Leaving Japan means leaving an amazing ELT zone. I’m in awe of how much teachers here invest themselves and their time into their professional development, into professional development of others through volunteering with JALT and elsewhere. I will always be grateful for the connections and learning opportunities that Japanese ELT community provided me with!….
Well not to get too sad about leaving all this behind, I’ll get to the point. The last event I attended was the workshops on teacher identity and emotions, courtesy of TD SIG and Rikkyo. Both of these topics are right up my alley, and below are some notes, thoughts, and highlights from the session on frustration regulation by Sam Morris of Kanda university (he’s pretty great!:)). I’ll keep them here, for me and Matthew Noble, at the very least.
- Emotions are socially constructed, as well as brought out from within. In practice (and this example was really a revelation to me or can potentially become one), that means that my emotional reaction to certain events and behaviours I experience in Japan is different from what I would feel in a somewhat similar situation in Russia, or Vietnam, or Thailand. Emotion is context-dependent as well, so that speaks a lot about my roller-coaster year at Clark school in my first year in Tokyo and largely uneventful (in that sense) past couple of years teaching the course in a unified curriculum. Any two classrooms I’d take to compare from those two contexts in the same country would have the common denominator – me – responding very differently. Let’s just say it is much easier to remain calm when you’re teaching the same lesson for the 7th time and some students are not “getting it.” You become a “wiser man” pretty soon and learn to put certain things and acts into perspective, thus gaining higher levels of composure. I thought this point was a very good one and something I definitely want to keep in mind when I move to my next country.
- Control is a salient factor in the rise of frustration. I see that very clearly from my definition of frustration itself. Yes it’s hard to define and explain emotions in words, but I thought for me frustration is strongly related to the feeling of helplessness. Indeed, on a deeper level, the fact that I feel helpless in a situation means that I suddenly feel out of control, thrown off my already shaky teacher balance.
- Students know it, they feel when their teacher (YOU) is burnt out and cannot support them. THIS. Insert “colleagues” or “family” or “friends” instead of “students” in that sentence – and there’s the truth. Repeated, regular unresolved frustration may lead to anxiety, which if unattended to, again, may lead to burn-out. Frustration is stress. It may seem like a tiny piece of a puzzle and it’s easy enough to pinpoint bigger reasons (such as workload), but emotions are undoubtedly at the heart of it.
- Sam walked us through emotion regulation framework (adapted from Gross) and it was fascinating (though not surprising) to see the overlap with the Buddhist, mindful ways to work with arising emotions (I’m thinking Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing in particular – and I will address these in my future posts for sure). In Gross’ framework, the rise of emotion in us can be broken down into 4 stages, and the important – and good! – news is that we can try and develop strategies to deal with this emotion on each of the stages, or some of them. I think the stages (Situation, Attention, Appraisal, and Response) are crucial to identify and be aware of, so that when you feel something that is seemingly caused by a student’s inexplicable/disrespectful/uncontrollable behaviour, you know what is going on, and you know to pause and work with it. You may change the situation that is causing the “problem”; you may redirect your attention elsewhere; you may look at the situation from that student’s perspective and gain an insight of why this is possibly happening the way it is; you may be in control even through acknowledging that things are *oftentimes* beyond your control. I personally want to keep in mind that empathizing is a powerful way of reducing stress that is inevitably coming from frustration. We are often wrapped up in ourselves, our perceptions, and our goals in class, so much that we feel we are the very important center of the “conflict.” No doubt that being more understanding in the moment is as tough a task as can be. Hopefully, it is a skill and an attitude that can become easier with practice. And if you are thinking what I’m thinking, you’re thinking small changes. Small changes, big results, universally applicable! **bows to the one and only John Fanselow**
- I loved Sam’s idea about emotion exploration through journaling (of course I did). An important point he made – and one I completely concur with – is that journaling needs to be structured. In Sam’s particular case, his “Frustration Journaling” revolved around the questions based on that framework of Gross’. Each emotional stage corresponded to some questions to guide the writing of an entry: Are there any changes I can make to avoid this situation from happening? Are there any ways I can modify the situation? If I ignore the situation, will it go away? Are there going to be any negative consequences of ignoring this problem? Can I think about this issue in a different way? Is there something going on outside of the classroom that might be affecting this issue? If this happens again and I feel frustrated, what can I do to minimize the effects? I think his questions are a good baseline for creating your own and taking the effort to examine our emotions and reactions that follow on a deeper and more productive level. Moments of experiencing a strong emotion in class, be it frustration or other, are possible critical incidents, events that may linger in your memory for a long time, events to look at at a reflective practice group meeting …;)
- Finally, I was so happy to hear Sam mention the importance of mentoring systems at a workplace! The topic has been one of my personal key interests for about a year, and though I can’t say I’m anywhere near understanding how to organize a mentoring system that works, the point I absolutely agree with is as follows: not only novice teachers need mentors. Far from that. (I will soon share with you the article I wrote about the project I carried out last year, and there will be more on that…)
And thus abruptly ends this post of notes, thoughts, and highlights.
Thank you for reading, as ever.