January 5, 2009
Wow. What a crazy day. We had orientation in the morning and then we did level testing from 9:30. There was a bit of confusion about the rooms and stuff like that but in the end everything worked out. It took students a bit longer to get started on the task that we set for them, but it was OK. They generally spoke in English and worked on the questions that we gave them. I noticed that most groups took a few minutes to get to know each other. This makes perfect sense. I would never just start talking to random people about how I teach writing or listening without getting to know them first. It is possible that these teachers might not have spoken much English in a very long time. I think it took them some time to get warmed up.
I met my first class in the afternoon. They were really great. I felt like the lesson went pretty well. There were of course, some problems. The first was that the room was absolutely freezing. One teacher said that she didn’t want to sit down. That was when I felt like it was really cold. I wonder if I should have checked on another room or something like that immediately. I think that I was a bit stubborn and just wanted to get the lesson started. The course is classroom management so I hoped that I could give students an example of how to roll with the punches. I thought that once everyone came in and starting talking and working that the body heat would warm things up. I was, as always, hot. More hot than usual because I was wearing a sports coat and I was moving around a lot. Right when I was making a point about why I never say, “What is your hobby?” an office staff member came in and asked us to move. I felt like I did a pretty good job to continue with the lesson with all the interruptions and confusion. I think that the students are quite strong at English but they need a bit of help using English in the classroom. I thought that the students were really good and that they got a lot out of my class. I told the students that I hoped that this class would be the most practical and the most useful for when they start teaching again in Feb (March?). I really believe that. I have a feeling that it will be a really good week.
One interesting thing that happened in the class was when I was talking about syllables. I always focus students’ attention on syllables because I think it is an important thing to think about when speaking English. I know that lots of Korean students have problems with this and I think that a bit of a focus early on would help students speak English better. Anyway, I was introducing the question, “How many syllables are there in ____?” and one teacher commented that her students would not know this word or question. I wondered why not. I told her that I felt that teachers should teach this and that it should be the teacher’s responsibility to make sure students know it. I hope that I was not too aggressive with my answer because it was the first class. Her question and point was a very good one and I think that these are the kind of issues that we will explore in the coming weeks.
Another interesting thing happened in my second class of the day. I was asking students for possible rules for the classroom and one teacher said, “no microphones.” I think she must have confused my question because she was answering about rules for teachers in her school. She said that her principal says that microphones are not allowed in the classrooms because they are too noisy and distract other people. I had never thought of microphones in the classroom. Actually they kind of teased me because my voice is so loud and they said that I don’t need a microphone. After the student mentioned microphones the other teachers really sprung into life. An older guy said that she was young and that she needed to train her voice(vocal cords). A few other people disagreed with him and one woman said that talking too much makes her voice husky. She asked me how I manage to talk so loudly and have so much energy for such a long time. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to include some theory. I mentioned that my classes are usually quite student-centered and that I try not to talk for more than 5 minutes of a 50 minute lesson. I got the feeling that they believed me but that they thought it was not really practical for their current situations. After this a bit of a free discussion broke out and teachers were talking about their experiences and situations. Not bad for the first day!
The day is nearly finished and I am ready for bed. I am really excited about this course and I think that I will be able to help these teachers a lot and that it will be a good experience for everyone involved.
I guess that is all for now.
The above is my words written just about 5 years ago.
(I made 3 minor changes including editing out a name, adding a comma and fixing a typo)
The word “student” and not “trainee”or”participant” jumped out at me. C’mon Mike, knowing the lingo is part of playing the part. Rookie mistake. Well, in fairness, it was your first rodeo.
It is interesting to note how much talk there was of organization type things and room temperature as compared to actual classroom choices and happenings.
I enjoyed some of the moments of description there. I would have loved to see even more but since it is the first one, I’ll let it go.
