We’ve all felt it.
Oftentimes, it strikes on a Monday morning. That slow, lethargic response to the very idea of dragging ourselves to the classroom yet again. Perhaps you’ve worked with the same group, or at the same level for too long. Perhaps you’re tiring of using the same, old textbook. You might even be losing your enthusiasm for your organization or school or, heaven forbid, finding that your interest in teaching itself is on the wane.
Everyone needs a lift from time to time. Teaching, particularly for those who cover the same material every semester, is a uniquely cyclical profession. If often seems to require us to stand still and repeat ourselves while the scenery changes only slowly, or not at all. How many times, you might ask yourself, can I teach the first conditional before I stop caring whether my students use it correctly or not?
How many cheerful ‘getting to know you’ exercises can I run on those hopeful opening days of the semester before getting the feeling that they have all been - basically - the same?
Don’t despair. There are a host of methods for re-energizing your teaching. Perhaps a good place to start is to take a look at your own work, and personal life, and decide whether it’s your teaching which is making you unhappy. If so, resolve to put in place some positive changes; some will be obvious to others, but some are just for you.
Boost Your Energy Using These 10 Great Ideas
Try A New Pattern
It’s easy to fall into the habit of repeating apparently successful structures for your classes. Everyone files in, we review yesterday’s vocab, then you present today’s material and we’re into practice. These patterns are encouraged because they work, but that isn’t to say that variety will be harmful. Consider re-ordering the elements of your lesson; start with a game occasionally, rather than reserving it as a final ‘treat’; consider some new warmers to give the students an extra boost; try a new timing system so that no section of the class is longer than ten minutes, for example. You’ll be able to feel the results almost immediately, as your students respond to a (probably very welcome) change in their learning environment.
Find Some New Material
If you’ve taught the same textbook for many years, consider using different materials for part, or even all, of your class. Discuss with your department whether they’re happy for you to branch out in new directions and, if so, seize this opportunity to assess some new books. Read online reviews of alternative texts, grab copies from the library, and subject them to a rigorous test: Could this be better than what I’m already doing? Keep an open mind and always consider your students’ needs before lapsing back into comfortable repetition.
Write Some New Material
This is not 10% as difficult as you think it is. After all, you’ve seen hundreds of readings, grammar exercises, conversation prompts and debate questions, and I dare say you could do better yourself! Start simple, with some gap-fill exercises; make them funny or particularly relevant to your class. I had a great response to a sheet of tricky grammar questions which included all my students’ names and little details about their lives; anything to make grammar more fun, right?
Move on to creating your own reading comprehension texts. Choose subjects which you find motivating - your own hobbies, historical figures you think are important or overlooked, fascinating places you’ve visited - and consider what the students might enjoy reading about. Become more creative as you go; make up fake news reports about your town, or even your school; write ‘Agony Aunt’ letters which touch on topics relevant to your students; create puzzles or quizzes - there are a host of free online tools for doing this.
You know, by now, that you can competently deliver a class, and guide students to successfully use the target material. Now, do something extra. Challenge yourself with one or more of these personal goals:
- Can I explain a grammar point more efficiently than before?
- Can I elicit vocabulary which I used to feel the need to explain?
- Can I push my students towards 100% on their test results?
- Can I write my own ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ game?
- Can I reduce my Teacher Talking Time (TTT) by 10%, or 20%, or even 50%? (Hint - Yes You Can!)
- Can I learn some simple line drawings to decorate and clarify my examples?
- Can I use the white board better, and keep it well organized throughout the class?
- Can I stop Jose from dropping off to sleep after half an hour?
- Can I finally eliminate L1 from my classroom? (Hint - you guessed it - Yes You Can!)
Colleagues always learn something from observing each other. New methods and techniques are sure to come up, but equally importantly, do your colleagues have a relationship with their students that you’d like to have? How do they create that environment? Open a dialogue on this, and others topics which might be of help to your own teaching; people love having their brains picked, so don’t be shy.
Ask To Be Observed
This is never the most comfortable occasion, but any professional teacher can learn volumes from being observed by their peers. Ask them to give it to you straight; little is gained from sugar-coating feedback. If you’re actually a rather dull classroom personality, it’s better to learn this sooner than later, and much better to do so from people you trust and respect.
I’m serious. Get a video camera set up - lie about what it’s for, if you don’t want your students to know - and then pore over the results. How was your speaking speed? How were the energy levels? What does the students’ body language tell you? How much TTT was there? Would you have enjoyed this class?
Get Professional Resources
There are shelves full of books intended for teachers who want to improve their work. I’d recommend Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. Ask your department or supervisor whether there are seminars on professional development you might attend.
Speak With Your Boss
If you believe it might help, as to be reassigned to a different level or group, or if you may use a different textbook. Some teachers even find that changing their classroom helps a lot. Ask permission to decorate yours, or consider playing music as your students file in, and/or during practice exercises.
Look After Yourself
It’s easy to get depressed when your professional life isn’t where you want it. Be aware of this, and be especially wary of alcohol; it won’t help at all. Consider your diet and exercise situation and, if you don’t already, begin meditating.
A sober evaluation, often with the guidance of friends and colleagues, can help you pin down just why you’re feeling lethargic, or as though you’re going around in circles.
Remember that every class is an opportunity to do something different, and conversely, that every class might play host to the unexpected, the revelatory, and the inspiring.