Professional Development Makes All the Difference

Roseli Serra

Professional Development Makes All the Difference
by Roseli Serra.

 

As I wrote in my previous post, 2012 was a very peculiar year in my life. It was then that I got to know teacher communities on Facebook, built my professional learning network (PLN), and first heard about online professional development (PD) and iTDi.

Before that I had always been concerned about both my personal and professional development and never waited for any institution to support me. It was good to have support when I could. If not, I managed to save money and time to do face-to-face courses and attend conferences which, I believed, would bring good results for me as an educator.

Online professional development was a great discovery. Webinars and online courses I attended, discussions in Facebook groups and communities, and Advanced Skills Courses promoted by iTDi made a crucial difference on how to see education, how to grow professionally, and how to help those who seek development.

I started as an attendee and afterwards I was invited to deliver webinars, moderate courses, be a keynote speaker and a plenary speaker for worldwide audiences.

The size of the audience doesn’t actually matter, but the difference you make might be compared to those tiny drops that will eventually fill a jug. Even if you think you are doing something of little importance or if  you consider yourself not to be that famous person, believe: you are reaching hearts and minds and influencing other educators in a positive way.

I have lots of amazing examples to list how PD has changed my life. Among those, I’d like to highlight some of the Advanced Skills Courses held by iTDi. For me, it was fantastic to interact online and study with the authors whose books I used to read. It was fantastic to get to know educators from all over the world and their opinions. The courses I took gave me a lot of food for thought, a lot to learn from different cultures, colleagues, tutors, and friends. But most of all, I was once again made sure that every teacher matters. Isn’t it great?

We know that teaching is a very hard job. Those who really want to make a difference will seek out new possibilities to include in their practice and new methodologies that will contribute to their work and the quality of teaching.

Professional development as an ongoing process is an important issue since teachers need to be aware that training should be continuous and related to their day-to-day life in the classroom. As Romanowsky (2009, p.138) states, “continuous education is a requirement for the current times. So teachers cannot stop studying.”

Finally, teacher development is not only built by accumulation (courses, knowledge, or techniques), but also through a work of critical reflexivity on the practices and continuous (re)construction of a permanent personal identity.

The number of strategies and suggestions for PD is huge. I’ll suggest some of the ideas I learnt from Jack Richards and that have helped me a lot along my career as a teacher and as an educator.

  1. Talk to people who have taken part in a PD activity. Sharing is caring.
  2. Decide on what kind of support you will need. Remember nobody is an island.
  3. Select a colleague to work with. Two is better than one.
  4. Set realistic goals and establish a time frame. Plan and be organized. This way your results will be a lot more effective.
  5. Evaluate what you have learned and share the results with others. Show your work and be humble to learn from your peers.
  6. You might find, as you progress, that there’s an area of knowledge you need to know more about. So never be afraid to ask for help or advice.

There’s nothing wrong with asking yourself, “Can I do it better?” Doing this is not a sign of being an underperforming teacher. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it shows you are brave and professional.

Wishing you all a year full of joy, hope, and achievements!

Burnout in ELT

Roseli Serra

Burnout in ELT
by Roseli Serra.

 

Photo from ELTPics by Branislav Kubecka

I’d like to thank all EFL/ESL teachers who agreed to participate and collaborate in my research of this important issue. 

Burnout: ?physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress (Oxford dictionary). Burnout is a theme which seems to have been frequently discussed among EFL teachers recently. I myself have reflected about it since I experienced a certain awful situation in 2012. I can assure you it is as if one steals the floor under your feet and the consequences are extreme and pure chaos. And ?I tell you: either you change or lose your physical and mental health.

It is as if the body and the mind put an end point: “Now it’s enough!” A devastating weariness reveals an absolute lack of energy. At work, normally competent and attentive person turns on the “autopilot”. Instead of motivation there is irritation, lack of concentration, discouragement, a sense of failure. These are indications of a cruel and difficult diagnosis that progresses in hospitals, companies, schools … The burnout syndrome, or professional exhaustion, which results from prolonged stress at work.

