Make space for the positive

IMG_20160807_124643It was the first week in August. We were on holiday, strolling happily around a gorgeous lake in the south of Moravia when my husband suddenly asked: When exactly do you start work this year?  I remember my inward reaction; I was shocked surprised that he felt like talking about school (he’s an educator too) in such a beautiful, carefree moment. I couldn’t understand the fact that school had come to his mind at all. I think I even panicked a little. I answered hurriedly and then my gaze fell on the lovely water surface, the wild ducks and all the lush greenery again. Work. Something so distant. A different life. Another dimension….

The thought that my husband’s question had made me feel so frustrated was even more disturbing that the feeling itself. This is the way mind likes torturing us. It creates negative feelings, which it then wants to push away, but it actually does more harm than good doing so.

Fast forward to the present moment. I start work in two days. I think it was about a week ago – when it cooled down a little and I started bumping into my students here and there – that I could again feel the pleasant tickling that I feel each year around this time. I hadn’t done anything in particular to bring this emotion about. It just came to me; the way it had been coming for years. And I was really happy because at one point I feared that I had lost some of my enthusiasm and love for teaching. But apparently, I’m back in the saddle. So, I guess, everything comes at the right time and when the time comes, it’s good to make space for the positive.

I’m well aware of the fact that many of our students feel the same way, possibly even worse. I wonder whether they get back in the saddle as quickly as we teachers do or whether the period of frustration goes on a little longer. I suspect the latter is true. 🙂 Anyway, I think I’ll definitely show a little more compassion for their initial lack of enthusiasm this year.

Do you sometimes have similar feelings during the summer holidays?  How do you deal with them?




Students used to be smarter?

IMG_20160807_193944I know that some teachers have ready-made tests and like to use them over and over again. It unquestionably has several advantages – it saves the teacher’s time and it is a reliable tool for comparison, i.e. for measuring how a current group of students differs from the previous years’ groups in terms of knowledge and skills. Or is it reliable?

I remember a colleague I used to work with who was rather exasperated by the fact that students’ knowledge and skills deteriorate from year to year so he couldn’t recycle his tests anymore. In fact, he was rather stubborn and he did recycle his tests for some time until he found out it was a waste of time and energy. His temporary inflexibility resulted in bitter disappointment on his part, as well as the students’ part. He was exasperated, as I said, while his students were frustrated by bad grades. He came up with good excuses, though; he said he’d been teaching the same stuff in the same way for many years so it must be the students’ fault – not his. He concluded: students simply used to be smarter.

I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea to recycle ready-made tests this way and I’m not even sure whether students used to be smarter. Surely, they were different. Everything was different. So, logically, the tests must be different.

I recently read an article which shared a very interesting survey. Some experts compared today’s students with their parents’ generation in terms of skills and knowledge (today’s students got the same questions as their predecessors in 1996). And ‘the parents’ lost the game. To cut it short (and simplify it), the survey showed that today’s kids had done better in maths, Czech, and science. The biggest improvement was, quite understandably, in English as a foreign language. The thing is that in the past, we used to be a communist country with a little possibility of travelling. Generally, there were few technologies, such as the internet, and few reading/listening materials, which would have helped us work on our English outside of the regular English lessons. The teaching methods at school were somewhat prehistoric anyway.

So, I believe that while recycling tests can be useful under certain circumstances, doing it just to prove that knowledge is something static and unchangeable, even from the cross-generation point of view, is not exactly beneficial.

Blog challenge: The type of teacher I’d appreciate learning from

20160817_185050One of the most interesting definitions of a good teacher I’ve recently heard was made by Josette LeBlanc on Maria Theologidou’s blog. In an interview, Maria asks Josette what was the moment she realized teaching was her call. Josette concludes her answer saying this:

… since my graduation [from the SIT Graduate Institute], I’ve been working on becoming the type of teacher I’d appreciate learning from.

