Meeting with Paul to discuss the final observation was a strangely uplifting experience. As we come to the end of the course I’m mulling over the changes it has made in me, and what it’s taught me about my next steps in teaching. Although the lesson was only a pass – which, disappointingly, gives me a pass overall for the observed teaching module, when a merit in this lesson would have produced a merit overall – the ramifications of Paul’s comments on the lesson, and our discussion of them, illuminated the path that the DipTESOL has put me on.
Paul told me, as had Nancy in the previous assessed lesson, that I am in control of the basic competencies required by teaching. My monitoring, feedback, lesson staging and delivery, classroom management, and so on were all natural and were not challenging for me. The lesson ran smoothly and I was comfortable throughout, and its fair to say that this is almost always the case. That’s to be expected of a teacher at this point in their development, and I’m certainly not touting this as a point of excellence or pride, but it bears relevance to my next steps, as I will discuss below.
The problem in Paul’s eyes with the lesson was that it was dull. The heavy focus on linguistic competence, and even more specifically on grammatical competence, combined with what was essentially a P-P-P format for the first hour, made it predictable and unchallenging in many ways. I do not disagree with this at all. I explained that the satisfaction I drew from the lesson came from the learners’ successful (to varying levels) assumption of collaborative responsibility for negotiating, analysing and conceptually representing the language we were looking at, and their decreasing passivity and reliance on the teacher. The fact is though that the lesson was not particularly imaginative; it was a piece of rather traditional EFL-ness, and learners’ creativity and engagement were limited by the format. At that point in the course, I was tired. I’d been teaching a minimum of 25 hours a week for two years at the same school, and for a year the demands of this course were thrown into the mix. I took this lesson in my stride, and – as with the previous one – fell back on basic teaching competencies instead of exploring possisibilities to apply some creative energy.
I could have explored lesson types which developed other areas in the wide and rich range of competencies which our students need to build, but which are typically neglected in standard ELT. Grammatical competency was an unfortunately staid choice, and was well within both my own and my learners’ comfort zone. Interestingly (and slightly frustratingly) I expressed this point one or two weeks ago when outlining the materials creation process I undertook in another module for this course. In creating and evaluating my own and others materials, I noted the desirability and value of materials focusing on non-linguistic competencies, widening the learners’ capabilities and providing chances for them to build real, necessary skill sets. I expounded the deep need for more materials like this, and more lessons which focus on non-traditional, non-linguistic learner needs, and then promptly forgot all about it when planning this lesson. This is another example of my reflective conclusions and resolutions not making the leap to my day-to-day practice, and a reminder that if I don’t consciously make the effort to adapt in line with my reflections, all this will be more theoretical than practically advantageous. As I said above, I took refuge in established habits and procedures which were familiar to me and to the learners; as I said above, I was tired and a little bit played out.
This doesn’t seem particularly uplifting, but actually there is a side to this that gives me great motivation. There were so many possibilities I didn’t explore in this lesson, as there are in many of my lessons. I should have been more adventurous and taken the activities in the class to new levels of interactivity and engagement, demonstrating the relevance of what we were doing, or connecting our language point to a less over-egged competency – pragmatic, sociolinguistic, intercultural, anything of use to my students. I should have played to my strengths – energy, creativity, strong relationships with students, a confident and relaxed control of the room.
I should have done these things, but more importantly these are things that I can do. I can explore language to create a focus on form, rather than just forms. I can be courageous and informed enough to be honest about the way we use language, not just hide behind tried-and-tested examples and explanations. I can provide the higher level of value and engagement that this lesson was missing, I just need to challenge myself to do so, and I will. This course has come to a close and I’m going on holiday for a month. When I get back, I’ll be starting work at a new school, which I’m very excited about. There are excellent resources and facilities, a flexible and supportive academic management team, and a creative and curious staffroom. The feedback from this observation, and the united thread of these observations, tells me that this is an unmissable opportunity for me. I can stop worrying about the basic competencies of teaching and extend myself a bit. I can start growing into the teacher that I could be.