Why don’t you take a step back … and then maybe they will come towards you.
Our headmaster, who also happens to be an incredibly visionary leader and a brilliantly intelligent man, gave me this tiny piece of advice some months ago. It had been one of those bitter days when you feel like a pathetic wedding DJ who shrieks to a crowd of utterly uncommunicative and bland guests to clap their hands and say “Yeeeeee!” and the only commotion you get is a glass shattering on the floor because of an old uncle who just nodded off.
It is, of course, possible that you have no idea what I am talking about. It might very well be that your students are always awaiting your arrival with eager anticipation just so they can plough their way through the challenges you have posed to them. And let me tell you, you are a lucky, lucky person and please, do savor the moment while it lasts! I, however, often struggle with a different kind of flock. Now, don’t get me wrong! They are an admirable bunch of young people. Bright, funny, cheerful and so pleasant to have a discussion or crack a joke or two with. Yet curiously, when the configuration finds us me in front of THEM, the atmosphere, the whole ambience changes. The whole idea of poles – the teacher versus the class – can call forth attitudes that I still struggle to comprehend and consecutively deal with.
I consider myself a dynamic and cheerful teacher. I am passionate about English and I love teaching it. I spend hours creating tailor-made worksheets for my numerous classes trying to meet their particular needs and strike a chord with the overall dynamic of the group. And no, I won’t deny it, I have high expectations and lofty aspirations, particularly when it comes to students’ engagement with a lesson. And thus it often happens that I walk into a classroom in high spirits and with great hopes, yet leave it in a rather miserable state. My lesson warmer failed to have the effect I hoped it would, the core tasks turned out to be too easy for some and too difficult for the others (BTW – I can tell you a thing or two about mixed-level classes!!!! aka – welcome to my world), and the final listening activity mutated into a moderate chaos as throats were sore and pens gravitated towards the floor.
When the bitter pill has been swallowed and I have liberated the tortured looking youngsters I stay seated for a while. I replay the lessons and keep asking myself what went wrong, where did I take a wrong turn, which worksheet was insufficient, which activity too long and lagging and where did haste interfere with learning. I attack my mind from various angles bombarding it with questions on how next time I could better meet everyone’s needs and create a motivating atmosphere. Because, I have read and learned, motivation is all it takes! Right? All you need to do, you silly teacher woman, is MOTIVATE them!
This is where my headmaster’s words knock on my mind’s door. This is when modest protest starts raising its head and calm, yet forceful reason comes to calm me down. What if the question is not just about ME and MY PERFORMANCE? What if I actually did really well? And what if, there is a slight possibility that questions should be asked from the other pole, i.e. from the students? Why do I immediately blame myself? And why do I presuppose that a lesson lacking in dynamism is my failure solely?
I picked up quite a lot of useful knowledge from my last teacher training course, I love reading about teaching practices and I attend seminars on regular basis. However, sometimes I wish I hadn’t heard all these mantras about how a student only needs to be reawakened and inspired by a teacher who KNOWS how to MOTIVATE. Because these slogans put all the eggs into the teacher’s basket (I have no idea if such an expression exists in English 😉 and can create feelings of guilt and unworthiness in a teacher!
After all, it takes two to teach. I know the effort I put into my work, the hours I spend preparing, the long evenings spent correcting and commenting on my students’ writings. This I know. But I also know how sometimes students simply won’t bother! And then what? How do I deal with that?
How do you?