Following or reflecting?
What do you usually expect to take away from interactions with other teachers? How often do such interactions and exchanges fall short of your expectations? Just like everything we do, we usually engage in conversations with other people because we expect to have some sort of insight or at least to have something to think about that might change us, slightly as it may be, but still, something that will definitely contribute to our growth. Needless to say, we do have some meaningless conversations in our daily lives, but we deride a great deal of pleasure from such chit-chat that this is also something we benefit from. However, my focus here is how often do we tend to reflect about the things we talk about to other people or how often we simply repeat what we’ve heard.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is what I look for when I go to a convention or a lecture. I remember that in the past, I’d always look for practical, hands-on activities that I could instantly use in classes. After all, variety is the spice of lessons as well, right? I didn’t expect anything else but ideas that I could simply go home and use straight away in my morning lessons. As time went by, I believe my focus has changed and I am now a lot more interested in learning a bit more of the theory that leads to such activities. What is the rationale behind them? Why is it that this or that results in more effective learning or recalling?
I wouldn’t say that there’s anything wrong with either of the approaches. However, I must say that I don’t think teachers will fully develop unless they start investigating their own beliefs towards learning and teaching. Why do I do the things that I do? Why do I believe that activity A is likely to work with that specific group whereas activity B can simply be dismissed out of hand? No matter how little you do it, reflecting about what others tell you is always a sound thing to do. And so is challenging your beliefs.
I wish more teachers understood the importance of actually trying to come up with their own personal language teaching methodology, as Jason Renshaw did on this post, and Marisa continued doing on this post. If you’re just following in your teachers’ footsteps, you’re always going to be a follower, and chances are you’ll progress very little. On the other hand, if you start thinking about what you believe in as a language teacher, you’re bound to always look for more effective ways to help your students learn. If I were still doing the same things my teachers did when they taught me, no matter how good they were, I’d probably have done very little. Fortunately, at least some of my teachers taught me that there’s no way one can know everything. If there’s one thing I still follow, it is this – always strive to improve.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I sometimes feel that more and more frequently conferences are becoming a place for teachers to share practical ideas of what they’ve done in class and expect others to follow them blindly. I don’t think I was the only one who came across someone who simply refused to listen someone else’s opinion because it was entirely against what they were saying. Pity. I see in that a great opportunity for growth. Having your ideas challenged, or even putting forward something that others might not entirely agree with should be a healthy habit. When is it that people stopped trying to answer WHY and only focus on HOW? I guess when you expect a lot of answers to WHY, some of your professional interactions may actually fall short of your expectations…