16 question marks and a soundtrack.

I’ve read it somewhere that getting students to talk about their lives makes them more motivated in learning a language in general and quite excited about your class in particular. I’ve read it, somewhere, many times.

Disturbing moments, anyone? I raise my hand.

Set-up. Mood: feeling calm, confident, expectant.
I thought it’d be so cool to do this activity from Teaching Unplugged, “Up and Down”, in which you get your students to sketch a mood diagram to talk about how they felt during some period of time you choose to talk about (a weekend, a longer holiday). It’s speaking about my learner’s recent personal experience, it’s going to be practising adjectives and participles to describe events and feelings about them. I’ve done it before. Nice one.

Development. Mood: feeling suddenly less calm and more suspicious; the air is getting tense.
I’m so great, my choices are amazing today. I decide to record this activity to later on think about it and analyse. Press the button.
At that point I could have sensed something was going wrong when I glanced at the page and saw that sharp decline. This could have prompted me to stop this, or twist it, or be careful. But the ball had already been set rolling. In the flashback of the moment, now, I am sure I noticed the eyes becoming watery. I didn’t say a word but I could have (Did I have to? Did I need to? Would you?) Is it in fact a point to be concerned about that I could’ve prevented the bad feelings for the student? It was apparently something looking for a way out, for an excuse to stream out like that.

Peak point. Mood: feeling… uneasy? uncomfortable? damaged? psyched? I wouldn’t mind somebody teaching me some words to describe this state.
I hear myself asking “Are you scared?” And I’m pretty sure now I was asking myself. Hectic racking of the brain, but not for what’s in my activity sandbox… Do I have a box of ready-made emphatic solutions? Some plans maybe, worksheets, activities explaining step by step how to fix this. It’s an extreme emergent emotional reaction which I haven’t read in books how to deal with.
Apparently, it was an unhappy vacation.

From that point on something was happening but it’s all more or less a mess in my head now. In the end, the best of all choices I made at that lesson (probably) was choosing to read aloud. My luck to have one of Kevin Stein’s short stories with me, and the one that the student could relate to. Heart thumping subsides. It’s all fine in the end, it seems so, but I only know what I feel and that’s only 50%.

Post-lesson notes made 10 minutes after the class in an unstoppable flush of extreme emergent emotional reaction of a sensitive teacher. Random, of course.

~ Sometimes at my weakest moments I just feel doing a safe coursebook would spare me (and students) the embarrassment and pain.
~ Is it indeed so very exciting to talk about personal experience?
~ How emphatic do you teacher need to be? Is there any assessment of this ability? Is there anything I can do to learn it? Do I need to learn it? I might not be so sensitive as to cry in front of other people myself, but I feel the pain of others acutely and I’m not at all sure I know how to manage these moments.
~ What did the student learn? It honestly doesn’t matter to me, since the thin fabric of the psyche of my lesson cracked in seams and caused trouble.
~ Now talk about students remembering the knowledge we teachers give, not the teachers themselves (or moments).

I’d like to make it clear that this one is the second post in my impulsive blog post series. It is not about how I handled this particular situation (and a couple of similar ones that I’ve had in my teacher life). It is a story of how we can unknowingly trigger a reaction we are not prepared for, and not necessarily know how to deal with. I think I *half* failed this time.

The weirdest thing about all this is that I now have 45 minutes of this lesson recorded.

And here is the promised soundtrack.

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7 thoughts on “16 question marks and a soundtrack.

  1. eflnotes says:

    hi anna

    really these impulsive blog posts as u call are a breath of fresh air blowing in blogland, please do continue 🙂


    • annloseva says:

      Hi Mura

      I don’t know what to say. Thank you is most appropriate, I think! I cannot promise (they are impulsive), but I’ll see what I can do.)
      This is a great comment for me, thanks.

  2. haeundaelife says:

    Hi ann,

    first, I enjoyed the post and think that flash point impulsive is sometimes the best way to just get it out there (also quite nice for us readers)

    second, I think it’s important to consider our actions when nerves are touched in class and appreciate you sharing your thoughts re the matter with us

    thirdly, in my view, I’m not sure there is a “best way” to deal with these things. it’s happened in my classes before as well.

    I personally, while feeling bad for the student, am also honored that they feel comfortable to share with me and the class. I feel that means I’m doing something correctly.

