Teaching is like…

Brad Patterson felt the ELT Blogosphere was a bit quiet these days and decided to shake things up a bit by proposing a new blog challenge:

What is you teaching metaphor?

The challenge is very simple: share your “Teaching is like…” metaphor. As many things in life, despite its simplicity, the responses can be very thought-provoking and revealing – not to mention entertaining. We all seem to think for the answer to that question in our personal interests – other than ELT. Brad compares teaching to surfing and some of the people who left comments to his post say teaching is like reading a good novel, Latin dance, catching fireflies and jogging.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t choose just one thing to make the analogy, so I thought Brad wouldn’t mind me having 2 metaphors. Especially because each relates to different aspects I see in teaching. So here is my contribution to the challenge (which – shockingly – are two of my favorite things) – teaching aspect of the analogy in italics, between parenthesis:

I have a thing for red shoes… (by miss karen on Flickr – CC )

Teaching is like buying new shoes. As soon as we buy them, we are all exciting and we can’t wait to start wearing them. (In the beginning of a new term we are all excited about our new groups and students, we want to get back on, start teaching again.) But the first time(s) you wear a new pair of shoes they may be tight in certain spots, they may hurt your feet and you might end up the day thinking: “What the heck was I thinking?”. (Starting to teach a new group of students many times means getting a group you don’t immediately hit it off with, they may bring difficulties and the excitement of a new semester soon fades and is replaced by routine and lots of work. And you are soon thinking: “What the heck was I thinking?”)

However, with time, as you wear that sparkling new pair of shoes they start loosening up, adjusting to your feet. And they become comfortable. (As the term rolls on you begin to know your students, they start to know you and your teaching style. Adjustments are made, you learn how to prepare and deliver lessons that work with each group. And things are not as bad anymore. It might even be fun!) Ok… there are those that you still need to put a little band-aid on that one spot that keeps hurting and you sigh with relief when you take them off. (Eventually there may be those students / groups that never get to the “comfortable” level, and that make us do our job but look forward to the end of the term.)

Pilates

I strongly recommend pilates as a way of keeping fit

Teaching is like doing pilates. It may seem easy to someone looking from the outside – gracious, slow movements. (Many people seem to think teaching, and may I say in particular teaching a language, is a very easy thing to do. You just present the structures and correct the students. Right?) But once you are the one on those straps, bars and huge balls, surrounded by springs and bands you see your first impression was not accurate. It is hard to keep the movement slow – it takes twice the strength of doing weights in an automatic way. (Once you’re in the classroom you realise there are many ways to “present” the language; that it’s not enough to just correct when the students make a mistake. You’re surrounded by different students, different needs, new techniques and tools to be used, long hours… It is hard to do everything and see learning take place.)

Some exercises and movements in pilates can be quite challenging. Coordinating different – sometimes quite complex – movements to be done at the same time by different parts of the body while also concentrating on your breathing can seem impossible. (Sometimes as teachers we feel overwhelmed by all we have to do in order to effectively doing our jobs. And many times we feel we can’t make it. Sometimes we feel there is no way we can teach a group of 15-20 people from different backgrounds, different levels, different interests. How can we tend to everything and everyone at once?) But once you start developing your muscles and they develop a memory – yes, muscles have memory! – and the movements become effortless, natural. You become motivated by your progress, you start to see the benefits of the exercises and they become worth it. (Once you become a more experienced teacher, things and procedures take less time and work. You start to see the results of your work: a student that gets a job or a scholarship, another one that travels abroad and can effectively communicate and get around… And you see the value of what you do.)

So, teaching for me is like buying new shoes and doing pilates. What is your metaphor?

About Kindness…. and The Way it Comes Back to You

So, I know I have been away from my blog. For a number of personal aspects I haven’t had time write on the blog. I miss it, and I hope the overwhelming period is over. So, for my first post after such a long time away, I chose to do something following up to James Taylor’s “Just Say Yes” – which plays to my heart. I strongly recommend his post, but to put it in a few words, James talks about how about a year ago he made a decision to say yes to everything (professionally at least), every request and opportunity that “knocked” on his door – within reason. Whether it was a request for answering a survey, recording a video for a PLN friend or a conference, he said yes. And he became a better person and had some great things happen to him because of that. I am a firm believer of that.

Quite a few years back, pushed by a project I was doing with some of my classes based on the film Pay It Forward , I made a decision to every day make a conscious “random act of kindness”. Whether it was help someone I don’t know, get out of my way to help someone I know or give some food to a kid begging for money on a street light (we have quite a few of those in my city). I don’t think this makes me a good person in any way. Sometimes it is something as simple as stopping my car to give way to someone backing up from a parking space in a busy street. Those who live in a city as big as mine know this can be considered an act of kindness, with every impatient car behind you honking in the process. I do it expecting nothing in return. I do it for the simple reason I think the world has become too individualised, people are too self-centered, too wrapped in their own worlds. Life seems to have become so demanding and fast that people forget to be kind. People sometimes forget we live in a community. And I have discovered (ok, so maybe many other people know it already) that what you throw into the world comes back to you. Yelling generates yelling. Impatience generates impatience. But (thankfully) kindness generates kindness as well.

Kindness generates kindness – from Prophet Kindness

A friend, who is an acclaimed novelist and writer,has written this piece of writing. And it speaks to me, when it preaches “kindness generates kindness”. And I believe that.

So, I leave you with a video about sharing from TED and the changes it can have in your life; the free translation I have made from my friend’s short story ( I apologize for any mistakes on the translation. But it had rang to close to my heart for a year.); and an idea of an activity to use with students after reading it. Maybe we can spread kindness after all. And if I can leave you with something positive, here’s a man in Rio de Janeiro who preaches kindness to others (the best link in English I could find about him is this)

I couldn’t help noticing, when I came across James’ post, how much it rang true to what I believe: Be good, be helpful, and the world will (hopefully) be good again.

It feels good to be back again :)

Seeing Hope in the Little Things (short story)

Kindness Activity

Update: I know my blog is usually very ELT / classroom focused. But I think as educators who have such influence on the young people who will soon be adults, we can make a difference if we bring and discuss such ideas in class as well.