Well, 2022 is coming to an end. It has been a good year but it’s also been unusual in many ways. And as I think it’s always useful to pause and reflect, I’ve decided to ask myself the following 13 questions, which I had come across on Melli O’Brien‘s FB page.
1.What was the best decision you made? Not to quit blogging. I’ve learned that you don’t always have to irrecoverably say goodbye to things in your life. Just hit the metaphorical pause button and resume whenever you feel the need to.
2.How are you different from a year ago? I am different in many ways. At some point in 2022, my ego was shattered to pieces and I had to put them back together again. This, I believe, made me a bit stronger.
3.What have you learned from the hard times? Let go of things but don’t burn bridges completely. Instead, burn what’s useless in you and go on.
4.What did you enjoy the most this year? I enjoyed being in the classroom full-time again and travelling a bit.
5.What are you most proud of this year? I’m proud of my ability to trip over, fall and get up again without doing too much harm to myself or the people around me.
6.What did you learn about yourself? I learned that listening to friends who can be brutally honest can be very helpful but, on the other hand, appreciating those who quietly and compassionately support me through my struggles without interfering is equally valuable.
7.What energised you? What drained you? Travelling to places I had never been before and meeting new friends energized me a great deal. Having to handle the egoic conditioning of my mind and some of my destructive thoughts robbed me of a lot of my energy supplies.
8.What advice would you have given to your last-year self if you could go back and start the year again? Accept things as they are. Change what you can and let go of the rest. Sometimes things will look after themselves. Also, remember that not everybody feels the same way you do so listen and observe patiently and do not jump to conclusions – you’ll finally come to understand the other person’s point of view.
9.What matters most to you in the next year? My inner peace.
10.What are you going to continue doing? Shedding light on some of the most vulnerable and fragile aspects of my personality.
11.What do you want to change completely? The way I perceive reality. Fewer assumptions, and/or (unrealistic) expectations. I’d like to become more patient, too.
12.How do you intend to be different at the end of next year? I want to become someone who focuses on the present moment and makes the most out of it. I’d like to be someone who appreciates the little things they have and happily welcomes the ones that are about to come.
13.What is your highest intention for the next year? To stay calm in difficult situations.
PS.: I believe that this can also be a very good classroom activity. I’m definitely going to try it out with my older students. 😉
The other day, I came across the concept of logotherapy. At first, I was rather confused by the fact that it was mentioned in the context of education – since it’s a term mainly used in psychotherapy – but as I further explored it, it started to make perfect sense.
So, logotherapy is a therapeutic approach that helps people find personal meaning in life. It’s a form of psychotherapy that is focused on the future and on our ability to endure hardship and suffering through a search for purpose. Logotherapy was developed by neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frank and is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find meaning in life. In other words, Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something called a ‘will to meaning’ – a desire to find meaning in life. Also, he believed that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning.
Frankl believed in three core properties on which his theory and therapy were based:
Each person has a healthy core.
One’s primary focus is to enlighten others about their internal resources and provide them with tools to use their inner core.
Life offers purpose and meaning but does not promise fulfilment or happiness.
Logotherapy proposes that meaning in life can be discovered in three distinct ways:
By creating a work or doing a deed.
By experiencing something or encountering someone.
By the attitude that we take toward unavoidable suffering.
So, what does all this have to do with teaching, ELT, education, etc.? First of all, I strongly believe that apart from teaching English, our primary goal is to enlighten our students about their internal resources and to provide them with tools to use their inner core. We, teachers, can help our students to find meaning through creativity and creation. Also, we can offer opportunities for them to experience something meaningful in the classroom as well as outside of it. Finally, we can dig deep through all the layers of what we see on the outside and find the healthy core each student has.
Second of all, logotherapy, or the realization of its basic premise of it, can help us start the healing process aimed at ourselves. We teachers also have healthy cores and we definitely have the power to realize that even though life (or our job) does not automatically promise fulfilment or happiness, it definitely offers purpose, so the only challenge is to discover it – through creativity and work. And even though we may suffer now and then, or feel unfulfilled or dissatisfied, it’s the attitude we take towards this sort of ‘hardship’.
Thirdly, there’s the question of motivation – a concept so often debated in the context of ELT and education in general. Once you find a purpose in doing something, for example learning a language, things become easier for everybody involved – for the student as well as the teacher.
