My sanity in danger

PD náš svět (17)July will soon be over, but there’s still another month of holidays ahead of me (precisely 24 days). Although I’m currently keeping my mind busy reading and writing, I’m pretty much in a relaxed mode. Still, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to discover that I’m thinking about school. That would be fine if I reminisced and reflected; except that I worry about the future, not the past.

I’m not implying that my job is at stake or something that gloomy. The thing is that every September brings changes and, inevitably, some innovations are to the good while other reforms are less pleasing. Also, the transition from the relaxed mode into the working mood is usually drastic. It’s nothing near gradual; it’s like jumping into an ice bath after you’ve spent some time in a warm whirlpool. So whenever I think of the freezing water awaiting me, my warm whirlpool immediately becomes much less comfortable.

Here are a couple of things that I’m currently worrying about:

1) Seen from a perspective of the head of the English department:

  • Early in October, my colleague and I are travelling to London for a week. We’re taking 20 students but at the moment we still don’t have all the information concerning the trip which is part of an EU-funded project.
  • In the same month, a huge event is awaiting the English department – a competition in English conversation. Schools from different parts of the Czech Republic nominate their ‘best English speakers’ and send them to our school to beat the rivals. We used to do a project part of the competition too, where teams of students made big paper projects on a given topic, but that was simply too much to handle with the staff resources shrinking every year so we’ve dropped this for the time being.
  • At the end of October, there’ll be a huge Halloween event we organise each year for local primary schools, but that’s already been running at our school for long so I’m not too worried about that.

2) Seen from a perspective of a homeroom teacher:

  • I’ll have two new students in my class, who I’ve never seen and don’t know much about. One of them is a boy from Hong Kong who speaks no Czech. The other one is a girl who lived in Germany. She speaks Czech but will probably have to work hard in Czech lessons to catch up.
  • On September 21, five students from my class are taking part in a one-day shooting for the national TV. It’s an educational programme for kids and it should be fun, but somehow I can’t shed the feeling of responsibility. Also, I’ll have to arrange a couple of things before that.

PD náš svět (26)

3) Seen from a perspective of an English teacher:

There are three classes I’ll be teaching next academic year that make me feel slightly anxious.

  • One of them is a relatively large class of 23 senior students. I already taught the same class last year and it was a challenge even though they were smaller by one student back then. Such a big class gets quite noisy during speaking activities and correcting their written work is not child’s play either. The fact that next year is their graduation year, i.e they’ll be seriously preparing for their final exams, inevitably changes my perspective.
  • The other class is a class of senior students as well, but I’m not going to prepare them for their final exam directly. Although I’ll be one of the assessors, it’s my colleague who’s going to do the dirty work throughout the year. The trouble is that it is a notorious class with a long record of minor violations of the school rules (I’ll have to keep reminding myself of the presumption of innocence rule). Moreover, we’re going to use an upper-intermediate coursebook, which is always a problem with a class (or a majority of it) that is far from upper-intermediate.
  • The last but not least is the opposite of scenario number 1. Last year I grappled with another class of 23 students (14-year-olds). Although it was hard, we finally found strategies to make learning possible. In September, since two students are joining us, the class will be split into two groups again. Thus, most of the methods I used last year won’t work anymore. We’ll have to get used to new approaches again. I sometimes feel like on a rollercoaster.

To conclude and amplify my worries, I’ll add that late in September, our school is celebrating the 80th anniversary of its founding. There will be a lot to do before and around September 25. Although I’m not directly in charge of the organisation, I kind of dread the magnitude of the event. It’ll probably be plain crazy! Keep your fingers crossed for my sanity.

Walk a mile in their shoes

IMG_0264In her articleVictoria Grefer asks the following question:

Today’s question is, how do you write? Do you love long, artistic, experimental and flowing sentences, full of dependent clauses and prepositional phrases? Do you love to walk around an idea and show it from various angles and viewpoints before you move on to the next thing? Or do you prefer things short, simple, precise, and direct?

