(Un)happy teachers have (un)happy students

I’m writing this post because I notice that I’ve recently become less interested in ELT-related stuff. I feel less excited about various methodology tips and ways of teaching English. I’ve even bought a few books in Czech which have nothing to do with teaching or education. Yet, I’m convinced that this break is an inevitable, temporary part of my journey.  
The way I see myself as a teacher has changed dramatically over the past few months. The metamorphosis is evident and the impacts of it are apparent. Until, say, August I was primarily an EFL teacher. English was in the centre of attention and I suppose that my students saw me the same way. My goal was to be a good teacher of my subject. That’s why I went to conferences and learned about new methods. I attended webinars to sort out my ideas. I got involved in social media to compare my teaching against the backdrop of other people’s teaching ideas. 
I started this blog a year ago. I’ve written about lots of things but the focus could be summarized as ‘my students learning English and I teaching it’. Back in September when I became a class teacher and got a group of 23 students to ‘look after’ things changed. In this particular class, the focus is not just English; the focus is the people, relationships, needs, praise, reprimands, love, desires, behaviour, illnesses, sorrows, joys, parents, sisters, parties, trips ….. I teach four lessons a week in this class and I’m supposed to teach them English. I have one extra lesson a month plus all the breaks between lessons to deal with all the issues listed above. Obviously, I can’t manage to be a class teacher for 45 minutes a month. So inevitably, the extra ‘class’ issues eat away our regular lesson time, which, I admit, makes me feel a little uncomfortable. 
But although being a class teacher is challenging and time-consuming, and maybe it even spoils some of your teaching principles, it’s also exciting. I think it’s similar to becoming a parent – you suddenly have someone to care for. You feel more important – needed. Before you become a parent you have all those ideals about how to bring up a child. You plan and organize; you are firm and persistent (and often judgmental too). But then, everything is different when the child is born. You react as situations emerge. The quality of your parenting depends on what kind of person you are; it depends on all the experience you’ve got so far.
It’s the same at school. I don’t think there’s a general manual telling you how to be a great class teacher. The quality is closely related to your personality – rather than, for example, to classroom management skills that you are taught in methodology courses. As a class teacher, you can’t just close the coursebook and leave the room when you finish the lesson. You must be there all the time, though not always in the physical sense. You are the roof and the shelter. When something happens, a student misbehaves in a PE lesson, for example, the teacher comes to the class teacher to complain. This is extra pressure you need to deal with because you’re expected to take action; you’re supposed to fix it. 

The truth is that you also become a little possessive. You catch yourself saying ‘my class’ more often than before. You feel aggrieved when someone talks badly about ‘your’ class and you even make enemies among your colleagues because you defend ‘your’ brats. You feel proud when ‘your’ student wins a competition, even though you aren’t entitled to the slightest credit. And the headmaster is watching all the time …..
I guess I’m writing this post as an apology. I haven’t taken part in the #eltchat for some time because it’s late at night when I either crave sleep or esoteric literature instead. Stories about Buddhist monks help me blow off steam and get a wider picture. They help me understand. And when I finally close the book I spare a few minutes to think about my class – I think of student X, who is new in the class and I wonder how he feels. Have the others accepted him yet? I think of Y who is so shy and quiet all the time …. what does he think? Shall I talk to him after school? Are they happy? I hope they will be happy once I’m happy myself. That’s probably the reason why I’m working on my own state of mind – that’s why the break I’m taking. Unhappy teachers have unhappy students. An inevitable part of the teaching profession is to seek balance and harmony in life because happiness, as well as passion, is infectious and can be easily passed on to people around you. 

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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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11 Responses to (Un)happy teachers have (un)happy students

  1. Baiba says:

    Hana, one lesson a month for being a class teacher – this is crazy! I assume this is also what you get paid for – just 1 additional lesson. (?) In my school we have one lesson a week and even that is not enough.
    Being a class teacher is kind of another full-time teaching load, albeit not always in the classroom. You described this responsibility perfectly.
    Don't spend all of yourself on this job!

    Like

  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks, Baiba. Class teachers get a monthly bonus over here but you know yourself that the money is just a token charge. The difference between being a class teacher and not being one is enormous. But that's OK once you like what you do. There are people, though, who are totally frustrated and find the extra duties too demanding, mainly because they burned out a long time ago – be it for various reasons. But I believe that as long as you don’t spend all of yourself on the job, as you nicely put it, you can manage. The balance I talk about in my post is the key, I think.

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  3. Oh Hana, it's a differt ball game in school. I'm shocked you don't have an hour each week for all the non-English issues. Here homeroom teachers also are paid extra hours (three I believe) to be spent in school dealing with issues and not teaching students.
    Enjoy! Your blog is here for you for wherever you are emotionally – that's what is so great about having your own blog. you don't need to please anyone but yourself.
    I love reading your blog!

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  4. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Naomi. Yes, I realize that this space has changed a great deal since I started writing. I don't feel restricted and obliged to anybody just myself anymore and I’ve finally found the courage to write about things which I wish to get off my chest, not just to give advice or teaching tips, which was my original plan. I’ve noticed that this happens to a few education blogs – they change as the educator changes through reflection, and it’s always interesting to observe the change.

    This place has become a true diary which I never had as a girl or teenager. I hope that there will always be people who care and understand, people who will occasionally let me know they’ve been here – people like you. Thanks.

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  5. leggeblog says:

    Hana, you inspired me to write my own 'get it off my chest' post for the first time!
    Please keep writing for yourself – it is so refreshing to read.
    Helen

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  6. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi, Helen. I'm happy to hear that I've inspired you and that you find my writing refreshing to read. I hope to read your 'get it off the chest' post soon 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  7. Hana Tichá says:

    Wow, Helen, it's already out. A lovely post and a must read. Here's the link for potential readers 😉 http://theteachertrials.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/a-connected-teacher-1-year-on/

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  8. Chewie6577 says:

    Your title resonates with me, for it reminds me of a quote that went something like, “Happiness is contagious. Indifference is as well.” The teacher's mood can strongly influence the class. No one wants to deal with a grouch or someone who's going through the motions.

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  9. Hana Tichá says:

    Nicely put 🙂 I'm glad the title resonates with you; to be honest, it is always the most challenging part of a post for me. I sometimes have the whole post and the images but I can't think of a suitable title for hours. It just drives me crazy. Thanks for reading.

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  10. It is always a pleasure to read your posts, Hana and the funny thing is that most of the times, it seems to be me talking 🙂

    Like

  11. Hana Tichá says:

    I think we have a word for that, dear Fabiana – soulmate or kindred spirit 🙂 Thanks for reading and leaving such a heartfelt comment.

    Like

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