Challenges in Teaching – Alexandra Chistyakova

Reaching Challenging Learners

Alexandra Chistyakova

– Alexandra Chistyakova                                    

To many teachers the most challenging learners are those who take an English course only because someone else wants them to learn the language. These people could be employees whose boss insists on their professional development; or these could be children and teenagers who are forced by their parents. In both cases, the learners can clearly understand the benefits of learning English but as long as they don’t need it today, they lack the necessary persistence and determination. In such a situation a good way to grasp the learners’ attention and whet their appetite for learning is to make lessons more engaging and fun.

However, the learning situation might be much more complicated than this if an unmotivated learner has some special needs.

Some time ago I had to teach a 15-year-old boy who has an absent-mindedness problem. During a lesson, the boy used to suddenly switch off and withdraw into himself, completely losing the track of the lesson and not noticing what was happening around him. Even more so, the boy was aware of his problem but he didn’t seem to even try to make the slightest attempt to collect himself and focus on the task.

As it was the first time I had to deal with such a specific learning situation, I had to accumulate the whole arsenal of teaching techniques I knew. Through try and error, I singled out the types of activities that can work well for absent-minded learners. The activities fall into three categories.

First, there are activities and games designed for kinesthetic learners, where a student has to do something instead of just listening, reading or doing exercises in a worksheet. These activities may range from board games, tasks with vocabulary or phrase cards (such as sorting out cards or placing them in order) to total physical response activities (such as miming, acting, or moving around).

Second, computer games can be a great help: successful completion of a game requires concentration and some physical response (such as eye-hand coordination). Computer games can be easily exploited for teaching and practicing grammar, vocabulary or phonetics.

Third, when it comes to the speaking practice, be prepared to discover that your absent-minded learner forgets everything you taught and practiced before and slips to his or her “favourite” mistakes. If this is the case, a teacher (or other students) can register mistakes the learner makes. This activity can be turned into a sort of a game: Hangman, for example. In the case with my student, we imagined that he was playing a computer game where he had to go through a number of levels to win. However, if he made a particular number of mistakes, he automatically was placed onto a lower level. My student liked this activity because the idea of game levels resonated with his computer games addiction. This game helped him to focus and successfully complete a task.

All in all, if you happen to teach learners with the problems of attention concentration, you can raise their alertness and help them strengthen their memory by letting them learn though doing and moving and through using real-life objects. Furthermore, you can increase the effectiveness of lessons by decreasing the length of activities, making tasks more manageable, easier to focus on and more dynamic for the learners. ~ Alexandra

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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?

Challenges in Teaching – Chuck

A Look Back And Five Challenges AheadChuck Sandy

When I first started working in education in the early 1980s, it was as the sole ESL teacher at a community college. I was given a windowless office all by myself down in the basement, and in these pre-internet days, the only way I had to connect with other teachers was to come upstairs, wander around and hope to have a chat with someone who happened to be free. There were problems with this approach. Usually no one was free, and whenever someone was, it was usually someone who wasn’t all that interested in the same things I was interested in.

Then one day the dean suggested it would be good for me to attend an upcoming regional conference for English Language Teachers and even give a presentation. The idea terrified me but somehow I wound up saying yes, came up with an idea for a presentation, and even got my proposal accepted.

Over the next several weeks, I spent every evening in my windowless office sitting amidst a pile of books researching and putting together my presentation. The more I worked, the more terrified I became. Who was I to be giving a presentation?  What if the ideas I was putting together were wrong? What if I messed up?

By the time the day of the conference arrived I’d convinced myself my presentation was going to be a disaster, yet somehow I got myself to the conference site, took a deep breath, and opened the door.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t a couple hundred ESL teachers milling around having coffee. Wandering around, I didn’t see anyone I knew, but spotted some famous people whose names I recognized from articles and books I’d read.  As I couldn’t imagine what I would say to such people, or to anyone for that matter, I got some coffee and went off into a corner to practice my presentation one more time.