I already briefly touched upon my writing style here, in a post describing my blogging habits. Although one’s blogging habits and one’s writing style are clearly not one and the same thing, I believe that these concepts may overlap to a certain extent.

Any habit is defined as a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition. One’s writing style, on the other hand, refers to the manner in which an author chooses to write to his or her audience. It reveals both the writer’s personality and voice, but it also shows how he or she perceives the audience. So while a habit is a routine of behavior that tends to occur unconsciously, one’s style is a matter of choice. 

I’m not sure, though, that I’ve chosen my writing style absolutely voluntarily. Being a non-native speaker of English, the way I write is inevitably influenced by my limited L2 repertoire. So although I mostly produce short, simple sentences and my writing sometimes suffers from under-lexicalization, it’s not always my deliberate choice. My struggle to make a point in an L2 simply forces me to play it safe and, often subconsciously, to avoid structures which may hinder communication between me and the reader.

As Victoria Grefer points out,

The more complex I make a sentence, the more room I feel I have for a stylistic error that will confuse a reader.

My no frills style is partly a result of language limitations which probably differ from those a native speaker has to deal with. These limitations can be painful and depressing at times. The truth is, though, that they constantly push me out of my comfort zone, and, in a way, they also help me feel relatively safe. I could easily start blogging in my mother tongue, but then I would have no excuses to justify my linguistic and stylistic errors.

I suppose that one’s writing style also reflects one’s reading preferences. In other words, I write the way I like other people to write – not because I think it’s the right way but because such texts are easy for me to decode.

This brings me to the L2 classroom. Our students often grapple with limitations much more serious than those I’ve described above. At low levels, they have to get by with a very restricted vocabulary and a narrow range of grammar structures. They might not know how to work with dictionaries and thesauri effectively. In other words, although they probably have a lot to say, they don’t have an effective means to communicate their message. This may be a source of bitter frustration and some may even want to give up writing at some point.

The frustration will probably increase if a student prefers a poetic style in their L1, for example, but feels he can’t use it when writing in the L2. Thus, whatever he produces will look insufficient and imperfect in his eyes. The other extreme would be a student who uses an embellished style at all costs, even when it’s absolutely inappropriate and incorrect. Such as student will probably be scolded and punished by low grades anyway. This will eventually discourage her from playing with the language or even make her dislike writing completely.

Before you start scolding and punishing your student for poor writing, try writing yourself. Try what it is like and what it takes to produce a coherent text in a foreign language, or in any language, for that matter. I recommend that you look your fears and limitations straight in the eye first and see how your students might feel.

To wind up my post, below are a few inspiring bloggers who write for teachers who wish to help their students overcome those fears and limitations:

Josette LeBlanc 

Chrysa Papalazarou

Chuck Sandy

Anne Hendler

Malu Sciamalleri

Anna Loseva

Maria Theologidou

Fragile bonds

IMG_0250It often happens that I meet a former student of mine in the street and one of the following scenarios occur; the student either looks away immediately, pretending she has never seen me before, or she puts on a broad smile instantly and greets me merrily. Depending on the situation, we may even exchange a few casual words.

I obviously prefer the latter scenario because it makes me believe that I made my mark in a student’s life; it makes me believe that I once mattered to a student. The other scenario, on the other hand, makes me feel embarrassed, ignored and unappreciated. In such a case, I tend to accuse the student of utter disrespect and total ignorance.

The other day, though, I suddenly saw the whole thing from a slightly different perspective. For some unknown reason, I remembered how I had reacted when accidentally bumping into a former teacher of mine. I would either look away, pretending I had never seen him before, or I would smile broadly and say ‘Good morning’ merrily.

The fact that I would sometimes choose to look away had nothing to do with disrespect, dislike or ignorance; it had nothing to do with a particular teacher at all. It had a lot to do with my own self-esteem.

When I spotted an old teacher of mine long after school, the first thing that I pondered was whether he actually remembered me. It flashed through my mind that he had probably taught hundreds of students throughout his career and I concluded that he couldn’t remember us all. I deduced that I was probably one of those faces he could no longer recognize in the crowd and I decided to look away, robbing the teacher of the opportunity to show that he actually remembered me very well.

