A post lesson reflection

I had a class the other day that just didn’t work. Why it didn’t work is quite clear but it is how I dealt with/am dealing with it that is the issue.

Sometimes in my career I have had to teach classes/lessons/topics that I’ve known haven’t been the best. In these situations I resign myself to that fact. After all, we often have to pull the line even if we don’t agree with what is asked of us. Thus, you can find yourself delivering a lesson that you just haven’t invested in and the students can feel it. In these types of lessons I am not me, I am not engaged, I am not teaching, active, developing, engaging, pushing etc. If one of those lessons bombs then I analyse it, find out why and use it as a developmental tool. But in the ‘run through the motions’ lesson it is not the same and I don’t have the same sense of satisfaction yet students still sit and play their role.

In this particular lesson there was messing around, chatting in the L1, lack of engagement, lethargy and some behaviour which I just don’t accept. It was not on a par with teaching in an inner city environment but it wasn’t my cup of tea. the whole thing was pretty pointless. Yes, the lesson (everyone knew) was not very useful but I tried to spice it up but it still needed some degree of team effort which there was none of.

How did I feel after and what did I do?

I felt angry because it was not me teaching my way and it didn’t work. I’m not saying that I can’t teach what I’m asked to teach but I like to have a bit of space to play to my strengths and add my own angle. If it had been my lesson I would have a reason for taking it personal but in this case not. I see a lot of teachers around nowadays who do this style for a living ie teaching with no investment. I really don’t know how they can go home after that. Maybe it really is that they are in it for the holidays.

So, the solution is perhaps that I just need to let things go and accept that I have to do some things that are not going to be the best and just forget about it. People do say that I take teaching too seriously but that’s my job, it’s not just a way to pay the bills. But beating myself up over something that I can’t really change is not good either.

The solution seems to be that I need to draw a line and decide where to invest myself and where not to.

How do you deal with these kinds of lessons?

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6 thoughts on “A post lesson reflection

  1. I think I have been quite lucky in my teaching over the years; I can’t recall having to teach a lesson for form’s sake. I suppose I always felt I had enough leeway to make it work for me, and if it didn’t, I just thought I had failed to make it work somehow, rather than having someone else to blame.

    The closest I think I got to this feeling was after many of my TP lessons while doing my PGCE – I thought they sucked and I certainly didn’t have the rougher elements of the class under manners. At the time, I saw the fault in the general system; now, I see it more in my failure (perhaps understandable) to work in a way I was happy with within the system (which I suspect would have been possible, but not for me at that time).

    That said, I think teachers could do with some healthy non-identification towards their work. What I mean is, reflection and analysis can easily become opportunities to beat ourselves up, or other people. Having some distance to the event, and to the process, not necessarily entailing our sense of self, would probably be good. I beat myself up for years about those lessons that I thought sucked – this helped no one, least of all me.

    That’s why I am increasingly of the opinion that counselling and supervision training and support are sorely lacking at all levels of teacher education and practice, so that we can learn how healthily to non-identify – and if we want to be sustainable as a profession (and looking at drop out rates and stress related retirement etc, we aren’t) then this needs to change.

    • Great stuff Anthony. I see old relatives who are teachers and they have a very cold way about them. I saw this on my PGCE too. They don’t/didn’t invest too much of themselves I think. They did their job and the lesson and then went home. We ELTers seem to think and talk a lot about our classes but maybe it’s not worth killing ourselves over it. Thankfully I have a nice balance of different jobs to even things out but when at uni I did see that people were just ‘surviving’ by only giving lessons and not evolving them. Maybe we are very lucky in ELT to have so much CPD and activity.

      As someone said to me yesterday “just go in, teach and if they aren’t bothered then why should you be?”. If we are talking of a long career in teaching this does make sense. Just imagine teaching Dogme style for 6 hours a day for 45 years. You’d be nacked and if you didn’t teach in the best situation you could put in a lot of effort trying to ‘fix’ things.

