Smile, you’re being watched – tips on how to survive being observed

My very first blog post was about how two experiences with lesson observation changed my life and shaped me into the teacher and the trainer I am today. What I did not tell you was how to get ready for lesson observation.

Being observed is a great way to improve our teaching practice, although lesson observation can be extremely nerve-racking. You may or may not know the observer, who often is, hierarchically speaking, in a higher position.

The best way to deliver an excellent lesson is to prepare it thoroughly. Here I answer 15 questions about strategies to enhance your confidence before having your lesson observed:

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1. What will learners be able to do at the end of that lesson?

This question will guide your preparation. Everything you do should be related to that goal (or goals). For instance, if you want to equip students to successfully talk about past experiences without specifying when they happened, practicing predictions about the future will not help.

I remember that when I started teaching I used to love working with songs. Rarely were they connected to the rest of the activities, though. That was, in the end, counterproductive. It took valuable class time and did not contribute to the focus of my lesson. Were students having fun? I am sure most of them were. However, having fun for the sake of fun may not be useful to learners. Besides, you can always think of ways to amuse students without losing sight of your lesson aims.

2. What materials are you going to use?

Thinking about materials will help you tailor your lesson. Make sure that everything you select is related to your aims.
When selecting materials, ask yourself: do I have to follow a course book? Do I intend to use realia? What about audio or video resources? How do those resources complement the existing materials?

3. Any changes?

If you are going to use a course book, it may be necessary to adapt some activities. Be careful. In good course books, activities are designed with a clear purpose and are logically put together. Therefore, if you decide to substitute a task, use another one with a common aim.

If the purpose of the exercise is not clear at first, have a look at the teacher’s book.

Changing or adapting materials has to come from a choice informed by your lesson aims and your learners. If an activity does not appeal to you, but you think it would to your learners and would also be a useful tool to achieve your lesson aims, don’t change it.

4. How much time do you have for the lesson and for each stage?

You know what people say about karma? Well, I’d say the same about time.
Your lesson may be beautifully prepared with clear aims and wonderful activities that support those aims, everything perfectly linked, a real recipe to success.

This is where it becomes tricky. Having the perfect recipe does not mean a perfect meal. The same goes for a good lesson.

Timing activities and stages may be hard, specially for beginner teachers. If you feel you need help, ask a colleague, preferably a senior teacher, their opinion about your estimates. If that is not an option, role-play. Imagine you are a student: how long would you take to finish that task? In order to have a good estimate, also consider giving and checking instructions, the activity itself and feedback.

5. How many learners are there? Do they always come to class? What about latecomers?

You need to have these numbers in mind for practical reasons, such as the number of photocopies you need to make, what size speakers you need for your classroom, etc.

This will also inform you about possible patterns of interaction. While there isn’t much you can do in that regard with only one student, if you have more you may have them work in pairs, in groups and individually. Changing interaction patterns throughout your lesson will make it more dynamic.

6. Should I write a lesson plan?

It depends. If the observer is expecting a written plan, yes, you have to write one. Not doing so is starting off the observation on the wrong foot.

If you are a beginner teacher, I would strongly advise you to write a lesson plan for personal reference. Devote more time to what you tend to struggle with. For instance, you have a problem with instructions. Plan and write those down. You don’t need to read them in class. The act of writing will give you some clarity whether the instructions are clear or not.

7. What can go wrong?

Have you ever heard of Murphy’s law? Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, my friend.

Anticipating problems makes setbacks less likely. If you have a pair work in mind but know it is possible to have an odd number of students, how can you adapt? Is your classroom too small to play a certain game? If so, where are you going to take students, what are your instructions going to be like?

8. Is there an evaluation grid? What exactly will the observer take into consideration?

If there are specific criteria used to evaluate you, you have the right to know them. If they are not given to you, show interest and ask about those criteria.
If the same person has observed you before, refer to the feedback given at that occasion. This will show that you listened to what the observed had to say and tried to improve.

