by Michael Griffin
In a recent blog post over on my blog I gave some advice to my younger teacher self. One area I mostly skipped and glossed over somehow was co-workers. I did write in the post, “on occasion you will meet people who grate on your very last nerve,” but I think this is relatively rare. In my fifteen years teaching EFL in Northeast Asia I can honestly say, with some notable exceptions, most of the people I have worked with have been helpful, kind, and easy enough to get along with. I can surely say there were lessons to be learned from all of them.
[“6-Pack-Chicken-Eggs” by Evan-Amos.]
In my current teaching situation at a university in Seoul there are only two people at the university I am in regular contact with about teaching and education related matters. Maybe this is not so surprising. After all, teaching is sometimes known as the egg crate profession. While my current teaching context is somewhat isolated, I am lucky enough to have colleagues all around the world beamed in through the internet(s). My teaching life would be far less rich, fulfilling, happy, and productive without such connections.
When thinking about my teaching career up to now, I sometimes wish I’d been more prepared or willing to seize the moment and learn all the lessons I could from every single co-worker I encountered in my previous teaching contexts. I feel a tinge of regret over not making the most of the opportunities I was presented with. I taught with people from all over with a huge range of experiences, attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and manner of teaching. Perhaps at times I was a bit too caught up in what I was doing and my own immediate concerns which caused me to miss out on the learning opportunities the cosmos placed right in front of me.
There are a few things I wish I’d done as a newer teacher when blessed with the opportunity to work with large groups of co-workers. The first is undoubtedly to observe other teachers as much as possible. I don’t necessarily mean observe in the official or formal sense (though I wish I did more of this as well), I mean simply seeing how other teachers did their jobs and watching teachers in class as much as possible. In one of my previous positions, all teachers were expected to observe other teachers 3-4 times when we first started teaching at the institution. But this expectation evaporated when we were no longer new teachers. There are still some teachers I wish I’d seen! I also wish I’d taken the requirement more seriously and had observed far more than the minimum required.
I spent lots of time chatting with co-workers in my previous jobs and lots of good times occurred. If I could do it all over again I’d probably exchange 10-15% of the conversations about sports, politics, the economy, the weather, and other topics not suitable for a family or professional blog for more talk about teaching. I feel like I learned so much just talking shop with other teachers after classes were finished for the day. It was incredibly helpful to learn about materials, methods and beliefs. Yet, I think I could have gotten even more out of the experience if I considered this to be professional development and not simply killing time and procrastinating and avoiding preparing for the next day’s lessons. Looking back, I wish I’d realized how valuable such conversations were and could be and took advantage of them.
I also wish I’d tried harder in staffroom conversations to focus more on what was actually happening in classes rather than simply superficial and immediate impressions. I wish I’d focused more on student learning and what made us as teachers believe this was happening rather than relying on our gut instincts or our previous years of experience as students. If my memory serves, a lot of the conversations were like, “That lesson sucked, and wow they are really not into it today” or “That lesson rocked, what a great topic choice for that group.” I also wish I’d been better about uncovering and articulating beliefs about teaching and learning rather than sticking with the obvious and simple. In short, I wish I’d done better to foster and participate in more productive and reflective conversations when the topic was recent lessons and teaching.
I will stop here with the nostalgic regrets and I will hope there is something you can take from these thoughts, regardless of the size of your staffroom. The good news, if for whatever reason your coworkers are unable to give you the support and learning you need, iTDi is here to fill a lot of these needs in a collegial way. We look forward to connecting with you.