      Hmmm. I think I’m just going to let this one go and focus my efforts elsewhere. I don’t like it but for my own sanity I think it’s best.

  2. I never have a lesson that sucks, Phil. 🙂 JOKING!!!

    The fact that you care so much about every lesson shows that you have the innate qualities that means your students must be receiving killer content 99.9% of the time… which is to be applauded.
    When I have had lessons like you describe, it’s usually been last-second cover request from the DoS for a class starting 2 mins ago if memory serves. but there must have been many occasions in normal lessons where it wasn’t exactly X-Factor.

    As you say, the thing is to forget about it basically and the next (fast-approaching) class will probably be the usual gold standard. Unfortunately though, the bad ones are those that stick in the memory – but as you say it’s a completely 2 way thing. Don’t give a shit students, tired students, hayfevery students, headache students, (myriad reasons) can limit what you are able to do even if you’re trying to rock it to the max.

    Just be glad that you’re a teacher and have the option of going into a class again relatively quickly and getting the ‘good teaching hit’. Imagine how some people in dire 9-5s feel after their putrid output everyday with no hope of respite. 🙂

    You can’t please all the people all the time – even yourself!

    When your on your deathbed, you won’t be thinking “I wonder how I could have done that lesson better?” So why dwell on it now? You’ve got a high enough share price in terms of teaching reflection to be able to enjoy the weekend.

    See the paragraph just above the video here for my friendly advice of the day 🙂
    http://www.stgeorges.co.uk/blog/heart-breaking-vocabulary-farewell-video/

    • Nice Bren. Very nice.

      I was in a job at one time where every class was just churning out lessons with no interest from anyone. It was not for me. A friend taught like that in a government college and after a few years just couldn’t go in any more. She quit and took a big pay cut to teach nice students.

      There was a great article in TESOL France’s magazine recently about how to survive as a freelancer but it’s not just about preparing and giving lessons but also on the psychology. I mean, yes I used to feel great when EFL learners used to say thanks after class and gave me gifts, who wouldn’t? But when you move on and teach older students, adults, uni students they are not as welcoming and see you as just doing your job. This means it’s hard to get any feedback and even if you do you still need to teach said course.

      I do think though that I’ve been spoiled a bit as I’ve had many opportunities to do my own thing and develop courses that suit me. Now it might be time just to tow the line for a bit especially if I want to sty in some jobs for a while.

      My problem is that I do too much though. I never ever redo the same class exactly and make new discussion lessons every week. Yes, I may do them with 4 classes but never the same. If this means more grey hairs then be it. It keeps me out of danger.

  3. Interesting post- and discussion. I agree, Anthony, about the over-investment. Teaching is, I think, a job in which we naturally tend to give a lot of ourselves out. When we get something back, it feels great, when we don’t, it can feel awful. But I don’t think the solution is to become disengaged, like your relatives, Phil, is it? That just, to me, removes the whole point of being a teacher- might as well have a robot in the classroom! Instead, we need to find a way to take pleasure in giving, while accepting that whether students give anything back is ultimately up to them, and that we can’t actually control their response.

    • Hi Rachel,

      Exactly! That’s why it is often mentally exhausting and people get burned out. It’s also why we take things personally.

      I think being a bit disengaged is one way teachers or 40+ years survive because it means they don’t take anything personally. In my group classes I do my job but try to be nice and friendly but sometimes I get it thrown back and students are just disrespectful. They only respond to being told what to do and heads down work. This is sad but I think I’ve labelled the groups where this is the situation and so give them less of me. I’m not a shrink and if they don’t want to get involved and even be rude then I’m not going to fret about it. Instead, I now put a lot more effort into the other classes. As a result, I’m having more good students from bad classes change to the nicer ones. Many of the ‘negative’ students also aren’t coming so I had a class with only 2 students yesterday.

      I think a big ‘end of term’ reflection is in order soon to look at what went wrong/well, why and how I can approach things from a course design perspective and a personal one. A new plan of action!!!

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