“It’s when the house falls. I stayed out of my house for 14 hours, three days in a row this week… it was horrible. By the last day, I was already questioning everything in my life. Basically it’s the fact that we have to work long hours in order to make a good living. And we don’t just give classes: we must prepare lessons, correct students’ productions, go to meetings with parents, and there are also the pedagogical meetings. It’s very exhausting.” (by an EFL teacher)

 

“… On top of that, there is the ‘emotional labour’ of facing several classes of students each day and attempting to create a conducive learning environment and ‘good vibes’. All of these aspects are challenging and draining and too often institutions just see teachers’ time as a series of time segments that can be divided up arbitrarily without considering the psychological and emotional states and needs of teachers”. (by an EFL teacher)

“Something that affects self-employed teachers – or teachers working for schools that provide in-company classes – is a lack of support and no sense of belonging: rushing from one place to another and not having any colleagues to share concerns/ideas with. In many teaching contexts, teachers have no access to social media or online platforms where they could form healthy PLNs. In Brazil, for instance, mainly in big cities teaching means facing heavy traffic and hours of commuting to go to students’ workplaces and homes. It can be exhausting”. (by an EFL teacher)

In general, teachers I talked with listed the following causes of stress:

  • Being underpaid: ?Low salaries do not match the amount of work and extra work teachers have to do. In some countries they can barely survive paying the bills with their wages.
  • Accumulation of tasks: Yes, you have to prepare classes, call parents, be a nanny, a psychologist, a secretary, prepare lesson plans, prepare and correct tests, and give feedback to your students and their parents.
  • Excessive responsibilities: Such as encountering students with no demand for the service they pay for. Having to go out of your way to talk a student into learning makes it all much more exhausting. 
  • Perfectionism: Perfectionism leads to the search for excellence at times impossible, and idealism in relation to the profession, charging a personal engagement beyond limits.
  • Focus on work as an exclusive source of pleasure: “…As teachers we walk into a class and we have to be physically, mentally and emotionally available for our students. It is a process of suppressing our own feelings and needs in order to ‘give’ to others. That is why we can walk out of a great class and feel like a deflated balloon. <…> Ok, so that is the essence of being in a caring profession, but what makes it difficult is that often many people surrounding us do not understand what we feel or how to support us and give us back some sustenance. Then we also clash with corporate culture in our workplaces that denigrates the humanist professions and idolises the managers.” (by an EFL teacher)
  • Disrespect on the part of the students, parents, managers and bosses in general. They are very common issues in the Brazilian culture and, according to colleagues from other countries, they are becoming more and more frequent worldwide.
  • Teaching the same course for a long period of time“Some teachers are face-to-face with students over long periods during the day and of course it can be really draining. Also, being held accountable for situations over which we may not have control, such as students who drop out, or students who get low grades – some classes are slower than others but it doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.” (by an EFL teacher)
  • Negative Feedback: When every feedback you get lists more negative points than positive ones. It is when the criteria for assessment are non-negotiable or not very clear to us.
  • Top-down decisions that affect teachers or teacher identity and disempower them by not allowing them to make decisions. “The work teachers do is highly technical. It takes years of training and studies to do what we do. Yet, the people making decisions have very little knowledge of classroom life and challenges. All they are concerned about is learning/student outcome (whatever they call it) plus figures and charts. This is disheartening.” (by an EFL teacher)
  • Lack of acknowledgment: Acknowledgment is one of those things that you don’t think about until you notice it’s missing. Acknowledgment is an expression of gratitude and we need it.

 

Bullying at work, peer pressure, and cyber bullying

It’s more frequent than we think it is. Lots of teachers admitted to being bullied and threatened at work. I myself lived through a situation when a monstrous CEO tried to turn me into an awful leader. He desperately tried to make me act like a bossy leader and lead the team of teachers with no pity, no mercy, no sympathy or humanism. He simply forgot I myself was just a teacher with the position of the DOS in that school. He wanted me to announce HIS decisions to the team as if they were mine. I don’t need to tell you the end of this story. It was 2012, a year I will never forget. Now I know I had to live through this experience.

When I left the company, I was about to turn 49. I had been there for 18 years. I was devastated. I mourned. And like a phoenix, I was reborn from the ashes. I was reborn stronger and I learned priceless lessons. I overcame the struggle thanks to the support of my family, true friends who did not care about me as a position holder but as a person, and thanks to the wonderful PLN I have built.