9. What will your learners have problems with?

Anticipating learners’ problems is also an important part of your lesson preparation. By doing so, you can also anticipate solutions to those problems.

10. Do you have a multilingual or a monolingual group?

This will make a difference specially when you anticipate your learners’ difficulties. Students from different linguistic backgrounds are likely to have different problems.

As teachers, it is good to study other languages, not only the one (or ones) we teach. While it is virtually impossible to speak all the languages in the world, the book Learner English: A teacher’s guide to interference, by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith may shed some light on possible problems.

11. What are your personal difficulties?

It is the same rationale behind predicting your learner’s problems.

I used to struggle with my talking time when I started teaching. My TTT was always high. I was only able to reduce it the moment I started to plan in detail what I was going to say, how I would explain the grammar or the vocabulary from that lesson. The same goes for other areas that you need to improve. For example, if you have problems with pace, what can you do to prevent activities from taking too long? Perhaps you want to make sure instructions are clear or even time some activities.

12. How do the stages fit in the overall aim of that lesson?

Look at each stage of your lesson and check whether they contribute to the lesson aims and if the level of difficulty of the sequence makes sense.

13. How are the activities linked?

It is important that they are linked not also in terms of language but content as well. By way of illustration, imagine you are teaching how to make predictions in the context of travelling. Don’t go change the context abruptly to environment. It doesn’t mean that you have to stick to the same context until the end of the lesson, just that you need to find ways to link them.

14. What is your plan B? Do you have a plan C?

We should have alternative activities when things don’t go according to how we planned, but let’s be honest, it’s not always feasible. When being observed, it is better to plan for more than you need. Improvising is not the wisest choice while being observed.

15. How can I engage students on a personal level?

If you provide students with appealing contents, they are going to be more relaxed. Many people take this for granted and here’s a major reason why you should not: students learn better when they are in low anxiety situations.

Now I would love to know what your tips to great lesson observations are. What would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

How to deal with harassment

Maleficent is my favourite Disney movie. Not because of Angelina Jolie, who happens to be one of my favourite actors, but the many positive messages about the important things in life really speak to me. There is something that is said during the film you may not hear from Disney often. At some point, Maleficent says ‘there is evil in this world, hatred and revenge’.

As much as I would like to believe that certain people only exist in fairy tales, the world constantly shows me otherwise. Mean people do exist and they are out there. Bad news: there isn’t much you can do. We sometimes have no choice but to deal and maybe even work with them.

However, there’s something you can do: not let them get to you.

In today’s episode, I talk about work harassment and how you can deal with this problem.

Don’t forget to let me know in the comments if someone you know has been a victim of harassment and what they did. I would really appreciate if you took some time to share your tips about this difficult and yet so common situation in the comments.

T.

How to reduce TTT

I don’t recall exactly how I discovered the English Droid. It has been around for some time and I am glad it has. It is, by far, the funniest ELT site ever! Content disclaimer: the English Droid is not to be taken seriously.

In my opinion, one of the best articles is The Diva Method that you can read here. I am sure many of you are followers of this ELT gem. After all, who wants to be an ELT bore?

According to extensive research based on nothing but my personal contributions to the method, the number one rule you must follow is maximizing TTT. Whether you are a male or a female diva, there isn’t anything more interesting than your favourite subject: you.

While the Diva Method actually sounds like fun, in the real world high TTT is certainly an issue. In today’s episode, learn four tips to reduce TTT.

Thank you for watching and don’t forget to let me know about your tips to reduce TTT.

T.

Advice to young teachers: what I wish I had been told

#youngerteacherself

Yesterday I saw at Joanna Malefaki’s blog the #youngerteacherself challenge. It is about, as you may suspect, advice to your younger you. I love these challenges. In fact, my very first blog post was a challenge by Vicky Loras that you can read here. Although Joanna didn’t tag me, it’s one of those cool things you have to do!

