Cause and effect

whirlpool-266123_960_720Sometimes, life’s like a whirlpool. Everything’s confusing or tumultuous and under such circumstances, it’ is easy to be drawn into trouble. Once you put your foot in it, it’s difficult to get out; whatever you do is never quite right and if you decide to do nothing, it gets even worse. It’s simply too late for any action or inaction, no matter how much you want to improve the situation. All you can do is watch the mess, endure the suffering and learn from your painful experience.

But they say things happen for a reason. Scientists say that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Others believe that at each and every moment of our life, we experience the consequences of our past deeds and thoughts. So, the law of cause and effect will never let us rest on our laurels and it will always make us pay off all our debts.

Obviously, we’ve run up some of our debts quite inadvertently. Oftentimes, we don’t even know about them. And even though most of us live our lives doing the best we can, we’ve all had a few blind spots along the way.

rear-mirror-1119717_960_720One of those blind spots has recently been illuminated for me, so to speak. The other day, my eldest son told me about a girl he had met at a disco. She used to be a student of mine. He said that she was sending her regards to me. I was obviously pleased to hear it. But then my son added casually: “Well, and she also declared that you had never liked her”. I was shocked. It would have never occurred to me that this particular girl might feel this way. I searched through my mind. I remembered her very well. She was not the best student in the class, but she was quite good. Not a troublemaker or something. So I had no reason to dislike her. However, she felt I did …

I had a similar experience a few months later. I was at a graduation party my senior class had invited me to when a student came up to me and asked: “Mrs. Teacher, you never liked me, did you?” He said it in a lighthearted manner, with a broad smile on his face (and a glass of beer in his hand). Nevertheless, he did say it out loud.

I searched through my mind. The truth is that I had disciplined this boy quite a few times in the past – for using his mobile in the lesson (when it was forbidden), for not cooperating during speaking activities, for revising for other subjects during the class instead of focusing on English, etc. Also, I had given him a couple of Fs for failing to fulfill the requirements of the course.

Nevertheless, since then, I’ve had two more experiences resembling the scenarios above. When something happens once, it’s probably a coincidence. When it happens three or more times, one should start pondering ….. Why do students mix up strictness with a lack of affection? Do I openly favour some students? Do I frown too much on others? As I’m only human, I obviously do have a couple of teacher’s pets. Is it possible that some students are more sensitive than others? Even jealous, maybe?

Of course, it’s easier to show affection to a polite, hardworking student than to a complete rascal. Moreover, troublemakers don’t usually give a damn about what teachers think. Or at least it often appears so. But maybe I should try harder to let my students know that they are all equal to me – that I like them all the same – regardless of what they do. Boy, it’s not an easy mission. But they are only kids. They deserve to be loved and respected. No matter what….

 

Picking the best apples

apple-661670_960_720It seems that people have finally got used to the fact that they are the masters of their own lives. They can choose the best fitness centers, the best hairstylists, the best insurance companies, or the best dentists. They can even choose the best schools to send their kids to. It feels so good to have a choice. It’s wonderful to live in a world of endless opportunities.

It seems, though, that too much choice is not always a good thing. When there is a wide range of something, making the right decision then becomes more difficult and time-consuming. It can even become stressful and frustrating.

Now, with so much choice available everywhere you look, people have inevitably started to believe that they can pick everything like apples at a fruit market. Do you find an apple asymmetrical? Too small? Too soft? No problem. Squeeze it hard and then just throw it back if you don’t like it. Never mind that you damaged it completely. Choose another one. It’s your privilege. You’re the customer.

Does your teacher happen to wear an old-fashioned jacket? You don’t like her hairstyle? Criticize her openly or ask for a new teacher. Does she speak too quietly? Too loudly? Is she not a native speaker? Is she not interesting enough? Do you prefer a male teacher? Does she dare to discipline your kid? Accuse her of being incompetent, boring, aggressive, you name it, and ask for a new one. There’s no need to see the teacher in action or talk to her (or the headmaster) – it’s too much work and your schedule is full anyway. Organize a petition instead. Create a web page and make fun of everybody. Or, perhaps, let your child do the work. Let him have fun. Then support him without further questions and second everything he says. You trust him unconditionally cause he is mature enough (already 15!) and we have the freedom of speech stuff, remember? Anyway, you are the customer and you have the right to pick the best apples and dispose of the asymmetrical ones. So, go ahead!

 

 

The UU type of lesson

shelf-159852_960_720Today I’d like to share a lesson from last week. It was the UU type of class (unplanned & unprepared). Despite (or perhaps because of) its rather spontaneous nature, it went really well.

