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Control yourself, (hu)man!

October 19, 2011

 

Phew!

On Friday at about 7.30pm, I suddenly realised that I had managed it…without actually dying/fainting/having a panic attack/jumping out the window/going (completely) mad…  What had I managed? Well, to complete my first Celta course as a tutor. And I think it all went ok, despite the odd uncomfortable moment in feedback and the fact that my life admin. had been totally neglected for four weeks, but hey – I was alive. And so, more importantly, were my trainees.

Looking back at the four weeks, I have a few things that have continued to revolve around in my mind from the feedback sessions I gave.

 

The Being at the Front of the Room.  

In the first week the trainees were just beginning to find their feet in front of the class, and some of them needed reminding that, despite the fact that they were now a “teacher”, they should also do their best to remember to be a “human being” as well.

Are we just teachers? I would argue, no.

Facilitators? No!

Lecturers? Certainly not.

We are humans. Human beings. Human beings who happen to also be teachers.

One of the trainees wrote to me at the end of the course and said:

“This whole course [...] has taught me a lot, not only about teaching, but also myself, and most importantly, myself as a teacher.”

And this is exactly the concept that I wanted the trainees to grasp. We are humans who happen to be teachers, and by keeping that in mind, we can better serve the needs of the other human beings in the room who happen to be students. I find the Celta teaches us as much about ourselves as it does how to be a teacher.

 

Rein Them In, Hold Them Tight

Nearer the end of the course, once we all knew we were humans, I changed my tune and found myself repeating the metaphor “let go of the reins”, both to myself whilst watching some of the lessons  (“Let go, let go, get out of it, let go….”), and also within feedback sessions.

“Control” is an interesting concept. It would take too long to define here, but as Anthony Gaughan recently spoke about on his blog, lesson plans (or at least the anticipating problems part) can give a false sense of security to trainee teachers as they can feel that they will be in control of whatever happens if they have anticipated accurately and some feel that having control is the marker of a successful lesson.  To a certain extent, this is correct – we don’t want a class that refuses to listen or to do the work which we set.  However neither do we want a trainee to be so rigidly in control that they won’t stray from the plan for one single moment, or to get so involved in every part of the lesson and micro-manage all the interaction and conversation.

Now, I can understand why trainee teachers feel the need to have this control – they want to know what is happening next and that they will be able to cope with it. Or they know that, in their last lesson, they were picked up on the way a specific part of the lesson went, so this time they are going to fix that by being so tightly involved that nothing can possibly go wrong.

But, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. By holding on too tightly to those reins, the trainees don’t allow that space to come into the classroom that makes for comfortable, natural conversation.

Productivity is heightened by space to move into, not by being stifled.

 

Head Cowboy’s Back in Town?

The Celta course I work on does not expect the trainees to use coursebook material, we want to see them coming up with their own original ideas. But does this mean they are less likely to assume the position of Head Cowboy or not? I’m not sure…

On the one hand, coursebook material is already controlled and requires the trainee to manipulate their teaching style to fit it, potentially resulting in a clash of principles/beliefs/opinions and thereby propelling the trainee into control-overdrive in order to deliver the lesson the way the coursebook seems to envisage it.

On the other hand, when we create something ourselves, we have a vision of it and we want that vision to be realised. This could also mean that the trainees have such a fixed view of their lesson, they aren’t willing to “let go” for fear of it not being what they picture.

So how do we get out of this Mad-Cowboy cycle? Well, it all comes back to my first point in this post. Part of being human means we expect things to go awry/differently to how we imagined they would. Even the optimists amongst us can see that holding on to that glass-half-full whilst traversing a lesson means we are likely to end up with a glass-full-of-nothing.

So, by being human and remembering that we can’t control all aspects of everything – from the weather at the weekend to how our students decide to organise themselves in a task – we will be much calmer and happier teachers people.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2011 10:56 pm

    Way to go – HUMAN is so important!

  2. October 20, 2011 7:05 am

    WONDERFUL POST.

    The “control” idea has been one that has always intrigued me, both in life in general, as of course in the classroom… i think you’ve inspired an entire post here… the etymology of human and control is just way to interesting to let slip by. POST coming soon ;-)

  3. October 21, 2011 10:54 am

    Very interesting post, Jemma!

    I’d also be interested to know how trainees see trainers in relation to control, and also how trainers see themselves when trying, in one way or another, to control what/how trainees do. I don’t think we can get rid of control too much, it’s always there, but it really helps when we understand how it works (or doesn’t), and when we can distribute it.

    Thanks for this!
    (I posted this link to the Facebook Dogme page, hope it’s okay)

    • October 22, 2011 11:46 am

      Thanks Willy!

      This is a really good question. It’s definitely something to consider when training that we aren’t there to make clones of ourselves, but to help develop the personal qualities that the trainees come to the course with. With those who struggle with the task of finding agreement between their beliefs about teaching and being human, it would be easy to overpower them with experience and knowledge in order to micro-manage their lessons, but then they wouldn’t be able to develop.
      I think this deserves more thought than I am able to give it at this moment, but watch this space and I will post more soon!

      Thanks for reading, and that’s definitely okay that you posted it to the FB group!

    • October 22, 2011 11:50 am

      Thanks Willy!

      This is a really good question. It’s definitely something to consider when training that we aren’t there to make clones of ourselves, but to help develop the personal qualities that the trainees come to the course with. With those who struggle with the task of finding agreement between their beliefs about teaching and being human, it would be easy to overpower them with experience and knowledge in order to micro-manage their lessons, but then they wouldn’t be able to develop.
      I think this deserves more thought than I am able to give it at this moment (as I’m visiting friends in Copenhagen!) but watch this space and I will post more soon!

      Thanks for reading, and that’s definitely okay that you posted it to the FB group!

  4. seburnt permalink
    October 22, 2011 2:02 am

    I enjoyed reading and thinking about your post. For me, the cliche of ‘I’m only human’ came to mind foremost as I related this to the fact that as teachers, we often feel we need all the answers and that we shouldn’t make mistakes in front of students. But why is that? Again, it’s that control. Yet still, we must realise and embrace that we are only human and so like all humans, we make mistakes–a good model for students to demonstrate that it’s ok.

    • October 22, 2011 12:01 pm

      Thanks, glad you liked it.

      It’s interesting how, as I have developed as a teacher, I have lessened the control I hold over my students. I would have thought, before I stepped in the classroom, that it’s the more experienced teachers that have more control, not the other way round. (I think this comes from my experience of going to a fairly rubbish school where most teachers weren’t respected and the new ones were walked all over!) The fact that it isn’t how I would have expected makes me wonder how the students also view ‘control’. Student expectation is a powerful force in the classroom and is not to be underestimated. However, I think I would prefer my students to see me in a situation where I don’t know everything rather than always seeming to know the answers to all life’s mysteries. And it’s certainly important for the trainees to see me have these moments so that they can let go of this idea of perfection and control.

      Thanks for reading!

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  1. Control yourself, (hu)man! | ELT Digest | Scoop.it

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