Letter to myself

Dear Mike,

You are writing this to yourself on December 11, 2017 (and, let’s be honest, you wrote a little more on December 12th and edited a very little bit in January 2018).  It’s the last class with one group. They were a nice group and it was an enjoyable time. You had a lot of laughs with this group.

Your students are currently writing a letter to “their juniors” offering advice and recollections. You decided it was too boring (and somewhat uncomfortable) to watch them write so you decided to do some writing yourself.

When faced with this “letter to a junior” task a few students were a bit reticent. One suggested that she didn’t have anything to say because she didn’t do well this term. You told her that is also valuable. Perhaps the next time you do this you can do a bit more in terms of a lead-in and intro. Similarly, one student (who it must be said didn’t benefit from reading “a letter to a senior” in the spring” sort of balked at the idea and thought it was unfair to be compelled to write something. You fully agreed. It was an interesting moment and a fun challenge to your beliefs. You might have overdone your lack of a desire to compel them to do anything and in the end she seemed very focused on the task and it looked like she did her best to pass along useful information.

The idea of this letter is to remind you of a few things that are on your mind as you finish the term in the hopes that it will be helpful when you start the new term. We can consider it something of a reminder but also perhaps a nudge to make some small changes.

Looking back on this term (and this class and the 2 other sections just like it) you believe you worked hard and did your best. Perhaps sometimes your classroom management in terms of timing was not the best as you raced against the clock to finish a few times during the second semester.

It is perhaps related but, this was also the class that you got a bit bogged down a few times with some esoteric questions.  In retrospect you might have just said something like, “you don’t need to know that.. maybe let’s just move on.” You only got a bit pissy about this once but it felt like it was more of a bonding moment than anything.

If you are honest with yourself you can admit that this year was not super easy for you in terms of teaching. You can also say that they are some great students and people that you’d like to stay in touch with you. You can hold on to the idea you’ve impacted some people and helped them. Please remember the touching feedback you got from students as they left on the last day. You will remember what they said and it might serve you to remember that this positive and touching feedback was not exactly about pedagogical feelings and was more about affect and helping students be comfortable in the class and comfortable with who they are in the class. It is a good lesson to keep in mind and try to replicate although of course it will be different with different groups. Some good news is that you are already familiar with many of the students you will be having this term and they are a great bunch.
You are reading this post in the future through the miracles of modern WordPress post publishing technology.  It’s March, 2018.  It’s a new term. I am guessing you don’t really know what the new term will bring. I hope you are still excited. If I know you I know that you were thinking last night about the idea that if you don’t get butterflies in your stomach the night before a new term or class that means it’s time to hang it up.

I know you like and even love your job. I must admit I’m a bit concerned about you being a bit complacent or fat and happy in this job. I hope you will find some ways to keep things new and fresh. Remember how hard this all was back in 2010 when you started. You scraped and clawed to be decent at this and now you can confidently say you tend to do well. The learning curve was steep and now you feel comfortable and confident in the job. There is, of course, always room for improvement.
So,  in terms of improving and keeping things fresh, what will you do? I was thinking about a few experiments you might try in your classes this term. You could even try different experiments in different groups and see how things go.

Another concern I have, which is surely connected to the above is that it’s perhaps too easy for you to fall into that “demand low” situations and attitude. You work hard and students surely improve and work hard but there are probably some areas where some more tension could be helpful for everyone.

You spend all this time writing notes for the students based on their mistakes/errors and successes. You know that students don’t read them or take them on so much. This is tough on both and emotionally and time-wise. You instituted the weekly quiz last year and it worked pretty well last year but this year a lot of students missed it. The way I see it now you have two options with this. You can stop doing the quizzes or you can be more strict about this. One crazy idea you had (and halfheartedly “threatened” was that students cannot participate in class without taking the previous week’s quiz. Another idea was to be explicit about students who take the quiz getting more chances to practice (in the interpreting booth) if they take the quiz.

Another example of a potential change might be in terms of the speeches and such that students bring in for material. I know you value your laissez-faire attitude to this, and ultimately you are right that it’s up to them but perhaps you could play a slightly more influential role in the selection process and help students make the most out of their time. It’s just something to think about. I know that want to be understanding and generous in the moment when a student doesn’t fulfill their duty but maybe there is such a thing as being too kind and it doesn’t serve them or the class. I don’t think you need to re-think all your beliefs about teaching necessarily but you could perhaps be a bit tougher and clear when students don’t meet their obligations. This kind of “Oh well, let’s do better” view might not be that helpful in the long term.

The other thought related to speech selection is that sometimes it seems like (some!) students spend a lot of time on this. While becoming an expert on such a Korean speech and thinking about potential pitfalls is surely helpful it seems like (most?) students view it more as drudgery and busywork and less as a potentially great learning experience. The suggestion here for this is to really emphasize it’s okay to borrow speeches from previous years and from other sections. This might help limit this issue.

I need not remind you about the conflict between students when one student felt their classmate was not doing enough in terms of speech prep and was not selecting appropriate speeches.

Well, that turned into a sour note to end upon. Let it be a reminder that you will want to keep working to improve. Thanks for reading and considering what the Mike of terms past has to say.


Best of luck,
December 2017 Mike


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