Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hitting the doldrums - or not

When you start teaching, everything's a blur, but after a few months or a couple of years, you can suddenly realise that you're in a rut, without even knowing how you got there.  You know what you're doing (or at least you think you do), you have a repertoire of lesson ideas, mountains of photocopies that you might use again one day, and just that nagging feeling that something isn't quite right.  Somewhere along the way, after you lost the sense of panic, you also lost some of your drive and enthusiasm.

So how can you get them back?  How can you stop the doldrums turning into your permanent teaching home?

Here are my top tips:

  • Stop reusing your favourite ideas or activities in exactly the same way that you did them before.  By all means, keep doing what works, but always look for a way to tweak it.  (See my Tired Lesson Topics posts 1 & 2 for a few ideas).  No two classes are the same, so rethinking an activity for a new group situation is always going to be worth your while.
  • In the same vein, keep an eye open for lesson materials anywhere and everywhere.  If your textbook is 5 years old, chances are it's out of date, particularly if it mentions any celebrities (yuk), or has a section on technology (Mini-discs, anyone?).  Update it using up-to-the-minute news and web resources, and you're less likely to feel uninspired by the material.
  • Let go of the assumption that you 'know' an area of language after you've taught it a few times.  Instead, keep researching and refreshing your knowledge, because there's always more to learn.
  • Similarly, keep honing your teaching skills: observe other teachers whenever you get the chance, but also don't forget conferences, extra training and qualifications, or books and articles.  Even a little time invested in professional development won't be wasted, and may keep you from stagnating.

  • This one's the biggie: if there was a single tool you could use to find lesson ideas, discover breaking news stories, connect with other teachers, access conferences and training, and locate PD material, wouldn't you use it?  Social networking is that tool.  Teachers globally are using Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and others for all these goals and more, whenever, wherever.  
My thing is Twitter, and I've found an amazing community of dedicated teachers.  Quite simply it's transformed my teaching, and will continue to do so.  Sometimes I have more time for it, sometimes only a couple of minutes in a day, but the beauty is it's always there whenever I need it.  If you want to give it a go, check out the following to help you get started:

  1. An introduction to Twitter for ELT - links and resources that were recommended by Sandy Millin during her excellent workshop at the English UK North conference this month.
  2. A bit of humorous encouragement - the 10 stages of Twitter use by teachers.  (We've all been there!)
  3. Information about an organised PD chat on Twitter - #ELTChat is a Twitter chat occurring on Wednesdays at midday and 9pm (UK time), where teachers get discuss a set issue for an hour.  This is how I first found most of the teachers I now follow on Twitter.  Anyone can join in with the chats or suggest a topic, and if you can't join in live you can still learn from the participants by accessing chat summaries afterwards.
  4. A list of educational hashtags on Twitter - this list aims to be comprehensive, including all known educational hashtags.  There are many organised chats on Twitter, similar to #ELTChat, some relating to specific subjects or areas of education, others to teaching in a particular country.  Finding a hashtag which is relevant to your interests, can be the first step towards locating amazing people to follow and connect with.

Good luck!

Image made using photos taken from by @dfogarty, @sandymillin, @baibbb used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

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