However, I have seen teachers being cyber bullied on social networks by students and parents, as well as by colleagues who belong to their PLNs. It hurts. It hurts a lot. It hurts when people “forget” you because you are no longer holding a certain position, and then they suddenly “remember” about you when you are in a position of a decision maker. Teachers are not supposed to be powerful. Positions are. What a sad reality!

“It comes from financial problems, from having to work more hours than our body can tolerate <…> The financial crisis we are living in in some countries also does not help much and the pressure increases. I also see that peer pressure is a problem, because you work a lot and still have to develop professionally, because the market imposes this idea, and colleagues do, even if indirectly. A lot of people end up depending on us <…> and it’s not easy at all. I myself went through a violent burnout, which led me to rethink a lot in my career and my life. After falling ill several times, I decided to put my health (physical and mental) first and prioritize LIFE, my well-being, my family. These things happen so we can think better of everything. No money or status guarantee anything in life, family love and self love come first.” ( by an EFL teacher)

 

Getting over the burnout syndrome

Burnout is a disease recognized by the World Health Organization. The problem lies in the difficulty of diagnosing – often it is confused with depression. In general, antidepressants are said to provide some relief. But the treatment involves more than that. “You cannot take a little medicine and keep going at an amazing pace,” warns the World Health Organization. You need to slow down.

  • Abandon the motto “My name is work”.
  • Try teaching a new course every now and then.
  • Make an assessment of costs and benefits: What attracted you to this job and keeps you there, the possibility of helping people or the salary? Whatever the motivation is, focus on what is positive instead of looking at the negatives.
  • Restore professional contacts.
  • Network and look for new chances in the market or another sector of the company if what you do at the moment means exhaustion.
  • Watch for the signals of your body. Exhaustion can be a symptom of various diseases, from anemia to thyroid disorders. If in doubt, set an appointment with a physician. If it’s stress, try to slow down and do one thing at a time.
  • Count on the support of family, friends, or a spiritual practice (whatever it is that you believe - it’s good for your soul).
  • Do not put all the eggs in one basket. Diversify sources of gratification and discover habits that bring you pleasure.
  • Read more, go to the movies, enjoy time with friends and pets.
  • Take care of your lifestyle. Eat well at regular times without overdoing on alcohol and caffeine. Sleep as needed to wake up refreshed.
  • Include physical exercise in your routine.
  • Smile, smile, and smile! Oh, and laugh out loud! It doesn’t hurt at all! Be positive. Play Snoopy philosophy.

As I am about to turn 54, I have decided to slow down a bit, to be more independent, to listen to my body and heart. Age made me realise that I have worked too much (for the others) already, I have given and dedicated too much of my time and energy on working and being an employee. I have learned that, as a teacher, a psychologist, and whatever other role I play, I have my limits.

Finally, I realised it’s about time to have the power of choice. Giving up some things for the sake of health and freedom and/or flexibility is the wisest decision I could take in my early fifties. I know I’m lucky as not everyone has a choice. No worries! There’s a time for everything. Remember that having a job is a blessing but being alive is the biggest blessing of all! And life doesn’t give us a replay.

Enjoy teaching. Enjoy life. Carpe Diem!

 

Learning to Teach Better with Penny Ur

Never ‘Only’ an English Teacher

RoseliSerra-267x300by Roseli Serra

Family is what matters most to me in my life. It is and it has ever been like this. This is my heritage, passed to me from my parents and grandparents, who taught me strong family values, mainly about love, caring and being there whenever it’s necessary.

This semester I haven’t been as involved in social media and online learning and teaching because I was totally involved in my daughter’s wedding plans. Now, as my daughter is travelling after her wedding, I could only interview my husband and son.

I was very surprised and moved by their answers. To tell you the truth, I felt relieved too. When I gave up my career as a psychologist to become ‘only a teacher’, I was embracing a difficult career in a country where teachers are not as respected as they should be, are underpaid, have to study a lot and do extra work with no extra pay. And year after year, other benefits such as assistance with conferences, health insurance, and everything else has diminished or totally disappeared from public and private schools as well as language institutions.

