I’m learning how to do formal observations!

Look, I’ve done observations before, obviously.

Every time I’m struggling for ideas, I like to pop round a few neighbouring classrooms on the hunt for something new I can shamelessly steal. Sometimes colleagues even come to me first and ask if I wouldn’t mind sitting in for half a lesson, so they can get a second opinion on something that’s been bugging them. And heaven knows that my TP group on the Delta were observation-obsessed, every last one of us only too happy to take a lesson to shreds with pen and paper, and then put it back together again via verbal feedback.

The problem was that I’d never conducted a formal observation before, you see. At least, not one with real paperwork that would be scanned and filed forever, or actual real-life stakes at play ranging from that teacher’s self confidence in the classroom to the size of their end-of-year bonus. Up until a week ago, formally observing my colleagues still seemed like a role I’d somehow never be ready for. The problem with taking promotions at work, however, is that they also come with added responsibilities, and my boss quickly made it clear that this was to become the newest skill in my arsenal without any further ado.

The silliest thing I did was not asking for help straight away. Instead, I notified my “observees” that I’d be sitting in for a full lesson of their choice the following week, and willed everything to go smoothly without asking anyone what that was actually supposed to look like. When it finally occurred to me to ask Twitter for help, I realised I should have sat down with each teacher beforehand: firstly, to ask them what they were most concerned about, and secondly, to tell them what particular areas I wanted to focus on when observing, just the way we do with students before they sit exams.

Oh, well. Too late for that. We’d been through the lesson aims and the plan together, everything looked good, and in we went.

I wrote like a madwoman during those two observations, only realising my naivety afterwards as I combed through six full pages of barely legible scrawl in my notebook. How could I make sense of my notes in a way that would potentially mean something to the observees as well as my future self coming back to the observation documents a few months down the line? Having learned from my earlier mistake, I immediately turned to my DoS for help with the written feedback, and between her category-based method of grouping similar points and my traffic-light system for ranking their importance, we managed to redact those six pages into a pithy A4 page per teacher.

The final hurdle was meeting with my observees and talking them through my feedback, which from my perspective was far and away the most stress-inducing component of the whole rigmarole. What if they hated what I had to say? What if they got defensive and refused to accept it? What if they couldn’t see how my suggestions lined up with what I had observed in the classroom?

Obviously, none of those things happened, because I work with lovely, polite people who are incredibly keen to develop. And I daresay the conversations were actually more informative for me than they were for my observees, given how much I have to learn in my initial period of trialling this newly learned skill. But it all went off without my destroying anybody’s morale in the process! And the paperwork was all done on time too. Wonders never cease.

I know that this is one area at work where I have a very, very steep learning curve ahead of me, but it’s one of those things I’m only too happy to put time into, especially as I can feel it moving me ever-closer to my teaching endgame, i.e. working as a full-time teacher trainer. Having said that, part of me also let out a sigh of relief when I realised I wouldn’t have to do any more formal observations until next term … So, until then, if you need me, you’ll find me buried under a pile of books that are more or less all entitled ‘How to be less terrible the next time you observe someone‘. Thanks again for the help, ELT Blogverse and Twitterverse – I’ll let you know how the next one goes!

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I work 48 hours a week!

I’ve spent the last couple of days feeling like a bit of a prat.

On Friday, I saw a hashtag that piqued my interest.

I blithely tweeted back with my honest answer.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a tweet blow up like that one did.

Look, it’s not that I was previously unaware of how hard I was working. I even wrote about it here. I just didn’t realise that it was unusual to work that kind of schedule in ELT; I honestly, genuinely thought everyone did it.

I quickly found out that wasn’t true when the replies started popping up on my Twitter feed. f you’ve got a couple of hours spare, I do encourage you to check out the original hot mess on Twitter via the link above, but if not, here are some particularly tasty morsels for your viewing pleasure: “Bloody hell, go easy on yourself!” “That’s an insane amount of work.” “It *really* isn’t worth it. Your health and sanity are worth a lot more.” “With hours like that you have to question your quality of teaching.” There was even one guy who just tweeted back at me with the words “Burnout alert!”

… and so on, and so forth, pretty much continuously for the next two days, until my original Tweet had spawned a kind of monster comment thread, riddled with shocked reactions and well-meant suggestions and when-I-was-younger anecdotes from my fellow teachers. I have to tell you, I spent my Sunday afternoon perched at my living room table, with one panicked eye on my Delta Module 3 assignment and the other eye, mildly horrified, on my Twitter notifications.

I felt, and continue to feel, incredibly stupid. And if ‘stupid’ isn’t quite the right word with quite the right nuance, then ‘naive’ certainly is. How could I have thought that this was the done thing for so long? Why did I just blindly accept it all, despite acknowledging to myself on my own blog that work was completely exhausting? How had I managed to get through the madness-inducing workload of Delta Module 2, promising myself that it was only a temporary arrangement, only to let myself promptly drown in a sea of work upon starting back at my regular job? How was I supposed to know?