What I’ve written sounds very strange. But what if some of my former students feel the same way? What if they feel they are just some of those faces I can no longer remember? What if they feel that our long-ago connection did not last long enough and was not strong enough for me to bother remembering? What if their seeming ignorance has nothing to do with their attitude to me but with how they perceive themselves in relation to me? And finally, what can I do as a teacher to avoid the future moments of embarrassment?

Is it really useful?

011120143006I love being a teacher. I love my job, my students and my colleagues.

There’s one thing, though, that I really hate: giving instructions.

I can’t help feeling that giving classroom directions is the silliest and the least creative activity in the world.

There’s one particular pet hate I have:

“Open your books on page …..”

It’s not that I hate the books. I have no problem using coursebooks at all. To the contrary, I find them very useful in my teaching context. It’s just the phrase I utter so many times throughout the day that invariably makes me shudder with disgust.

I was taught that effective classroom instructions  should be short, clear and to the point. So I suppose that any creative variations on “Open your books on page …” would be considered a methodological rebellion.

  • Hey guys, why don’t you take your books and flip through the content until you come across page ….
  • I’m looking at a fabulous grammar exercise. Could you just find it in your books? It’s on page … 
  • Wow, this article looks very interesting. Would you like to have a look at it now? You’ll find it on page ….
  • Grab the publications lying on your desks and check out this amazing listening on page …

When I give my students directions, not all students do instantly what I ask them to do. Some do, but others need more time to get going. Having said that, part of me believes that it’s easier for my students to concentrate on a short, boring command than on something longer and more creative. This part of me is convinced that I must do what’s useful for my class and sacrifice my creativity and the desire for more authenticity. Another part of my teacher self believes that those ‘laggers’ struggle to concentrate just because the instructions are boring and always the same and that something more elaborate and unusual may crank them up.

This post has no decent conclusion, I guess. I’d just like to wind up thanking the following people for inspiration:

Zhenya Dnipro

Marc Jones

Kevin Stein

Coursebooks, textbooks or resource books?

I didn’t really plan to elaborate on the coursebook issue anymore. I have already done that in one of my tongue-in-the-cheek posts, but most importantly, other people in the blogosphere have done that sufficiently and well. But then I came across this quote that captured my attention:

20150724_153445

… if coursebooks aren’t supposed to be used as a book that is the course, why are they called coursebooks? They are kind of presented as a course-in-a-book. Maybe if they were called textbooks, or resource books, or something, people might treat them differently.

Concerning Coursebooks by Steve Brown (see comment section of the post)

The three words I highlighted in the quote really got me thinking. First, I did a bit of researching to find out how the concepts are generally defined.

Textbook

  • a book used in schools or colleges for the formal study of a subject.
  • a book used as a standard source of information on a particular subject
  • a book designed to accompany a specific academic course, or one specified by the writers of the course to be read by its students 

While textbook can be written as one word or two words connected with a hyphen, plus it can also be an adjective (= being a characteristic example of its kind; classic: a textbook case of schizophrenia), coursebook as one word is considered incorrect by most spell checkers.

However, Wiktionary, for example, has a definition of coursebook written as one word:

  • (Noun) UK synonym for textbook, a book to be used for studying a particular subject

My favorite paper dictionaries – Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary – do have an entry of coursebook as one word as well.

  • a book that students use regularly during a set of lessons on a particular subject
  • a book for studying from, used regularly in class

I wonder who first started to use the word coursebook in the sense it is used nowadays. It must have been quite recently because, in my 1992 edition of Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary, the word coursebook is not listed while textbook is. I remember that I personally started using the word coursebook a short time ago; I swear that a few years back, the books I used in class were always textbooks for me. Neither the Online Etymology Dictionary bothers about the existence of coursebook, but it explains the origins of textbook in detail:

textbook (n.) Look up textbook at Dictionary.comalso text-book, “book used by students,” 1779, from text (n.) + book (n.). Earlier (1730) it meant “book printed with wide spaces between the lines” for notes or translation (such a book would have been used by students), from the notion of the text of a book being more open than the close notes. As an adjective from 1916.

