Whew, I have made it to the last of the 13 things mentally strong teachers don't do. I was originally inspired to write these posts when I listened to Amy Morin talk about her book in an interview. It got me to thinking that the things she was talking about applied to me as a teacher and I wanted to think about them in relation to my professional life. If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here.
9. They Don't Resent Other People's Success
One of the things that happens from time to time is that students will express a preference for one teacher over another. This can create incredible hurt feelings and cause teachers to resent each other. I remember one occasion in which I was asked to create a short description of a course I had designed, create 3 sign up sheets (one for each of my courses that semester) and stand behind a table with those sign up sheets. Students then came into the room and signed up for the course they wanted to take while we answered their questions. They were supposed to look at all of their options and pick the one that best suited their interests but since the courses were capped at 15, it became a frenzy for students to try to get their names on a sheet as quickly as possible. It was painfully obvious whose courses students were clamoring to get into and whose courses they were not. This was a terrible sign up system that created hurt feelings and caused teachers to lash out at each other.
Rather than resent another teacher's popularity however, it is much more constructive to find out what that teacher is doing right. I recently had the opportunity to teach in the same department with a colleague who was universally loved by his students because of the way he made each and every one of them feel important and valued. He has a very different teaching style than I do but when I asked him what his secrets were he gave me very valuable advice that I could easily integrate into my own teaching without changing who I am. He shared his tips on how to remember students' names quickly, something that has long been a challenge for me. I tend to want to say that I am getting older and my memory is not what it used to be but the truth is, if I put more effort into learning names in those first weeks of the class, it shows my students that I care about them in a way that all the careful lesson planning in the world does not. Learning names is a skill that can and should be learned.
He also chooses one or two students to observe carefully every day to discover what they are doing well. At the end of the class he calls them aside to tell them exactly how much he values their contribution to his class. Student walk out of his classes glowing!
If you are curious about how to learn names, check out this CNBC article on memory hacks to remember names. Some of them will help you remember vocabulary too!
10. They Don't Give Up After the First Failure
The subject of grit has been getting a lot of attention in education circles lately. Angela Duckworth has written a book and given a TED talk on the subject. She noticed that intelligence and success did not always go hand in hand. A better predictor of success was if someone is willing to pick themselves up after a failure and keep trying. This is true not only for our students but also for us teachers. What does grit look like in a teacher? To me, grit means several things, first, don't give up on a student no matter how slow or seemingly nonexistent their progress is.
I remember my first teaching job after getting my teaching degree I was teaching an academic writing class. I had a student who wrote essays that were almost impossible to understand. The grammar was way off, the vocabulary was all over the place and most of the time I just couldn't figure out what she was trying to communicate. She was a hard worker and in spite of just barely squeaking by and passing my introductory class, she signed up for my advanced writing class. I groaned inwardly when I saw her name on my roster because I just didn't know what I could do to help her. I felt like I had tried everything and nothing had worked. She wrote her first essay for me and just as I feared, it was no more understandable than any of her previous work had been. A flash of inspiration hit and I asked her to rewrite her essay as if she was explaining what she wanted to say to a five year old. What she brought back to me was fantastic! Her writing was clear and I could finally understand her ideas. We talked about it and I discovered she was using the most complicated grammar she had been taught and using her dictionary/thesaurus to pepper her writing with "academic" language so she would sound more impressive. We talked about how doing those things was causing her writing to be incomprehensible rather than impressive and it was really her ideas that made her essays shine. After that, her writing became much better and we could work on things like thesis statements and cohesion. I wanted to give up on her and let another teacher try to help but she wouldn't let me and I am so thankful that she didn't! She taught me a lot about how to help students become better writers and she taught me not to give up.
Another way teachers give up is to say something can't be done. Learning a language does take quiet a bit of time and effort but I think that sometimes we teachers use that excuse to not figure out ways to help our students learn faster and more effectively. Right now I am teaching listening skills. Listening can be challenging and frustrating for students and that can make it challenging and frustrating for me. Instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying that listening is hard, I have been trying out all kinds of ways to help them improve their skills. Some of the ways that I have been having success with lately are in this post entitled 8 Concrete Ways I Help my EFL Students Listen More Effectively. Although I am seeing some progress, I have not stopped working on it.
11. They Don't Fear Alone Time
This one is a bit tricky for me because I absolutely love alone time and I have not struggled with this at all. Sometimes I have the opposite problem in that I feel like I am constantly surrounded by people and don't have enough alone time. In trying to connect it with teaching though, I can see ways that I sometimes do hesitate to let students work alone. I tend to forget that students need time alone to think on a regular basis. If I am constantly putting them in pairs or small groups, they don't get that alone time. Discussions are so much richer if students have had some time on their own to think about their own opinion or create something independently. Suddenly instead of just agreeing with each other, they start to share divergent opinions and bring up original ideas.
Another thing I used to fear was being alone in the front of the classroom or worse, and auditorium full of new faces. I am not a person who ever loved public speaking and I had to force myself to do it when I first started teaching. There is something incredibly isolating about standing alone in front of everyone, feeling all of their eyes on me but not connecting with anyone. It makes me want to rush through things with no pauses to think. I am much better off when I get comfortable up there in front of people, allow myself to stop, think and even enjoy it. Lately I have even been presenting at conferences and have found whole new ways to love teaching!
12. They Don't Feel Like the World Owes Them Anything
As a teacher, I would love to think that the world owes me respect, lots of vacation time and a top salary. Actually I really do want those things but I have to earn them, they are not my right. I earn respect by being responsible, making sure I don't waste my students time, and constantly trying to improve my knowledge and skills as a teacher. I earn my vacation time by working really hard the rest of the year. The last one is a bit trickier, how do I earn a top salary as a teacher? I must admit that I do get frustrated sometimes watching my brother pull in twice as much as I do with less education but then I remember that I love what I do and he doesn't. I need to advocate for teachers' rights and a higher salary by voting for people who support education, becoming involved in organizations like teacher unions that fight for higher pay, and refusing to accept teaching positions that are exploitative.
13. They Don't Expect Immediate Results
As I mentioned earlier, learning a language takes time. I am skeptical of any claims that say you can learn a language in 20 hours, you can't. You can learn the basics of some parts of a language in 20 hours though, so by all means, get started!
One of the things I absolutely love about teaching is that it is complicated, difficult and I am never done learning how to be better at it. Learning to teach well takes time, patience and a lot of reflection. I recently saw a talk about the difference between learning and performance zones. It got me to thinking about how much time I spend teaching (being in the performance space) vs. how much time I spend learning the skills that will make me a better teacher. Honestly, I spend way more time performing than I spend learning. Teachers need to be skilled in many areas and in order to do that, we need to be able to learn and practice away from our classrooms. Some of the skills that I want to learn better are:
Now I am really excited to get started on all of these things I want to learn. I hope you have been inspired as well. What would you like to get better at? What questions do you have about learning and teaching?
Check out some of these posts and leave me a comment!
Hi, I'm Kia.
I help ESL / EFL teachers create fun, effective courses that students love.