From the above, it seems that having a meaning or purpose in life correlates with one’s overall health, happiness, and life satisfaction. So, through logotherapy, we teachers could kill several proverbial birds with one stone. We could simply make the classroom a happier place and our work even more meaningful. After all, once the teacher is happy, the students are too (and vice versa).
In April 2021, I wrote up my blog post about the 3rd P.A.R.K. Online Conference. It seems like ages ago now although it’s just 18 months. Things were so different back then and by ‘different’ I mean, well, not precisely satisfying for us teachers. So before I even begin this post, I need to pause and give a moment of appreciation to the P.A.R.K. conference organizers who, even in the time of greatest despair, didn’t give up and gave us hope by keeping up the good job, albeit in a slightly different format.
But here we are – in November 2022. It seems that finally, things have got back to normal and once again, we can live, breathe, attend ‘real’ conferences and learn from people face to face. And I must say that the 28th P.A.R.K. conference has probably been the most enjoyable experience in the professional world so far. Mind you, the previous conferences there or elsewhere had been as good as this one; the line-up of presenters, the atmosphere, and the catering standards had always been top-notch. Still, this time, I felt more present and focused than ever before. So I wonder… is it my age, my experience or the fact that we have become more appreciative after having been through so much recently?
Maybe it was the enthusiasm, joy and authenticity with which the presenters delivered their talks which resonated with me so much. And to be honest, we all got an enormous boost of energy right at the start because the conference was kicked off by the amazing Hugh Dellar. I had already known Hugh from the online environment and had highly appreciated his work. But once I saw him present face-to-face, I was impressed – by his cordial personality as well as his insights on teaching. In his opening plenary, he spoke about motivation. And I need to make the long story short here because otherwise, it would be a very, very long post (and I have some other things to cover here). So, here’s a summary of the tips Hugh gave the audience on how to motivate students:
Listen to your students (identify their goals and needs, listen to the content of what they say, simply make the most of the people in the room).
Talk to your students (don’t worry about your TTT).
Tell your students about yourselves (show them you are a normal person).
Teach your students useful things (what they actually need to say or what they would say in L1).
Teach the class first and the coursebook second (don’t worry about the number of pages you need to cover, skip or elaborate if need be).
Be careful how you correct (overcorrection can destroy people’s confidence; your goal is to help students to say things in a better way).
Test your students (but in a less frightening way, provide positive feedback, use instant revision activities, get students to re-tell texts and re-do tasks, gap words in your board work).
Worry less about the topics (even the PARSNIPs, let students ‘bring’ the topics to the lessons).
Worry more about the language and anecdotes (sometimes it’s the language that drives the interest, not the topic; any text has language that may be useful to students).
Look deep into your coursebook (a good textbook has little bits of speaking often, teaches useful language, and has conversations in L2 that resemble the ones they have in L1).
All in all, Hugh’s approach seems to be very personalized, student-focused, as well as practical, which definitely resonates with me.
And then it was time for the first workshop of the day. From the plethora of outstanding presenters, I chose to see my favourite methodology teacher of all time – Nikki Fořtová. I remember as if it was just yesterday; I was applying for my master’s programme at Masaryk University in Brno and during the oral examination, she was there on the committee – as inconspicuous and humble as I have always known her since. And then, two years later, when I was taking my final exams, she was there too, sitting quietly in the back of the room, taking notes. In the meantime, we had a lot of fantastic methodology lessons with her. So it’s not surprising that I always try to see her – because of my nostalgic memories and because she is such an amazing professional.
Nikki started her workshop in an unusual manner – she didn’t just say Hello, my name is … and I’m going to talk about X and Y. No, that would be too plain for Nikki. Instead, before she even started formally, as if by the way, she bombarded us with tips from the virtual world, such as youglish.com, where you can learn how to pronounce tricky expressions by listening to authentic videos which contain the word you searched for. Or textingstory.com, an app which enables you to write a text conversation, create a video from your story, watch your creation on the screen, and share it with your students. Then she offered a few handy classroom activities which can potentially make your coursebook more engaging. Throughout her workshop, I learned that, for instance, running dictation can be done in groups of three, not just in pairs. I learned how to erase a permanent marker from the whiteboard (by drawing over the marks you’ve made in a permanent marker with a dry-erase marker). I also discovered that according to research, you can either pre-teach vocabulary or teach it later – it doesn’t really make a difference. And learned a new word – maven. 🙂 And I’m definitely going to try the run and rip activity she demonstrated. And finally, she showed us an amazing platform called blooket.com, something I had never heard of before but am eager to explore. On this website, the teacher picks a question set and a unique game mode. Then, the website generates a code that players can use to join the game on their own devices. After the game starts, the players will answer questions to help them win.
