13 things that happened in class, excuses provided

With a headache piercing savagely and incessantly through my brain, I’m commuting home. It’s stuffy and stinky in this metro car. I wish I could just close my eyes and enjoy the blank space of an empty mind, but images, scenes and conversations that took place today keep flashing by. The 5 ninety-minute classes I’ve given today provide enough food for thought, as any teaching day would.  This particular long teaching day has come to its end with the following thoughts:

1) I held a whole class in Russian. I gave instructions in Russian, gave comments in Russian, allowed conversations in Russian.

Excuse: the level of the group is very low, much lower than the material that has to be taught expects them to be. The majority of students struggle (and I mean it, struggle) with recognizing spoken English, even the easiest English of instructions. The conversations that I mentioned above were 95% around the language issues we were dealing with.

2) I did not explicitly check homework I’d assigned.

Excuse: I saw half the class were unprepared and today I didn’t feel like having an uncomfortable “strict teacher – lazy student” type of talk. We partially covered the homework material in the lesson itself.

3) I let the shy students sit through the class without uttering a word in whole 90 minutes.

Excuse: The energetic students “seized” the lesson space (see point 11).

4) I let grammar mistakes slip off my students’ tongues and go uncommented or corrected.

Excuse: Point 11. Some mistakes were made and quite a few times corrected on the spot by most active and confident students. Other times I took notes of points to pay their attention to later, but the lack of board, white or black, for that class (as we were studying in a corridor) imposed certain restrictions on my teaching. As the conversation drifted off and away from my grasp, my chance to voice out the comments from my notebook was missed (and, frankly speaking, plain forgotten).

5) I played an audio file which was way too hard for students.

Excuse (and a comment): Without a specific task, I played the file “for the gist”, with an idea in mind to acquaint them with the podcast I’d long wanted to recommend. Previously they’d expressed interest in the idea of using podcasts for autonomous learning in their free time (their level being positively upper intermediate). My belief was (is?) that by demonstrating a tool/ activity/ learning opportunity in class you increase chances that students will actually pick it up and try by themselves. However, today we learnt that these very students are, in fact, not excited about any podcast-type, pure listening kind of language input. Three minutes was enough to put people to sleep. Video is the way to go, they say. One more important factor: the class was held in late evening, after a full working day, so unsurprisingly concentration levels could be at their lowest (both students’ and teacher’s).

6) My mind fell blank when students inquired for certain words and ways to express their idea. Multiple times.

Excuse: Not a native speaker or a walking dictionary. Some days memory lets me down badly, much worse than it normally would. And of course the right word/ phrase lights up my brain on the way home, several hours after the moment of need.

7) I was late for class.

Excuse: Traffic jam.

8) I spoke too much and offered too much of my own personal commentary.

Excuse: I want to be part of conversation in my class, especially so when I have something to add and/or believe students will learn from what I say (either new info or new language). Students looked interested, reacted positively, asked for more info, added own relevant comments.

9) I did not use a warm-up activity.

Excuse: It did not suit every class I’d planned.

10) I did not monitor group activity effectively.

Excuse: See point 11. Also, by midday my headache had got stronger and I had to limit my own movement (aka sit on a chair)) so as to survive through the remaining classes. So I trusted my students to manage themselves and each other.

11) I let students take control over the lesson and followed their lead.

Excuse: They were active, they were willing to share and participate, while I felt uncomfortable to interrupt their genuine desire to speak English with their groupmates (and teacher) during an English class because I had it differently in my plan.

12) Students did not move from their seats.

Excuse: Come to think of it, in two out of 5 classes they did.

13) I was sarcastic.

Excuse (?): Notably less sarcastic than I was 2 years ago, as I now pay more attention to my commentary.

Time to finish the list now. A teaching day, once brought down to pieces like this, could drive an exhausted and sensitive teacher to a depressed state. Tonight I wanted to write about a long, hard day of a non-exemplary teacher giving not exemplary classes. Reading the points I jotted down a couple of hours ago in the metro, I come to a helpful (?) realization that some of these could actually be recurrent issues for me.

I know my eye is twitching by the end of the day. I’m emotionally squeezed out and exhausted so much that I can’t bear the simplest verbal communication. I worship silence and bask in it now, yet it’s true that 5 times today, for 90 minutes at a time, I was 100% present with the people in that class, gave them all emotion (and material) I could.

I know one can always do more and better, especially better. Still I’m wondering if on an average day doing just enough could be enough, for learning and teaching to happen. And be reason enough for a teacher to not beat herself up. Whatever rules, patterns or guidelines it is that I failed to follow today, I refuse to believe it was a bad teaching day.

Thanks for reading.


I’ve just now read this post by Sophia Khan about an observed class, which was described as a synonym of waste by the observer, and all the eye-opening outcomes of that experience for the teacher in question. If my classes today had been observed, the verdict would have certainly been some stronger “northern” slang word. Yes, every class is an amazing opportunity to develop something. I’m grateful to Sophia for her post as it’s just what I need today, or these days: a clear picture of what happens in other classes and how. I don’t remember feeling that low in professional confidence in a long while. Sabbaticals have their faults.

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22 thoughts on “13 things that happened in class, excuses provided

  1. There is nothing extraordinary about this day. We teachers are humans, and none of us are as exciting or perfect as our tweets and blogs make us out to be. This is a great post and I am so happy you don’t consider this a bad teaching day!

