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TEFL Teacher Portfolios

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Portfolios – how to improve your teaching day by day.

A Teaching Portfolio (sometimes also called a Teaching Dossier or Teaching Profile) is a valuable tool used by TEFL teachers to document who they are, what kind of teacher they are and what they have achieved.

It’s also a great tool to help you get that TEFL job!

That’s because it’s often used by teachers to support their application for a job. Along with their TEFL/TESOL CV/Résumé and application letter, they will include their portfolio to give the school a good idea of the kind of teacher they can expect to see.

But a Teaching Portfolio is also a great way to help you make your teaching better and to make you a better teacher. It can be an excellent method of self-evaluation and some teachers even develop it further into useful resources for teaching.

So what is a Teaching Portfolio?

Essentially, to begin with at least, a Teaching Portfolio is a collection of thoughts, lists and notes about your teaching. It can include your CV/Resume, classes you take, students who have stood out for one reason or another, lesson ideas and jottings and so on.

When you first start, it can seem slightly random and consist of nothing more than a collection of notes scribbled on paper to keep everything in order but as the notes build up, you will soon discover you have an incredibly useful collection of material which reveals a lot about you as a teacher and can help you clarify your teaching style and improve the way you teach.

How to Build a Teaching Portfolio

There are no set standards for the way your portfolio is compiled and laid out. What we have here is a good, simple way which you can use to develop your own portfolio and become a better teacher. Later on, of course, you can refine the layout to suit your own needs and style.

First Pages

First off, open a new notebook on your computer (or take a sheet of blank paper if you’re working that way) and think about yourself as a teacher. Put the date down at the top and then begin by answering these 3 questions:

  1. Why am I a teacher?
  2. What kind of teacher am I?
  3. What kind of teacher do I want to be?

For example:

  1. “I became a teacher because I was never sure what I wanted to do, except that I wanted to travel and teaching English seemed a good way to spend time in different countries and earn a living at the same time.”
  2. “I think I’m a friendly teacher. I don’t over correct and I always teach grammar on a need-to-know basis. My classes are disciplined and although we have a laugh sometimes, they don’t get out of hand.”
  3. “I would like to be able to teach more advanced classes and explore the language more fully. Maybe a few literature classes where we can look at how the language is used in more detail.”

Just by spending a few minutes reflecting on these questions you may well see that certain aspects of your teaching come out that you were not aware of earlier. Even something as simple as preparing this part of your portfolio could change the way you teach the next time you are in a classroom.

For example, suppose in this simple exercise you realize that you’d like to try teaching a bit more literature in class. This might lead you on to experimenting with one of your advanced classes by working with them through a short story by your favorite author.

Finally, feel free to revisit your answers over time. Checking back on this page in a year will often lead to a few surprises!

Qualifications & Courses

The next step is to collect together your qualifications and courses. This is more detailed than your CV/resume because it will include shorter courses and seminars e.g. a weekend course on using drama in the classroom; or perhaps notes on when you videotaped a lesson; maybe a seminar you attended by a publisher for a particular coursebook, etc.

In other words, all those activities which have had an impact on your teaching.

Another way in which this differs from your CV/resume is that you can also include here your reaction and feelings towards the courses you’ve taken. With each entry, write a short piece where you can say what the course meant to you and how you felt about it. For example:

“Weekend Course: Drama in the Classroom. Something I’ve always been interested in trying out with my classes; some good ideas here which I have started to use in my classroom with varying degrees of success. Bit worried about using some in the class so will maybe introduce ideas very gradually.”

“Short Seminar: Reducing Teacher Talking Time. It made me realize that I’m still talking too much! Very good seminar and I’ve adopted many of the ideas into my teaching.”

Again, by doing this you may well see a pattern emerge and it will clarify in your mind the kind of teacher you are, what aspects you find interesting and perhaps inspire you to look further into different aspects of teaching.

Further Development

What you can see above is just the very start of your portfolio. Once you’ve begun you can start to add in anything which you think may help with your teaching:

  • Students – it is often helpful to keep a note of students who stand out in your class for one reason or another. Perhaps they are incredibly noisy and disruptive; perhaps they are brilliant or perhaps the opposite. Simply make a note of who they are, what the issue is and how you are dealing with it. The idea here is that if, for example, a student is particularly slow you can keep a record of how you are dealing with the problem and ideas you have tried; later on you might find you have a similar student in another class and you can go back over your notes to check for proven ways to help improve the situation.
  • Tips & Tricks – any time you come across a good idea for your class, simply note it down. Maybe you don’t need it now, but who knows, maybe in a couple of years you’ll be browsing through the list and find something perfect for a class you’re taking then.
  • Lesson Plans & Ideas – keep them in your portfolio, but also make sure you add your user notes to them. Suppose you find lesson plan for your class online; by all means use it but also remember to look at it afterwards and critically analyze how it performed in class. Simply by spending 5 minutes going over the plan can change a moderately good lesson plan into the most brilliant lesson plan in the universe!

Using your Teacher Portfolio to Get a Job

At the beginning we talked about how your Teaching Portfolio can help when you apply for a job.

What you need to do here is simply go through the portfolio and then copy those pages which you think might help your application. Perhaps the list of courses you’ve taken; perhaps notes on a problem student and how you dealt with them.

Of course, feel free to tweak your notes.

One good idea here is to collect letters of recommendation or reference from any students or parents you’ve had (not to mention schools where you’ve worked), scan them and add them to your portfolio. If you have had a private student for a few months when you finish with them ask for a reference letter and if it’s a good one, put it in the portfolio to show off to future employers.

Finally, copy the best parts of your portfolio and take them along to an interview or submit them with your application. If you are dealing with a hardcopy portfolio, don’t take the originals (in case you’re asked to leave them with the school) and then half way through the interview pull out a useful page and show it off!

Electronic Portfolios

Often a first portfolio will be nothing more than scribbled or typed notes. However, to keep things organized you might like to try using notetaking software.

  • Evernote – a very useful (and in our opinion the best) note-taking software. It is free and can be synchronized with your iPad or smartphone.
  • Flashnote – free notes manager for PC; it’s basic but for a start can be very useful.

Conclusion

At its heart, the idea behind a portfolio for teaching is to allow you to stop and think about your teaching. It’s there to provide a few minutes of reflection (or analysis) which will help improve your teaching.

To this end, be honest. If you have problems with a student, then while you might not be able to admit them to your Director of Studies, you can certainly let your portfolio know. And while you might feel uncomfortable telling anyone else you think you suck as a teacher, by admitting it to your portfolio you can not only halve the problem by sharing it, you might also be able to come up with a strategy to remove it altogether.

Oh, and on this final point, remember, if the portfolio does begin to get personal, remember to password protect it from prying eyes!

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