I felt like there was a bit of cheerleading, expectation setting, and excuse making there which I think relates to this being shared with participants (which I talk more about below). “I am really excited about this course and I think that I will be able to help these teachers a lot and that it will be a good experience for everyone involved’ is a pretty confident line from a first day trainer, in my view.
I liked the aspect of bringing the “practical for the participants’ contexts” question to the forefront. I am glad to see this was on my mind from the start and that I gave some room for not everything to fit so nicely into participants’ contexts either.
One thing I have been thinking about for a while is how I chose to share these entries with course participants.I think this idea has some good and some potentially not-so-good points. I think it could be good as a model. I mean model in two ways:
a) as a model in the sense of, “Hey look, my trainer is keeping a reflective journal too. Maybe he really values this process and is not just asking us to do this crap for the sake of it.”
b) as a model in the sense of, “Oh this is one way to reflect, thanks for sharing it with me, trainer.” I am not convinced this particular sample was great or even passable in that regard but I think the idea has some potential.
I think the other side of sharing these journal entries with participants is that it could potentially (and in fact did) turn more into a line of communication between me and the participants that chose to read the journal. I think this could potentially (and in fact did) detract from the reflection aspect. I believe changing or adding the audience limited what I felt comfortable sharing or writing about. I also fell into what I now consider a trap of using the journal as my mouthpiece for addressing issues within the group. I recall one particular journal entry in which I pouted a bit about participants’ behavior and what I perceived as a lack of respect. I don’t think my shared journal was an appropriate place for such sharing. This is in part because I wasn’t sure that everyone was reading it and especially because by focusing on what I perceived as rude behavior from participants and chastising them in this backdoor way I got away from the reflective aspect and into something else. I don’t want to say that having such a channel of communication is automatically a bad idea, just that it can be confusing about what the purpose of such a document and habit is. So, for me, I’d like to be more clear on what the purpose of such journals are and what I’d hope the readers can get out of reading them.
I guess that is all for now.
Thanks for reading.
[A bit of background on the course: The participants were Korean high school teachers who were on the course for 3 weeks of their winter vacation. There were 6 trainers and 6 strands. Mine was about classroom management as I mentioned. There was also the aspect of working in English and trying to improve English which in my view got away from the training aspect a bit. I am not sure if this makes things any clearer but I thought I’d try)
Hello and welcome.
How are you?
I am fine thank you.
Ok, please get comfortable.
Close your eyes.
Shit, wait, not yet. Open your eyes and read this. Keep your eyes open and read and then close them when I ask you to.
Oh gosh. This is complicated.
Let’s try this again, When I say “go” close your eyes and try to remember the last few suggestions you received. These can be related to teaching or general. Go!
(This is where you remember the suggestions you have received most recently.)
Are you back?
What were the suggestions?
Did you follow them?
Why? Why not?
If you are like me (and I suspect like many (most?) people) you probably didn’t follow them. Again, if you are like me you might have thanked the person but figured they didn’t really know the whole situation and thought about doing something else. Maybe you thought it was a good idea but immediately found problems with it and decided you probably wouldn’t be implementing it anytime soon. Maybe you didn’t even think you were talking about a problem that needed solving and were slightly taken aback at the unrequested suggestions.
Maybe you loved the suggestions and they changed your life. If so, my experience is different.
If you did follow the suggestions, I am guessing it is because you had already decided it was a problem or an issue worth solving and the suggestion fit nicely into that. I am guessing that you were already at a stage where you were ready for suggestions. Perhaps you were stuck and had gone as far along on this issue as you could without help from another.
Sometimes I find myself sharing what I think is a story or an interesting aspect of teaching or my context and the person I am talking to jumps in and just solves the problem for me. I (generally) do appreciate the help and care that it implies but in such situation I am typically not actually actively seeking out solutions. I am just sharing. Or maybe even venting. People venting tend not to want solutions, in my experience. I think they just want to be heard and understood. So, in these situations when I am just sharing or venting I find suggestions to be particularly grating. Again, maybe I am alone in this or maybe I am hyper aware of suggestions so they impact me more than they do others.
