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The Calm, Consummate Professional: 10 Life-Hacks

The Calm, Consummate Professional: 10 Life-Hacks

The Calm, Consummate Professional: 10 Life-Hacks

What would you say is the difference between someone’s ‘work’, their ‘job’ and their ‘profession’?

Until about thirty years ago, teachers were regarded, alongside medics and lawyers, as a professionals, worthy of admiration and respect. More recently, for a host of reasons, this perception has broken down. I have some suggestions for ensuring that we approach our work with true professionalism by addressing a couple of issues, introducing one or two new elements, and following some ancient but valuable advice.

1. Look after yourself

It’s so basic but so difficult. Keeping well rested and in a positive state of mind relies on controlling the levels of stress and anxiety in your life. A huge boost to your problem-solving capacity, and your general well-being, is to fix a time by which you’re heading towards bed. The implications of working while poorly rested are all too familiar to many of us: irritability and short-temperedness, difficulty paying attention, lethargy and negativity. My habit is to stand and move around throughout my classes, and feeling light on my feet helps keep me active, responsive and mobile

As well as getting sufficient sleep, we must ensure it is good quality sleep. Take a break from your devices in the half hour or so before bedtime: this has been shown to aid falling asleep, whereas bright screens are linked to wakefulness and insomnia. Try not to snack late in the evenings. If you’re a smoker, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. And, even if you’re doing all of these good things, consider one more addition to your evening routine

2. Mediate

Slowly but surely, Western society is adopting this ancient, simple method of refocusing our energies and allowing distraction and worry to ebb away. Whether in the morning, at lunchtime, after work, or in the evening, ten minutes (or more, if possible) of quiet sitting provides benefits which scientists are still scrabbling to quantify. People who regularly meditate tend to become angry less often, to forgive more readily, to laugh more easily, to shrug off the unchangeable rather than become stressed by attacking it, and have fuller, more rewarding social and family lives.

For teachers, meditation can bring that equanimity – the willingness to accept the rough and the smooth – which serves us well when dealing with problem students or colleagues. I’ve found myself less distractable and funnier since I began meditating regularly — its impact is highly individual but its effects are uniformly positive.

Here’s the basic procedure:

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit on a couple of cushions, or whatever works for your body, and cross your legs so that you are stable and won’t need to shuffle around
  2. Breathe slowly in and out. Focus exclusively on each breath, the passage of air in and out of your nose, the feel of each breath as it fills your chest, the nuanced sensations which we ignore but which are rooted in a rather beautiful symmetrical simplicity. Notice everything but don’t react to it.
  3. Thoughts will occur. Let them go
  4. Stay there for as long as you feel you can, then slowly get up

3. Get regular exercise

Make sure your heart gets a workout at least three times a week. This could be almost anything from a swim or a game of tennis or basketball, through to a jog on a treadmill or at the park. Working out pours healthful chemicals into our brains, just the kind every professional needs to think and teach at their best. You’ll also look and feel good, boosting your confidence and sense of self-worth.

4. If you don’t write it down, it never happened

This maxim reminds us to make plenty of notes throughout our working day. Tricky questions from students, ideas for a new activity, a reminder to check the meaning or etymology of an unusual word, a note to call a colleague or arrange a meeting, all go straight into my notebook, where I also keep my lesson plans. You might use a device instead — I’m just a little old-school.

5. Proper planning prevents poor pedagogy

Every class you teach should have a set of objectives. This doesn’t turn the class into a dry, impersonal ‘product’ 12 which you then ‘deliver’ to your students. Consider for each semester, perhaps also for each class, the overall learning aims your students have. What do they most need? What mistakes are you hearing? What elements of their skills set need to be boosted?

This is often done through testing, exams rarely reveal the true nature of a student’s mindset and skills. As a teacher, you spend hundreds of hours with these students and are better placed than any examiner to judge their relative aptitudes and weaknesses.