So here it goes:

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(Photo taken from: http://on.fb.me/1wRicQ0 by Carmen Arias Blazquéz used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,http://bit.ly/1evKm84)

Dear T.,

You’ve just started university, congratulations! I know you’re not super excited about it, as you were not accepted to the university you wanted. I understand you wanted a BA in English and Literature, but a BA in Portuguese and English will do you good. Besides, you will make amazing friends and meet professors that will inspire and challenge you.

You’ll party hard. You’ll party so hard during your first semester that you’ll focus more on your studies and work afterwards, which is good, I guess.

Don’t work too much. I know you’re a dreamer and a quite ambitious one, but take some time to enjoy university! Time will fly and you’ll regret not having dedicated more to some courses. By the way, wait for the 5th term, when you study Phonetics & Phonology. It’ll blow your mind. Phonetic transcription is sickening; you’re going to love it.

Your body is your temple, treat it with respect. This is supposed to be about more professional advice, I know. Something I learned is that if you’re not feeling 100%, you won’t be able to be at the top of your game. Your personal life and the way you see yourself are inextricably intertwined with your ability to do your job.

You don’t need to lose or gain weight, as long as you stay healthy. Take it easy at the gym! I know you love lifting, be careful. Your knees will thank you in the future. Take care of your vocal cords too. You should definitely see a speech therapist. They will give you the best advice to make sure you don’t have problems in the future.

Don’t obsess (only) about the English language. You’re a teacher, try to learn as much as possible about teaching techniques, approaches and methods too! Of course it is important to know your subject matter and the CPE will do wonders for your self-esteem and CV. Take the CELTA, the time is now! I know you’ve been working for some time now, but let’s face it: you need the fundamentals of teaching practice. I know what you’re going to say, ‘I can’t afford it!’. Take out a loan, be in debt! Do the CELTA in London, you only live once! Just do it. If you don’t do it now, you’ll eventually learn, you’ll be trained by great people, but the path will be rough. And when, years later, you say to people that you’re thinking about doing the DELTA, they’re going to think that you’re cocky (not that you’ll care, but I thought I should let you know).

Listen to your students. From a technical point of view, your teacher talking time should be low. Even though this is very important, it is not what I want to highlight. Your students are human beings. I promise you will learn something wonderful and unique about each one of them.

However, not all of them will like you. It’s not personal. Well, maybe it is. Even when you notice a student does not like you, make an effort to find something you admire in that person. Believe me, you will always find something. That is the most fascinating part of your job. You’ll listen to their stories, be a little part of their lives and, hopefully, be able to make a difference.

Don’t be a jerk, going to conferences is a great way to learn new things. After your first term at university, you’ll be very excited about conferences, congresses, and symposia. You won’t be able to wait for the next one! Then you’ll be a jerk about it and think they’re all the same and people only talk about the same things over and over again. That doesn’t mean that you should stop going to conferences, just that you’ve been to the wrong ones lately, genius.

I know right now your access to it may be limited, but this thing called Internet is a great resource and you’ll learn a lot. I am not talking only about preparing your lessons, although this will save much time. That site called YouTube is not only for you to keep up with lonelygirl15 (she is not even real, it’s freaking fabricated)! Seriously, YouTube will be a revolution not only in people’s leisure activities but also in your lessons. No more spending money to rent videos for a 3-minute snippet in class! Maybe one day you can even start your own web show. Will it be successful? I don’t know. You might want to give it a try.

The Internet will give you the chance to take online courses, teach online and connect with great educators from all over the world.

Be stubborn, be curious. Did you try something new in class and it didn’t work? Try again! Just because something was not successful with a group, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Remember each student, each group is unique. They will react differently and it is okay. You don’t have to follow the exact same procedures, even if you are teaching the same level, grammar topic or the same lesson. Try to be sensitive to your students and remember your lesson plan is there to help you, not to be a straitjacket.