Anyway, like Steve Brown, I would definitely prefer calling coursebooks textbooks, but I would be happiest if I could call them resource books. More precisely, I would love them to be resource books rather than coursebooks. However, after checking out the blurbs of some of the publications in question I have collected over time, I realized what they really are:

  • …. is a lively language course for children learning English for the first time 
  • …. is a ground-breaking 6-level adult course for today’s learners of English 
  • …. a revised edition of a successful and established course 
  • …. a new, refreshed edition of the five-level English course for teenagers
  • … the highly successful course for teenagers
  • … a multi-level course for adults and young adults who want to use English both accurately and fluently

Apparently, none of the books above aims at being a resource book. The authors/publishers introduce them as courses and they are not ashamed of it. Also, given that a course is defined as ‘a complete body of prescribed studies constituting a curriculum’, it’s clear that they are meant to be followed regularly and exploited to the fullest, not only occasionally or for inspiration. 

I think it’s high time for the main ELT publishers to change their strategy. Either they can change the wording on the blurbs, which may silence some of the anti-coursebook people for a while, or they can start investing into good resource books instead of churning out coursebooks, and thus please everybody – the teachers and their students.

Feedback seen in retrospect

090720141916While rummaging through some old PC files the other day, I stumbled upon a feedback summary I had received back in October 2012 as a student of a TEFL MA program.

I should stress that our teaching practice was tough and our teacher trainer was extremely demanding. Despite all the teaching experience most of us trainees already had, we all suffered from terrible stage fright before each observation. Equally unsettling was what came next – the oral and written feedback that we would regularly get after the lesson.

As I was re-reading the document the other day, the first thing that struck me was how detached the feedback looked after all the time. Although I remembered most of the details from that particular lesson, it suddenly looked as if the comments had been written for somebody else.

Students had a quiet start to the lesson.

Since so many students have a problem with the name of “R”, how about writing it on the board and getting it fixed before the problem proliferates?

Please don’t let these mistakes go, especially when this is the focus of this section.

Hana, can you ask more questions?

They are pretty quiet – any chance of a bit more mingling?

No feedback on the activity?

It makes me laugh when I remember how, in my thoughts, I reacted to the following remark:

My teacher trainer wrote: “So you did decide to put your whole plan on the board. Was it of any value? Did they read it? Do you think this is worth doing in the future?”

I thought: “Ok, so the teacher trainer thought it was a silly idea to display the plan on the board. Damn it! I shouldn’t have done that. I only wanted to please anyway.”

Now that I think about it, it’s actually a great question to ponder. Is it worth doing? Would the learners and/or the trainee/teachers benefit somehow? I guess that back then I only wanted to get a decent grade and I believed that every deviation from the ideal, i.e. every decision that the observer had questioned, may finally destroy this ambition.

I remember that back then when I felt stressed out, any even slightly critical comment looked judging to me, even condemning. I felt as if I had messed it all up. This is obviously ridiculous. In retrospect, the feedback looks perfectly just, helpful and constructive. The positive comments suddenly come to the fore:

Nice demo of a vocabulary item.

Nice clear speaking voice.

They laughed at your remark, which is a good sign.

Thank you for NOT giving out the worksheet before the task.

It’s unbelievable how much self-flagellation goes on in the mind of the observee when they think it’s high stakes. It’s mostly due to the stress the observee experiences and it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to the quality of the lesson or the way feedback is delivered or how harsh it appears at a given moment.

090720141915

It’s even more unbelievable how dramatically the value of feedback changes when it’s no longer vitally important to us. The self-flagellation is gone and it gives way to serious thinking. It can even be amusing. I wonder why it is so; it is the same feedback and the same addressee after all. Perhaps it’s true that time heals all wounds. Also, we change, evolve and grow until we’re eventually able to see the same things from a different, more objective perspective.