Just before the lunch break, I saw a talk by Charles Stewart. This was a new ELT figure for me and I didn’t quite know what to expect, so I considered it a step out of my comfort zone. But you know what they say: only if you leave your comfort zone do you really start growing. Charles’s workshop was called Let’s Talk About Progression, from B1 to C2, but the main theme was speaking, namely how to achieve excellence in it. In his view, excellence entails speaking fluently, naturally, and accurately. It also means using body language appropriately, knowing what to say in a particular situation and context, and having plenty of time for planning and rehearsal. He also pointed out that it is important to balance fluency and accuracy. Although many teachers would probably suggest that fluency is far more important, we should also aim at accuracy. Teaching it doesn’t have to be a nuisance, though. He advised that we can teach language structures covertly and inconspicuously. For example, you can give your students a list of have you ever questions before you even teach the present perfect. Students will naturally deduce how to use it long before you explain how things work. Also, he stressed the importance of feedback. He believes that some of the most learning he has done was through feedback. We talked about different ways of providing feedback, e.g. sandwich feedback (positive + constructive + positive), triangle feedback (3 different things a student did well or 2 positives and 1 negative/constructive), or two stars and a wish (2 good points and one thing to improve). Apart from formal teacher feedback, he mentioned the importance of self-reflection and peer feedback. Throughout the talk, it was clear that there was this pattern emerging – the rule of three. Charles called it The 3rd Time Lucky.
In his after-lunch workshop, Hugh Dellar talked about magic. Yes, he believes teachers can make magic in their classrooms and that’s one of the reasons he still keeps doing this job. He shared a few moving anecdotes from his own teaching career and he also recalled one of the best lessons he’d ever taught – it was one of those moments when he felt hopeless and desperate and almost wanted to give up but then, something magical happened, which, in the end, changed things completely.
After this beautiful, emotional introduction, Hugh spoke about the ways of turning a lesson into something meaningful and useful. As he already mentioned in his opening plenary, one of our primary goals as teachers is to help students say what they want to say – in better English. So, it’s a good idea to board students’ real-life stories, reformulate what they say and then encourage them to use the ‘upgraded’ version. To achieve this, the teacher should try to make space beyond controlled and free practice activities, even when they seem under pressure because they have a lot to ‘teach’. He advises us to leave space for chat, small talk, stories, and banter. He says that we should keep in mind that lexis is far more often the issue than grammar. Don’t worry about the syllabus too much. When a student needs a word, they are ready for that word. Also, accept the fact that students sometimes say things that break conventional taboos (they even bring up PARSNIPs), which can be unpleasant for the teacher to deal with. Some of the most unpleasant ideas we have to deal with in class sometimes emerge in response to the most mundane questions. In the same vein, personal responses will often emerge after fairly impersonal questions. So, all you need to do is to provide the language the student needs and then perhaps explain why you disagree. This can help you take the heat off a difficult situation and you will still be able to provide some useful language to that particular student as well as the rest of the group. Remember, though, that you only get better at turning student output into whole-class input with practice. All in all, the process of working with the language is more important than the product. So, learn to travel off map more. When something interesting pops up, be ready to ditch the plan. Learn how to enquire and explore. Even if magic doesn’t happen immediately, at least you have provided opportunities for it to potentially emerge.
And finally, here comes the closing plenary by Nikki Fořtová – the proverbial icing on the cake. You may think that one could already have enough of a presenter they saw earlier that day, but no, you can never have enough of Nikki, simply because she is amazing and she has so much to offer. So I stayed fully focused till the very end, taking notes, trying not to miss anything important she had to say. Her topic was called Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teachers from Someone Who’s Spend 21 Years Trying to Adopt Them. David Koster, the most important guy behind the scenes, had introduced the topic as a bit of a tongue-in-the-cheek one, so we were ready for some fun. And yes, it was playful indeed but quite deep at the same time.