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you! This is heart-warming to read, especially the part about tweets and blogs. That hit the bull’s eye. Sometimes reading through blogs brings down just too much.
      Thank you!

  2. Anna, whatever else you think this is, know that it is real. And that is what’s important. As Anthony says, blogging and tweeting away it’s easy to form the opinion that everyone else is a fantastic teacher and they never have a bad class. That is wrong.

    Hope the metro wasn’t too stinky! 😀

    • annloseva says:

      Not that I’m glad that people have had bad classes.. but yours is a pleasant comment anyway)) Thank you.
      The metro was stinky enough! Even though it’s my fav transport in Moscow (and definitely most convenient), sometimes it’s a tough experience.

  3. Charles Rei says:

    Excellent post. Anthony is the best and is completely right; this is life and we are human. As I read each item, I just shook my head in agreement. I know it and I’m sure I’ve done it all, too :). But one thing I have learned… we take it too personal. If I asked your learners, they wouldn’t mention all these things. As Mike and Anthony allude to, we don’t have to be perfect, and just noticing shows that you are pretty damn good.
    Keep your head up and remember, it’s just English. 🙂

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you, Charles. That’s a very uplifting comment, with a message there that I believe to be true, too. When 7 years ago I worked at school, I know I took it too close to heart (as I cried on my way home from classes). Now I want to feel the thin line between taking it too personal and gnawing myself and getting uncaring. Yes, it s just English!
      Thanks again for support

  4. Sophia says:

    Anna, thanks for the mention and also this lovely, very real post! You don’t have to be 100% ‘on’, a super-teacher, all day every day. You are amazing, you work hard and give lots – now give yourself some nurofen, get into bed, watch a movie and eat chocolate biscuits. Give yourself a break. Plus most of your excuses seem pretty reasonable to me 🙂

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you, Sophia! And while I don’t think I’m amazing, I do believe bed, movie and biscuits are in order!

      What a comfy and comforting place this blog can be.

  5. Marc says:

    So honest and I know that we have all been there. I especially get the listening one. Thanks for sharing.

    • annloseva says:

      I will thank you for reading and commenting! I’m glad I took the effort and posted this through closing eyes and bad headache. It’s now here, for me and others.

  6. kevchanwow says:

    Have to agree with Sophia. Seems like a pretty normal day. You know, I think public blogging has a tendency to result in 2 kinds of posts: 1) The reflective I really messed up and I am SO WILLING to look at my disaster post (this is the kind of I like to write, a tiny little ‘true confessions’ writer living somewhere in my heart) 2) The I had a kind of minor/major epiphany about teaching because of something amazing that happened in my class which I now will share with others. It’s nice to read about a regular day, which you thought over and shared with us. Lovely post.


    • annloseva says:

      You know what’s funny, I’m sure it was a very ordinary day.. the fact that it was packed with classes that I had to each almost non-stop, with little chance or time to take a breather, made the experiences more intense. I’m sure I had done (or not done) similar things in my class many times before, but the “layover” times before/ between/ after classes gave a fresh air injection and relaxed my brain. It’s a paradox that having a really tough day proved so revealing.
      Thank you for your comment. I don’t know which “disaster posts” on your blog you are talking about.))

  7. davedodgson says:

    The best way to recover from such a day is to reflect in some way, whether that’s a chat with a colleague, writing in a journal, or mobile blogging on a stinky metro! With reflection can come that treasured moment of realisation as you highlighted here meaning we are slightly more mindful during that next 5×90 minute teaching day.

    Reflection – it’s good for your professional development and your soul! 🙂

    • annloseva says:

      I’ll have a chance to check how more mindful I get on a similar day this coming Thursday!))
      I surely agree that reflection is wonderful, and I’m a big fan of mobile metro blogging))

      Thanks for stopping by, commenting and sharing the post.

  8. klloyd05 says:

    Today I taught the present perfect/past simple difference to intermediate badly, again. Eight years in, after constant reflection and changing the way I do it, I am still not happy with the way it goes.
    But then the students seemed happy and went out clearer with it than how they came in. So was it as crap as I think?
    Perhaps being reflective leaves a lot of room for us to be over critical, but it’s also why we work on improving. By feeling bad now, we feel better in the future when we deliver something we are happy with.

    • annloseva says:

      You touch upon a very important moment I’ve also been thining about – the thin line between getting overly critical and positively analytical upon reflection. That’s why I don’t believe my blog post (this and any similar previous ones) is a real reflection, at least it is not productive for sure. Just some tiny first step, the easiest to take..

  9. swisssirja says:

    Dear Anna,
    I’m once again in awe 🙂 for many reasons. Firstly, what a great idea for a post! Secondly, what an honest and true reflection (my sincere admiration). Thirdly, how wonderfully written, a pleasure to read. And last but by far not the least – thanks for being a HUMAN 🙂
    Hugs, dear!

    • annloseva says:

      Sirja, as usual you find all the sweet words to strike a cord and make me feel warm and better about writing personal revelations here. Thank you so much. Big big hugs!

  10. laurasoracco says:

    I could relate to so many of those emotions! Thinking that writing them down is a way to acknowledge our present and move on. Thanks for sharing.

    • annloseva says:

      It did work that way, I admit. I am still glad I wrote them down through headache and exhaustion. Thanks for being real, too.=)

  11. […] end up doing, the fact which I, in fact, enjoy 93% of the time. It’s been mentioned before that this teacher suffers from occasional memory blackouts in class in all kinds of situations. On […]

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