I have a friend and colleague who makes this distinction between seeking suggestions and venting very clear. If venting she will say, “I am just venting.” If she is listening to someone talk and it sounds like venting she will often clarify if it is venting or if it is a time for potential solutions. I love this question and I love the clarity that comes with it. I have not really employed this strategy very much but I think I’d like to. I can say that I am a much different (and probably better) listener when it’s clear I am just listening and connecting and not participating in a problem solving situation. Specifically, sometimes I find myself waiting to impart my ideas, drop knowledge bombs and dispense suggestions instead of fully listening. But, when I know this is not the time for this I can be a much more attentive listener.
I think I have been blessed working with colleagues like the one mentioned above. I must also give credit to another colleague who helped me see that my litany of suggestions and improvements for his sessions were not necessarily what he was looking for all the time. It has been very helpful for me and I have learned a great deal. I also think it sometimes makes such communication with people who don’t follow this line of thinking more difficult and surprising. I’d rather not give examples examples where I felt wronged or overly suggested upon so I will just make one up. Here I go…This one time, I was telling a teaching friend about a student that I have and how it was a challenge for me to work with her. It was a stressful experience for me and I don’t think I had handled things with this student very well. I acted a lot more emotionally than I would have liked. I know that my actions and reactions were not perfect. Anyway, before hearing the full story my friend had a list of things I could and *should have done. I was fully ready to admit that I hadn’t handled things well but I wasn’t really interested in hearing what I’d done wrong (partially because I was already aware of it). I was also not really interested in hearing ways to manage and repair things with that student either. I guess I was just hoping to be heard and empathized with. When I got criticism and suggestions for future actions I didn’t get any of what I was looking for and more than enough of what I was not looking for. Frustration set in and I thought to myself, “This conversation is not going well for me” and wondered how I could avoid such situations with this friend in the future.
I don’t think it is really fair of me to blame my friend who was giving out the suggestions. I think he was sincerely just trying to help. Maybe he was trying to help in accordance with the way he thought he was helped in the past. He was also doing what is pretty much a normal thing in the world. Hear a problem, share a solution. I think this is pretty normal in the world and surely in the teaching world. I certainly don’t want to blame my friend for operating in what is a completely normal and usual way. If anything, I am more tempted to think about ways to “own” such conversations in the future and be clear about when and if I am seeking suggestions (and when I am not). Also, unfortunately, I wondered if it was worth it to share such things with this friend and thought I would be careful about sharing things that could be construed as a request for suggestions.
It seems to me that the type of suggestions we typically get might be along the lines of “What I would do if I were the teacher” or What you *should be doing.” No thanks. Subconscious or not, I think these are the suggestions that are more likely to be disregarded by the listener. Personally, as a listener, I am much more comfortable hearing about what another teacher does and their impressions of it, rather than as a suggestion or a template for me to use.
The other thing that comes to mind when I think about suggestions for teachers is that it sort of cuts out the reflective process. Jumping straight to an action point without a clear picture of what happened or potential interpretations of it or other analysis on the issue strikes me as a very quick jump and sort of circumvents reflection. Also, I feel like if I come up with an action plan I am much more likely to follow this than someone foisted on me by another.
Personally, (in addition to the aforementioned venting or trying to connect) I might share some story or challenge related to teaching to get a fresh perspective on it, but that doesn’t mean I am looking for “the answer” from my interlocutor on that particular day. It might be arrogance on my part but I think I am much more likely to find a suitable answer or plan on my own but I do welcome people helping me sort through my thoughts on the issue. I wonder if this is just me or if others feel the same way.
I’ll not add suggestions here in this post to deal with this problem of suggestions but I will share my hope that readers are a bit more aware of the next few suggestions they give out.
Thanks as always for reading and any comments are welcome.