So, what do highly effective teachers do, according to Nikki?
They turn up (they stick with their students and are available for them; they show commitment).
They bring T.E.A. to the classroom (trust, empathy and appreciation).
They are organized (they clean and purge and they have a logical filing system; something to remember: according to research, students do better in tests in an organized classroom).
They take risks (Nikki mentioned a few memorable things here: the fixed vs. growth mindset, the quote by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”, and the metaphorical journey leading from the comfort zone to growth).
They avoid being happiness hoovers, i.e. they avoid sucking the joy of every situation (tip: you can always flip a negative statement into a positive one, e.g. This class just can’t learn. > Every student has the potential to learn).
They reflect and have bouncebackability (tip: apply the ALAC model: acting > looking back > assessment of essential aspects > creating alternative methods of action > acting > … )
They recharge (tip: help yourself before you can help others, say “no” in a nice way, i.e. hit the pause button, use the Time Management Eisenhower Matrix (a task management tool that helps you organize and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. Using the tool, you’ll divide your tasks into four boxes based on the tasks you’ll do first, the tasks you’ll schedule for later, the tasks you’ll delegate, and the tasks you’ll delete.)
And that was it. After the raffle, I was headed home – happy, recharged and full of optimism and new ideas to use in class. And I feel the same now that I have finished my post. 🙂
So, you may have heard about the term honeymoon phase. Itis an early part of a couple’s relationship where everything seems carefree and happy. It usually lasts from six months to two years and can be marked with lots of laughs, intimacy, and fun dates. In psychology, however, there is a term called the honeymoon effect, which gives a name to a state that happens with an increase in job satisfaction immediately following a job change and it’s followed by the honeymoon hangover effect – a decline in job satisfaction.
When I came across the said concepts, it crossed my mind that we teachers probably experience similar states – not only throughout our entire careers but even throughout the school year.
As a newbie teacher, one is obviously excited about their job and what’s in store for them. After some time, you may get a little less tipsy, so to speak, because you start to understand what the real challenges of the job are. And you gradually get less and less excited because, in a way, every day is the same. Plus, it’s not always rewarding to be a teacher. When I personally got dangerously unmotivated in the past, I subsequently and almost invariably experienced some kind of change (which came to me unexpectedly or I simply made things happen). As a consequence, a new spurt of bliss, passion and energy sprang from within.
As I said, I believe the same pattern applies to each and every school year. After the summer holidays, I am full of enthusiasm and a bottomless well of new ideas. I can multitask like a pro. This period can last up to a few months but right before Christmas, I start to feel the first signs of pressure and the hangover effect sets in. For me, the most critical months are probably January and February (and March too), which can definitely be ascribed to the chilly weather and the lack of light too. But it’s not just that.
And in the same vein, within a single day, one lesson can be an amazing success while the next one is a complete disaster. And you ask yourself: Where did I go wrong? Well, maybe you got too excited and thus too exhausted by the triumph that you couldn’t but experience the honeymoon hangover effect.
And finally, the smallest of the smallest units – the lesson itself. It was at uni where they told us that we should be careful – activities should never be too exciting. The teacher should always keep things at bay. Well, now I know why. If an activity is too invigorating, the students simply get tired or worse, they go on the rampage.
Now, negativity aside, the question is how to stay in the honeymoon phase for as long as possible. The following tips are some of the things that help me overcome the periods of honeymoon hangover.
I try to be grateful for my job. As I said earlier, it’s not always rewarding but when it is, I bookmark the moment – mentally or in writing (on this blog, for example).
I give myself permission to feel frustrated from time to time. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies after all. So I try to be gentle and compassionate with myself if things get a bit overwhelming.
I go for every opportunity to learn and share. I go to workshops and conferences, and I read about and pay attention to everything that may be useful or uplifting.
They say that change is the spice of life. So I consciously shake things up in the classroom from time to time.
I constantly reflect on what I do in the classroom and how I feel about it.
I try to keep in mind that change is the only constant, so I accept the fact that a period of bliss will always be followed by a period of distress and vice versa. By merely accepting this fact, things instantly get much better.