All of this subjective and test-based data flows directly into your lesson planning. Say, for example, that your students aced the multiple-choice section on conditional forms. Does this mean they can use all four of them fluently? Find out by building a spoken exercise into your plan: true fluency isn’t expressed as a choice between three or four answers, but as the spontaneous, individual, accurate production of language.

Planning keeps us from forgetting what should come next, organizes the class time into sections which reflect our learning aims, and gives the teacher a sure-footed confidence as they progress through the class, exactly as though they were driving with a GPS rather than navigating from memory.

6. It’s great to create

There are many fantastic textbooks out there, and plenty of terrible ones too, but what’s certain is that noone ever wrote a textbook specifically with your class in mind.

On arriving in China back in 2000 and flipping through the 1960s grammarbased horror show which was the available ESL textbook, I resolved to gather more and better resources on my own. With limited Internet availability but plenty of help from other foreign teachers and my local colleagues, I brought together exercises which were more fun, far more relevant to my students, and allowed us to practice using the communicative methodology I was brought in to espouse to these trainee teachers. Gradually, I added my own material to this growing folder: short C exercises about more recent world affairs, crosswords and word-searches, error correction exercises (which were normally pretty hilarious), debates and speaking activities, creative writing prompts, — you name it, I tried to come up with it.

Unleashing my creative side was a terrific experience, and wherever possible, I urge you to gather and create your own material with your own students in mind

7. Professionals don’t play favorites

I’ll put this simply and directly: There Are No Bad Students. You’re within your rights to dismiss this as rosetinted or naive, but I believe labeling a class or a person as ‘bad’ is myopic, deceptive and unfair. What you’ve found is that the student doesn’t respond well, or can’t stay focused, or is with classmates who distract them. I refuse to believe that the student is a hopeless case (certain very serious, clinically diagnosed behavioral disorders notwithstanding) and would insist that we need to muster our patience and professionalism

At the other end of the scale, it’s important never to appear to have ‘favorite’ students. I cringe whenever a colleague uses this word, as though it implies that we can rank our students from ‘good’ to ‘bad’, or even worse, from ‘smart’ to ‘dumb’. They are all the same. They have different attitudes and backgrounds, different aptitudes and preferences, but every single one is capable of excelling in their own way.

8. Don’t get mad. Breathe in and out.

You’ve spent hours preparing a really fun consolidation exercise for your students. But when the time comes, they’re unruly and chatty, don’t take your classroom instructions seriously, and little comes of it. You could get mad and blame the students, or you could not. You could yell at them, or not. For some teachers, rule by fear is a favorite model, but I reject this out of hand.

In many of the world’s cultures, shouting is a sign of failure. Losing your temper means simultaneously losing their respect. Nothing turns people off like a red-faced tirade, even if, from a certain point of view, they’ve deserved it. Disappointment and displeasure can be shown through your body language, far better than through yelling and castigating. I don’t think I worked any harder for those teachers who lost their temper — quite the reverse, in fact.

9. Assess yourself

The students file out and you’re left alone in a quiet classroom. This is a great moment for a little analysis. 13 How did the class go? Did we meet our aims? How was the classroom environment? Did everyone have a chance to speak? Going through a quick, routine as – sessment of your class will teach you valuable lessons which feed directly into the next lesson plan

10. Listen to wisdom

Even if you’ve been teaching your whole life, you can still learn from your colleagues and other professionals. Not all of their advice will be relevant, and you may disagree with it, but that’s part of the valuable dialogue which spreads ideas and helps us interrogate the methodologies, assessment systems and teaching styles we’re all constantly trying to improve. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of those with more, or as much, or even less experience than you: newer teachers were more recently trained, and may bring valuable new ideas to the table. Older teachers often have good ideas on classroom management and discipline, while younger colleagues can be great sources of exercises, articles or games.

At the same time, be prepared to offer your own opinions and give guidance, especially to the less experienced members of the staff room. This free exchange of pedagogical thought, often skipped over until special staff training days, should enlighten everyone and offer an open channel for resolving problems and finding better ways to teach and study.



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