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The Great TEFL Balancing Act.

September 25, 2011

There are two major parts of my life that regularly provide me with obstacles to overcome, challenges to face and lessons to learn.One of them is my job as a teacher and teacher trainer. The other is yoga.

Yoga and teaching have a lot in common:

–          There is no such thing as a perfect teacher, or a perfect yogi.

–          The constant physical and psychological challenges I face on my yoga mat parallel those which face in the classroom.

–          There are common misconceptions about the two as well: many people consider yoga to be all meditation and Om-ing; just as many people think TEFL is only for back-packers to make a bit of money on their round-the-world trip.

However, the parallels run deeper than this.

On my yoga mat, I often use blocks to help me, and the teachers are often there to make adjustments in order for me to deepen a pose or gain a better understanding of it. Without these supportive additions to my practice, I would be in danger of hurting myself or giving up because something seems unattainable. However, if I always reached for blocks and the teacher adjusted me in every pose, how would I learn for myself? How would I gain the confidence to push myself that little bit further in order to achieve my full potential in that moment? Basically, I wouldn’t. I would still be struggling to put my hands on the floor with straight legs.

I feel it’s the same with language learners and trainee teachers.

If a classroom is filled with props (in the form of coursebook material etc…), the students and trainees will only be able to reach as far as the material allows. By removing this restriction from the room they are given the space to stretch and push themselves, just as I am on my mat when I do a pose without blocks.

I can see my limitations much better when I practice without the blocks than if I were to rely on them all the time.  Similarly, on our Celta course the trainees teach their first lessons without any published material, allowing us to see their strengths and weaknesses much quicker and in much more detail than if they were hiding behind a page from a coursebook. The bare bones nature of this initial teaching practice highlights their beliefs about teaching and learning more than if they were using material created in line with someone else’s beliefs.

But students still need something from their teachers, just as I still need those blocks on my mat. They need our support, our knowledge, our attention in order to achieve their potential. And so, just like when I am trying to support my body weight on my hands in yoga, the delicate balancing act of providing input for my students at the same time as allowing them to have space in which to develop continues.

Do you find parallels between seemingly unrelated areas of your life and teaching? I’d be interested to hear what you’ve spotted!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Anthony Gaughan permalink
    September 25, 2011 4:34 pm

    Nice parallels, Jemma. Looking at your blogroll, I’m sure you’ve already seen Adam Beale’s great analogy drawn between doing dogme and climbing ( ) or Dale Coulter’s connection with surfing ( ) – both well worth reading if you haven’t (or re-reading if you have!)

    I was just out for a run: Usually, I run in a circle, going round the Altstadt. Teaching on CELTA courses frequently could end up feeling rather repetitive like that if it weren’t for the fact that the circumstances are always different. So for example, this course’s participants are different from last time and the weather today was different from on my last jog. These small changes in circumstances lead me to notice different things: how the trees on the edge of the canal are starting to slip away and need support, or how a trainee on this course needs different handling than someone else they remind me of. Or that today, instead of my typical 45 minute route around the town centre, I headed out over the bridge on a path I rarely take, because it means going well outside my comfort zone. But it felt like the right thing to do today, so in the end I got back home after one and a half hours. Sometimes detours and digressions, even ones that we normally avoid, are suddenly the right thing to do at the time. And afterwards, I didn’t regret it, because my last blog post came to me as I plodded along, just as teaching outside my comfort zone wakes me up to new ideas and new connections that would have gone unnoticed before.

    So The Loneliness of the Long-Distance TEFLer is sometimes good for something 😉

  2. September 25, 2011 7:17 pm

    Nice blog Jemma. A very well written piece. I wonder if it would be possible to get learners to come up with an analogy between there own learning experiences and some sort of hobby/sporting practice? I think there’s a lesson in that somewhere!

    • September 25, 2011 7:55 pm

      Thanks Adam!

      And that’s a great idea, I might put it into practice this week with my CAE class and post the results. It would be really interesting to see what they come up with. Watch this space….

      • September 26, 2011 11:31 am

        Cool. Definitely let me know how that goes. My term doesn’t start until next week so lots of ideas but nowhere to try them yet. Good luck with it.

  3. Anthony Gaughan permalink
    September 25, 2011 7:43 pm

    Good idea, Adam: in fact, Dale Coulter just suggested something similar for initial teacher training courses, where trainees create metaphors for their teaching … in fact, didn’t he just do that in a comment on your post about climbing?! Hang on, just going to check…

    Heh, heh, here I am, just posted about blog imitating comment over on my blog, and here I go meself 🙂

  4. September 28, 2011 6:00 pm

    I liked your analogy very much. I don’t know anything about yoga but your description makes it very clear.
    If the students didn’t need any mediation at all, they wouldn’t need school. the trick (it is tough) is how much support to give and when to withdraw it. Takes experience, I think.

    • September 28, 2011 9:51 pm

      Hi Naomi,

      Thanks for reading! You are right, experience definitely helps, as does experimentation. Due to the fact that each person is a different learner, we are unlikely to ever get this completely right for all our students, but this is something I love about teaching – we will always have so much to learn and so many things to improve.


  1. When life imitates blog. | Unplugged Reflections

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