This sentence immediately stood out for me. Although I can only guess what Josette means by her words, to me, “the type of teacher I’d appreciate learning from” sounds like a perfect definition of what makes a good teacher because, after all, one always wants the best for themselves.

So, one of the easiest ways of finding out how to do our job well, or at least in good conscience, we teachers can start by asking ourselves what type of teacher we would appreciate learning from. The reader may object that we probably do it subconsciously to some extent all the time. Also, each and every one of us has different expectations and these expectations keep changing over time so what we think at a given moment is never a universal truth. But I believe it’s a good start, a useful springboard for our future professional development and most importantly, it’s good for our students’ well-being.

So now I’m going to stop babbling and I’ll get to the point – to actually answering the question. To be able to do this, I’ll have to imagine myself sitting in the classroom as a student. I’ll have to go through a list of subjects I had at school, not just English as a foreign language, which, unlike maths, for example, I learned fairly easily and quickly. I’ll probably have to picture all the teachers I remember and pick the qualities which I appreciated at that time (or which I eventually realized were positives).

So, here goes.

The type of teacher I’d appreciate learning from:

  1. Someone who’s fully present in the classroom all the time, carefully registering what’s happening around. I believe attentive presence results in fairness and prevents conflicts.
  2. Someone who’s consistent even when it’s painful.
  3. Someone who loves the subject s/he teaches and shows others how they can learn to love it. In other words, someone who can pass his/her passion/love on to students.
  4. Someone who’s compassionate but not too ‘soft’.
  5. Someone who’s realistic regarding expectations and learning outcomes, i.e. someone who demands high but at the same time enables everybody to succeed.
  6. Someone who works hard but is not a workaholic. Teachers who have no life may take things too seriously and they may end up frustrated and burned out.

Now, I invite you to do the same if you have a spare minute or two. What type of teacher would you like to become, i.e. what type of teacher would you appreciate learning from? 🙂

A perspective that might surprise you …

IMG_20160806_161753If you ask Czech students to talk about their own country, they won’t normally jump in excitement. One of the reasons is that students are convinced that it’s not important to talk/learn about the things (they think) they already know. Also, Czechs often see their native land as totally boring; they tend to show negative attitudes towards Czech culture, politics, and people and their lifestyle in general. However, I believe that being able to talk about one’s country unbiasedly is one of the essential skills a language learner should acquire because, after all, one usually uses English to talk about their country with foreigners (i.e. potential visitors, customers, investors, etc.). So, for one, it’s bad publicity if you defame your country (no matter what Oscar Wild declared about bad publicity). Also, and more importantly, when you only focus on the negative, you’ll inevitably end up out of ideas very soon (not good for a potential examinee, right?).

I should stress that this post was inspired by the following bit from another post:

A final podcast recommendation is a site that is not very active at the moment, but has great potential, Bomb English. This site is two (very well-educated) foreigners living in Korea. They are both fluent in Korean and Korean culture, but they are native speakers of English. They offer a perspective on Korea that might surprise you.

For some reason, when reading Mike’s post, specifically the red bit above, I suddenly remembered a YouTube channel called Geography Now, which my students love watching as an addition to the materials they are required to study when preparing for their final state exam in English.

On this channel, they cover lots of countries, but in the lessons, we usually focus on the English speaking ones. However, they recently included the Czech Republic too. As the Czech Republic is one of the final exam topics, we decided to check it out as well. And it was a huge success. I myself found this video much more engaging than the ones about all the foreign countries. Why?

Well, probably because I was on the lookout for the things/places/facts I

  1. already knew
  2. didn’t know (and was surprised by)
  3. had forgotten and remembered again
  4. could agree with
  5. wanted/had to disagree with.

But most importantly, I was curious about the way foreigners present the Czech Republic and particularly, and this is the funniest part, how the native English speakers pronounce all the difficult Czech names (spoiler: they did really well!).

This, obviously, inspired a lot of interesting discussions in class and opened new horizons for many students, myself included.

Well, there are always perspectives that may surprise you…