    I think the best thing we, as the educator, can do is proceed in the best interest of the student the student involved.

    on one occasion I had the student felt comfortable with a partner and was strong enough to tell their partner they didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I left it at that

    on another occasion a student openly shared with the whole class, and while he was hurting, it seemed something he wanted to get off his chest (as it were) and so i let discussion proceed. in that case, we had a couple of extended discussions about it that day and in following days classes and we, myself included, learned quite a bit about each other and the ways in which we process and discuss the “ups and downs” of life.

    some questions I would ask myself, would be…

    How did my emotional response to my student affect my decision making process?
    Was that process in the interests of the student, myself or both? why do I think the student shared in the first place?
    did they have a need that wasn’t being addressed elsewhere?
    how did the classmates respond? how do I think they felt? why?


    • annloseva says:


      It took me 20 minutes to write a comment. It took WP 1 second to lose it. I’m demotivated (also angry) and I’m just going to write a poor summary of those beautiful ideas now. Sorry(

      – thanks as always for caring to stop and think and leave a comment. I know you know the kind of difference this makes.
      – I remembered your blog post announcing the smart plan to empathize with yourself and students. I think this extreme case could be potentially interesting for the plan, I might just do it.
      – as for honoured – indeed I felt this. After the lesson we exchanged a couple of texts. Both saying sorry, me also thanking the students for sharing this moment of fragility with me.
      – when you mention the interest(s) of the student, what exactly do you mean? What kind of interest?
      – I’ve been contemplating a scenario with other students involved (this one was a one2one class). I have no idea what would’ve happened, it completely changes the whole situation, and consequently everybody’s reaction to it. I once had a student storm out of class (possibly due to some poor decisions I made), but no feelings were hurt then.
      – I especially thank you for your questions to yourself. I’m puzzled as I’ve said it above about the interest of the student. I’m happy there were no other students. And in the end, I learnt about the need that was not addressed elsewhere (I like this question of yours btw). Though I imagine I only learnt about it thanks to the relationship I’d formed with this student.
      This is a mess.)

      I’m less angry now.

  3. haeundaelife says:

    First of all, I totally understand the complete, mind boggling frustration of creating a well formed and thought out comment/response and having a glitch completely nullify it. Beyond irksome, and i appreciate you’ve taken the time to re-comment. I probably wouldve walked away with a scowl 😉 (I remembered a few comments to Mr. Kevin Stein that never were b/c of this happenstance—when he used blogger)

    1) I am very honored to think that a past post I wrote might influence you after such an emotional interchange

    2) when I mentioned interests I meant… was the decision making you made, made from a belief that “changing the subject” was the best thing for your student, or for yourself, or perhaps for both of you. (***Side note- as I respond here I am discovering how hard it is to pin down exactly what i meant using different language….every word I try seems to have the wrong flavor to it)

    3) I think that the 1v1 scenario is a huge aspect of the experience. It almost makes the fact that he/she was willing to share that much more significant? and also makes the decisions in response that much more difficult to manage. hats off to you, for if I were in this scenario I am not sure I would’ve managed it as well.

    PS…no mess

    • annloseva says:

      I don’t know how that happened but I restored the comment fine in the end. (also suffered from blogger in that same space, several times! Happy Mr. Stein has moved the other things)

      1) I’ve been thinking about it. Definitely the influence is here, but I would like to, if I may, propose an idea for some of your future posts (too bold?? Sorry…) I’ll explain. As I’m having trouble getting to actually doing it… I’m really curious about what the conditions are, if there are special ones, under which you get down to it. I mean actual writing reflection process. I think I’m being confusing here, what I am interested in is learning how to start, and as I’m alone here I’d use some help. Plus as you said it’s emotional so I find it hard to force myself turn to it again. It is about where one starts. (This can be safely called a mess))

      2) (I know so well about wrong flavours to words you mean! I like how you put it.) It’s interesting that you mention it. My immediate reaction, right after “omg what is happening”, was to NOT change the subject and let the student pour it away. Which I did for quite a while I think (I’m frightened to check the rec). I actually was rather openly sharing my thoughts, saying that I was sorry it came out, saying if it’d be better to move on.. I did stumble of course. I had no “belief” ready in hand to rely on.

      3) As I said on Twitter, I can hardly imagine the same situation happening in a group setting. Definitely I would make different decisions, definitely I would feel much more embarrassed.
      One FB friend said in a comment: “classroom became life”. This was pretty much what happened and now that I think of it this way, I’m led to believe that every single teacher would have shown his/her…self, in this situation.

      P.S. “happenstance” was once my word of the day in the Instagram photo series I’m doing for no particular reason. Thanks for using it)))

  4. […] ** Anna Loseva has written about this dilemma here. […]

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