Monday. 8:30 in the morning. A mixed-level group of unresponsive adult learners. Is it me?
At least it’s only three of them. Or maybe that’s the problem. Is it their personalities?
Perhaps it’s that they’re not interested in the activities. But everything played out so well in my mind last night… questions and answers, role-plays, no fill-in-the-gap activities, detailed situations for them to produce sound sentences in context and avoid those awkward silences of ‘I can’t think of anything and everyone’s staring at me’. This is demoralizing. What a terrible first impression. What can I do to shake things up? Am I even any good at this?!
Our minds go so fast when things are not going well.
Not to say ‘terribly’ when one is too self-critical. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
But, how much is actually up to us?
In the TEFL world it’s so common to talk about the importance of grading and scaffolding so learners aren't overwhelmed and/or frustrated in class. That intrinsically means that we, as teachers, have to be in control of the class and in control of ourselves; and if things don't flow, we're the ones to blame.
But everything depends on how we understand interaction. Distributed cognition
states that whatever happens in a given situation is a product of how individuals –their personal histories and knowledge–, artifacts, and the environment coordinate. That would mean that we are but a piece of the puzzle of what constitutes and describes a situation. I'd say that more than captains that have to go down with the ship, we're orchestra conductors. We're in charge of overall success and we've gotta know how to take students to a harmonic outcome using the proper tools, but they also have to pull their weight and take responsibility for their learning.
The importance of frustration is that most of the time we're more sentient than rational beings. And Maslow
said it more than 50 years ago... if our psychological needs aren't satisfied, there's no way in which we can work on realizing our personal potential or be close to experiencing self-fulfillment.
Maybe the question we should ask ourselves is 'What's the reason behind my frustration
', so we can attend to our needs just as we do for our students'.
Is there an easy fix?
There's not much information out there on how to deal with ESL teachers' frustrations. A quick google search yields an article called A Frustrated ESL Teacher is a Bad ESL Teacher
; which basically says we should hide it from our students, be patient, not be condescending, act as if we wanted to be there, take mental and physical breaks once in a while and forgive ourselves. But the bottom line is: deep down inside lie properties of a healin' kind.
We’re constantly building and creating the world around us, and in any teaching-learning scenario there are always choices: on how to understand it, on how to react to it, on what we learn from it and, thus, on the consequences it has on further classes. There are times in which stress pushes us forward; so long as we have an adequate response. The most challenging classes are also, somehow, the most stimulating ones.
'Mistakes are the portals to discovery' doesn't only apply for students.
I’m actually pretty grateful for those Monday-8:30-in-the-morning gripping experiences that, after all these years, keep me awake.
Even if I were not that good at teaching, I'm good at not being satisfied; and that's enough to make me better.
What's the reason behind your frustration? Is there a way out?