I can’t quite believe that this blog has come to an end. It’s been such a huge part of my life for the past year that I’m honestly struggling to imagine disconnecting from it – but that’s ok, because I don’t think I will. Without a doubt, the single biggest lesson this process has taught me is that successful development as a teacher is synonymous with continuous development as a teacher. If I want to improve my practice and be fully cognisant of what I do and don’t believe, this is a process that can’t stop.
Writing this blog has involved bringing new thoughts and ideas into my teaching, breaking down and rebuilding my attitudes, examining (sometimes quite ruthlessly) my assumptions and shortcomings, and striving to put the conclusions of self-evaluation into real practice, with real students. So really it hasn’t ended in any meaningful way, because I’ve learned that I must continue doing all of this.
At the outset, I had some expectations, hopes and goals in mind for this module and what I might take from it. Below, I revisit them and explain their relevance now.
‘From February 2017 until now, I’ve been working in the same school and this has given me the space and stability to consolidate my experiences and further build on the development I had undergone previously. Before that, I’d been teaching in Devon, Chile and Colombia in a wide variety of different contexts. Since settling down, I can really sense that there has been tangible development in the way I teach, and the way I view learning… I believe that I’m in a critical period in my development; I have to exploit it while I can.’
The comfort of working at Eurocentres was a double-edged sword in my implementation of new resolutions in my teaching practice. The foundation it laid for heading in new directions was, in the end, a great help. However, the routine which I had built around myself there, which as I said in the opening statement did provide the environment necessary to form a clearer idea of who I am as a teacher, also limited me. I believe that I found it more difficult to act on the fruits of reflection because it took a notable effort to derail my existing habits, which were reinforced by the familiarity of the teaching context and resources. As for the last line of my thoughts above – I believe that I’m in a critical period in my development; I have to exploit it while I can – that has never been more relevant than it is now. I’m making a fresh start at a new school next month, and in September I’m heading abroad again to find new contexts. I mention this in more detail in Assessed Observation 5, part 2. This is a tailor-made chance to launch into a new stage of my identity as a teacher, and to follow up on the implications of the thoughts within this blog in earnest.
‘Personality has a big role to play in what kind of teachers we are – whether we are interventionists or facilitators, how we correct errors, how we stage a day or a week of lessons, what we expect of our students; in fact it can affect almost every aspect of teaching. That’s fine, but it’s always crucial to be able to dissect your own assumptions and apply more solidly grounded pedagogical theory to them to see if they hold up to it.’
Having torn some of my assumptions to shreds, sometimes with the application of pedagogical theory and sometimes with the revelations provided by observing other teachers, I’ve still not managed to replace them with anything half as concrete. This is a good thing. A belief in which you have absolute confidence is unlikely to be one that you’ve examined properly – something else I’ve learned in this process. Progress is impossible if you aren’t sceptical about the values and attitudes you hold.
My personality, and how it affects my teaching, has not escaped scrutiny. Some of the most significant steps in my reflective process have come from questioning behaviour which comes naturally to me, a result of ‘who I am’. Now, having examined and deconstructed these – although that process is never finished – it is the time to build a new concept of who I am as a teacher, and establish new, but not unassailable, values and beliefs. This blog has given me agency in deciding who I want to be as a teacher, and has shown me that I have control over this. That is extremely motivating.
‘I’m aiming to come away from this with the necessary skill set to control and guide my own development in the long term.’
I think this is the most salient goal I had at the beginning of this module, and I think it’s been achieved. The very act of creating this blog, and using it as a tool for self-examination and development, has shown me that through constant evaluation of my context, my learners and myself, and through taking advantage of the same factors in other teachers’ experiences, I can preserve the positive effects of this blog indefinitely. The process of constructive peer observations, aimed at mutual benefit and sharing of ideas and perspectives, has been demonstrated to me by this module, and I can take this with me. The benefit of habitually applying a critical eye to events in and around teaching and learning, and keeping them in mind with regard to other critical incidents, is now clear. All I need to do is remain motivated, and keep using these tools which we’ve been given.
There are a few other lessons which I’ve learned here. The constant self-analysis has taught me not to fear “failure” – I’m probably going to use that word quite a lot in this paragraph, but I don’t see it as a negative word in this context. Being aware of my failures to enact my principles, my failures to notice discrepancies in my beliefs and ELT theories, or my failures to live up to the standards I know I should aim for is a lot less painful now than it was. Recognising failure is instrinsic to development, and to isolating the type of areas for improvement where SMART objectives can be set. My attitude now is that the more alert I am to my own shortcomings, the more effectively I can mould the type of teacher I want to be.
Possibly the biggest epiphany, among many, in the blog was the realisation that I have to work hard to achieve what I want to. Some say that nothing worth doing is easy to do, and it’s definitely true in this case. I anticipate that the process of reflecting and acting on the reflections will become easier and more internalised, because it has during this module, to an extent. Despite this, I have realised that I can’t improve my practice and understanding by magic. It takes an extra effort now and then to break into new habits, and it takes a real commitment to exploring what we do every day.
I’ve also learned that it’s on me to act on new discoveries, just as much as it’s on me to make them. If I don’t examine my deeper principles, uncomfortable as it might be, they won’t ever come to light in any useful way. If I don’t act on the findings of these examinations set against my teaching context, then they will not be useful to me. So, my development in the future is in my own hands, as an autonomous learner! I need to take responsibility for it, and am eager to see where it takes me. This is only the end of the beginning…