Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Ask any language student where they feel the majority of classroom time should be spent and you will get a variety of answers. Students who have grown up in a more traditional educational system may believe that teachers should be at the front of the classroom running exercises based on grammar and lexical structures. Others advocate for more language usage such as conversational groups or essay writing. Whatever their reason, what students feel is important and what is actually going to help them is often disconnected. There are a those who are going to argue that students need to be in control of their language learning of which I would whole-heartedly agree. Anyone who has spent time in my TESL training classes would hear me push for a more learner-centred classroom based on each student’s needs. What that means is that we need to be helping guide them through the process of finding what they do need, not what they have trained to believe they need. Often times, the reasons they choose one system or method of learning over another is simply related to something cultural or familiar. Even the way we approach teaching is strongly influenced by what has happened in our past.

This is where my journey as a language teacher began. I drew from what I understood to be the way that someone learned a language, even though my TESL training had told me otherwise. Why? It could be I was afraid to try something different, or maybe I thought I WAS making a change, only to find that I was just putting a different coat of paint on the same old house. Was that wrong? For the most part, yes. Did my students learn something? Certainly, but I could have done so much more to help them achieve their goals.

That time seems so long ago and my classroom looks much different than it did on that first day. The fear is that what I have now is the new normal. Because of that, I am committed to ongoing (or continuous) professional development. What does that look like? I am still working on that, but for now it involves communicating with other teachers through conferences, face-to-face meetings, seminars, webinars, social media such as Twitter and Facebook, etc. It also includes reading books, journals, and blogs related, directly or indirectly, to my field. Lastly, I evaluate my teaching through peer-to-peer observation, student-teacher sessions, and action research projects. Of course, I can’t do all of those things all of the time, but these are actually scheduled into my calendar to continually remind me that I need to stay on task.

That is where this blog comes into play. I know that I will never become famous teaching, nor will I ever make fortune giving presentations and writing books, but that shouldn’t keep what I learn to myself. There are times I will be off base and I expect that others will gently (and sometimes not so gently) guide me back on track. I expect that. In fact, I encourage it. I am not the most eloquent writer or speaker, but that shouldn’t stop me from doing either of those things. This is what I expect of my students and if it has been shown to be successful for them, it can only help me as well. I choose to put myself out there for the sake of my learning and for the greater good of the field. I don’t expect a lot of visitors, but for those that come, I would appreciate any feedback you may have to give. In return, I hope that you are able to glean something from what I am offering, possibly even challenge you a bit.

Which leads me back to the language classroom. The topics for this blog will be focused primarily on what others in the field have said or done regarding language teaching. Sometimes I will agree, other times I will challenge their viewpoints. I don’t do that to disrespect them or to lift myself up by pushing others down, but I simply want to show that there are other ways of viewing things. I will attempt to do this in the most respectful way I can so as not to cause someone to be hurt by my comments. I want to critique without being critical. I fear that this age of open communication of which social media is king has led our society to elevate those who are critical of the establishment. It hurts me to see those on Twitter and Facebook who choose to be critical of seemingly everything just because they feel that this is the only way to create change. What happened to personal differences or methods? I feel that in our haste to break away form the norm and make changes to the way things are done, we have given way to another norm that says those who use that method or support that group through using their products, etc. are bad. We are taking away the very thing we are fighting for, that is, an individuals right to choose what they feel is best based on their understanding of the situation. No, it might not be correct or best, much like what I was mentioning earlier about my students, but I don’t belittle them because of that. I honour their ability to choose and listen to them in order to gain their respect and help them in the future.

I have mentioned this before; there are two rules in my classroom from which everything is measured: have fun and respect one another. So many things fall under those two simple statements. I wish I could say the same for how we treat one another as professionals. I also hope that I am giving each of you the respect you deserve. You have earned it. I hope I can earn your respect as well.

Thank you.

10 thoughts on “Respecting

  1. Hi Nathan,

    Spot-on with this post for many reasons. Respect is something my dad constantly repeated to us when we were little, that is why your title stood out so much for me. “Respect for others. Please don’t carry your bad mood and load it on others. Careful how you speak to people.”

    Taking it all form the beginning: first of all, I was like that too at the beginning of my career – I did everything I had learned at university, thinking that if I diverted, I was doing something wrong. When I did start diverting though and adjusting to every single student’s style and individuality, I realised I was showing them respect.

    I have never ever insulted a student – I tend not to carry my own problems in the classroom. Because I might have a problem, doesn’t mean my students are interested or I can justifiably blow up at them. Which you mention again as another side of respect.

    What you mention about people on social media especially being disrespectful to one another, either about differences in approaches and so on, was the boom! moment. I think that in general, there is a welcoming and warm community of teachers out there. Unfortunately there is that minority that you mention: they think that because they are not face to face with people, they can just go ahead and insult them. I am not saying it should always be back-patting and sunshine, because then it would be pretentious.

    There will be disagreement and it is welcome. The point is, how is this disagreement expressed? Many are the times when someone has disagreed with me but that has pushed my thinking and challenged me. Most of the times, I am happy to say, it was civicilised. However, a couple of months ago I was downright offended by someone and couldn’t understand why. No respect at all, just disagreement and it grew daily, to the point that even if I said “good morning”, that person would be there ready to pounce. Thankfully, that is the only instance I have had these four years and it is not the usual case. I realised when I couldn’t reason with that person and they were there just to be toxic, they were removed from every network I was connected to them.

    Respect! How important and good on you for writing on it. Your students are very fortunate to have a teacher who respects them! A great environment for sure.

    (Sorry for my long comment.)

    Best wishes,

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. I appreciate the feedback so much.

