Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog

How does teaching make YOU feel?

44 Comments

iatefl6howdoesteachingmakeyoufeelAndrew Dilger is Managing Editor in the Professional Development Publishing team. In this post he reflects on an activity we carried out at the recent IATEFL conference which asked teachers to describe how teaching makes them feel.

The job of teaching English has never been harder.

In today’s EFL environment, the challenges are considerable: large classes of students of differing abilities, learning styles, and special educational needs; frequent ministerial reforms and policy shifts which can transform a syllabus overnight; the need to keep up with pedagogical trends such as 21st-Century Skills, CLIL, and EMI; technological advances which require teachers to ‘integrate’, ‘blend’, and ‘flip’. Teachers are also expected to embrace the roles of facilitator and assessor but talk less and listen more – all the time encouraging students to adopt a growth mindset, become proficient at self-study, pass high-stakes exams, and generally reach an impressive level of English in less time than they themselves needed.

Yes, with all this going on, you’d be forgiven for thinking that EFL teachers must be a stressed-out and miserable bunch! Not at all, it would seem. I recently returned from IATEFL – the annual conference which sees a couple of thousand teachers from all over the world converge on the UK for five days of plenaries, workshops, talks and networking events. At the OUP stand, there was a special focus on Professional Development and a feature wall with the sentence stem: ‘Teaching makes me feel …’. Conference delegates were invited to complete the sentence on a Post-It note. Plenty of them obliged and the results were, well, surprising.

To give you a flavour of what was said, I’ve grouped the responses into seven categories. Which category describes how teaching makes YOU feel, I wonder?

#1 UPBEAT

Almost without exception, the responses were upbeat and positive – with words like ‘inspired’, ‘happy’, and ‘motivated’ occurring time and time again. Sometimes these words were written in capitals, with an exclamation mark and a smiley face as if they were being shouted from the school rooftops. If teachers weren’t ‘inspired’, then they were ‘excited’, ‘fulfilled’, and ‘alive’.

#2 TIRED

A handful of people did acknowledge that teaching can be a tiring business – but all of them were quick to qualify this with other adjectives like ‘rewarding’ and, again, ‘inspired’ and ‘happy’.

#3 YOUTHFUL

It’s not that teaching is a young person’s game, but it seems it has the power to make teachers feel young in spirit. For one respondent in particular, it was a more profound feeling of being ‘ageless’!

#4 EDUCATIONAL

Some educators like to blur the line between teaching and learning. Or, more specifically, they consider themselves on a par with their students in that they have ‘so many things to learn’ in the classroom themselves.

 #5 HELPFUL

The sense of purpose you can get in the classroom is clearly an important factor for some teachers. Several respondents described their primary function as being ‘helpful’ or ‘useful’; they are in the classroom principally to ‘support’ their students.

#6 VOCATIONAL

Some people are just born to teach. There was a handful of responses which described the profession in vocational terms as feeling ‘like home’. Others described themselves as ‘humble’ or ‘privileged’ and there was a sense of satisfaction which came from being lucky enough to do something you love, and which you’re good at.

#7 CONNECTED

There are obviously a group of professionals for whom teaching is a way of reaching out and connecting with the wider world. One respondent described teaching as making them feel ‘a part of humankind’. For others, this connectedness has a geo-political dimension: ‘contributing to a more united world’. Finally, one impressive individual described their job with missionary zeal: turning students into ‘better citizens’ because ‘it’s not only English, it’s also about humanity and values.’

So what are we to make of this outpouring of positivity? Where are all the UNhappy, Uninspired, and UNexcited teachers? Obviously not at IATEFL 2017. The conference, by its very nature, tends to attract delegates who feel both motivated and engaged (and who have the financial means to travel internationally). But are they telling us the whole truth? And what about the rest? How do they feel? I mean, really feel.

I should say at this point that I’m no educational psychologist – I’ll leave that to experts like Sarah Mercer – but I have been involved in the world of EFL for more than half my life. I’ve taught and trained in over fifteen different countries and wherever I’ve visited, there have always been teachers who have been struggling to cope. Maybe we just need to be a bit more open about that fact. How does teaching make YOU feel? I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

44 thoughts on “How does teaching make YOU feel?