To wind up, I’d like to stress that I distinguish the honeymoon hangover effect from burnout syndrome. It is because the latter results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and thus is a much more serious condition that needs to be addressed differently. However, I believe that some of the tips above may, to a certain extent, help to ease the symptoms of burnout syndrome, or they may at least serve as prevention.
I sometimes ponder this: What is it that makes my job so enjoyable for me. Why is it so that the longer I have been a teacher, the more I love being one? You know, it sometimes crosses my mind that I should be a little burned out … a bit worn-out after so many years of doing the same thing. But I’m not.
Don’t get me wrong; I did experience moments of despair and fatigue in the past, most of which took place at the start of my career and also quite recently – during the remote teaching period. But eventually, I learned from that experience and now I can use the newly acquired and assimilated knowledge and skills to enjoy what I do even more.
But I’m spurting big words here. Life consists of small moments which after all, create the bigger picture. The small pieces of a mosaic are what is important. But what are they?
What first comes to mind is my experience, without which I would hardly be able to fully enjoy anything related to my profession. Not that I didn’t enjoy my job when I was younger and inexperienced. I did. Those joyful moments, however, were rarely planned for. Neither were they too permanent for that matter. I mostly experienced sporadic, spontaneous moments of happiness, followed by instances of hopelessness in quick succession. Just like a rollercoaster. Ups and downs, the ebb and flow. But that was an inevitable part of my evolution as a teacher.
My age is another important factor in the interplay of light and shadow of being a teacher. It’s obviously closely related to experience. However, what I mean is that the older you get, the more easy-going, relaxed and tolerant you can become and thus, you create more space for enjoyment. Also, without trying to sound too dramatic, you realize you have less and less time left. You realize that there will be a point in the future when you won’t be able to do what you love anymore … for whatever reasons. And finally, the older you get, the more you appreciate working with children and young people in general. And the wider the gap, the more you can gain from it. ¨Some say that grandchildren may often have a better relationship with their grandparents than children have with their parents. That’s what I mean.
Related to all the above, you gradually have better relationships with your colleagues and bosses. You know your stuff so you’ve become immune to all the potential trickery and abuse. In other words, you know your worth. You can easily navigate yourself in the world of your profession – you know what to look for and what to discard and fake and useless.
And finally, the everyday moments of joy – when a student approaches you and tells you that she enjoys your lessons. Or when they come up to you and ask for help, which you can easily provide. When they beam with enthusiasm and energy in your lessons. When they tell you that you are their favourite teacher. When your effort is appreciated by your boss or a colleague who has just observed your lesson. And so on and so forth. It’s right here in your hands and has always been. It’s just that you can clearly see it now.
One of the things I’ve always liked to have in my life is control. It sounds a bit authoritarian but I believe it’s one of the basic human desires no matter what anybody says. This has also long been one of my deep-seated convictions about teaching and classroom management. So, as a teacher, I like to have the upper hand in class, too. Not that I crave power because I like the feel of it, it just feels safer to hold the reins and be in charge. To be more precise, deep down I believe things go more smoothly and effectively, i.e. students learn more when there is an order as opposed to chaos.
When I was younger, I often lost ground when things slipped out of control in class, especially with younger kids. Consequently, I would feel really bad about myself. In my book, it was always my fault. Luckily, it’s much better now because a) I’m more experienced so I don’t often let things go out of control – simply by taking precautions, b) if it does happen, though, I have some strategies and coping mechanisms to handle the situation, and c) I’ve come to realize that after all, losing control may not always be a bad thing. I’ve learned it the hard way, though…
I’ve learned there are many situations when things can’t be controlled. And you have to accept it. When a bee flies into the classroom, there’s not much you can do to stop the disorder and confusion immediately. People feel threatened in such situations. It’s their basic instinct to start screaming and jumping around like crazy. Well, you, the one in charge, can kill the bee (which I’d rather not do) or let it out (which I always opt for), but this intervention takes time. Needless to say, by the time you handle the situation, the class has already fallen apart and you’ll need a lot of energy to restore some kind of ‘law and order’. When your student gets so sick that you need to call an ambulance in the middle of your class, you can bet your bottom dollar that you will never be able to resume the lesson. It’s so strange, you know … when the sick student is safe and in good hands of the paramedics, your teacher-self automatically wants to pick up where they left off because you feel you owe the other students. But it’s not possible and it’s actually insane to think you can simply rewind and start over. And let’s face it, it’s you who desperately needs the restoration, not the students.