Thus, I think it might be fun to try a series of observations with feedback intended for our future selves. We would be sent the feedback file after a safe amount of time – once we’d no longer feel so attached to our performance and so dependent on the conclusions of the observer. It could take days, weeks or months. Anyway, we would definitely get more time to think about our lesson and I’m convinced that we’d uncover most of the flaws ourselves. Then, when reading the delayed feedback, either positive or negative, we’d probably only catch ourselves nodding in agreement all the time …

Do you like homeworks?

As far as grammar accuracy is concerned, native English-speaking teachers are generally pretty tolerant of unusual usages of their mother tongue.

VýstřižekVýstřižek 2

They are definitely more tolerant than their NNEST counterparts.

The other day I threw in this remark in the staffroom: “Just imagine, I have seen the plural of homework (homeworks) in a couple of contexts. It was even used by a highly regarded professor of English I knew at uni”. Needless to say, my colleagues didn’t believe me. “Well, he apparently made a mistake”, they retorted.

I’m looking at my draft now and see that my spellcheck is as intolerant as my colleagues.

According to Grammarly (and Flax, below), homeworks doesn’t exist.

Grammarly spellcheck
Flax

Or does it?

BNC (SketchEngine)
Fraze.it
Výstřižek 8
Seznam.cz – online bilingual dictionary
COCA

Somewhat confusing, right? If not for me, then definitely for an English learner who’s desperately trying to find the right answer when preparing for a grammar test. It seems that the more information available on the internet these days, the more complicated it gets.

As non-native speakers of English considerably outnumber its native speakers, English can’t resist the influence non-native speakers have on it. In Czech, homework is countable. When I came home from school, my mom would ask: “How many homeworks do you have today?” I would reply, somewhat downheartedly: “Oh, today I have three homeworks – History, Czech and Math.” “Okay, do your homeworks first and then you can go out”. Thus, at the very early stages of learning English, I tended to visualize separate homeworks when I talked about more than one piece. In other words, in my mind, homework behaved like apple(s) or pencil(s).

So far, I have used homeworks seven times in my post. Once somebody creates a corpus using the input from educational blogs written in English, my ‘incorrect’ usages will be included in the count. Then, at some point in the future, an insecure language learner will want to check the countability of homework (because he has just failed a grammar test), and he will whoop with delight: “Homeworks exists after all! I swear I’ll have my teacher for breakfast tomorrow”.

So, the word exist seems to be the problem here. Homeworks clearly exists because I have just used it several times in my writing. Even if the form hadn’t existed 5 minutes ago, it was born when I started playing with it. For me, it’s plain fascinating. I’m the creator and the starter. In fact, anybody can do the same.

Now, what do we do with this fascinating finding in the L2 classroom? As my colleague pointed out eloquently, we need some kind of codification that will help us decide what is right and what is already unacceptable. And she has a point. What do we do with homeworks in a student’s writing, for example? Will we accept it because it exists, or will we take it as a serious error because we have said a million times that homework is uncountable?   

#200

180420141487As this is exactly the 200th post, I’ve decided to do a bit of revision. My regular readers know that the majority of my posts are nerdy reflections on my teaching and learning experiences, but now and then, when I’m in the professional mode, I come up with a practical post to share my teaching/learning tips. Today, to celebrate my little anniversary, I’m going to share a list of posts that I think fall into this ‘practical’ category.

Such a list serves two purposes: it may be useful for teachers out there, but it will also help me see clearly where my main interest lies and which areas I like writing about most.  I don’t know yet what conclusions I’m going to draw from the discovery. One thing is certain, though – the post was inspired by Joanna Malefaki’s interview with Phil Wade, in which he describes the process of publishing an e-book. It suddenly occurred to me that being a passionate blogger, I may well try to publish something longer than a blog post some day (a pdf would do, for starters). Some day …

For easier navigation, I divided the posts into several categories. Feel free to click any of the links now or later on, or just look back along with me.

Speaking: 

The best game ever

Observing class in retrospect

Writing: 

Hemingway or Woolf?

A yet to be piloted lesson plan

Through writing towards L2 development 

Readability tools as a way to improve writing

Collaborative writing:

Writing micro-stories in tandem 

One for all, all for one – collaborative games in ELT 

Dare them – one chapter each 

Reading: 

Parallel text reading resources – a tip for a Christmas gift 

Listening:

Dictation – Yes? No? Why? 

