Friday, July 2, 2010

You're expendable...

So, I've just run across David Deubel's blog and found this post about the #1 piece of advice to teachers, which is: You are replaceable and will likely be forgotten.

Harsh, but true words.  And how does this affect my teaching?  I think of the 2 extreme groups of coworkers that I've had in the past/have now.  

The group at the one end doesn't really care.  Perhaps they are married to a Korean and have a kid or something, so feel trapped and like they can't get another job, but it is obvious to almost everyone that they really have no passion or skill for this job.  Or those solely here for the money, also with no desire to improve their teaching skills.  Or, there are some who really aren't "people" people and it's strange that they would pick teaching as their profession when they'd probably be much happier sitting behind a computer in a cubicle somewhere.  Anyway, these people don't really make much of a connection with students because I think students can tell if you want to be there or not, or if you really like them, or not.  This teacher will be forgotten the minute the students walk out of the final exam, and likely didn't really have any impact on the students at all.

The group at the other end puts everything they have into teaching.  Everything.  At the expense of their health, social life, family and hobbies.  They will phone students who miss exams, give endless "second" chances on homework even if it means huge amounts of extra admin, and get taken advantage of by administration at every opportunity because, "it's for the students."  But, I think these teachers often don't really make very strong connections either because I think the students sense that something is not quite right about them.  Like having no hobbies or social life because you care so much about teaching is just weird and kind of needy or something. And I wonder if these teachers who give too much really have an impact upon the students either.

And what does that leave?  My style in the middle of course! Haha!  I put a lot of effort into making my classes fun and happy, and setting up an environment where long-lasting, real learning can occur.   I try to be kind, gentle, funny, and accepting of all.  I treat students with respect, don't play favorites, grade fairly and also respect their choices to attend classes,or not,  to take exams, or not, to do homework, or not.  Students earn the grade that they earn in my class. 

I like my students and think that they know this.  I'll take my smaller classes out for an icecream or dinner and get to know them.  And they'll let me into their lives, telling me heart-breaking stories about sickness and divorce and death (in broken English!) about their family lives that I'm honored that they'd share with me.  But this is the thing: no matter how strong of a connection I've made with a student, I don't expect it to last beyond that time we had together.  I give out my email to all students and my phone # to the good ones, but they rarely contact me.  This is okay.  I just hope that, for a semester I was an influence for good in their life.  Expecting anything else is setting yourself up for disappointment I think.


Greg said...

I think I fall into the middle category, but last month I slid into spending too much time on my teacher. I've tried very hard to be necessary in my school because at the public school I want to be used better and I'm slowly I'm breaking through to them. It has taken time and effort to show that conversation English can be taken more seriously.

I know a teacher who has convinced her high school school to make her lessons a higher percentages of the overall students grade and I think thats necessary for the improvement of conversation English.

abracadabra said...


Thanks for visiting my post and I must say, --- you said it much better!

You are right, just do what you can, do what you do best and that's enough. Let things rest there. Enjoy the moment and relish it. That ephemerality....

Well written, enjoyed every word.


PS. just put you up in the ELT Blog generator!

Jackie Bolen said...

I think for any real results/learning to happen in public schools/university in Korea, power, in the form of grades is necessary. I wish it weren't this way, but it's reality. Learning for the sake of learning seems to be unheard of here for the most part.

David...thanks for stopping by.

abracadabra said...


Totally agree and it also is something I advize for integrating and blending technology into the curriculum.

Too often teachers spend countless hours designing a webpage or a tool etc... all excited. Then they ask students to "go there" and chat/talk/study etc... Only one or two show up. Big downer. Why? because it has to be part of the marking scheme and a requirement, without it - you are setting yourself up for disappointment. So yeah, we need to be taken serious by both admin and students...then the rewards come.