It may sound too harsh but apart from being a control freak, I also like to mentally abuse myself. When I feel things have slipped out of control, I always ask myself: What would people think if they suddenly entered the classroom? What would they see? Chaos. Mayhem. Havoc. They’d simply see the opposite of what a normal lesson should look like and I’d probably have to explain myself, which automatically adds to my dissatisfaction with myself as a teacher.
But sometimes I’m kind to myself, which is happening more and more these days, so when things slip out of control (because kids are having too much fun during an activity or something has just upset them), I force myself to stop and quietly observe. In other words, I do not jump up and interfere right away as my true nature dictates to me, but I take a step back, metaphorically and literally speaking. And sometimes things settle down after a while without the slightest intervention of mine. The chaos in front of me gradually reshapes and remoulds itself into something perfectly harmonious. It’s just a bit noisier. Sometimes I realize that things are actually perfectly fine even though at first sight, they may look a bit disorganized. And oftentimes it is not chaos at all; I just see it that way because I’m such a despot.
This is not to say that I believe that all of a sudden, things can go all liberal. What I’m saying is that it’s often the teacher’s (read: me) focus and perspective that need to change. And although there has been a lot of self-flagellation in this post, I still believe I’m a good teacher and particularly my classroom management skills are my strongest suit. I just think that I could be happier and more content if I just let it be. 🙂
It all started on 13 March 2020, when full-time education in elementary, secondary and tertiary educational facilities was cancelled here in the Czech Republic. Everything turned upside down and life became surreal. And that was when our egos started suffering …
From that day on, we teachers had to look at our own faces, listen to our own voices and endure being constantly observed by others in a totally new environment – online.
You are probably aware that there’s a psychological reason behind why we hate looking at photographs of ourselves. I think we’ve all been there; when we see a photo of ourselves, for some reason, we start focusing on the bits of the image we don’t like and overall, we look older, uglier and fatter than we normally feel. On the other hand, our friends always look amazing in photos, so we don’t understand why they cringe too when it’s just us who looks terrible.
Similarly, we don’t particularly enjoy listening to our own voices. They sound so different, almost alien. It can’t be us speaking.
And I doubt there are many people out there who like being observed doing stuff in a situation that is new to them, let alone formally.
Yet, these are some of the things we‘ve had to get used to doing. In other words, we‘ve had to become desensitised to constantly seeing our faces on the screens, hearing our voices and being observed by our students (most of them invisible), or even by our bosses sometimes.
How did we get used to it all then? Well, we had no choice. We had to do the things regardless of how we felt about them. At first, it was tough. I think it’s similar to publishing your first blog post. You put yourself out there and wait. If the feedback is positive, you obviously want to do it again. If the feedback you receive is negative, you always have the option to stand down. The worst thing, I believe, is no response. And this is how I often felt when teaching online – in a void. Like I didn’t know where I had come from and where I was headed. Like a lonely child staring at the ceiling of her bedroom.
However, unlike an unsuccessful blogger, who can always quit, we couldn’t just stop teaching online. We had to keep going no matter what. So, at first, we cringed every time we saw that strange face on the screen or heard that uncanny voice. But after some time, we somehow stopped fussing about our self-images. We started focusing on other things – the more important things. After all, we needed to make our lessons work, and that required a lot of energy and cognitive capacity. So in the end, we didn’t give a damn about what we looked like that particular morning or how awkward our voice sounded in a video we had created.
We’ve learned an important lesson: that undue awareness of oneself often stands in the way of success. There’s no point in worrying about the things you can’t change (the sound of our voice) but there’s a lot we can do to improve the things we’re not happy about (our classroom management skills in a remote lesson).
The way I use the we pronoun may feel a bit patronizing in the sense that I believe we all felt the same way. But I know not everybody is so self-conscious. By we I actually mostly mean I but I’m inviting everybody who finds this topic relatable to include themselves in the we. Also, I’m aware that there were other professions in which people had to endure much more stress (nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, shop assistants, etc.). My point is that there are many forms of psychological pressure which may be less visible but equally annoying and damaging to a fragile soul.