Peer observation is great, don’t be lazy. You will be very lucky and work with amazing teachers, who also happen to be amazing people. They are generous! Observe their lessons, invite them to your classroom, there is no need to be shy. I dare say that you will learn more from your colleagues than in any course you take.

Don’t stress about lesson observation. It can be intimidating, not going to lie. This is also a great way for you to improve and reflect upon your teaching practice. Receiving feedback can be hard sometimes, but worth it. Some observers are not going to be tactful. Don’t take it personally because it isn’t, I assure you. It is not easy to observe a teacher, give feedback, and write a report. Believe me, you will know.

Above all, remember to have fun. You were lucky to have chosen one of the most interesting and diverse industries to work, make it count.

With love, 

The older you

I hope this made you think about your young self, I certainly did. If you’re willing to take up the challenge, pay a visit to Joanna’s blog and let her know. Now I’d like to know if you could give only one advice to the young you, what would it be? Leave it in the comments.

How to define your next career goals

The English Language Teaching industry is full of possibilities. You may teach kids, teens, adults, Business English, English for Specific Purposes. You may teach groups, one to one, train teachers, write course books, design activities… Oh, boy! There is so much one can do I’d say possibilities are endless and the sky is the limit if you’re a dreamer like me.

The industry is really diverse and we’ve got to be ready for future opportunities, which means we have to be qualified for them. Then there are certificates, diplomas, and before you realize, you’re feeling overwhelmed with all there is. Trust me, I’ve felt the same way.

For instance, a very popular teaching qualification, if not the most popular, is the Cambridge CELTA. If you’ve heard of this certificate, I bet you’ve considered doing it at some point in your teaching career.

If you are insecure about your career path, I have a simple exercise that will help you find clarity regardless of what you do or would like to do in the ELT world.

Thank you for reading, watching and, hopefully, sharing with your friends. Join the discussion in the comments! I can’t wait to hear about your next goals.

T.

Changing homework habits and perceptions

‘My students don’t do homework’. We have all heard and said this before. Students say they do not have the time for homework, while teachers keep on assigning. Many teachers end up frustrated because students do not meet their expectations n that matter. Personally, I believe time is usually not the issue. We should try to think of homework more holistically and not just as part of our routine. We should ask ourselves why we assign homework in the first place. Here are some reasons:

 

  • We are expected to. Students, parents, institutions and, why not, us teachers expect homework to be assigned at the end of each lesson. It is a practice that we often take for granted.
  • Time constraints. In many scenarios, it is not possible to do everything we want and that students need in class, be it language or skills work, something is left out. Homework is the ‘perfect’ solution.
  • Because it helps. Homework is a chance to consolidate and revise content, making sure the learner is in contact with the language. If you teach where English is a foreign language, homework may be the only opportunity to experience English outside the classroom.
  • You want students to be autonomous. Homework encourages learners to work independently and explore new and existing resources. It is the time students will go through the materials and pinpoint what they need.

Assigning homework : ‘Page 42, exercises, 2 and 3’

 

The worst way to assign homework is to only write the pages / exercises on the board. Students will not do homework if they do not understand what they are supposed to do. What may be obvious to us is not necessarily obvious to them. Everyone will be frustrated, students will be insecure and will grow more dependent on their teacher. Homework can also be an excellent way to develop learner autonomy.

We have to be very careful when we assign homework, specially (but not only) with lower levels. That does not mean one has to keep modelling a true or false exercise after students have done it for the hundredth time. Here are some alternatives to assign homework more effectively:

 

  • Model the first items to make sure students understand the task. If possible, model with a student.
  • Nominate someone to explain the assignment. You may want to go for the strong students. The idea is not to test them, but to engage and guarantee that the tasks are clear to the group.
  • Divide students into groups and assign different exercises for them to explain. This is similar to nominating a student, but especially helpful when you have a longer list or more challenging tasks that will require more time. Learners will have the chance to discuss and check with their peers before explaining to the rest of the group, creating a more comfortable atmosphere.
  • Give students options. If you have several tasks that practice the same topic and with the same level of difficulty, tell your students to choose their homework. You may want to give them some direction, though. Indicate the number of exercises you want them to do. For instance, from a list of 15 exercises, they should choose 5.

