You’re a teacher now! You left the classroom through the back door, and came back in through the front door. You left at the head of your class, and returned as the leader. The students file in, eager to learn from your vast knowledge. You launch into the class intro that you’ve been preparing for months. Minutes before the bell rings, you look around the room. Half the students are asleep, and those that aren’t haven’t grasped a word you’ve said. Teacher Talk Time has struck again.
Don’t worry, every teacher has been there. Teacher Talk Time (TTT) can be very inspirational and educational for the students. TTT is essential to explain a concept, and maybe to drop in a personal story every so often. But just as sugar is an important part to lemonade, too much will ruin the mix. Language is not a one-way street, and language instruction cannot be either. There are several ways to limit TTT, including lesson plan details, conversational exercises, and activities in class.
I am Teacher, here me roar:
Too much Teacher Talk Time
It is true that you know what you’re talking about. It’s also probably true that you are passionate about this subject, or at least passably so. The problem isn’t that the teacher is talking, the problem is when the teacher is talking too much. University lectures are historically boring because it’s only one way. You had to suffer through a number of those lectures, don’t make your students suffer the same way.
Another problem with too much teacher talk time is that it’s not always effectual. Students have many different learning styles. No matter how many times you revisit a subject, someone in the class won’t understand it. Minimizing TTT maximizes student involvement. This allows even the ones who don’t understand to pick up a little information. In my experience, the main time I have too much TTT is when I haven’t prepared a solid lesson plan.
Teacher Talk Time: It’s not in the plan!
Lesson plans are the backbone of any effective classroom, and can be a pain in the ass to put together. Especially for new teachers, lesson plans can be a hassle. Anticipating what will work in a class, and what won’t. Like Prussian General Moltke said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”. That doesn’t mean the students are the enemy, but anyone who doesn’t feel like they’re going to war… hasn’t taught. So, if the plan won’t survive the day, wouldn’t it be better to make one up as we go? That is a bad plan. If you go into class without a plan, you will be overwhelmed by the drama of the school, the personal problems that students have, and the three kids in the back who are here to see if they can bring you to tears.
Your plan is your anchor. The plan lets you know you succeeded even if it doesn’t look like you did. It is your guide, and your job is to make it as complete as possible. Think of it like a treasure map, with steps along the way. Each step should lead you to the goal for that class. It’s not enough to say “Turn right eventually” on a map. You shouldn’t be vague on your plans either. Detail is key. Any plan to reduce TTT begins with making sure you know the plan before you go in. A key part of that plan needs to be conversational exercises.
TTT: It’s not a one-way street.
Conversation is one of key parts of any language classes. For many students, the problem isn’t a lack of understanding. The problem is a lack of confidence. Confidence needs to begin at the earliest stages of learning a new language. This prevents problems later. Most interaction on a daily basis is spoken conversation. Building a student’s conversational confidence is key. Asking questions in class, beyond yes or no, helps students use what they’ve learned in real time. This build’s their confidence, but also reduces your TTT. Other students, not speaking at the moment, will be able to listen and take notes.
Conversational exercises between students are also very effective. The key is to get them speaking as much as possible as quickly as possible. A lack of confidence will be more damaging to your students than almost anything else. However, a lack of confidence can crush the teacher as much as the student.
When in doubt, ask:
If you’re not sure if your teaching style is good, ask. Too Much Teacher Talk Time is more damaging to your class than you realize. If you’re a children’s teacher, maybe asking your students aren’t the best place to start. Asking your fellow teachers for help is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, a healthy teaching team is there to exchange ideas about classroom management. This is the best way to find ways to reduce TTT. When you get into college level, and adult classes, you can ask them at specific times. It’s probably not a good idea to ask “How are things going?” After the first class.
Instead, you should ask at midterm, and on the final class. This will allow you to make changes as necessary in the middle of the term. The final class evaluation will allow the students to critique your style without fear of lowering a grade. Ask your fellow teachers for advice early and often. Ask your students for input carefully, but regularly. If you ask too often, they will assume that you are not an authority figure. If you never ask, you will appear to be the inflexible tyrant. Balance in advice, as with anything, is key.