Many were the times which I considered having a blog to talk about methodology and share ideas at the same time. As soon as this thought crossed my mind, very honestly speaking, I automatically came up with tons of reasons not to. Besides, I thought, who would read my blog when they could be reading someone else’s posts about highly practical ideas to be used in the classroom, thought-provoking articles, action researches or a cheesy book just for the sake of killing time? Who?

Well, here I am and I have to thank the ICELT course I’ve been taking and which I’m about to finish (successfully, I hope). As an incredible feeling of emptiness is bound to take me over as soon as our last session is delivered, I decided to keep on studying and trying out new (or not so new) things because now I have an even greater hunger for knowledge. This hunger thing posed me a question: when it comes to professional development in ESL, who are better teachers than teachers themselves?

Ok. The first step’s already been taken and a blog created, but now what should I talk about? The debut of my blog should make me feel as if a mission’s been accomplished, right? However, what am I going to do to get to that point? Wasn’t writing about my teaching practice supposed to be easy? Well, it may be, but how innovative are my posts going to be? (… and here I should stop over-thinking before I quit).

Anyway, my first post will be called “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish” which is a sentence Steve Jobs used in an inspirational speech he gave for Stanford students in their graduation party. ‘It is genius’, I thought to myself while I was in class as a student, struggling to prepare myself to take the CPE (a Cambridge exam). When talking about achievements, an amazing teacher I had decided to make use of this video to prove a point. It goes without saying that some of my classmates actually cried and I was perplexed, astounded or any other adjective you may attempt to use to describe someone when words fail to come out of their mouths. That’s how I felt. That’s how I feel when I think of the meaning of this sentence and that’s exactly why it’s just become my 9th tattoo.

The meaning of the sentence and its why
After trying to compare what my idea for this sentence was to what other people thought, I came across a very good definition in one of these forums which are meant to talk about English and its translations, so here we go. Stay Hungry: Stay eager. Stay Foolish: Be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t it what every person should do irrespective of their career, ambitions or aims for life?

Well, this whole hungry and foolish thing made me think of class observation. Quite a puzzling connection, isn’t it? Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about myself when I was observed for the very first time. I have the best director of studies ever, someone who encourages teachers to grow as professionals, to think for themselves and to find their ways. She came to observe me because it was my very first semester and both of us wanted to ensure I was doing things in accordance with the method the institution I work for had adopted. I was nervous. I couldn’t sleep and I went through all the stages of the lesson over and over again instead of sleeping the night before. ‘What if student A asks me this?’, I wondered and this thought filled me with dread as I have a tendency to panic every time too many “what ifs” come up. The day came and I was really scared at the beginning of the class as I thought I would be somehow judged or penalized if I did the wrong thing, but what’s the wrong thing exactly?

As time went by and I saw my students fully engaged in the lesson, I decided to let my class flow naturally without having to worry too much about what would come next. Despite the fact I was really nervous for having my boss observing me, I was also very careful for students not to think they had a robot in front of them, repeating words, giving instructions and asking them to do exercises. As Scrivener points out, I was trying to teach the learners, not the plan (2005: 109). I seized the moment and I actually had a lot of fun.

Class delivered. Aims achieved. Thoughts given to how the class had gone and now it was time for my feedback session with my boss. I started off by mentioning all the things I thought had gone “wrong” and why I thought so. I underestimated myself very much. It was only when my “trainer-boss-director of studies” started to speak that I realized my class had had various positive aspects as well. Needless to say that there were many things which could be readjusted, enhanced or changed, but there were also many other things which were great and which really effective. From that moment on I decided to pay closer attention to my weaknesses and like this my passion for class observation was born along with yet another new question: why are teachers so afraid of being observed?

Class Observation
After that day, class observation started playing a very important role in my not-so-long career as a teacher. My boss, to whom I owe basically everything I know nowadays, always gave me books to read and questions to reflect upon. Besides, I’ve always had other marvelous trainers around who were very supportive and caring. I actually invited them to come to observe my classes as well (some great ones, some crappy ones) and I was at ease with observations in no time.

According to Richards, one of the reasons why teachers are reluctant to take part in observation is due to the fact that it’s usually associated with evaluation (1996: 12). However, once we open our hearts and allow someone to come and share our classrooms with us, fruitful experiences are likely to emerge. If we don’t feel confident enough to have our coordinator observing us, we should invite one of our peers to come and share whatever that is that we feel like sharing. It may be something we believe we do really well, something we do but we are unsure about or it may be just for the sake of asking for ideas to work with a specific group, skill or student. As Ur states, informal discussions with a colleague with whom you feel at ease can contribute a lot to your own development, as well as boosting morale. (1996: 318). No matter how reflective a teacher may be, he or she will just overlook some things as there’s a hell of a lot going on at the same time within a class. Being able to analyze and understand what you do and how you do things is superb, but sometimes we do need the extra help from someone who was not so involved in the class.

To sum up, this exchange of information and knowledge is of paramount importance for teachers for professional development to take place. In my personal experience class observation has been one of the greatest and most enriching tools I’ve ever used to become better. Although our teaching practice evolves as time goes by, we should never settle as teaching is always changing and we should be able to keep up with its rhythm. In other words, we should stay hungry, stay foolish.

Watch here Steve Job's Speech.

SCRINEVER, J. 2005. Learning Teaching. Macmillan Publishers Limited.
UR, P. 1996. A course in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press. 
RICHARDS, JACK and LOCKHART, C. 1996. Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms. Cambridge University Press.

4 Responses so far.

  1. You rock Du! Well done!

  2. Du, you write eloquently and beautifully.... CONGRATULATIONS!

    As a profession, I believe teaching is a vocation (not simply a means of an income) and through my experience, individuals (like you) who treat it thus are able, with sincerity, to inspire and enthuse the students in their care.

    Let's ask ourselves.... How many teachers have we each had during our lifetime? (20?50?100?) OK, some of us have had a longer life and as a result we are fully aware of the potential number this could reach!...

    How many of these teachers do we remember personally?... and what gives us the ability or reason to remember them?... (for me 4!) Why so few????

    True... we remember for both positive and negative reasons, but as a professional... should we be satisfied to be average?... forgettable?... a statistic?... or should we reach for the stars?... have a vision to leave our mark on our students and to equip them with the skills to become lifelong learners, long after they have left our classroom?

    To quote two questions from the film The Bucket List (must-see if you haven't already)...

    1. Have you found joy in your life?

    2. Has your life brought joy to others?

    I believe that these questions can be posed on both a personal and professional level.... so, professionally (readers of this blog/teachers of the world).... if you have chosen the correct profession, shouldn't you be aspiring to bring something memorable to our future generation? If not....why are you teaching?

  3. Thank you, Clarys. Thank you very very much.

  4. Du, what a wonderful text. You are a great person an excellent teacher and now I know you kick ass as a writer as well. Congratulations! I'm looking foward to reading your next post:-).

    P.S. I'm gonna put a link to your blog in mine. Hope you don't mind. love ya:-)

Post a Comment