  1. Great post!!!!! Love it

  2. Young and happy as I´m no longer a young teacher.
    I´m almost 83 and still enjoying classes with updated material i get from Oxford

    • Good for you, Raque. Still teaching into your 80s is quite an accomplishment. And are you still learning? I’d bet the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’

  3. Teaching is often not a job, but a mission. Anyone can be good at something, but not everyone can teach what they’re good at. I sincerely believe you either love teaching or you avoid it because it’s a difficult ‘job’.

    • Good point, Robert. But if teaching requires missionary-like qualities (and zeal), it’s amazing how many people are prepared to look down on teachers … and, of course, the level of pay doesn’t seem to recognize how hard a job it can be.

      • Teachers are looked down upon when they’re too boring, unneccesarily strict, not updatred technologically, festered with persobal problems, unadaptable to stand in front of students and deliver properly, etc. etc. !!:)

        • Thanks for your honesty. I like the phrase ‘simply teaching’. If it were only that simple … 😉

  4. I’d say it makes me feel all of the above, plus emotionally drained. I love teaching, but depending on the class, level, and students it can be a tough ride or completely enjoyable. It’s a constant adventure full of surprises and a learning experience at the same time. I still love Fridays better than Mondays, like any job, but I can think of worse professions. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Thanks for sharing, Barry. I think your description of ‘a tough ride or completely enjoyable’ will be familiar to many teachers. It can be incredibly up and down (even from lesson to lesson in the same day!). This rollercoaster aspect didn’t seem to be represented in the Post-it notes however. Strange – maybe we only remember the highs if asked for an overview!?

      • It’s like being a mum…you never remember how painful it was, or you would never have children again😉 and the other side of the coin is so rewarding, you feel lucky, even when you are exhausted!

  5. I’d say I fell TIRED and CONNECTED at the same time. Since I teach for a long time, I feel tired sometimes, but when I get into the classroom, I love it!! I feel integrated, Connected with life and the good energy the students bring.
    Would love to go to IATEFL and exchange experiences!!!!

    • Thanks for your honesty, Ely Mara. Yes – it’s funny how teaching/facilitating/monitoring (and all the other things we do) can be so TIRING! Perhaps it’s the continual need for concentration + empathy. A sort of IQ meets EQ. I do hope you get the chance to go to IATEFL one day. There are always some scholarships available, so maybe you should apply?

  6. First,passionate. Students are my daughters(my classes have only girls) that I haven’t delivered.Third,LOYALTY. and DEVOTION

  7. Every teacher knows how much energy and passion and hard work teaching requires. Nevertheless, it is really rewarding. When I get into the classroom, I forget everything else and concentrate only on what I am doing, I love teaching !

    • Thanks, Diana. It sounds like you’re in a good place. But what happens on those days when nothing you try seems to work … or students simply don’t co-operate?

      • Good point.

      • Well Andrew, I would say…… it’s never them…it’s always me! If I had a bad day, or feel I am not doing things properly, or regret using some material instead of other, well, they immediately feel it and …stop co-operating 😉
        But if you are determined, self confident and you enjoy what you are doing, even the laziest student will in a way …carried away…if I can say that.
        I mean, also students can have bad days, but if you have the energy to carry the weight of the atmosphere on your shoulders, shrug them a little bit, smile and carry on (I love the word carry today😁) the rest of the class will follow, and eventually the uncooperatives too. This is definitely true with younger students, but I feel it works with older students too.
        It is not easy to be always at the top, so you have to deal with those days when everything seems to go wrong. Luckily they are just some days

        But if you are talking about those difficult classs, teens who don’t care about learning or spoilt children who are coming to classes only because parents promised them a reward (and here it would be necessary to open a huge chapter on how to raise your children), then It’s a completely different story. There you have to try and discover what they like best, and try to find a way to mingle their favorite activities and your teaching goals, when possible. When not, you should do your best and pray that deep down somewhere there is an ear listening and getting some of the things you’re trying to pass on…

        • Wise words, Diana. Thanks for taking time to map out your strategy so thoughtfully. If teachers really do feel like they do have one of ‘those difficult classes’, I suggest they check out the work of Marie Delaney (OUP author). She has plenty of fantastic advice on teaching supposedly unteachable students … as well as those more formally recognized as having special educational needs (SEN).

