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Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Observed lessons

I've done a lot of reflection on teaching lately. Partly because of the Delta, partly because of my own experience and reflexive practice. I find that we don't spend enough time thinking about our lessons. Oh, please don't get me wrong. We spend plenty of time looking at the books, wondering where to go next, what's the language our students need the most. We think about (and  hopefully do a lot of ) planning. We assess materials constantly whenever we look at an exercise and say "This is good, this is nonsense, this will work, this isn't challenging enough" and so on and so forth. So, no, it's not thinking about what we''re going to do that I'd like to bring your attention to. It's the "and what now?" bit.

Teachers going through initial training are encouraged to think about their teaching practice (TP). They're asked what went well and what went wrong and they feel these are tricky questions. The feeling is they're being examined and are supposed to give the right answer. It is my opinion that it is at this stage that we (teachers) begin to hate observations. They're never productive, their aim is purely to assess quality as if watching a lesson in a blue moon will ever (yes, ever) be a significant sample to understand how a teacher works. I've been observed so often that I don't get nervous (not the sort "I'm about to throw up" kind of nervous, anyway) but looking back, there have been very few times when I've come out of a post-observation meeting feeling "Yes, that was really worth it." 

Let me go off my track here and let you know I was observed for 2.5 years in a row, every single lesson, every day. In fact, I took over from a teacher who quit because she did not want to be observed. It took me about 5 minutes to understand what the purpose of this system was, and honestly I couldn't understand how people did not want this! Sounds mad? Well, by now you've noticed I'm a different sort of teacher, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. We are talking about special groups, those groups of students who I find fascinating, but cannot be handled by any teacher (despite the amount of people who "think" they know anything about challenging students...). The school was trying to reduce the percentage of students who dropped out, as well as improve students' motivation and results. The problem here was that there were a lot of teachers settled in their ways (like in any place). You see, it's not enough to talk about "change" and "flexibility", besides talking the talk, they actually have to be willing to walk the walk. So this is how it worked. Each class had a social worker who would have lessons with the kids. She'd be in every class, with every teacher. (Teacher fear no 1 - I'm being compared to other teachers) She's sit with students, listen to the same explanations, be subject to the same methodologies, solve the same exercises, she'd even sit for the same tests. (cool, right?) And after each lesson the teacher (if they'd be willing) would get feedback "You know, it wasn't really clear when you said this or that" or "X and Y are finally starting to keep up" or "have you got some extra exercises I can use to work with X" And it taught me a lot. It taught me a lot, it really did. It was a true opportunity to improve, to grow as a teacher. You see, we were all there for a common goal: we wanted kids to do well, to learn, to overcome their difficulties, to finish high school. You cannot do this if your Ego is so large it fills up a room and there's no space for your students. You cannot do this if you feel the person observing your lesson is there mainly to criticise you, to show you where you're not good at.

I still find observations are useful, I think they are essential. Not to assess teachers, though. I think there are other ways to do it, or that if carried out for that purpose, they should have less impact on teachers' assessment than that that it is given. I believe the mentality around observations needs to change and it is crucial that those observing realise that this change must come from them, that you don't have to (nor should you) observe "everything" that goes on in a classroom. That praise and encouragement are much more important than "finding something" to criticise. Only then will teacher begin to look at observations as something productive instead of a threat, only then will they be able to see them as a way to develop and so, open their classrooms and their hearts to other forms of development.

In the meantime let's remember that just because it works for you, it doesn't have to work for someone else. Just because you've got a lot of experience doesn't mean a new teacher can't teach you some new tricks. Just because a lesson doesn't go as well as you had imagined, that doesn't mean you're not as good a teacher.

There are no perfect lessons, simply because there are no perfect teachers, or perfect students, or perfect classrooms, or perfect books, or perfect people, or ... you get what I mean, don't you? 

So stop trying to be perfect when you are observed, just try to be better every day and eventually you'll get there.


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Writer

I've finally been talked into writing a book, or better, a series of books regarding English Language Teaching and my experience with it.

Fingers crossed and let's hope it will work out.

What would you like to see in a book regarding ELT? Post a comment and share your opinion, please.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Teaching and Food

Throughout the years I got used to other teachers' glares and yellow smiles whenever they heard about how I teach. For a long time I had no idea how it was that I taught. I knew I wanted to do something different, I wanted to change the(ir) world, but I didn't know how.

Somewhere along the way, all that mistrust (from teachers and students) gave me the will to keep going. In the last 2 years I finally understood how it was that I taught, what my "methodology" is.

Love.

I teach with and through love. I really care about my kids. I feel every little pain they feel. I want them to get better, I want them to feel they can be better. For some, going to faculty or going to the moon are eually impossible. They doubt themselves every step of the way. Maybe far more used to heraing "you can't..." than to "you can..."

Our role as teachers... I've thought of this again and again. I still don't know exactly what it is. I just know this: today I gave a student a cookie. He had been angry and looking miserable the whole lesson, refusing to do anything. I should have given him the cookie the first time he said "I'm hungry". That was probably the first thing he had the whole morning and by the time I gave it to him, it was already 12:30. He smiled when he saw it. He smiled when he left the room. He didn't say "thank you", he's too tough for that and we're not there, yet. But I really couldn't care less. I didn't give him the cookie to hear him thank me, but because he was hungry. And for at least once in the morning, inside a classroom, he smiled.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

September has come again

And the month of September has arrived... For a long time I couldn't wait for the month to arrive. New books, new materials. New subjects and things to learn and discover. Then years passed and I became a teacher. 21 years this year. And the excitement was the same, new faces to meet, new names to learn, new challenges. This year I'm starting a new challenge. I'm taking my Delta and everything goes well, there's something even bigger happening. I'll keep you posted ;-)

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Start, again and again

I don't know how often I've said this, or even thought about it.

"this time it's going to be different" and it never is.

I love my blog, I know it helps people throughout the world and that makes my heart happy. I wish I could do more. Write more, but I never seem to get the chance. Maybe this time. Maybe this time.