As you might have noticed, I’ve lately been fairly productive here on my blog and I do apologize for the influx of posts to those who consider daily blogging a bit too much for their taste (there’s even a new word for such a ‘diagnosis’, according to David Crystal). Well, there’s always the option of unfollowing, muting or ignoring (or whatever the possibilities are). But if you’ve chosen to bear with me nevertheless, thank you. 🙂
Although blogging feels so good these days, even therapeutic, I find my current spurt of energy rather ironic because it was not so long ago that I shared my feelings regarding a lack of zeal. In that older post, I complained said that I had lost enthusiasm for social media and particularly blogging. Was it blogger burnout? Either way, life is a rollercoaster.
Since then, things have improved massively. It’s no surprise, though, because it’s the summer holidays, right? However, I still remember how I felt back then – as if there was nothing more to share with the world. I felt like things were happening but for some reason, there was no space for reflection (and so nothing to write about). Maybe it was because my working memory was overloaded with all the weird stuff going on around me. And maybe that’s why I couldn’t tap into my reflective capacity. In hindsight, I would say that I was running on autopilot, at least most of the time – as though I wasn’t even fully conscious of what I was doing and why. So perhaps, I needed to save all the creative powers for the actual job that had to be done, i.e. teaching online, and there was no inspiration left for reflecting on my teaching and blogging.
After all, asynchronous lessons had to be created and although I found the process quite enjoyable, it took a lot of my time and energy. In addition to that, obviously, synchronous lessons had to be delivered as well, but not many of us had actually received much proper training on how to go about it successfully. There were so many new skills to acquire on the fly. What is more, you can be a teacher genius but your experience is mainly derived from being in the actual classroom. So let’s face it, even though some of that experience can come in handy in online teaching, most of the time, you are in the dark (myself at any rate).
Also, I remember that back then, I knew there were people out there who were more knowledgeable and had more experience with the virtual environment and I suspected that what teachers needed most was useful tips and advice on how to handle the new situation rather than somebody whining about how uncomfortable they felt with this or that. But maybe I’m wrong and people would have related. It’s just water under the bridge anyway …
So, most of the time I kept myself busy exploring ELT websites and online materials that fellow teachers were busily sharing and recommending, which, in the end, was what helped me most at that time. It was a period of consumption of practical ideas which had to be put into practice immediately – with little time to gauge and/or reflect on their efficacy. Life happened, as they say, and we simply complied without questioning too much, I guess.
But now, at last, it’s time to stop and contemplate for a bit. I feel that at the moment, emotions, as well as newly formed beliefs, need to be scrutinized before new input can be taken in. Luckily, it seems that all the previously suppressed reflective powers are back, ready to serve me again. The bottle was opened and the genie can get out.
Another activity I’d like to record here on my blog for future reference is what I have labelled as Shopping Spree. Let me explain the context first: I created this little project of mine soon after some of the lockdown measures had been lifted here in The Czech Republic late in May. It was the time when we were allowed to return to the classrooms but still had to wear masks inside. As the weather had gotten pretty warm and staying indoors thus became uncomfortable with the masks on, we teachers looked for ways to make things more tolerable for us and the students.
Anyway, the topic we were covering at that time was shopping. The school building is located near the town centre full of small corner shops, which is ideal for what I was up to. I created a handout (see image below). As you can see, in the left-hand column, there’s a list of various items you might hypothetically want to shop for. I divided my students into 4 groups of 3 or 4. Each group got a copy of the handout. First, they had to make sure they knew the meaning of all the items on the list. The next task was to go out and find the shops where they would normally buy the items. They had to write the name of the shop, such as toyshop and the name or the address of the shop (or otherwise identify which toyshop it actually was). But most importantly, they had to document that they had actually found the shop. They did so by taking a selfie of the whole group outside that specific shop. I strongly advised against actually entering the shops because it would create a bit of havoc and they would have had to put on the masks, which would have been a tad counter-productive and not exactly safe in the given situation.
I need to stress that all the students are locals and/or are quite familiar with the town centre. It’s also worth mentioning that they are all 16 years old. Also, the shops are not too far away from each other (we’re talking about a radius of 500 meters at the most). So it was not too difficult or dangerous for the students to physically complete this part of the task.