The scariest thing, I suppose, is the thought that if Marc had never tweeted the original hashtag, I might never have realised there was anything wrong with my status quo. It really does make me wonder how many other young ELT teachers are out there dealing with the same sort of demands and expectations at work, without the support of more seasoned teachers – or even colleagues with experience in other industries – to support them. I certainly would never have got to this point without the help and advice of all the lovely Twitterfolk who took a moment to stop and leave me their words of wisdom and support. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is an issue worth adding to initial teacher training courses.

As it stands, I went straight to my DoS on Monday afternoon to hash things out. Despite being utterly convinced that I was doing the right thing, and with all the validation of written comments from several other ELT professionals, I was still absolutely terrified going in to that meeting. It’s made me realise that I have yet to fully confront my (unfounded) feelings of doubt and low self-worth at work.

We discussed the problems as I saw them, as well as a couple of solutions to help make things more manageable for me, and while I have no guarantee that any of those ideas are going to be taken on board, I do feel much better for having faced things head on. As one of my colleagues reminded me, you can only change the things that are directly under your control. Whatever happens now, at least I can say I tried.

I got a new Twitter account!

Obviously, being a millennial, I’m not Twilliterate*. I’ve had Twitter accounts before, including a handle for immature yet mildly funny observations about life in London. Highlights on request, if you’re interested.

But despite having managed more than one successful “brand” account, for a long time I still hadn’t figured out how to really leverage Twitter as a tool for professional development. During my very, very short stint as an accounting intern, I tried miserably to join the hoardes of eager graduate students online, live-tweeting company conferences and hashtagging pre-approved slogans. But I never really made it past sycophantic retweets of my bosses’ posts and awkwardly forced “networking” with other interns. I deleted that account a few months later.

So why, this time around, have things suddenly changed? Since optimistically creating yet another Twitter account on the last day of my Delta course, I’ve met loads of incredible teachers, got hold of some brilliant resources, and have found a million ways to channel the experiences, advice and opinions of others into my own professional development. The secret ingredient can only be one thing: love for the job.

Twitter couldn’t make me like accountancy, nor could it make me better at it. But teaching is my pride and passion, and I’m hungry to learn as much as I can about it. Obviously some of that learning is going to come from self-study and working with the small team of dedicated teachers at my current school, but – you guys – there’s a whole world out there! Twitter drags me out of the echo chamber of my own thoughts and my familiar school setting, and makes me wildly question every belief I’ve ever held and every assumption I’ve ever made about teaching. In a great way.

Last week, for example, I participated in my first ever #ELTchat. It was just a pre-sessional event, mostly to drum up a few ideas to make up the schedule for the rest of the year, but I met so many people! They listened to me! I listened to them! I talked to teachers on the other side of the world who I’ve never met and may never meet and we had things in common and we also had nothing in common and all this was communicated in 140 characters or less!

Twitter is beautiful. Even just the support from my followers after starting this blog has been incredible. Thanks for the retweets, likes and advice on what and how to write!

Of course, I’ve also seen some fairly horrible things on Twitter. I’ve seen highly qualified teachers in positions of academic authority write scathing, personal critiques of their peers’ work. I also recently saw that my mum literally has 1,400 more followers than I do. I’m not sure which event I found more scarring, if I’m honest.

So Twitter isn’t a panacea for my developmental ills, but it could very well be the tool I need to spur me on in my endless quest for self-improvement. After all, there are worse things to have at your back than hundreds of supportive colleagues with thousands of years of experience between them. So I’ll see you at 8pm Italian time for the #ELTchat! A dopo …

* That’s millennial-speak for ‘Twitter illiterate’, in case you were wondering.

I started a(nother) blog!

After two reasonably successful yet ultimately short-lived attempts at this, I have decided that now is the time to buckle down and become a Serious Blogger. It turns out that ELT is a much more Serious Business than previously thought, and – in all seriousness – it turns out I know very little about it.

So, in the spirit of professional development, I’m starting an ELT blog! Some very wise people (that is, my former DOS and fellow Delta trainees) told me to do it, so therefore it must be the best (and indeed, only) solution to all my developmental needs as an English teacher. Or that’s what I’ve been led to believe by my English-teaching peers, which I feel entirely absolves me of any responsibility should this all go disastrously wrong.

Anyway, I thought I’d kick off by compiling and publishing my Blog Manifesto, which is apparently a thing that Serious Bloggers do! After all, the best kind of fun is rule-governed fun:

That ELT Blog Manifesto

  1. Write about teaching. If it’s not directly related to teaching, don’t write about it.
  2. Write what you think, not what you think other people want to hear. If your opinions eventually change, be honest about it.
  3. Listen to other people. Stop listening when it gets personal. (You can blame Twitter for that one.)
  4. Write at least once a week. (This particular pledge is definitely not going to stand the test of time, but I’m putting it down so at least I can be publicly shamed when I fail miserably at it.)
  5. All the other goals have already been taken.

That wasn’t so hard! How difficult can it be to maintain a professional blog alongside a full-time teaching schedule, anyway? ELT world, watch this space.