I have a trainee on my current CELTA course, Mini, who asked me very early on: “how do you know if teaching is for you?” She asked me if I could share a happy memory – something that happened in class and with a student, that made me think “this is what I want to do”.
I found this weirdly difficult. I realised I have many powerful memories of things that happened in class with students – but often “happy” isn’t the word to describe them (you can read about some of them here, here and here). I also have many, many reasons why I love teaching and why I’ve stayed in this job – but they are largely to do with amazing people, cultures and countries…I found it hard to pick out specific moments in class with students.
Surely, in 23 years of teaching there must be something good I remember? Why can’t I pick out these amazing teaching moments?
It seems like, on reflection, my typical, ‘safe’, first-world, adult language learning classroom isn’t full of ground-breaking moments (unlike, perhaps, if you work with kids, or migrants, or refugees, or people in need, or in low-resource contexts, or in developing countries…) But I can say that it is full of triumphs, little and often, that empower people more to recognise and use the linguistic tools of the world around them. I can say that, while students may take away more or less from a lesson than I had hoped, every time they take something away, and I really try to maximise this (as my friend and colleague, Beth Grant, used to put it, they always go out “weighing heavier” than they went in). I think, as teachers, we might not experience that as a significant “happy” moment, but sometimes through feedback from learners/participants we learn that we had a bigger impact on them than we thought. Which is wonderful.
But now that I think about it, I also realise that – like most people? – I tend to skim over the positives in feedback and take note of only the negatives: what I didn’t do; what I could do better. Mini’s question reminds me how important it is to reflect on the “what went well” of lessons.
There’s a bit of a mantra in my team at work to “celebrate success”. It’s tongue-in-cheek, the way we use it, but I really do think it contributes to more acknowledgement of and sharing of good practice, rather than a focus on negatives. I’ve also been keeping a “compliments jar” for the past year or so, where every now and then I try to actually keep a record of some positive feedback from friends, colleagues, or course participants. I’m re-reading some of it now, and…it’s amazing. And it reminds me we might not always have someone to pat us on the back, but we all need that, and this is way you can do it for yourself.
So Mini…I wish I could answer your question, but I know I haven’t. Maybe some other people can?
How about you? Do you have a “happy teaching memory”? How do you “celebrate success”?