The sweetness and bitterness of professional development

It’s a Saturday and I’m here writing this post. How I envy those of my colleagues who close the door to their staffroom, say goodbye and open their planners and coursebooks or anything related to their content the next day. How I envy those who have their own life and don’t spare a single thought for teaching while they’re off school. These seem to be the most satisfied teachers who have no doubt about how to teach their subject. They are happy with what they know about teaching and that’s why they don’t feel the need to go to conferences, attend webinars or constantly search the internet for brand new, interactive activities. 
While my colleagues are at home staring contently into the fireplace with a glass of good wine in their hands, I do all the professional development. Even my social life takes place in auditoriums and classrooms – either real or virtual – and little energy is left for real entertainment such as the cinema, theatre or dance balls. But I can’t say with an absolute certainty that due to all the sacrifice I actually know more than my colleagues do. In other words, I may be familiar with some ELT terms they have never heard of, such as scaffolding, total physical response, comprehensible input, dogme, you name it, but that doesn’t mean they unwittingly and intuitively don’t apply the concepts in their teaching. Some teachers are better off with their common sense than I am with all my theoretical knowledge.
The more I know about teaching the more confused I feel. I don’t think this confusion shows openly in my teaching but it directly affects the level of my satisfaction (or frustration). I have too many questions and few answers. In the past it was even worse; although I did all the extra PD stuff just for myself, I subconsciously expected that my extra efforts would be appreciated – by my colleagues, by my students and the administrators. I somehow expected that people around would be stunned by my ‘immense’ ELT knowledge and general enthusiasm. No, this didn’t happen. My hard work didn’t result in more fame. In fact, it mostly remained unnoticed. I was but a regular EFL teacher. 
The only person who ever notices how much energy I put into teaching is me. First of all, I feel more tension and controversy in everything I do. It still upsets me, for example, when somebody questions what I do or say because I know better, don’t I? On the other hand, with the new horizons ahead of me comes excitement, and an irresistible desire to explore; something my colleagues don’t seem to feel so intensely. Despite all the frustration and controversy I often experience, I look forward to every single lesson; every morning I wake up I can’t wait to reach school, which most of my colleagues consider crazy. 
I’m not utterly convinced that professional development helps me become a better teacher. But I dare say it definitely turns teaching into an amazing adventure. It makes my own teaching more enjoyable, in spite of all the bitter flavours I occasionally taste at the back of my tongue. I believe my students sense my excitement and I hope some of them may eventually get infected by my enthusiasm.  

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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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6 Responses to The sweetness and bitterness of professional development

  1. Lumara says:

    I feel so very similar to what you have posted. I agree on most of the issues you write about, if not every every single one of them.
    Great post, thank you!
    Lumara

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks Lumara 🙂

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  3. My sentiments exactly! I hope it's only this week when I don't feel positive due to sleepless nights in planes) but most of the time I am dissatisfied and experience huge lack of time and good thinking. Thus, I'm discontented with my lessons quite regularly. If only the efforts applied made the lessons better. It might be something wrong with me.
    I also hope it'll pay off one day.
    Kate

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  4. Hana Tichá says:

    Many thanks for your comment, Kate. Oh, I think your discontentment is only temporary. This kind of despair usually comes to me in waves too. And autumn is not the best month for boosting my motivation anyway. It's usually so busy that I just try to keep up. Thanks for reading and your support. You honest words help me see things more clearly.

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  5. Sandy says:

    Hi Hana,
    I go through these periods sometimes, and I completely agree with your doubts and your feelings of confusion. On the other hand, our students can often tell which of the two camps we fall into, and I think they appreciate that we care so much about our work. You also have the satisfaction of knowing that you're learning all the time, and the positive side effects of meeting lovely people from all over the world because of the way you choose to develop. You might feel confused, but your life is richer in so many ways than just going home and watching the TV would make it. (And oddly I was saying to my co-tutor tonight that sometimes I envy those people who go home from work and they're done, but normally only for a few hours when I feeling tired or ill, then I get over it!)
    20:40, and I'm off to mark some assignments…
    Sandy

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  6. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi, Sandy. Thanks for your words of comfort. I can't but agree with what you say about the way all our effort pays off in the end. One just needs to be patient and keep going, no matter the obstacles. But the doubts occasionally creep in; this is inevitable and I guess it’s probably quite natural. Anyway, I'm going through a nice period now; I have some free time on my hands so I can finally catch up on reading all the books I bought and blog posts I missed. Also, my class and I had a great Christmas party at school just before leaving for the holidays and I felt again my job is meaningful and worthwhile. And I wouldn’t change a thing about it. 🙂 Merry Christmas!

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