Why at the end?

 

It is common practice to assign homework at the very end of the class. It is almost like homework gives a sense of closure, so students can stand up and go home after it has been written on the board. Again, this is what students expect. However, it does not have to be like that. There is no need to always assign homework at the end of the class. It makes perfect sense, for example, to assign homework in the middle of the lesson, after students have practiced the language more freely and you are going to move on to a next topic. It will still be organic, as you are ending a different cycle. Besides, learners will have a clearer idea of the reasons why they are going to be doing that specific piece of homework. If it is not, be sure you tell them.

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(Photo taken from: http://on.fb.me/1wRicQ0 by Roseli Serra used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,http://bit.ly/1evKm84)

 

 

Correction

In spite of what is commonly done, homework correction and warm-up activities are not the same. When homework is corrected, students are, most of the time, reading answers. There is not much cognitive processing going on or personalization, students are not engaged, and therefore it doesn’t work as a warmer. However, it is possible to combine both, killing two birds with one stone. Here are some suggestions of games you can use as warmers when correcting homework:

 

Running dictation
If you teach kids and teens, this type of correction is more likely to succeed, but some adult groups may enjoy this challenge too. Divide the students into small groups. Put the answer key outside the classroom. While a student stays in the classroom, another student goes outside, memorizes the answers and whispers them to the student who stayed in. Encourage students to take turns. Time the activity, otherwise it may take too long. Show the answer key at the end, if necessary.

 

Grammar or vocabulary auction
Auction right and wrong homework answers. It is also a chance for students who did not do the homework take part in the correction process.

 

Hangman and crossword puzzle for vocabulary
These are popular games that have been in the ELT classroom for ages. Nowadays there are many puzzle generators online, such as this one .

 

There is also room for more traditional ways to correct homework. After all, even the most resourceful teacher can’t come up with a different game every class. If you also want to promote student autonomy, you might want to try these out:

 

Peer checking
Students check homework among themselves, teacher monitors closely.

 

Answer key
Students are given the answer key at the moment homework is assigned or when it is correction time. The teacher should always ask for students’ feedback in order to identify problem areas.

 

Nominating
The teacher calls out students’ names to read answers.

 

Volunteers
The teacher elicits answers from students or asks volunteers to conduct the correction.

 

Collecting students’ work
Collect students’ homework and give feedback later. Although this means more work to the teacher, it may enable you to discover a common problem area and do some remedial work.

General tips

 

Be consistent. Create a homework routine. Assign homework every class. If homework is occasional, students are likely to forget.

 

Be realistic. Think of the amount of homework you assign and whether there is proper time to have it done. Perhaps 2 pages of homework will be too much for the next day, but not for the next week. The more you know your students, the better able you will be to determine what works for them.

 

Be flexible. As much as it is positive to have a homework routine, we need to adapt to the circumstances. If your group of teenagers is going to busy all weekend with their end of terms, you may negotiate the amount of homework or even decide to assign no homework at all.
Depending on the class days, you may find it useful to devote part of a specific day to homework correction (instead of correcting every class), if that means students will have more time to it.

 

I’d love to hear from you. Do you have a hard time with homework? If so, how do you deal with this? Do you have other tips? Share them in the comments!

 

Thank you for reading!

T.

Equality

This was a pretty intense Sunday. In the afternoon, I attended a great webinar by James Taylor (The Teacher James Blog) . It was the first of a series of webinars brought to us by Marek Kiczkowiak (Tefl Equity Advocates and Tefl Reflections) and BELTA (the Belgian English Teachers Association). If you still don’t know their work, I suggest that you click those links now!

