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Teaching in Challenging Circumstances is primarily for teachers who are working in difficult situations, recognizing them as key workers in the battle against political, social and economic inequality. Even in ‘favourable’ circumstances, where there are sufficient resources and support systems in place, teaching is a demanding and complex job. In challenging circumstances, these demands and complexities are even harder to manage.

Teaching in Challenging Circumstances acknowledges and celebrates what teachers can do. It views them as the fundamental building blocks of the whole educational process. It argues that even when there may be policy or institutional level barriers, they still often have the power to make significant changes in their classroom practice, to support their students in the best possible way. This is not to say that such changes will be easy, and often changes which you try to implement will not work as expected. As West (1968) notes, ‘you should keep on experimenting’. Learning, and developing as a teacher, is an ongoing process. The key thing is not to be discouraged, but to learn as much as possible from the challenge. To echo the Irish writer Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

What’s in this book?

  • Part I begins by examining the importance and (economic, social and cultural) value of language learning in challenging circumstances (Chapter 1), and the general ways in which teachers can create a good environment for language learning so that it is safe for the students (Chapter 2), and education is inclusive (Chapter 3) and interactive (Chapter 4). It argues that whatever else is being expressed through policy or institutional norms, there is usually a way in which the teacher can make their own classroom a model for positive social change.

  • Part II looks at the day-to-day reality of teaching in the classroom in challenging circumstances, and how you can be effective in terms of planning (Chapter 5) and managing lessons (Chapter 6). It then looks specifically at two particularly pertinent issues, namely teaching inexperienced students (Chapter 7) and using different languages (Chapter 8).

  • Part III concentrates on the issues of teaching large classes, exploring how teachers can manage the seating (Chapter 9), manage students of different abilities (Chapter 10) and of different ages (Chapter 11). In addition to discussing how different seating layouts and systems can facilitate this, the chapter looks at how outside space can be used effectively and responsibly to maximize learning (Chapter 12).

  • Part IV turns to the specifics of teaching language skills and systems, and identifies some of the main challenges of teaching receptive (reading and listening) skills (Chapter 13), productive skills (speaking and writing) (Chapter 14), grammar (Chapter 15) and vocabulary (Chapter 16) in challenging circumstances. It includes a wide range of different interactive, effective and zero-resource activities which can be used.

  • Part V explores solutions to the difficulty that learning materials and resources are often in short supply in challenging circumstances, meaning that teachers have to teach language without textbooks. It looks at creating your own resources (Chapter 17), using the local environment (Chapter 18) and using technology (Chapter 19).

  • Part VI analyses the flip side of this, identifying how language can be taught most effectively when textbooks are available (Chapter 20), whilst also noting some of the inherent problems this poses, such as bias (Chapter 21). Furthermore, it looks at when and how textbook materials can be supplemented (Chapter 22).

  • Part VII addresses issues connected to institutions not being  optimized to help students achieve their potential. This can lead to a negative mindset and culture of learned helplessness. This part looks at  how you can motivate, empower and give agency to your students (Chapter 23), how you can check their learning effectively and humanistically (Chapter 24), how you can create assessments (Chapter 25), and how you can help students perform at their optimal level in exams (Chapter 26).

  • Part VIII looks at educational institutions within their context, specifically making links with key stakeholders such as parents and guardians (Chapter 27), and the wider local community (Chapter 28). Then, we look at the flip side of this process, and how theoutside world can be brought directly in to the classroom (Chapter 29).

  • Part IX looks at how you can support and care for yourself and others within your place of work (Chapter 30). It also makes suggestions about how you can reflect on your own teaching, so that you can become the best teacher that you can be (Chapter 31), and how you can access wider development or training opportunities (Chapter 32).

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