Grammar: 

Revisit and idea and reinvent a wheel 

Practising grammar via creative writing 

Go light!

Vocabulary:

Repetition and recycling 

Teaching idioms (lesson plan) 

Games and activities: 

Game over 

Google fight

New year’s resolution – lesson plan 

Using realia:

The story behind the chip card

Using corpora: 

Making lessons authentic via the use of corpora

Using corpora in class – the simple way 

Czenglish or interlanguage?

Pronunciation:

Shadow reading experiment 

Creativity:

Rose is a rose: poetry in L2 classroom

Using self-made videos in class 

A boring textbook exercise? Turn it to your advantage! 

How to make a Halloween mini-golf course 

Dust off your violin (lesson plan) 

Feedback: 

Collective feedback on written assignments

On Creativity, law and order 

Classroom management:

CCQs and ICQs – a mental exercise

Dogme just happened

Technology: 

Integrate technology effectively 

Hemingway or Woolf?

Recently I’ve been playing with an online tool called Hemingway Editor. This programme is supposed to help you simplify and refine your work, i.e. make your writing more readable. It grades your work for readability and it is able to identify sentences that are hard to read.

If some of your sentences are too dense and complicated, you will see a red or a yellow highlight, which will be removed once you edit the respective piece of text.

Also, you will be prompted to remove all the needless words. The programme doesn’t like it when you use too many adverbs, for example. These will be highlighted in blue and you will be asked to get rid of some. You can do so by switching over to more powerful verbs (whisper vs. speak quietly).

The same happens if you throw too many passive structures around – if you use, say, five, the programme will ask you to aim for two of fewer.

To make your writing less verbose, pay attention to the purple highlights. If you mouse over them, you’ll be offered better alternatives.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my blog posts:

my text

At first glimpse, you can see that I’m no Hemingway. Most of my text has been highlighted in red, which means that many of the sentences are very hard to read and some phrases have simpler alternatives. For example, However could be replaced with But or Yet and it’s been suggested that I should substitute very as well. I generally tend to use too many adverbs.

Let’s have a look at the real Hemingway now (Cat in the Rain):

hamingway excerpt

Bingo! That’s the way we should write (or should we?). Most of the text is not highlighted and the readability score is Grade 4 (= Good). My score was Grade 12 (= OK) and ‘Bad’ would be for Grade 17 and above. The measurement gauges the lowest education (U.S. grade level) needed to understand the text.

To make things a bit more complicated, I looked at another highly regarded writer – Virginia Woolf (here’s an excerpt from her Kew Gardens):

Virginia Woolf excerpt

Well, it seems we shouldn’t aspire to such complexity. There’s not a single sentence that wouldn’t be very hard to read and with the Post-collegiate readability score, the text was labelled ‘Poor’. Poor Virginia Woolf.

Hemingway Editor is fun to experiment with but how useful is it for an English learner? Not all our learners are planning to become highly regarded writers, but most of them would like to learn and improve their English.

What I like most about the programme/app is the fact that it asks you to utilize a shorter word in place of a complex one. The coolest thing is that if you mouse over the word, it gives you hints, i.e. it comes up with synonyms. This is a great way of expanding one’s vocabulary. It’s great if students are working with their own pieces of writing. I believe that if they are encouraged to make conscious decisions about what word to use in a text they produced, they are likely to remember the alternatives with little effort.

However, you can also flip your approach. If your (or your student’s) writing is too simple, i.e. too Hemingwayan, you can play with it a bit and make it more complex, i.e. more Woolfian. You can make quick online changes – right in the editor – and see what happens.

Although I’m well aware of the fact that Woolf wrote the way she did for a particular reason, it doesn’t mean that writing at a higher level is automatically better than writing at a lower level. My students sometimes think that if they plague their texts with enough low-frequency words and strange grammatical structures, they will get a better mark. The truth is that their writing only becomes more confusing and their message is lost.