Being a non-native speaker English speaker teacher (NNEST), it goes without saying I support Marek’s movement 100%. I have faced discrimination in Brazil, my home country, and I wonder what it would be like to get a job in an English-speaking country or in any other country where there are native speaker English teachers (NESTs). Back in the day, I remember visiting the website from a certain language school and they were very clear about their language requirements policies: if you were a NNEST, you should be a CPE holder and your grade should be, at least, B. If you were a NEST, all you had to do was show your passport. They didn’t use exactly these words, though. That was me trying to add a little bit of honesty. After all, being born at the right place means much more than holding a CPE grade C.

During James’ webinar, he asked what we could do to change this. How can we actually fight discrimination? Some very interesting answers popped up and I hope you watch the recording as soon as it is available.

We sometimes feel defeated and think there’s very little we can do. We forget that, as teachers, we have a tremendous impact on people and the way they see the world. Everything starts when you are empowered to make a difference. I’ve had many teachers, to whom I am so grateful for, that changed life somehow. We have to choose to not belittle ourselves and remember that we can be that change. I know it is easy to get dimmed by disappointment and the daily grind, but don’t underestimate the power you have to influence others.

As I said at the beginning of this post, this was a very intense Sunday. I watched the Oscars. I love everything about the Oscars. The red carpet with Giuliana Rancic and Ryan Seacrest, the gowns, hair, make-up, the actors and the ceremony, of course. When I was growing up, there was no internet (technically there was, but it wasn’t popular at all) and I used to spend a lot of time watching movies and telenovelas. There is something truly magical about what you can convey with film. This year was particularly interesting due to Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress.

It makes me sad that in 2015, men and women do not have the same opportunities. It makes me angry that in 2015 people like Sean Penn feel comfortable enough to make xenophobic remarks about director Alejandro Iñárritu for the world to see. ‘It’s a joke’, they said. ‘They’re buddies’, they said. No, it’s not okay. Being someone’s ‘friend’ doesn’t give you the right to be offensive. The weirdest thing, to say the least, was that it took place in The USA, as Iñárritu brilliantly pointed out, a nation of immigrants.

It was a pretty intense Sunday. Right after Patricia Arquette’s amazing speech, lots of people commenting on a Facebook post by The Daily Mail that it was funny how women like Patricia talk about the gender gap, but don’t say a word about compulsory military service for men or about maternity leaves. Pay gap is a fabrication and women like Patricia should be quiet because Hollywood actors make way more money than the average person.

Apparently, a feminist woman who advocates for women’s rights is really annoying. I find it odd that men who have a problem with compulsory military service prefer nagging at a feminist instead of taking action to change things.

By no means I intend (or want) to speak for women. I don’t know their struggle because it is not something I live every day. The beauty is that I don’t need to be a woman to support women. I have a mother, a sister, female students… I can be appalled by world hunger, even if I have food on my plate. It is the same with James Taylor. Even though he is a Caucasian British male, who does not know what it is like to be a NNEST, he still unapologetically chooses to talk about how discriminating people based on where they are from makes no sense, as there is no evidence whatsoever that NESTs are necessarily better teachers.

Equality starts when you acknowledge you may be in a privileged position and do something to make sure others have the same rights.

As teachers, we can (and should) use our public platform to raise awareness against public issues. If you want to educate people about equal employment opportunities, you should also educate them about the many challenges women still face nowadays. Devote some of your time to openly discuss how people of color have been given fewer opportunities over the centuries. Show your students the privileges that benefit them as well those that don’t. These are not controversial or taboo topics, at least they should not be perceived as such. These are real-life issues, possible contexts for your lessons. If you make a commitment to fight for equality, commit to it as a whole and not just to the part that benefits you directly.

