By Flor de María Vila A.
There usually comes a time when we ask ourselves: “Is teaching what I want to do the rest of my life?” “Is this all I can do?” Our first answers could be: “Well, I studied to become a teacher,” “I wanted to be a teacher,” “This is what I set off to do because there was no other option,” “This is the job I found and I‘ve become accustomed to doing it.” The concern here resides neither on the questions nor on the answers we could give after granting it some thought. The main issue is why we are asking ourselves those questions! I may dare to think that possibly we are not happy, neither are we satisfied with the routine that our lives have espoused. This could be true if we found ourselves responding: “This is what I am paid for,” “There´s no need to do things differently,” “I do not need to run the extra mile, why would I?”
In an effort to break the routine of those wonted days, weeks, months or even years, I started trying some new things, activities, or strategies. As many may have guessed by now, my resources soon uncovered the end of the tunnel. I found myself posing questions about the formula to innovate, to be creative, and to make my job more worthwhile and enjoyable. Eventually, I did find a way out.
Are people born gifted with creativity and the chip of innovation?
One of the mistakes I realized after talking to some people was precisely the belief that being innovative or creative is a trait you are born with. Crass error! Innovation is a capability and a closed system which needs to be developed. Process is a key word since innovation won´t happen overnight. We need to drop the idea that innovation is a tool or a single activity which can be done once in a while.
How can we self-generate some fuel to restart the engine?
First of all, we need to convince ourselves that we need to find a reason to walk perhaps not the whole extra mile, but just an extra meter. This is not a joke, it is real! We need to find an incentive to move forward and leave behind the cycle that has engulfed us for so long. The answer could stand in the following five steps. I have tried them over and over and I can say now I feel I have found that my professional life is meaningful.
#1: Every beginning is always difficult, but I feel this one could not necessarily be so hard. Identify any possible problem or difficulty observed in any of your lessons. For instance, your students find it difficult to understand what two native speakers say in a conversation. You repeat the audio again and again and the results hardly provide significant improvement.
#2: Think of possible reasons why your students face this problem. Do not focus only on the problem. Try to determine what might go wrong in the process before playing the audio. This step is crucial! Do not cling yourself to what you already know even if you are knowledgeable. Be humble and explore other teachers’ ideas by asking your colleagues or by reviewing research in the subject. You will be surprised and able to connect-the–dots more easily. Once you have collected ample information, you will be ready for the next step!!
#3: Build up your archetype. At this point, you will be more aware of what the problem in the procedure is. Thus, you will be ready to design a solution to the problem identified in step #1. Do not worry; it doesn’t have to be perfect! It´s just your first attempt. The next one will surely be better. Don’t quit! Remember that you need to find an incentive to get rid of the routine that has wrapped you! Now, you are equipped for the next step!
#4: Test your solution. Here, you will need to put the newly found solution into practice. But, before that, keep the following in mind: remember the objective of the activity, give clear instructions and monitor the development of the exercise. For this, you need to be alert in order to identify the signs that will reveal the achievement of your goal: the solution of the problem or at least some form of improvement.
#5: Prepare your deliverable. Once you have tried the solution you will be ready to officially propose it as a good end result. If, by any chance, the proposed solution didn’t work, don’t worry. Remember this is just the first attempt and a way out may appear soon. Little by little, you will learn to adjust details. In either case, you will need to go back to step #1. Take into account that even if the solution is perfect for one group of students, it may not be the same with all students. For that reason, you will need to adjust or reformulate the remedy. Analyze the situation and try to find out what needs to be changed or what can be improved.
This cycle can be repeated as many times as needed, and it will always keep you rolling.
Have you ever tried this cycle? How do you help your students to overcome the problems they face when learning?
Share your expertise with us and let us try new things.
M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Teacher trainer, Pedagogic Consultant and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico. She is Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory) and relationship manager for American universities´ MBA admissions officers with International Contacts. She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS).