Tag Archives: failing

A bizarre case against nice colleagues

I was wandering around a park in Tokyo today and my mind was filled with … nothing. It was, in fact, not a bad feeling since I could enjoy the moment, uninterrupted. This is what I’ve been facing lately, still much to my regret and frustration – absolute lack of a connected stream of thoughts in my brain, a trace of something that could lead me to writing. I’ve written two blog posts since I got to Japan, which is more than 2 months already. As it goes, I’ve given myself excuses:

(1) This new life is exhausting to both my body and brain. I simply cannot muster up enough energy for writing, much as I want to.

(2) Speaking English all day long, as well as actually being social all day long, is way beyond my endurance. I want to seal my mouth (figuratively) as I step out of school.

(3) I’m getting less and less confident of my English speaking, let alone writing ability. I don’t read much, which also has a negative effect. I’ve often felt down for those reasons.

(4) With this new lifestyle I can’t afford nighttime writing anymore. Since that type of writing has been found most fruitful and fulfilling for me, the shift of regime for writing, a new habit has not yet developed (to be honest, I don’t even know where to start building it).

Today I’ve been hit by Excuse number 5. It can be an interesting and unusual answer to my pains and struggles, an unfair treatment, or  just a nonsensical supposition that tomorrow will look bizarre. In any case, I’m going to blame my colleagues.

Did you just sniff? Raise your eyebrows? Did you jump straight ahead into judging me? That’s understandable. Yet there is some truth to what I just typed.

 

As I’ve written before, I consider this new job to be the first real experience of working in a team, shoulder to shoulder with colleagues. I used to teach a class and commute to another one, replaying scenes from the lesson in my mind, typing out my thoughts on the phone, talking to and questioning myself. I had long stopped labelling myself as a “lonely teacher” since I have this astounding and precious online community on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. It’s more support and wisdom than any staff room could offer. Actually sometimes more than I can handle without being overwhelmed, but that’s the beauty of the online staff room – it hurts no one if you shut it down (since it is literally just the browser closed). Anyway, here, this blog used to be the place to talk teaching and life for me.

Now what? I teach a class, go down the stairs, flop into my chair and … talk about this class. Out loud, to my colleagues, who listen and empathize, nod and join me in breaking the lesson down to little pieces. I vent, speculate, describe, reflect, and think of alternatives for my next class. I share funny moments and uncomfortable moments. I think out loud and learn to listen. And in the evening, as I walk home, all that fills my mind is … nothing. All that is left on my blog is the titles of drafts, those clever paragraphs I could have written.

About classes which went wrong and made the teacher shrink inside.

A letter to this teacher’s older teacher self.

A message to students about the things the teacher will not promise to do.

About n things that the colleagues (who we are still blaming)) taught me this week.

About n things that the students taught me this week.

About a training day with John Fanselow.

About 9 towns of Russia.

About my decision to go to teach in Japan and people’s reactions to it.

 

 

 

Of course, I don’t seriously blame anyone. I do feel bitter about missing the mark.

If you can, give me 5 counter-excuses, powerful enough to send me to face the keyboard…

 

Thank you for reading.

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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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Post Failure Fest Post

One of the biggest failures of the recent 2 months I’ve been forced to deal with is finding a way to publish a blog post. I know I’ve been ranting about it too much on Facebook, I now have all the answers except one – when is my service provider (Rostelecom) going to unblock WordPress?…
Until then, I’m left with posting through 3G on iPad. Not too convenient, as you might imagine, but I can’t wait any longer. I do want to write.

That was a grumpy preface, now to the point. This week the ELT community have been devouring bits and bites and heaps of knowledge and experience end expertise shared in Liverpool at the IATEFL conference. I especially was looking forward to the Failure Fest, which took place on April 11th, was being live streamed and recorded, too. You can watch the recording here, I believe it must be available for several months on the official IATEFL Online website, together with all the other sessions, plenaries and interviews.

Back to the Failure Fest. Why do I think it’s something special?
(1) a catchy title;
(2) 8 successful people from the ELT world share stories of professional mishaps (well, 9 really, as we should count Ken Wilson the Event Compere with his 4.5-min story as well);
(3) whatever your professional interest is, whichever SIG you belong to, it’s something you can relate to, it’s somewhere you’ve been, too.

Failing is about anybody. Everybody, really. I wish I could *pompously* say that I feel FINE in the failures I have, but it hasn’t always been the case. I’m sharing 3 stories of my own now.

Failure #1. Failing to persist. This comes down to my character, I guess. I’ve been doing that so many times – getting enthusiastic, starting off with a lot of drive and then having this drive subdue and fade away before reaching a destined point or a tangible result. It’s about learning other languages (German, Italian, French, Spanish). It’s about sports (fitness, climbing). It’s about online, as well as offline, projects. I’ve recently started to learn how to work on that, though, but I still find it hard to keep the fire burning.

Failure #2. Failing to teach grammar. I feel it very acutely that I want to keep my teaching as much tailored to satisfy learners’ needs and expectations as possible, and I often end up professionally and, more importantly for me, emotionally insecure because of that. For example, from term to term, checking my university students’ questionnaire forms with their feedback on our lessons, I learn that they are not getting enough grammar. Do I feel bad about this? I do, more than about anything else. Just because I am well aware of how right they are. I don’t feel comfortable teaching grammar out of context as our university course suggests, and apparently I am not doing quite enough to contextualise grammar material in our course (it’s on my to-do list every summer..but see #1). Totally my bad.

Failure #3. Failing to get along with some people (colleagues). I feel I must give myself credit for working the most on fixing this one during the past 2 years. This is something that can be quite painlessly explored and learnt to be handled (uff passive passive). But I did fail to fit in at the private school where I worked for 2 years, and so I had to quit.

There are other general tendencies in my failing, as well as examples to prove those..but may be some next time.

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