However, to spice things up, I included a tweak, which eventually proved to be the most exciting part of the whole activity. While on the mission, the students had to be as inconspicuous as possible to avoid being spotted by the other teams. If a team noticed another group, they took a photo of them. I walked around the town centre monitoring the teams as much as I could under the given circumstances and it was fun to watch them trying to lay low. And yes, the paparazzi part was amusing too.
Unfortunately, we only had 45 minutes to complete the whole quest so obviously, the feedback phase needed to be postponed to a later date, which, I admit, is not ideal. So a 90-minute lesson would definitely be more suitable for such a type of project.
Having said that, I believe that my objectives were fully met via this activity: the students got some fresh air, they had fun, but most importantly, they learned and/or revised some target vocabulary. Also, they got to know the shopping area better, which I believe is good for the economy. What I mean is that while all the big supermarkets stayed open all along during the lockdown period, it was the small shops that had suffered the most due to the strict anti-epidemic measures. So I thought that a little bit of fair promotion wouldn’t do harm. 😉
Without exaggeration, having to teach six consecutive lessons with 5 or 10-minute breaks in between may sometimes be a real ordeal. In my context, it is the maximum you can reach because then you REALLY need a lunch break. If you wanted to sound overly optimistic, you could say that there is a lot of variety. Indeed. We’re talking about a lot of variables here, such as six different groups, ages, mixes of genders, coursebooks, sets of additional materials, classrooms, numbers of students, seating arrangements, vibes, levels of motivation, etc.
Now, if you are good at maths, you know that these variables provide an awful lot of combinations. Let’s say you start with a group of fifteen 12-year-olds (odd number is never ideal) which consists of three boys and twelve girls (not perfect either), you need to grab a specific coursebook (which you may or may not know like the back of your hand), you teach in a small classroom on the top floor (while your office is on the ground floor), the seats are arranged in a horseshoe (good… if it’s your preferred arrangement), the students are eager to learn (excellent!) but are a bit too noisy sometimes (you need to take this into consideration when planning the lesson). Then you go on to teach a group of fourteen 16-year-olds (6 students are missing, 7 haven’t done their homework), the classroom is in the adjacent building, you are using a brand new coursebook you are not quite familiar with yet, etc. If this marathon happens on a Monday (which will be my case from September on), you have the whole weekend to prepare for it. But even with thorough lesson plans, you have to be perfectly fit on that day (no mild colds, headaches, hangovers or other types of sores). And if you are like me, you may even need a lot of coffee all along.
Most of all, be prepared to cut corners in order to survive. In no particular order, these are some of the tips that have worked for me.
Don’t feel guilty if you come to the classroom a few minutes later. You don’t have a jetpack after all. Explain, apologize and start the lesson as if nothing happened.
Do not overrun a lesson. If possible, finish a minute earlier rather than a minute later.
If you are preparing some additional fun materials (warmers, games), do not hesitate to use the same activity in two or more lessons (with all the necessary adjustments).
In the morning, put your coursebooks in a pile in the order you are going to need them – with the first one on the top of the pile. The same applies to the additional materials and the equipment you’ll need, such as your CD player. Have everything at hand.
In advance, ask a student from each group to meet you at your office to help you carry all the stuff. Your transfer to the classroom will happen much faster.
To save your vocal cords, include a lot of group/pair work and/or writing/reading practice (or tests). Speak as little as possible. Let the students do the work.
‘Lay low’, i.e. do not experiment or take too many risks in the form of brand new, untested activities. You don’t really need to spike up your cortison levels.
You may feel tired towards the end of the day. This is when caffeine stops working and your energy levels drop. Thus conflicts may arise (at least in my case). Be careful. Do not be harsh on you or your students.
Do not rely on technology too much. The internet may not be working properly on that day so if you have planned the whole lesson around a YouTube video, you may feel bitter. Also, it may take some time to connect all the cables laying around before you are able to turn on the damn smart TV. In fact, I try to avoid technology completely on such a busy day.
Finally, remember that your students have had six lessons in a row too, so it’s not just you who feels tired (and possibly bored to death). Be patient, especially towards the end of the day.
Most importantly, and this is where you can’t cut corners, you really need some sort of a plan, no matter how experienced and good at improvisation you are. I always look forward to my upcoming lessons, even when there are six consecutive classes ahead of me, but I do have to know that I am well-prepared for each and every one to a certain extent.