Achievements in 2018, and What’s Next?
by Shoko Kita.
I am glad that I was asked to write my reflection this year because the year 2018 has been an important one. In the past few years, I was going through my first major low motivation point as an English teacher, but now I can say that I have overcome my demotivation (I think!) and have found goals for my next step.
Overcoming the low point
In 2012 I started my career as a teacher at a language institute in the United States, where I enjoyed teaching academic English to international students, discussing teaching with my supportive and passionate colleagues, and developing as a professional. All of this meant I was highly motivated, involved in teaching projects outside of work, and did not mind presenting three times at one conference (well, I did mind, but still wanted to try!). However, after I started teaching at a private English school in Japan in 2015, my passion for teaching faded away. I did not feel like talking about teaching after work, stopped going to conferences, and started applying for non-teaching jobs. The main reasons for this demotivation were burnout caused by poor working conditions, the lack of meaningful communication among colleagues, and the lack of satisfaction with my professional development. Moving to my current job at a university in Tokyo in 2017 helped me gradually recover from this low point, and this year I have felt that my motivation is finally back! Once again I am ready to be actively involved as a teacher and have returned to presenting at conferences, as well as teaching classes outside my main job. A number of factors have influenced the recovery, but it seems that building stronger connections with other teachers and gaining self-awareness of my development as a teacher have been the most important ones.
Connecting with other teachers
Actively engaged in teaching and spending more time with my colleagues outside work again, I have felt more connected with other teachers, which has had a positive impact on my motivation. For instance, while preparing for and during conference presentation sessions, I had a chance to deeply discuss teaching with my colleagues and genuinely enjoyed our meaningful conversations. Through our conversations, we have got to know each other on a deeper level, and now I know that we are ready for a casual chat about lessons, frustrations, reflections or anything at any time. After we became closer, I have learnt about their professional strengths and their passion for what interests them, such as continuing to regularly organize reflective practice meetings, taking the initiative in helping colleagues build relationships, raising funds for Congolese teachers, and striving for academic development. Their passion has made me explore more and search for my own specialty, for example, by taking an online course on teacher development and co-leading a reflective practice meeting.
Returning to conferences has also given me opportunities to connect with teachers outside the realm of my work. After my presentation sessions, some teachers came to talk to me and we discussed issues in each other’s contexts. Learning that we have similar interests and that what I do does matter to some other teachers has reminded me of the importance of professional development – being able to share more and learn more from them.
Identifying my achievements and next steps
Another factor that helped me overcome my low point was the increased self-awareness in my own professional development and my next steps. At the beginning of the second semester, as part of a professional development project teachers in my department read an article by Tsui (2003) about the differences between novice and expert teachers. Later on, we came together and discussed how we would rate ourselves on a scale of 1 to 5 on a number of aspects related to teaching in our context (one example is shown below). The eleven aspects included such characteristics as autonomy in teachers’ own action, efficiency in lesson planning, flexibility, knowledge, efficiency in processing classroom information, ability to improvise, and principled decision-making (Tsui, 2003).
If I had had a chance to do the task last year, I would have put myself in a “novice” category for the most characteristics. In the meeting in September, however, I placed myself at 3s and 4s, and it clearly showed to me which areas I had improved in and which areas I can still work on.
The biggest change I have noticed is my lesson planning process. Tsui (2003) explains that novice teachers tend to focus on planning one lesson at a time, while expert teachers usually make connections across lessons. Last year, especially in my first semester in the program, I did not see the whole picture of our course. This year I often noticed that I consider the impact of previous lessons on the following lessons in the course, as well as on how I can prepare students for tests at earlier stages.
Another difference I found in my teaching is that my reflection-in-action (Schön, 1983) process has improved and I have become much more comfortable being flexible and spontaneous in terms of in-class decision making. In other words, I am more aware of the needs of each particular group of students and feel comfortable reacting to those needs on the spot. My selection of feedback activities illustrates this change. In my first semester I would feel insecure if I did not have a detailed feedback plan in advance and I used the same activity in most classes (our program employs a unified curriculum where I teach the same lesson to 14 different groups of students a week). This year, I have different types of feedback that I could give in mind and, based on my in-class observation of the students’ use of target language, their skills to self-reflect, the flow of lessons, time, and their energy level, I try to choose a feedback activity that seems most appropriate for a group of students at each stage of each lesson.
Goals for 2019
Conversations with colleagues and reflections on my professional development have raised my interest in teacher training and made me start observing teacher trainers, reflecting on the skills and qualities I hope to gain. With that in mind, here are the goals I want to pursue in 2019:
Spend more time learning about other teachers. As mentioned above, this year I have developed connections with some colleagues and learned more about them, which expanded my interests and opportunities. In 2019, I would like to also initiate conversations with other teachers to learn more about the ideas and opinions that different teachers have.
Gain further knowledge of teaching and teacher training approaches. This goal may sound a bit broad but there are two tasks that I would like to work on. The first task involves reading about a variety of aspects of teaching and gaining knowledge on different ELT-related topics, so that I could have deeper, better-informed discussions with other teachers. The second task is for me to review the feedback I have received on my teaching and professional development projects from both current and former supervisors in order to consider how I would like to communicate my feedback to other teachers.
Reflecting on 2018 through writing this blog post has helped me see my achievements more clearly and I now look forward to working on my goals in 2019!
Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. London, UK: Temple Smith.
Tsui, A. B. (2003). Understanding expertise in teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press.