18 jan 2018 Looking back, looking ahead and looking beyond: Why professional development matters
When I earned my degree in Linguistics from college many years back, the only thing I had in mind was continuing teaching English and preparing my own materials. At the time it seemed to be a sensible thing to do. So, I kept teaching one-on-one classes for many years and I enjoyed every bit of it. I was committed to helping my students, some of whom I taught for many years. Nonetheless, I felt that I was missing out on something. I took courses, I read books, I traveled. Still, I felt I needed change, so I joined a language school. Challenging though it was, it was worth it. Teaching large classes and a variety of levels and age groups became the driving force that pushed me to pursue more consistent professional development. The more students and groups I taught, the less I knew. I always had more questions than the answers to them, and it was this constant sense of wonder that kept pushing me. I was never in my comfort zone in the classroom.
On the contrary, it was never perfect; there was always something lacking. Planning lessons was the easy part compared to delivering them. So, once again I felt I was missing out on something. I took more courses and read more books every chance I got. I blogged, I took part in PLNs and in online discussions, I attended conferences and gave talks and workshops. I experimented with new things and I asked my students a lot of questions. Yet, I failed so many times that I lost count. I faced difficult students and parents. I had to answer hard questions and I faced burnout. As one teacher once put it as a response to Roseli Serra’s inquiry in her blog:
“…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.”
Been there, done that. However, I also succeeded more times than I can remember and one thing that helped me face all these challenges was my need for constant learning. Knowing that others had been through the same failures and challenges I was being faced with was liberating and helped me fight anxiety and burnout. That said, one thing I cannot understand is how some teachers go through all that without ever questioning why; or much worse, without ever thinking that there is a way out. Even when I was running from one place to another to teach in-company classes, I refused to be on my own. Even before the Internet and social networks, I would spend hours browsing books at specialized bookstore and talking with other teachers.
It is hard for me to understand how a teacher can go on without seeking professional development, be it by taking part in an online course, holding a discussion in the teachers’ room, reading a book or a signing up for a refreshment course for teachers. Some institutions offer courses for teachers and some will encourage them to pursue a degree, but some institutions may still view professional development as time spent away from the classroom and as a threat to the institution because informed teachers are more likely to question the institution’s methods rather than just comply with them. While this is true, it is by questioning assumptions that we learn more about ourselves, our strengths, and weaknesses. An informed teacher is always a valuable asset for any school. However, it is not easy to invest our time and money especially when we need to make ends meet at the end of the month, but it’s not impossible. As the saying goes, when there is a will there is a way.
The year is just beginning, What are your plans?
Serra, Roseli. Burnout in ELT