Unfortunately, in some countries we cannot be completely open about some issues. However, as teachers, we are usually very resourceful people. I believe there is always something that can be done, a seed we can plant. I am sure you will find your way to fight for equality, for a better world and therefore make a difference in someone’s life.

It is not going to be easy. Trust your wisdom and be brave. Don’t be afraid to stand for what you believe. And as a wise person told me earlier this morning, if you feel crazy pants along the way – remember, you’re probably wearing just the right pants.

Have you felt you were making a real difference to your students or people in your life by taking a stand on equality? How did it go? I’d love to know!

Thank you for reading!

T.

My story: how I lost my mojo (and got it back) – a blog challenge with a human touch

This is my first blog post, hopefully the first of many. I couldn’t think of a better way to start than with a challenge. This challenge was proposed by the amazing Vicky Loras. In case you don’t know who Vicky is, she is an educator from Toronto, Canada and she is also an entrepreneur. She currently lives in Switzerland, where she founded, with her sister, Eugenia Loras, The Loras Network. Both Vicky and Eugenia blog and I strongly recommend that you follow them.

Vicky’s challenge got me thinking: what’s my story? I have many stories to tell, but there’s a bigger, unfinished story that I’m not ready to share yet, after all, I’m still here! So I decided to tell you the story of when I lost my mojo. What is mojo and how can that relate to education and to a blog that, in theory, is going to talk about English language teaching? According to the Cambridge dictionary, mojo is:

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 12.37.47(Taken from: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/mojo)

Basically, mojo is that sparkle of life, that special thing that makes you who you are. If you are feeling burned out, bored and depleted, whether it’s physically or emotionally, you may have lost your mojo. When you feel like that specially when going to work, red flag, your teaching mojo is at risk.

I lost my teaching mojo when I was observed in a group of pre-teens. There were about twenty students and I was having a hard time with those kids. I remember asking this person to observe that specific group because I was having issues regarding classroom management and my students were very difficult. That class was right after lunch and some students were surprisingly full of energy, which was odd because I knew some of them didn’t actually have the time to eat. Apparently hunger can give you tons of energy when you are ten.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong. If you look up ‘Murphy’s Law’, you’ll see a picture of my students, a bonfire, the observer and me helplessly trying to teach the present continuous. Okay, there was no bonfire, but just because the students didn’t have a match. They went wild, all of them, even the ones that (usually) behaved, and on top of that I was very nervous. You know when people almost die and have those out-of-body experiences? That’s how I felt. I remember looking at the observer and that face was not a happy one.

We would normally have a feedback session afterwards, my observer would write a report, the usual. I couldn’t help myself, I could not wait a week or two, I needed help. So, in the end of my Greek tragedy, I asked “What do you think?”. I knew it had sucked. I knew it would. That’s why I asked for help in the first place. I guess I’d never had so many kids that age before. I hadn’t had any pre-teen group in a while. The perfect recipe for disaster.

It’s funny to think that my first students ever were children and I did a pretty good job. What had changed? I certainly had. It seems that, some years later, children had changed too. What I couldn’t see at the time is that not only were those children totally different, but the setting was different as well. First, I didn’t have twenty; I had ten students in class, maybe fifteen when I started. Most kids groups I had were in the morning and, oh boy, what a difference it makes. The ‘angels’ I had before were not perfect either, they used to misbehave at times. What had changed then?

“It wasn’t good. You need to be tougher with them, they do whatever they want. What about that boy clicking that pen, Pedro, isn’t it? I looked at him and I said ‘stop it!’, ”, my observer said, “everything was wrong.”
“Okay, but what can I do then?”, I asked as we passed by the teachers’ room.
“You’ve got to be tougher with them.”
“But how can I do that?”
“This will come with time. First, you cannot let that boy click his pen all the time, it’s annoying! But don’t worry, it’s about experience, it’ll come with time. The kids are normal, not so out of control. Look, I’m not even going to write a report, I don’t want you to have a bad report in your records.” and those were my observer’s last words, as I rushed to my next class. To my great dismay, that was all I the feedback I got. I’d been teaching for about six or seven years at that time, how much more time would I need? One, two years, a lifetime?