  8. Thanks! It will be great to hear the perspective of teachers from Hungary.

  9. I must add that I prefer….honestly speaking…..the “fine art” of interpreting/transtaling” to teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I love teachibng and have been doinf it for over 30 odd years, but when I can choose, I’d rather interpret and/or translate…..it IS much more gratifying and challenging than simply teaching.

  10. For me, teaching was at the same time challenging, inspiring and rewarding. I could talk about why each of these gerunds, as well as many others I will not even mention here. While on one hand it has proven me I do not want to be a teacher, there is now a strange yearning to go back to school, as I’ve always liked being part of it.

    • Thanks for your openness. Interesting to hear you decided teaching wasn’t for you … despite the obvious benefits. I think there is a big sense of ‘being part of it’ as you say – community learning and all that!

      • Well, actually, in the schooling system I was part of as a teacher, the very lessons and working with pupils was maybe 10% of the entire workload. The rest was paperwork, more than 2 hours a day of commuting, hassle with parents, hassle with colleagues (none of which is actually qualified to do the job yet work longer than me hence give themselves the right to teach me about my own subject and my own teaching methodology just to demonstrate they’re better than me – completely out of place), hassle with principals (because the political establishment wants one person to be a principal so as to fulfill their nasty needs, while the employees voted another candidate…). And those 10% was what I liked, but the overwhelming 90% filled with problems is what I could not deal with.

        • Sorry to hear you had such a stressful experience! I’m aware that quite a few professions besides teaching (healthcare is one that springs to mind) bemoan too much admin and ‘hassle’. There does seem to be a lot that can potentially occupy the space between us and our students. The trick is in keeping that to a minimum, I guess, though it’s sometimes beyond our control. We all have an idea of what an ideal teaching environment is … and often that’s some distance from the one we actually find ourselves operating in.

          • I wish I could have changed anything. But. Let me just introduce you to one exemplar of what the people I had to work with. All this is about a single girl, whom I was a head teacher to for two years.
            Once, her mother called me on the phone at the end of the semester begging me to give her a good grade otherwise her GPA would suffer, or else she’d have to call the principal to settle it down (principals are allowed to modify the pupils’ grades no matter what the subject teacher says, and in fact they do it quite often). Only after I explained to her that her lovely angel completely stopped trying in class, responding with “I do not know” every time I’d call her out instead of even trying to do the task, with her grades constantly shifting towards the F ones, did she realise her demand was out of place.
            I am very sorry, but I cannot give out grades just as if they were toys. There are other kids who try and earn the, so why should some be given the grades they do not deserve?
            Another time, I told the class I would see their notebooks and grade them, as a way of motivating them to use them, to take notes, to use them as a journal of their learning process. This girl gave me her notebook, with lessons from the entire semester, written in a single sitting. Even an inexperienced eye would recognise it – same pencil, same handwriting, same stroke and pressure to the paper. None of that would be such a problem if only the notebook contained ENGLISH. Rather, she had written out random letters resembling words, majority of which had nothing to do with English. When I asked her why she did it, her response was “to get a good grade!” No sign of understanding what she did. Mind you, the kid was 14 at the time, not a youngster who does not know to spell words.
            Afterwards, after I was no longer working at the school, she started speaking to me on Facebook (my profile is private, and hidden, but I do accept my pupils – some of them actually do say hello from time to time), attacking me I was a lousy teacher, and that she did not learn anything from me, justifying her claims by supporting teachers of other subjects – I guess she wanted me to feel bad about myself.
            Of course, there were also excellent kids. I can actually talk about two: one of them is a pure genius (I believe his IQ was at the time higher than the entire school, teachers included, combined); the other one was a complete opposite – neglected, problematic child, with a sobbing background, all teachers gave up on him. But I used a handy trick with him, and it turned out to do wonders with the kid – I recognised his marvelous mind and turned him into my TA, giving him chores to bring me chalk or my coursebooks. The kid BLOOMED! I shared all I did with other teachers – none seemed interested and would just say they have no time to work with him only the way I did. But, I wasn’t paying attention to him only, I was just engaging him with the course work in such a way that he could just say no. To cut the long story short, after three months in school, my results with him were shining bright: instead of Fs in all other subjects, this kid rose from a D to a B with me, stating even he now wanted to study and go towards an A! I could not be happier!
            Unfortunately, soon after that I left the school (as a teacher replacement I had to go once the regular teacher resumed her work), and this kid was the reason why I said it was rewarding.
            A couple of weeks ago, he also texted me on FB, just to say hello, and to inform me he’s decided to start learning all subjects, because all teachers always told him he was smart, but none of them found a way to engage him. Some shift must have happened with him, and if I was the force that set his wheels into motion, I can say I am proud of him more than of any other pupils I have ever had!