      I am sorry that you had to go through such a difficult situation with this person. I am glad you were able to disconnect yourself from them. In situations like that, I often find myself fighting myself too much. I am worried that I am running away from the situation or I am fighting what they are saying because I am too stubborn. The truth is often that it is not the content so much as the spirit in which it is given. Just as you are, I am also open to being wrong and being corrected by others, but what I don’t need is to be put down as person because of it. Bravo to you for seeing that in this situation and finding ways to make the changes necessary for you to deal with it.

      Thank you for being a part of my growth as a teacher. I respect you for sharing your knowledge and expertise with others. On behalf of the broader ELT community, I thank you for building us up instead of tearing us down.

      1. Thanks, Nathan!

        I really think it is easy to be nice and respect other people’s opinions. As I said, most of the time, or rather, the greatest portion of the time, people are amazing and civilised.

        Thank you so much as well!

        Best wishes,

  2. New blog? Nice. I like the sentiment.

    Everything you say is true. I wouldn’t argue. I wonder where it stems from though. My experience of the teaching community online has been almost to the other end of respectful i.e. over-patting on the back, a fear of any type of criticism. I welcome the critical, but as you say, respectfully and with solid points. I can rarely cite, however, instances of interactions that were purely disrespectful, except maybe the odd one or two, nothing worth remembering.

    I look forward to reading new things from you. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Tyson. As always, you have such insightful things to say.

      I guess my thought is about the broader community. I feel we need to always be critical of this methodology, or policy, etc. in order to be recognized by others. I don’t want to get into pointing fingers, but many of the people who have large numbers of followers only tweet negative things. It might be about those who do or don’t use technology in the classroom and how that is being used or not being used. It might be about textbooks or tests or whatever else is the target of the moment. Rarely is it targeted at one individual (unless they are a large company or a policy maker), but often times I feel like these individuals forget that there are many who ‘follow’ them that feel these are valid ways of teaching etc. Would they say these things to these people face to face? I doubt it, although I feel some would. I think you can say things without being hurtful. I think that is what I am trying to say.

      Don’t get me wrong. I have been guilty of this as well. I wish I could take some of those comments back, but that is the nature of social media. I know I need to be more careful with what I say in order to not bring harm to others. I should be building others up, not tearing them down. I’m not advocating the overly ‘nicey-nice’ comments that don’t really mean anything, but a true balance of “good jobs” along with times of gentle critique and or questioning.

      Anyway, I am babbling again. I do want to thank you Tyson for being an encouragement to me over the past year and half that I have known you. Your posts are great and I think you have a good balance of being real and still being professional. You serve our ELT community well and I look forward to learning alongside you for years to come.

      1. Thanks, Nathan, for the comments about my style. Reading over your points, I can hear myself (or cite myself?) posting statuses about coursebooks, etc. and wonder whether it may be ones like this that you refer to. On the other hand, I did remark that I would say it in person too. Of course, I don’t hide behind a moniker or anything online, so perhaps I see little difference in the platform.

        Although I never aim to make someone feel badly about what they like or value on purpose, I can see that perhaps that may be the result. However, I say the things I do because I want to influence others, open a dialogue, hear why someone disagrees, and so on, not to bash.

      2. I really think the spirit in which you do things does not come across as accusatory. You are direct, but not hurtful. I think the biggest thing is that you do listen and you reply in a professional and building manner. You also balance that with positive comments which show you are willing to give praise when appropriate.

        I can’t see anything that would require you to change the way you approach things online. You are someone I would point at as a model of how to conduct yourself in a public forum. It shows in the way that others see you and show you respect. You are not who I was thinking of when writing this.

  3. Hi Nathan,

    Your byline about ongoing training reminds me of a description I once heard about a tree (which applies to other living things, too): it only stops growing when it’s dead. I agree wholeheartedly with you that teachers should be the same way. If we ever reach the stage where we think we don’t need to improve, something is wrong!

    It was two summers ago that I first became very active online, connecting with other teachers primarily through Twitter. I like that I can connect with other ESL/EFL teachers like you who are expanding their horizons. For me, I often feel quite isolated as the only ESL teacher in my building.

    I agree with Tyson that sometimes on Twitter, it’s like preaching to the choir where those who interact most frequently are not likely to be overly critical or hold you accountable for sub-par performance in the classroom. My opinion is that it takes a deeper relationship, developed over time where trust can be built up first before most people will be willing to call someone out.

    I think the format of a blog like yours allows for deeper reflections and a level of interaction that goes beyond a Tweet limited to 140 characters. That’s why I applaud you for sticking your neck out there and doing what you encourage your own students to do by writing out your thoughts. I promise to respectfully provide feedback whenever I can, and I hope we can mutually push each others’ thinking forward.

    1. Thank you so much for you comments. I agree with you that we are fairly kind to one another when we deal with each other directly, although I have seen some pretty heated discussions on Twitter at times.

      As I said to Tyson, I think the problem comes from a more general attitude that paints anyone with this or that viewpoint as being bad. I see it in the general public when it comes to topics such as politics or any other polarizing issue. The problem, I feel, is that we don’t take time to listen. As a result, we tend to alienate or marginalize others who don’t agree with us or our group. Sad, but quite often true. I wish we would just take a step back and look at the larger picture. In this case, how do our students feel? Are they learning? Do they feel supported? To me, those seem to be the bigger picture.

      Feel free to comment without fear of judgement on my part. I appreciate anything you have to share. I want to learn from you and the others I meet online. You are my support team. Keep me in line. Encourage me when I feel down. Put me in my place when I overstep my bounds. I need it, and I want it.

      Thanks again, Shaeley. Don’t be a stranger. 🙂

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