Before long, it was time.  My heart already was pounding with nervousness as I walked into the room where I was to give my presentation, but things got worse when I saw that among the elevenpeople who’d come to hear me speak, one of them was one of those famous people I’d been too shy to approach earlier.

To my amazement, this famous man whose books were required reading greeted me warmly and told me how much he was looking forward to hearing my ideas. His manner caused me to relax, yet as I started my presentation, all my fears came back and I began faltering and stumbling over my words.

Each time I made what I thought was a terrible mistake, someone asked a question and got me back on track.  By doing so, they shone a light. At one point when I wasn’t even sure I had a point worth making, the famous man said he’d been thinking along the same lines and asked me what I thought about an idea he had. By doing so, he held a ladder and allowed me to climb higher. That’s when I realized I wasn’t there to tell anyone anything. I was there to share ideas, enter into a conversation, and become part of a community. I set my presentation aside, joined the evolving discussion, had a marvelous session, and then enjoyed the rest of the conference immensely – for the first time ever, as part of a community of educators.

This was the day I began my professional journey, and the lessons I learned then are still valid today. Given how technology’s opened up the world of professional development, these lessons are even easier to follow now.

If you’re just starting out on your professional journey, I have some challenges for you. Even if you’re well on your way on this journey, I have challenges for you, too.

1.   Attend a webinar online or a conference offline. Then, put yourself forward and give a presentation. You’ll learn more than you can even imagine. Presenting at a conference isn’t about giving the correct answer to a question no one asked. It’s about entering a conversation, developing your thinking, learning to collaborate, and becoming part of a community. Take a risk.

2. Even the well-known people in our profession are teachers just like you. Don’t be afraid of approaching them. There’s no reason to work in isolation when the world’s full of good people willing to help you develop your thinking, your teaching skills, and your personal development. Reach out.

3.  Relationships are central to our work, and one of the very best ways to develop strong relationships with other educators is by joining and being active in professional communities online and offline.  Once you’re joined, take on leadership roles within such communities. Get involved.

4.  Leadership in education isn’t about one person leading a group of followers. It’s about communities working together. If you are already involved in professional communities and presenting at conferences, then reach out and mentor someone who isn’t doing this yet.  Be a leader.

5.  Never look down on anyone — especially on those just starting out.  Make everyone feel welcome. Build others up. Hold the ladder. Be a light.

Challenges in Teaching – Marisa

Motivating teenagers, ready to meet the challenge? Marisa Paven

Nobody can deny that teaching is a highly challenging job and that is what makes it really interesting. As to one of the challenges teachers should meet – how to motivate students — I have decided to focus on teens because most of my students are in that age group. Besides, I also teach adults but I don’t find motivating adult students is as challenging. Adults need to develop confidence but they are naturally motivated. They come to the class because they have made the decision to study a foreign language for whatever reason it may be, and are ready to make efforts to learn the language. On the other hand, teenagers are not willing to make efforts and most of them study English because their parents think it is important or necessary, and they are forced to study the foreign language.

Throughout my teaching practice, I’ve noticed that motivating teenagers requires teachers to develop a special sensitivity to their interests – in addition to loads of patience.

As to the current generation of teens, it is essential to motivate them in order to encourage them keep in contact with the English language outside the classroom. This demands a lot of creativity from teachers. One of the keys is the use of technology as a way of keeping in touch with students and of sharing online tasks that will contribute to the development of their skills.

Some years ago, thanks to the members of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) I came across wikis for educational purposes. Ever since, I have created a new wiki for every class I have had and I use it to upload interactive online activities for my students to practise during and after lessons. The challenge here is to make students remember to visit the wiki regularly. They are informed about updates via e-mail but my students are not using their e-mail accounts at present and they are only interested in using Facebook.


MarisaPavan-image 1


As teachers, we should be ready to deal with any obstacles that may appear and that would block the students’ skill development. My students have an endless number of excuses not to practise after lessons and I should always be ready to offer a solution. The following chart shows some excuses my students have given me and my suggestions to overcome these issues.