            • Wow – that’s quite an account. One very unfortunate experience; and one very memorable. The first, I’m sure, reminds us how complex teaching can be, with multiple stakeholders and the importance of boundaries. The second is obviously a success story or ‘bright spot’ – we’re in a position to influence young people’s lives in really quite radical ways (and sometimes we’re not even aware how much). Thanks again for sharing!

  11. Sometimes it (teaching) happens naturally without any toil and makes me fulfilled. But sometimes requires a lot of pushing and even thinks of when to leave the class. I have pondered over it many times and simply the answer is the mood that is created on the spot.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sure. Yes, I agree one can overthink it – teaching is about instinct and mood, too. As well as the ‘toil’ and ‘pushing’! For me the challenge was always how to sustain those contrary energies over the course of a career. Not certain I know the answer to that one yet!

  12. I’ve found my experience of EFL to be both challenging and rewarding, and I often find myself learning as much (if not more) from my students as they do from me. The admin, however, is tiring and tedious – though perhaps that’s because it’s in my second language. Like any job, I guess there are ups and downs – and the ups tend to outweigh the downs.

    • Thanks, Rosie. That seems to accord with my experience, at least. ‘Challenging’ is definitely an adjective that can cut both ways! And show me a teacher who loves the admin … I guess we’re just not built like that.

  13. Handling a class with different levels of standard and generally a big class is a hard task. Controlling the mischievous is another problem. Without these ,class will be a wonderful world of learning both for the teacher and the taught. Both can showcase their creativity, sometimes compete with one another. Oh, what an amazing experience it is! That’s why I like this highly and socially responsible profession.

    • I agree that there’s an ‘ideal class’ out there which is a manageable size, homogenous level and extremely well-behaved! However, in practice, there’s always at least one element which is far from ideal – let’s call it the grit in the oyster, if you like. The trick is to not let this element compromise teacher/student motivation or frustrate the lesson plan. Not easy! (If you do find yourself taxed by a variety of levels within the same class, can I recommend OUP’s ‘Into the Classroom: Mixed-Ability Teaching’? Written by two Hungary-based teachers and jam-packed with brilliant practical ideas and tips.)

  14. Thanks for your sincereness in your post. I appreciate it. Maybe it would be helpful for me or someone to monitor how I feel after the lesson or a period of time. So that I know …

    • That’s a great idea, Marcela! Can I suggest you pilot it? 😉 Scribble down one word about how you feel immediately after each lesson for a month and then let us know what the results are. I’d be very interested to hear whether it’s consistently upbeat or more mixed.

  15. Pingback: The Feeling of Teaching – Teaching and learning

  16. I am late to the comments here, but for conference attendees, I find the same thing. Most teachers who attend a conference aren’t going because they are burned out, they are going to get reinvigorated, to get something new, and to come back refreshed. I love attending conferences, especially those put on by teachers in the trenches.

    Teaching is hard. It has made me prematurely gray, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ve been asked and I turned it down.

    • Yes, I agree that teachers at conferences tend to be in a good place motivation-wise. I love the phrase ‘teachers in the trenches’! Practical rather than theoretical … or at least ideas borne from experience. And glad to hear you wouldn’t trade places.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s