Reflections / Stories

Professional Development

PaperCupHolderI remember one lunch break on a training course in Korea, more precisely, our afterlunch coffee in a paper cup. I was bringing one for my colleague who had not joined us for that meal because she was busy preparing her input session. I was carrying our coffee in the paper cup holder you can see in the picture. In the elevator I had a conversation with one of the course participants, and I jokingly said that I can plan a lesson about (or using) this paper cup holder. She looked surprised, and then said: ‘Are you always thinking about teaching?’

That this short exchange made me reflect on my beliefs, and let me share some of them here. One thing I believe about being a good language teacher is actually being able to plan and teach lessons in response to my students, to what happens in the real world, to the context I am in, etc. Another thing I believe is that teacher’s personality, identity and integrity is crucial for successful teaching and more importantly for student learning. Now, to keep being a good teacher one needs to constantly develop professionally (a third firm belief of mine)

So, what exactly does it mean to ‘develop professionally’ in the ELT job? There are tons of ideas, including observing and being observed, giving and receiving feedback from students and colleagues, attending training courses and conferences, reading, blogging, using an unfamiliar course book, and many more ways (perhaps a topic for a separate entry) I think that each and every of the above mentioned are wonderful ways to help a teacher be enthusiastic about the job they are doing and find new and ‘fresh’ perspectives about it.

However, I also see another side of this coin: if we take a typical teaching week, it will consist of planning and teaching classes (usually the actual contact hours vary, but can be between 18-24 per week), plus filling our the required school paperwork (again, the amount is different depending on the school and culture), meeting parents, grading homework, marking tests, etc. If a teacher is also a non-native speaker of a English, like myself, this also means developing one’s own language proficiency. (perhaps this is also true for any other subject teacher) If you add family duties and household chores here the week will be quite packed. Doing any extra professional development outside the school hours means having even more time spent ‘at work’. Hopefully, if this is the job a teacher chose and likes, this is a time well-spent and the satisfaction and learning is a great pay off.

I have been writing all this with one question in mind: does professional development equal personal development? And does it always have to be hard work? I get back to the beliefs stated at the beginning about the role of a teacher in the classroom, and in particular, a language learning classroom. I am wondering if spending all the possible time planning lessons and learning new activities simply ‘steals’ the time from watching a new movie, for example, reading a fiction book, having a stroll in a park and talking to people who are not teachers or educators, etc. Does this develop us personally? Emotionally? Does it help us teachers create better lessons and respond to students? I would give all ‘yes’-es here. And can developing only professionally and leaving the personal part aside lead to burning out and tiredness? Another ‘yes’ for me.

In any case the ‘golden middle’ would perhaps be the best choice. Also, perhaps in our life there will be times when we have more space for professional development in a more ‘traditional’ sense, and there will be also times to live more outside the classroom and to bring back the inspiration and ideas that are fresh and ‘real’.

Just one last thing: I have not planned a lesson about that paper cup holder (yet?) Who knows, maybe one day it can become a speaking lesson about coffee? Friends? What you talk about when you meet for a coffee? Or about being ‘green’ and recycling where possible? Or this can be a good warmer for the students to guess what the object means to me, and where it comes from, and so on. Wait, this means thinking as a teacher again! 🙂

P.S. I am grateful for the job I have, which demands to be both a professional and an interesting person. At this point I can’t say that I am good at both, but the whole idea of this balance helps me learn a lot. I just wanted to say this in the week of Thanksgiving!

Posted by Zhenya

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