The healing power of painful truth …

 

How often do you ask yourself this question: What kind of teacher do I really want to be? If you were supposed to come up with a list of adjectives that would describe the ideal you = teacher, what would it include? And then, if you were to choose just one adjective that would describe the kind of teacher you want to be now, what would it be? Mind you, I don’t want to hear any clichés or evasions, such as a ‘perfect’ or ‘great’ teacher. I want to know what your priority is at this present moment. I’m deliberately zooming in on the present moment because as we change, our priorities do as well. My cline expressing the gradual change in the way I have viewed my ideal teacher-self might look something like this: popular/entertaining/passionate > nice > creative > knowledgeable/resourceful > organized/systematic > ???  I believed that at each point of my development I focused on something specific; I tried to work on a limited set of aims. When I became that kind of teacher, I realized (or something made me realize) that it wasn’t the whole story and I moved on. Where am I now? I can more or less definitely say that I’ve become a popular/ entertaining/ passionate/ nice/ creative/ knowledgeable/ resourceful/ sort of teacher. Presently I’m becoming an organized/ systematic teacher. But where do I go now?

Yesterday I escorted Ann to the regional competition in English conversation. Ann, 17-years-old, is a lovely person and she’s brilliant at English. I don’t teach her now, but I used to be her English teacher two years ago, for about six months. She was already outstanding back then. I remember I felt a little guilty because I knew she was well ahead of her peers and I suspected the lessons were not challenging enough for her. However, being a nice person, she did her best to keep herself busy by helping her friends with English whenever she could. She was sometimes a little dominant in the class, but I didn’t want to restrict her in any way and feel even more quilty.

Anyway, she did very well at the competition yesterday and I was proud of her. As we were chatting happily, she suddenly mentioned her current English teacher saying that she really appreciates her approach to teaching Ann’s class (demanding, strict, firm and consistent). She added: Nothing against you but you know, back then, when you taught us, it was far below my level.

It hurt. She meant well but it hurt my popular/ entertaining/ passionate/ nice/ creative/ knowledgeable/ resourceful/ organized/ systematic self. I know I can never please all my students but still, it suddenly dawned on me that it was time to redefine and reshape my beliefs in terms of good ELT practice. I need to demand more from students. Of course I don’t have to dispose of my hard-attained popular/ entertaining/ passionate/ nice/ creative/ knowledgeable/ resourceful/ organized/ systematic attributes but I need to add one more ingredient in order to feel I’m doing the right thing for my students.

Although I’ve been familiar with the Demand High approach to teaching for some time, it was what Ann said that made the idea finally sink in. I don’t want to be nice and popular at all costs any more. On the contrary, I’m ready and willing to sacrifice some of my popularity for the sake of my students’ learning and wellbeing.

Ann Loseva, Chuck Sandy and others have written wonderful posts on ‘the whole teacher’ on the iTDi.pro blog. I’ve read them all with enthusiasm. However, I don’t think we can become whole teachers at once. We need to work hard, pick up the bits and pieces all along the way, and put them together gradually, one by one, as we grow. We will probabaly never become perfect teachers but we can feel at peace with what we’ve become and work on what we want to become in the future.

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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7 Responses to The healing power of painful truth …

  1. Hi Hana,

    Another thought provoking and insightful look at yourself. I love these types of posts, because inevitably they tell us more about ourselves whilst reading them than they do about the writer writing them. (At least that's how i feel!)

    All while reading this i kept thinking one thing….I want to be a better listener. I want to hear what my students/friends/colleagues/associates/etc… say/mean/feel.

    Thank you for bringing these questions up and showing the bravery to put yourself out these so that others may benefit from your insight.

    John

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks John. I'm happy to hear my posts help you understand yourself better. I agree with you – when I read other people's reflections I immediately tend to associate the situation they describe with something I've experienced myself. I love this cycle of giving and accepting!

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  3. I'm so happy I finally made it to this post. It's been waiting for me for a while. Like John wrote, your willingness to share such experiences really helps us connect to ourselves. As I read this, I was there with you: the feeling of being punched in the gut. Although you may have been glad she could be honest with you, it still hurts. It brought me back to all the classes I had where I suspected something similar was going on for higher level students. I am grateful to come to this post now because maybe I can prevent that from happening again this semester. Do you have any thoughts on how you are going to proceed with this new cline? PS Loved the way you laid your path out. Makes me wonder what my cline would look like. 🙂

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  4. Theodora Pap says:

    Look… we cannot please everybody… Every single student is a different individual and has different needs. When you've got a class with 20 kids, the very bright ones might feel they don't do enough and the weaker ones might feel that they can't keep up…. Yes do everything you can to help everybody, but don't feel bad if somebody is not pleased!! You are a wonderful teacher!

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  5. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Josette. Yes, it's difficult to hear the unfavourable truth, especially if we didn't even ask for it 🙂 But with the passage of time, I always realize how much I've actually benefited from the 'punch in the gut', as you put it. I think I generally try hard to find the balance and treat all the students equally. But with a traditional class of mixed ability learners this balance inevitably leads to a 'middle way' where some students are under-challenged while others are struggling to keep up. Before this incident, I think I had focused more on those struggling with English – I felt they were the ones who needed me most. I would have felt really unprofessional if a weak student had come to me complaining that I neglect him or her. But now I also take into consideration those ones who need more than the rest of the class. It's not easy at all, I must confess. The hardest thing is to actually detect those who want/need more challenge. But that's probably a topic for another discussion….

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  6. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks Theodora for stopping by and commenting. I know…. we can't please everybody but the truth hurts all the same. As I implied in my response to Josette's comment above, the under-challenged students are often hard to uncover. They do all their work easily and quickly and you tend to think that everything's OK (unless they are naughty and disruptive). Thus you concentrate on those who are falling behind. It's similar with one's own kids; you support and encourage the one who you think needs it and overlook the one who seems to be doing well. But then you discover that it was all wrong – the stronger one longed for the attention which s/he wasn't getting. It’s not easy but as you say, let’s do our best ….

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  7. Thank you for sharing! Brilliant post – It makes me truly think about what words I want used when being described as a teacher.

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