I felt like a total failure.

One and a half years later, I started working at a place that I’d always dreamed about, a very prestigious language school in my city. I was hired to teach two groups: a conversation group and a, guess what? A kids group! Remember what I said about Murphy’s Law? Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. If going wrong is having a big kids group, things did go wrong. If going wrong is having a big, loud, wild group of ten year olds, welcome to my life, things went double wrong. At this school, I’d be observed twice by a mentor and once by a supervisor. The mentor was a sweet fellow teacher, she gave me useful advice. “They don’t expect things to be perfect, they just need to see that you’re trying and that you know what you’re doing”, she’d say.

The day finally came and I was observed. I sucked. Again. For the second time I had sucked. I mean, I’d sucked big time.

At the end of the class, I looked at her and asked, “How was it?”.
“I won’t give you any feedback now, but don’t worry. Gosh, those kids are brats, I’m sorry you have to teach them.”, and that’s all she said about that lesson on that day. That instantly made me feel better. She acknowledged that they were not easy students to control.

A few days later, she gave me some feedback about my lesson and I hadn’t sucked as much as I thought I had. There was room for improvement, specially concerning classroom management, but there were positive points too. This supervisor gave me tons of very practical suggestions of procedures and activities. I was eager to implement them. Some worked (for some time), others did not. At the end of that term that group was still far from what I’d like it to be, but the improvement was undeniable.

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(Taken from: http://sayingbook.com/austin-powers-quotes-4.html no copyright infringement intended)

And that was how I lost my mojo and I got my groove back. It sounds a bit like Cinderella, doesn’t it? There was no prince, but there was a cool trainer who gave me back my professional self-esteem (which would be the shoe). Maybe the shoe would be my lesson plan. Does that make my other boss a witch?

Hell no! I’m no Cinderella and neither are you. We don’t need to be saved. My boss at the time was a good person, although, as a trainer, I don’t agree with her choice to not write a report. As harsh as it would be, it would have been beneficial to me. I am sure the decision to observe me again in another group came from a loving and caring place.

I wonder how many teachers lose confidence in themselves every day because of negative feedback. We are teachers, but we are also human beings and as human beings we sometimes take things to heart and that takes us to dark places. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize that, yes, I am a good teacher and, yes, it’s okay to struggle with some groups and that does not necessarily imply there is something wrong. It breaks my heart to think that you or a fellow teacher close to you is feeling shattered and lost when they received negative feedback. I was lucky to meet a person that reminded me that I was worth it, what about those who are not as lucky? That’s why I have three tips for teachers to never lose their mojo or get it back if necessary be.

 

  1. If someone has an opinion, it’s their opinion.

Criticism is just another form of people’s opinions and there is no way you are going to please everyone. Even having a set of very specific criteria in mind, different trainers are going to give you different feedback. While they may agree on the overall strengths and areas of improvement of your lesson, you are never going to get the exact same feedback.

 

  1. Every problem is serving a greater purpose.

It may sound like fluff, but we are here on this earth to become better at everything we do. It’s like George Patton once said, ‘Pressure makes diamonds’. Often during hard times we turn our wounds and worries into wisdom. When times are tough, think about what you can learn and remember nothing happens by chance.

 

  1. You are responsible.

Nothing has meaning besides the meaning you give. It’s up to you to assign an empowering or disempowering meaning to your experiences. The outside world cannot dictate how you feel and others can’t validate you. Pave your own path, and remember it is not possible to live up to the expectations of others.

 

I would like to hear from you! Have you ever received harsh feedback that made you question your teaching skills? Have you ever lost your mojo? What did you do to get it back?

Thank you for reading!

T.