RP3 – The Description Phase

Today I’ll try to be a blunt talker and a straight shooter. There’s no time for alliterations, clichés, generalizations, redundancies, exaggerations, or rhetorical questions from now on. John Pfordresher has just called us to arms. These are the instructions:

  • Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom –  a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).
  • Take this negative interaction and describe it.
  • Pay particular attention to the feelings of all those involved.
  • Do not analyze why you think they felt one way or another.

    More details here.

    The incident description:

    I enter the classroom at 12:30 pm. I’m a bit hungry but I’m looking forward to this class – my 19-year-old B1 students are challenging but the work is rewarding. I hand out the corrected film reviews. I feel pleased with myself because I managed to correct them overnight. It’s time for questions. Most of the students nod and shake their heads to indicate that everything is clear. All of a sudden a hand shoots up and the girl snaps at me in Czech: “I have a question: Why did you correct one thing in my review and but hadn’t corrected the same thing in my previous writing?” I’m puzzled so I ask for clarification dispassionately. I feel a little alert, though. This girl usually asks tricky questions and she tends to be critical. She’s one of the most conscientious and diligent students, and she’s an attentive listener. However, she seems to be eager to catch people in the act. ”I have two identical sentences in two different essays and you left the first one unnoticed but corrected the other one. How on earth should I know which version is correct?” she raps out again. My pulse and blood pressure go up. I strike the defensive pose. “Could you read the sentences for me so that I know what you mean?” I ask calmly but I feel my nerves vibrating. I’m already red in the face and that’s a bad sign. The other students have noticed by now and quiet down so that they can watch the bull fight. The girl is ready – she’s got both essays in front of her and starts reading the sentences, in a triumphal manner. Just before she finishes the second one, she pauses and realizes that the sentences are not identical. She immediately withdraws her ‘accusation’ (yes I feel unfairly accused and thus offended). She doesn’t apologize verbally (as I would expect) but waves her hands to imply that she understands now. But at this point my eyes are glowing with suppressed fury, even though I feel relieved that I wasn’t caught in the act this time. The class is quiet; I can feel their eyes aimed at the two protagonists. “Next time think twice before you ask in such a rude way”, I say, aggrieved. She remains silent. We can go on with the lesson but the oppressive atmosphere lingers for a while. I feel guilty and unprofessional.

    To be continued….

    About Hana Tichá

    I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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    11 Responses to RP3 – The Description Phase

    1. lizzieserene says:

      Dear Hana,
      This is a great post for the description challenge! Thanks for taking the bull by the horns and getting the ball rolling!

      I think you really got to the bottom of your feelings during the incident. Your description seems to come through that lens clearly. But it looks like you're being pretty hard on yourself.

      Sometimes it's hard to see our own classes clearly, especially in such a sensitive moment. In John's post he linked to something Zhenya wrote for ptec. My favorite line there is this: “I think many things are similar in teaching: what we think we see is not always as straightforward as it seems to be. Detailed description helps clarify and distinguish one from the other.” For me it reminds me to be aware of the lens of feeling through which my initial reaction comes, but to also try not to let my feelings about the incident (or during the incident) overwhelm my descriptions. I'm still practicing using non-judgmental language in my descriptions (as you'll see when I have time to post mine).

      I want to preface my questions for you by saying that my intention here is to ask questions to help further the description. I don't know whether these questions are going to be relevant to your analysis later or whether they are important. I am just asking to help create the picture in my mind.

      I wonder a few things about your class.
      How many students are there?
      Are they arranged the way they are in the pictures?
      Where are you standing?
      Is the girl facing you?
      How much time did she spend looking over her paper before asking the question?

      When you write that the girl “snaps” at you and “raps out”, what do you mean?
      Did she speak more quickly than usual?
      Was there an expression on her face?
      Did her posture change?

      How do you know she realized the sentences are not identical?
      Did she say something?

      I hope you find these questions helpful!
      Anne 🙂


    2. Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks Anne. I think I'll pick up on some of your questions in the following post and a million thanks for them. But I might reveal a couple of things right now:
      1) This is not a picture of my classroom – it's a place where conferences and workshops are held. I just liked the image 🙂 So it doesn't say anything about the seating arrangement, which is actually a horseshoe (and the girl sits to the left of my table).
      2) By 'snap' I mean ask or respond quickly and in a rather impolite way.
      3) She realized that the complex sentences were not identical and she said it explicitely (one was in the present tense while the other one was in the past; she had forgotten to follow the rules of reported speech). Not a big deal.
      Oh, I've just realized why I felt the way I did 😉


    3. lizzieserene says:

      Dear Hana,
      Thanks for the sneak preview! ^^ Your answers help clear up the picture in my head and makes room for new questions! When did the situation you're describing occur? Does some more distance between then and now help you to see it more clearly?
      Happy reflecting!


    4. Wow! I couldn't stop reading! I felt like I was right there (I have been in similar situations and it snit fun. Thank you for sharing this because through your story I can learn as well. It's as if the lenses of description are also a mirror to the experiences of everyone else in the reflective community.

      And I don't think I can add more because Anne covered it all! Great questions! I look forward to the next part of the challenge and your answers!

      Happy reflecting! Josette


    5. Hana Tichá says:

      Hi Josette. On the one hand I'm happy that you understand my feelings because you've experienced the same, on the other hand I can't help feeling sorry that you've been in similar, unpleasant situations. But as you say, we can learn from other people's reflections and that's important. Thanks for your comment.


    6. Zhenya says:

      Hi Hana (and Anne and Josette!). Really amazing read. The description you provided Hana is detailed and clear, and the questions from Anne made it even more clear (crystal clear?) One of the questions I often think about in relation to Description stage in ELC is about feelings: are they a part of Description? Why, or why not? My own answer (how I see it now, using the title of your blog) is that my own feelings could be a part of the description, as long as I am aware that they are my feelings. Now, someone else's feelings are not a part of the Description, unless they specifically shared them with me. (otherwise, I am interpreting already) I liked how you identified how you felt in that moment of interaction. Finally, loved the further question Anne asked in her comment: Does some more distance between then and now help you to see it more clearly? I would also add: Does seeing the description written out in this detail help you feel better about that moment?

      I also typed one more question to you and then realized that it is more about Analysis or Interpretation part of the cycle and so I will keep it for later.

      I endlessly admire your courage to share so honestly and openly, and really hope that you feel better as a result of this reflective practice exercise!


    7. Hana Tichá says:

      Dear Zhenya. Thanks for your detailed comment. I'm so happy that the conversation between the participants of the RP challenge is expanding day by day. Like you, I also think that feelings may be tricky. I believe they can only be regarded as part of the description phase as long as you view them as a fact, i.e. I felt this or that way… full stop. Once you add 'because', you are already interpreting and evaluating. I'm not sure whether I stuck to plain description all the time when writing the post but at least I tried hard. I'm deliberately taking time before I enter the next phase because I need to get more distance but yes, writing it down has really helped me to see it more clearly. Now, observing my emotions without any more emotions is a liberating feeling.


    8. Hi Hana, thanks for sharing your story. I read it a few days ago, but only now have I had the time to come back and respond. For now I think Anne has already asked some excellent questions for the description phrase, and like Zhenya, I am refraining from asking any further questions as they are more analytical. I look forward to reading more in your next post.


    9. Hana Tichá says:

      Hi David,

      I also think that some type of questions can make one biased, not only in the description phase, because by suggesting what the inquirer thinks, they may divert one from true feelings and their real sources. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting.



    10. Hi Hana,

      I really, truly enjoyed this description. As Josette said I felt as though I was there, experiencing everything as you had.

      There has been some discussion about feelings and the ELC, and I really have enjoyed it. That discussion is enlightening for everyone, and I really like seeing how different educators attack this “phase” of the ELC in different ways.

      I'd also like to echo Zhenya's comment and thanks for sharing such an intimate moment in the classroom. It takes guts. It also is immensely helpful to the learning of the individual as well as the group as a whole. So thank you.



    11. Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks John. Yes, you're right. It takes guts to share the intimate moments we experience in the classroom. On the other hand, it's an immense relief to be able to get things off one's chest and hear what other people think. It's helpful for me to learn that you guys have experienced the same or similar situations and understand what not everybody ouside the profession can grasp fully. So once again, thanks for the support and comfort.


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