  •  Fishbowl: Provide scenarios for groups or pairs to choose a scenario and act out while others watch and take notes (hence the name “Fish Bowl”), then switch places. Students then discuss their experiences as actors and observers (courtesy of @rai_farrelly).
  • Modeling: Demonstrate your own teacher thinking by pausing during class to make comments such as “Now I’m going to put on my teacher hat for a second and explain to you why I did ____.” After a bit of this modeling, start asking your students to do it instead: “Thinking from the perspective of a teacher, why did I do ____?” (courtesy of @naomiwatkins)


Eggen, P. D., & Kauchak, D. P. (2011). Strategies and models for teachers: Teaching content and thinking skills. Pearson Higher Ed.

Farrell, T. S. (2003). Learning to teach English language during the first year: Personal influences and challenges. Teaching and Teacher Education19(1), 95-111.

About Kristen Lindahl

Kristen Lindahl
Kristen Lindahl holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialization in L2 teacher education from the University of Utah. She is currently assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches pre-service ESL/TESOL educators at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Dr. Lindahl has taught K–12 and college ESL, and actively pursues consulting and coaching teachers of English learners in public and English language schools around the globe.
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2 Responses to Transitioning TESOLers From Student to Teacher

  1. Nahida El Assi says:

    An interesting topic. Thanks for sharing the content!!

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