I didn’t remember to visit the wiki. Remind students to visit the wiki every class.


I didn’t know about the update because I never use my e-mail account. Choose a representative student of the class and send a message via Facebook to that student reminding them to tell their classmates about the updates. Or


Create a group in Facebook with a specific class so as to inform them about the updates.



I couldn’t print the exercise because the printer didn’t work. Tell students they can send the exercises for correction via e-mail.
My computer is out of order. Students can be invited to come to the language school at any time it is open to use a computer.

As in our lives, challenges appear as a kind of test of our willingness to be flexible, to adjust ourselves to different situations and to grow in the process. That forms part of the adventure of teaching and … of living.




Challenges in Teaching – Ratnavathy

Facing ChallengesRatnavathy square

‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get’- Forrest Gump

Don’t we all wish that we can view life just as Forrest Gump did? Especially in embracing the dawn of each new day and savouring the nuggets of challenges that the platter of life’s got to offer.



Well, it doesn’t work that way in reality, now, does it? For many of us, facing challenges can be a harrowing experience. It’s frustrating, tiresome, energy consuming and accompanied by lots of uncertainties about the future. Challenges vary in intensity and duration; the more intense and the longer the duration, the tougher it gets.

Ah! If we could only find a single workable wonder in moments of adversity, but alas, our brick walls are never quite the same.

Hence, what I’m about to do now is to let you through the door of one of my toughest challenges; one that I’ve been enduring for many years and which brought me back home from abroad.

It’s private, a tough ordeal, emotionally draining and has left me feeling hopeless one too many times. Apologies for not being able to disclose the exact details here. However, I do believe that the bits I’ll be sharing will provide you with some insight on how you, probably, can deal with similar experiences yourself.

Accepting Reality

Initially, it was impossible for me to accept facts. I sobbed, had sleepless nights and wallowed in self-pity. I thought of a thousand “what-ifs” and secretly detested people who seemed to have it all. Mental arguments often took place within me and this caused a lot of stress. However, as time went by, I realized that the pragmatic way is to accept reality no matter how painful it is; for when I finally did and learned to ‘let go’, a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders (and probably off my inner self as well). I found myself starting to think of ways to overcome the challenge. Hope arose and kept me going. It still does.

Acceptance is the key.

And when I accepted reality….

Examine Alternative Solutions

I started educating myself, taking the initiative to examine and explore possible solutions in overcoming the challenge. I’d try one with hope, and when it failed, I’d feel crushed. I’d then pick myself up and look for more solutions. As this repeated itself, I felt my resilience building; I became stronger within, and empathized with others who faced similar challenges. Of course, there were moments when I’d break down, but I guess we all do as humans.

As time went on, I realized that….

Many people face similar challenges

Some challenges are so private that it’s almost impossible to confide in anyone. I kept mine within me for a long time. It eventually became unbearable, leading me to confide in a close friend and that’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one! As I trod along the path, I found many others; each individual more strengthened than before, and each giving me a breath of fresh air.  I was inspired, for the hopes of many helped foster the hopes I held. Finding people who’ve gone through similar challenges really helped open up different doors of perspectives in my mind.

And the most important thing I realized was to….

Make a light moment out of it

Sometimes I sit down with my husband, laugh and make jokes about what I’m facing. As foolish as it may sound, the magic of laughter can sometimes be so healing. Laughing has also helped me feel more energized and made me realize that the challenge I’m facing is really, quite trivial, in comparison to those faced by others. So, when you feel like you’re facing some tough times, try laughing about it and you’ll know exactly what I mean.


Having shared the above, I believe that there’s a reason for every challenge that manifests itself; for only in the face of adversity is a new-self born. Character building can never take place without challenge driven opportunities.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering as to whether I’m still facing this particular challenge, the answer is yes. But I do see the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel and it’s almost within reach. And of course, a promising future lies ahead!