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.

austin-powers-quotes4

(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.