Having said that, I am here to publicly say I am a blessed person. I‘m sure I would never have been able to do what I do, and have done for years, if not for the total support of my family. My husband not only supported my studies when I decided to become a teacher, he has encouraged me to go to conferences, to present, to write, to take risks and try the new. And he was a great dad when I had to live abroad for several months when our children were just kids. He took care of our children and made them understand that my absence was necessary to give them a better future.

As for my children, there are many stories I could tell that have to do with my job. They were very understanding and dealt with my long studying hours, lesson plan preparation, test correction and grading students’ papers at home. Thank you for supporting me emotionally. I have had awful moments as a teacher and as an educator, when I cried, when I could no longer believe it’s worth being a teacher. And then there was the time when I lost the job I loved and could not believe I would be able to recover from it. Thank you for being there, for supporting me, for showing me I have value, for teaching me and mainly for reminding me I’m not ‘only’ an English teacher .

And thank you Ayat for challenging me to interview my family and join my voice to the conversation. I feel honoured.

Interview with my son, Davi, a 25 year old political scientist:

Roseli: What are three good things about having a mother who is a teacher?

  1. She can remind me of a word that I do not recall
  2. She’s a great advisor not only for me but for my friends too.
  3. She made me like to learn English and then I learned other languages too and I think I like writing because of her.

Roseli: Was there ever a moment when you were very proud of something I did as a teacher?

I brag about it all the time.

Roseli: How do you think me being a teacher has made life more complicated for you?

I don’t. ON the contrary it has facilitated my life in many aspects!

Roseli: Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher?

Of course I do! Thousands of students cannot be wrong.

Roseli: What other jobs do you think I could have done or should have done aside from teaching?

Anything that has to do with being good with people. You help everyone and want to save the world sometimes.

Roseli: Why do you think I became a teacher?

Because you like to see others learning and because you like     studying and learning too. I’m like you, aren’t I?

Roseli: Why do you think I continue to be a teacher now?

Because, despite everything, you still like what you do. But I remember there were times when you were happier as a teacher, right? I feel you have been so disappointed lately… It makes me sad.

Roseli: Do you have any message for teachers around the world who might read this post?

Take every student into consideration. A good teacher can change a life. A bad teacher too.

Roseli: Do you have any message for other family members of teachers around the world?

Be thankful.

 

II.

Interview with my husband, Franklin, a doctor (ophthalmologist) . We first met 37 years ago and have been married for 31 years.

Roseli: What are three good things about having a wife who is a teacher?

  1. She is also a learner. She says that “learning is an endless pro” I wonder if all teachers think the same way.
  2. She’s helped me with my medical stuff. I’m a doctor and I’m terrible at languages as well as at computers. She’s really good at both!
  3. Mainly because she loves what she does and does it very well!

Roseli: Were there ever a moments in your life when you wished I wasnt a teacher?

Because the fact you’re a teacher has never had a negative side for me. On the contrary, it has helped me , my daughter and my son . A lot, by the way.

Roseli: Was there ever a moment when you were very proud of something I did as a teacher?

Many times. But mainly when I realised you are internationally recognised as an educator presenting in international conferences, writing materials with famous authors for international and respected publishers. And also when you your blog received an award after only four months of blogging and…many many times throughout all these years.

Roseli: How do you think me being a teacher has made life more complicated for you?

I don’t see any! How could I? I’m a doctor!

Roseli: Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher?

I do because you demonstrate excitement and happiness when you are simply preparing a lesson. It makes me happy because, like me, you love what you do. If you are happy, I’m happy.

Roseli: Why do you think I became a teacher?

Because you were not happy being only a psychologist in a closed office or hospital. I remember you feeling very sad because you wanted to help people learn and when I saw you teaching private lessons at our first house, your eyes shined like stars.

Roseli: Why do you think I continue to be a teacher now?

Because of your natural skills as a teacher and as an educator. But I also think you feel tired and lately, often, you are not happy because you want to fix things you cannot. In addition, you are really underpaid. Teachers are underpaid in our country and not valued as they shoud be. What a shame!

Roseli: Do you have any message for other family members of teachers around the world?

Be proud of them. Be patient with them. Support them always. They carry the world upon their shoulders. Never forget it!