The topic we were discussing last week was Books and Reading. We talked about reading habits, writers, various types of publications and genres. Suddenly, an interesting idea occurred to me. I paired students up and asked them to imagine being newbie writers. I told them that nowadays, co-authors are on the rise and I mentioned some famous writers who like to co-write. I asked each pair to brainstorm ideas and write the first chapter of a book they’d like to publish. They could choose the type of publication and the genre, but it had to be gripping enough to capture the publishers’ attention.

The chapter had to be up to 120 words only. The product needed to be short enough to be easily shared in the class. There were 14 people in the class, i.e. 7 stories altogether. Each pair worked on their stories for about 40 minutes. Those who hadn’t finished the product in the lesson could do it as a homework assignment.

In the next lesson, one pair apologized for having left their stories at home. At first, I was a bit angry, but then I realized that I can turn this to my advantage. I told the two girls they were going to be publishers, and their task  was to choose three books out of the six we had.

Each pair presented their piece of writing in front of the class. The publishers took notes while listening. We had one autobiography, a fantasy book, a fable, two pure detective stories and one psychothriller with elements of horror and fantasy.

old-books-436498_960_720After the co-authors presented their products, the publishers could ask them questions which would clarify things and help them make a decision. At this point, the lesson turned into an interesting speaking activity. After that, each pair got some extra time to say why they thought their book was the best. Finally, I myself stepped in and asked some more questions I had jotted down before. During this stage, students practiced lots of useful literature words and many new vocabulary items emerged throughout the activity.

In the end, I gave the publishers a couple of minutes to quietly discuss their choices. Then they announced the verdict and justified their decisions. They also had to explain why they wouldn’t publish the other three books.

I was particularly pleased with the fact that all the work was done by the students. I was just an observer most of the time. In addition, the activity revealed a lot about students’ interests and literature taste, which we can elaborate on later.

 

They are a pack of wolves, but you may well survive …

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Wolves

I’ve been a homeroom teacher for almost two years now. I’d be lying if I said that it’s been an easy ride all the time; at times I felt excited but there were times when I didn’t feel very optimistic. In this post, I’d like to share some of the insights I’ve learned while working with my 15-year-old students.

Never talk about your class with/in other classes. Even the most innocent remark can be twisted into a poisonous lie – often quite inadvertently.

Social media are great but when discussing stuff with your class, I strongly recommend that you see your students face to face. The thing is that Facebook discussions, for example, can easily turn into a stream of misunderstandings. Your comment may be misunderstood just because somebody reads it out of context. On the other hand, it’s tempting to conclude that a student’s post is rude, but the fact is that nowadays, kids communicate in a very straightforward way. They spend too much time in the fast (and sometimes harsh) online environment. So you can’t blame them if they sometimes skip niceties.

When talking to your students individually, be careful what you say. If you think that students can keep secrets from one another, you may end up bitterly disappointed. Don’t you ever utter something along these lines: ‘Come on! I know you are a very nice boy. It’s a pity that you best friend, John, is so rude.’ The next day, you will desperately rack your brains to find out why John stares at you even more hatefully than usual.

Students undoubtedly need a lot of freedom. On the other hand, they should know you keep an eye on them all most of the time. If you disagree, read Lord of the Flies. I think the best way to get to know your students is on school trips. I was pleased to see how responsible my students were when we traveled somewhere together.

Remember that the worst troublemakers can help you a lot in terms of understanding your class dynamic. Believe it or not, they are a great source of wisdom. Why? Cause they are not afraid to tell you the truth face to face.

When assessing your students or criticizing their behavior, weigh each word you say. You may think you are just giving constructive feedback, but your students can take it as harsh criticism. Each and every student is different and it’s difficult to take your words back once they’ve been uttered.

Regardless of the fact that we teachers clearly want to think of our students as individuals, we should remember that when they are together, they are a pack of wolves, who tend to stand by one another if necessary. And I guess it’s absolutely fine and healthy in this stage of development. So keep in mind that the peer’s opinion will always be more important than what the teacher thinks and says. They may not show it directly and openly (some may even appear on your side), but once you’re gone, they will call you names if others do so too – no matter how much they actually like you.

Also, remember that those who ‘betray’ their peers by grassing on them, will sooner or later turn their backs on you too. Thus, respect honesty and genuineness. Appreciate those who tell you the truth face to face no matter how painful it is. However, cherish those who are mature enough to be honest without hurting anybody’s feelings. 

Admire those who can admit they were wrong or erred, especially those who come to you voluntarily to tell you so.

Parents can be the most valuable allies. However, those who don’t acknowledge the fact that you are there to help their kids will turn your life to hell. You must show explicitly that you are on their side. If they don’t want to see it, stop wasting your energy proving it.

wolves-537169_960_720
Wolves

It’s not easy to love your class unconditionally if a spanner gets into the works. Sometimes you may even think that god is punishing you for your past sins by having sent you this wild pack of wolves. But if you learn how to live with them, you may well survive ….. 🙂