Steven Herder

Challenges in Teaching – Steven

Challenges for the 2013 school yearsteven

I always tell students that finding a good job means understanding themselves well enough to know what they need to be happy. If they like consistency, working alone, and detailed puzzles, then being an accountant might suit them very well. On the other hand, if they like interacting with young people, enjoy helping others to learn, and can deal with change – they might want to consider being a teacher. Since, at the very least students change somewhat every year. Beyond that, the teaching context can change, textbooks change, approaches change, group dynamics change, school policies change, and I change.

So, therein lies my own challenge – to try to accept all those ongoing changes while always trying to make the coming year my best year yet.

In the spirit of looking at one teacher’s life, here are 6 challenges that I’m thinking about right now and will have to begin addressing head on from April 1st:

1. A new job – I’m staying in the same department at my university, but I have taken on a new coordinator role with three new veteran teachers coming in fresh this year. My initial impressions are great, and I’m psyched to pass on what I can as well as learn from them. I need to always keep one eye on the big picture, while dealing with problems and situations that arise naturally every day. It’s not as much what I do, but how I do it that counts

2. A new team – It sure takes a lot of time being a coordinator. I have pledged to try to make my new colleagues entry into our department as smooth and as painless as possible. However, there is simply too much information to learn for anyone to be able to take a significant shortcut and completely avoid stress and mistakes. I keep telling myself that it all simply takes time, and that people always come first.

3. Balancing it all at work – Beyond coordinating, I have a full schedule including two new courses: an Extensive Reading Course, and a new Seminar Course with 3rd and 4th year students focusing on “Exploring Leadership”. I have to make sure to say “No” when I have to get looming work done. My old job was 80% teaching, and 20% getting things published. This new job is 33% teaching, 33% administration, and 33% getting things published.

4. Making time for family – My son and I noticed that we don’t see much of each other recently. He’s 11 and studying hard at juku (night school). So we have talked about making time to do some new hobbies together. First, we built a model plane together and both hated it. Next we’re trying stargazing with this great iPhone app called SkyView. My daughter wants to do things together on the weekends, like bicycle rides, gardening and baking. It’s an ongoing challenge for teachers who have young kids…

5. Improving on last year – Since I began teaching, I’ve always made 2 pacts with myself, saying firstly, “It’s OK if the lesson, the idea, the project, or an interaction with a student does not turn out perfectly, as long as I think about how to make it better the next time” and secondly, “When I stop worrying about always improving my teaching, then it is time to quit teaching and go look for a new challenge.

6. My Achilles heels – We all have our natural strengths and weaknesses as teachers. Of course, I try to focus on my strengths and avoid letting my weaknesses cause problems for my students or me. However, it is a constant challenge for me to NOT start too many new ideas; to challenge the upper level students as much as I naturally support the lower level students; to spend as much time as necessary to form an overall plan and spend even more time paying attention to the details that changes good work into excellent work. And finally, to find the elusive balance in life that when in sync makes teaching the most rewarding vocation in the world.

What are some of your challenges as a teacher?

Published by

Steven Herder

Steven has been teaching within the Japanese EFL context since 1989. Having over 20 years teaching experience at the elementary and secondary school level, he is currently an associate professor in the International Studies department at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts. He is also extremely active in professional development within the ELT community. He co-founded MASH Collaboration in 2007, an online community devoted to professional development through collaboration. He is an avid user of Skype and can often be heard saying, “Collaboration creates just the right amount of tension to get lots done.” He also spends time editing numerous articles, academic volumes and proceedings, and leading teacher training seminars for various companies throughout Japan. Steven works from the perspective that, “being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to learning”.

4 thoughts on “Challenges in Teaching – Steven”

  1. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for you great comments on challenges in teaching.
    I used to pursue perfectionism in my teaching career, though at times I still am. This caused me many problems. I had hard times trying to harmonize my expectations and myself with those of the community and the curriculum. I think it is necessary for new teachers to understand themselves (their weaknesses and strengths) and the context, identify the goals of language teaching, and know their students , needs ,and the people whom they are dealing with in their community.

  2. The biggest challenge in my teaching is how to always have fresh ideas for my teaching so my students will always enjoy my class. I sometimes feel that I’m a boring person that will make my students get bored in class. I’m sometimes worried whether at the end of the class my students won’t get anything. Well, actually your pacts are really good and make me realize I should do that, too. I should always think that I can always do better next time.

  3. I think I can find myself mostly in challenges 5 and 6. When you teach teenagers, you can totally agree with Grace that ‘the biggest challenge in my teaching is how to always have fresh ideas for my teaching so my students will always enjoy my class’. With teenagers you never know if you’re really boring to them or they’re just lazy or…
    Besides, we are always limited by many things – curriculum requirements, number of classes at disposal (72 per a year), lack of equipment and so on, so we can’t always introduce the activities we find interesting and useful…

  4. @Shahram, @Grace and @Rada

    Thank you all for your comments. Just a couple of quick replies:

    1. I learned that trying to be perfect is exhausting and impossible. Now, I simple try to be better each time I decide to repeat a certain lesson. This approach is much more successful.

    2. I try to share my successful ideas with fellow teachers as time allows. I’ve noticed that the more I give to others, the more I get back in return. Now, with the Internet, there are endless opportunities to collaborate with teachers like you, all around the world.

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