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.

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I’m still waiting for my Delta results!

I have a theory that someone, somewhere currently knows whether or not I’ve passed Delta Module 2. Sadly, I am not that person, although I know for a fact that the results must have been released because everyone I know a friend of a friend says she’s already got hers and it’s a pass with merit, and isn’t that just kick-you-in-the-crotch laugh-out-loud amazing.

Obviously, there’s a reason why the wait for these exam results has been particularly hard. Part of it is that I blew almost three thousand euros on the course alone, and a heck of a lot more if you count the cost of flying to a foreign country, paying extortionate summer rent rates, and generally trying to stay alive and sane for two months. Y’know, if you count that sort of thing.

Part of it is that I’m currently studying for the Delta Module 1 exam, which I have to take in December, and – I won’t lie to you – morale is low. I could really do with the boost of knowing I’d already passed a very similar test set by the very same exam board.

But of course, the biggest issue is related to a post I wrote a little while ago: “I’ve forgotten how to do my job!” In it, I talk about the imposter syndrome that seems to dog so many young professionals in the world of ELT, and I daresay in the working world in general.

So, I’ll admit it again, in a different form: the main reason I’ve been so anxious to get my Delta results is that I’m genuinely worried I’ve failed. This is objectively ridiculous, because my first three assignments were graded as far away as you could reasonably get from a fail. But then again, I had to teach LSA 4 in a feverish, flu-induced haze, and maybe all my prowess as a teacher really could be undone by something as simple as a high fever.

Maybe.

So, come on, Cambridge. Do your worst …

 

I led a teacher training session!

Things seem to be happening very quickly at the moment. It honestly doesn’t seem like a huge amount of time has passed since I was finishing my CELTA, and then over summer I stumbled through Delta Module 2, and now I’m delivering teacher training sessions to my colleagues like that’s not an absolutely terrifying thing to be doing with only three years’ teaching experience.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

I gave my first ever teacher training session last year, to a small room of colleagues who had all opted to be there, on a topic that nobody was really talking about at my school (integrating pronunciation teaching into YL and teen classes, if you’re wondering). I really could not have set my expectations any lower, but my former Director of Studies and Senior Teacher gently coached me along and made me believe I had a valuable perspective to offer. In the end, I was really proud of the session I managed to write and deliver. I could see people engaging and responding to what I was saying. The response from my colleagues afterwards was surprisingly positive, and to tell the truth, it made me feel really empowered as a developing teacher.

About a week after that, I had the privilege of presenting the same session to the wonderful teachers of the IH Palermo Language Centre, while being gently cheered on by their lovely Director of Studies, which also did wonders for my confidence. I started to think that perhaps I was capable of presenting on more than one topic, and asked my DoS for ideas for future teacher training sessions – to which he (very wisely) replied that I should wait until I’d finished my Delta Module 2 and then see what took my fancy.

So I came back to school this September, my views on ELT forever changed, and I decided to write a session on getting students to do your prep, inspired by Ken Lackman’s work on the same subject. The ideas were already sketched out in my Delta notes, the slides seemed to magically come together over a weekend, and I talked it through briefly with a colleague. Things seemed to flow. But my former Director of Studies and Senior Teacher weren’t there anymore to coach me forward, and their replacements were busy enough getting to grips with their new jobs without me making extra demands on their time.

When I turned up on the day, ready to deliver my session, I ended up running back from two hours of external classes at the local high school, zig-zagging up and down staircases looking for the room that had been incorrectly entered on my timetable, clutching a pile of coloured paper in one hand and my handwritten notes in the other. Everyone was already inside, waiting, another meeting (that I was unaware of) having ended five minutes before. Scanning the faces in the room, I quickly realised the session had not been advertised as optional, and I’d be presenting to my peers as well as senior teachers and heads of department.

It didn’t feel great, guys. I really wasn’t proud of the way I delivered that session, even though I still feel that the core ideas and materials were solid. I was out of breath, conscious of the clock ticking away as I scrambled to get slides, web pages and paper materials set up. In an English-teaching classroom, it wouldn’t have phased me, but as a fledgling teacher trainer I just didn’t have the experience and self-confidence to pull it off. I spent the rest of the day alone at my desk, deconstructing the mess I had made.

OK, OK, it wasn’t half as bad as I’m making it sound. But it really felt like a huge dip in progress after the comparable success of the first session, and there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it. Teacher training sessions are always going to be at the same time every week, so I’ll always be rushing back from external lessons without any time to turn things around. People will always have meetings that I don’t know about, and it seems like sessions will always be compulsory for my colleagues. I’m always going to be insecure about my teacher training skills, and I’ll always have to present to people with far more experience than me. So how are things ever going to change?

I don’t have an answer yet, but asking the question is the first step. Watch this space!

I’ve forgotten how to do my job!

The first lesson back after the summer break is generally a peculiar beast. Despite teaching several adult classes over the summer, I still came back to school last week feeling like I’d forgotten how to do my job. Apparently I’m not alone, because I walked into the staffroom a full three hours before my first lesson to find that all the other teachers had gotten there before me, to “get stuff sorted”. Even colleagues with several years’ teaching experience reported the same phenomenon: sitting down to plan the first lesson and experiencing that mild panic when ideas don’t seem to come quite as easily as you’d remembered.

Maybe it’s a practical thing. Things just take longer after the summer break. You’ve forgotten the photocopier code, the young learner coursebooks have been moved upstairs, and the speakers in your classroom just refuse to work so you have to get someone up to fix them, or else rewrite that bottom-up listening lesson you were planning to do. Your three-hour jumpstart on that first lesson has somehow dwindled into thirty minutes, and now you’ve finally remembered your photocopier code but where did you leave your pencil case? Has anyone seen it? Guys?

It’s easy to blame those first-day-back nerves on logistical hiccups, but I suspect that at least part of it is emotional. We’ve had a long summer break, with far too much time to analyse and, more often than not, deconstruct our teaching from the previous year. How did my PET classes get on in their June exam session? Should I be doing more bottom-up listening practice with my teens? How can I move towards using more student-generated materials this year? Underlying all those questions is a genuine desire to develop, combined with the insidious whisperings of Imposter Syndrome. You don’t know how to do your job. Last year was a fluke, and in fact, so was all of your prior teaching experience – look, it’s taken you forty minutes just to plan this first lesson …

It’s funny that even after doing Delta M2 and receiving extensive feedback stating quite the opposite, I still feel like a fraud in teacher’s clothing to a certain extent. Does Imposter Syndrome ever go away? Or does it just mean I still care (too much) about my job? Answers on the back of postcard, please, especially if you’re an experienced teacher reading this blog post!

Luckily for me, past-Sanchia had anticipated future-Sanchia having teacher’s block in September, and had left future-Sanchia all seven of past-Sanchia’s lesson-planning books from the year before, safe in her locker, ready to copy from should future-Sanchia need them. Future-Sanchia did, of course, need them, and found herself repeating quite a few of last year’s tried-and-tested first lesson ideas, which present-Sanchia is currently writing up for a future blog post.

And if you’ve made it this far, leave me a comment and let me know how your first lessons are going!