PS.: The readability score of this post is Grade 8 (Good). I hope you found it useful and easy to read.

An abject failure or a precious lesson?

bunch of flowers (5)I’ve recently read an interesting post, in which a member of my PLN, Marc Jones, bravely describes one of his failed lessons. His article then directed me to a post by Robert Lowe, called Where are all the Failures? The author argues that while you’re likely to come across numerous stories of success out there in the blogosphere, academic journals, and presentations, there are surprisingly few reports of failures.

My regular readers know that I’ve described several failures here on my blog and thanks to a group of like-minded reflective practitioners, I’ve gradually learned to deal with them in a rational way. Or, to sound less conceited, at any rate, I’ve learned to accept these failures as part of my professional life.

Earlier today, I came across a post by Brad Smith called Catharsis and Teaching. The author suggests that although a certain amount of complaining might be healthy in the teaching profession, there’s a point where people can do so excessively and without an intended resolution. Brad goes on to argue that we often try to excuse these tendencies by rationalizing them as catharsis.

According to Wikipedia, catharsis is the purification and purgation of emotions – especially pity and fear – through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.

In today’s post, I’d like to share one of the cathartic moments I’ve experienced. The story has nothing to do with failed classroom management or something like that; it is a written account of how my emotions failed me completely and how this failure helped me learn something valuable about myself.

Two weeks towards the end of the academic year, my colleague and I suddenly discovered that we are not going to teach a particular class anymore next year. It’s not a big deal and it happens all the time – teachers come and leave, so we hand over our classes and inherit others. I should stress, though, that we had worked with this class (divided into two groups which my colleague and I taught concurrently) for five years. It’s a long time, you know. Also, although I can’t speak for my colleague, it was definitely one of my favorites. It was a group of 10 motivated sixteen-year-olds and in a way, they were the ideal types of learners. Whenever I wanted to experiment with a new approach, I would choose this group. When I felt underprepared, the lesson never turned into a failure; I just went dogme and it worked. I watched them grow and progress, and over time, I’d built a strong relationship with them as a group.

On June 23, after the very last lesson with this class, my colleague entered the office with tears in her eyes. I asked what had happened, but she only managed to grab a handkerchief to wipe her tears off before the bell rang and another lesson started. It suddenly dawned on me that although she was sad, she wasn’t crying out of sadness. Something extraordinary must have happened between her and her class, I thought. I suddenly felt like crying myself. I felt like crying because I realized that my group had showed no emotions whatsoever related to the fact that it was our last session.

The rational part of my brain was mocking me while the emotional part started torturing me. But the situation got even worse. The next day, my colleague’s part of the class marched into our office with a huge bunch of flowers. They came to thank her for everything she had done for them. I suddenly had something urgent to deal with. Actually, I couldn’t hold my tears back anymore and rushed into a friend’s office to pour out my heart. As I felt terribly aggrieved, I started complaining. I started complaining about how ungrateful some students are these days.

At this point, the rational part of my brain was roaring with laughter, saying that I was a complete idiot while the emotional part kept tormenting me. The rational part tried to have some sensible conversations with the emotional part, but to no avail. You know, they both live their own lives and are rarely friends with each other, probably because the emotional part tends to win all the time and the rational part has had enough.

On June 26, on the very last day of the academic year, at the time when I already knew that I was a hopeless teacher, unloved and unappreciated, I bumped into a group of 10 sixteen-year-olds in the corridor. One of them was holding a huge bunch of lilies. They were looking for me because they wanted to thank me for everything I had done for them. All of a sudden, I felt like crying again – over my stupidity this time (and a second later, out of sheer happiness). The rational part of my brain whispered contemptuously: See? It serves you right, dummy!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who expects huge birthday presents or heaps of exaggerated emotion, but back then I got trapped; for a while, I became the victim of my expectations and wrong assumptions. This particular class was very dear to me and I automatically expected they felt the same way. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. One thing is certain, though; at some point, I couldn’t control my emotions even though I knew they were doing me a disservice. This, I think, is part of the lesson I have learned and I’m grateful for it.