Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Failures

After watching this amazing Failure Fest from the latest IATEFL Conference, (which was lots of fun BTW) I couldn't stop thinking that I should write a blog about my failures as a teacher and what I have learned from them.
I remember two particular cases.
Some years ago, when I was still working at a language school in my neighborhood, I got a mixed-ability, mixed-ages class (second year German). First of all the school owner refused to have two separate classes because of the limited number of students, a few people learn German anyway so why bother and pay the teacher extra, but this is another matter and I shouldn't get into it right now.
My problem was not that I had to deal with two different age-groups. It had to do with discipline. The two teenagers (15-16) I had in class were extremely "lively" (I don't want to express myself with more "powerful" words)
They were not interested at all in the language, although I tried and tried to come up with new activities that could intrigue them. They never did homework, they never wanted to participate in any kind of game, exercise etc. All they did was noise, laughter and mocking the other kids.
I tried to deal with it on my own, read books on discipline techniques, talked with the school owner, talked with the parents, who admitted that they couldn't even discipline their children  themselves and that they were both "thrown out"of a couple of schools already.
School year ended without any result or progress, I don't know what happened to these children, because they changed schools again the next year.
I consider it a personal failure because I believe that I could have done more for these children, if I had searched deeper.
Second failure is when we started a class blog. I was all enthusiastic about blogging, I created one with my students. The mistake I made was gibe them free access to write whatever they want! As a result, instead of doing their "homework", they used the page for chatting!!!!!
This was of course something I could correct. So I deleted their free blog and let them use mine for publishing assignments and articles ONLY and this was a big success.
What I wanted to say is that of course we ALL make mistakes. It's only human. How we use these failure experiences is what defines us as teachers and as a person!!!


Marisa Constantinides said...

Great and honest post, Theodora, thanks so much for sharing - I always feel like you and feel for you; any failure in the learners I see it as my failure, too


Theodora Pap said...

Thank you for the response Ms Marisa. I always try to do my best when it comes to students, not only as a teacher but also as a friend. It bothers me e lot when I can't help them!

tomrandolph said...

Hi Theodora -- Isn't it terrible when we see students leave our classroom for the last time, without any visible development???? makes me sick.

You made me wonder, though -- in your second case, were your students chatting in English? I'm not so sure that would be a bad thing -- did you ever work with that 'emergent' language, or the topics they raised? That might have been one way to turn a 'surprise' into a positive?

I ask because I've been blogging about using twitter and a blog with writing students this semester ( and findd myselff ddoing a bit of both - controlled and independent tasks. Curious - thanks!

Theodora Pap said...

It would have been nice if they used English while chatting, but they were using "Greeklish" (writing Greek using the English alphabet) which is even worse! I have read your posts - I mostly work with children, or early teens, so I don't really know if it is a good idea to have them use Twitter for chats. Maybe it's something I have to think over and develop during the summer! Thanks for taking the time to respond!

Tom Randolph said...

Maybe they could use other chat tools, like instant messengers?

Theodora Pap said...

From my personal experience there will always be someone who will use Greek if it is uncontrolled! But the idea is something I could consider for my next year's classes! Thank you!

Pete MacKichan said...

Hi Theodora,

I'm, not sure that I see the failure here; lack of success is not the same as failure.

In the first case you were put in a position where you could not succeed - you did what you could but the situation couldn't be rescued. Why worry about it? When I was a kid at school I was pretty determined not to learn things I had no interest in - no teacher, no technique, no approach could have made the slightest impact. The few teachers who were foolish or arrogant enough to believe that they could get through to me made particularly satisfying victims.

I would say that your only failure was thinking that there was a solution, that somehow it would be possible to treat the two teenagers in a way that led them to do their homework and take part in the class. It might have been better to exclude them from the class so that their behaviour didn't affect the learning of the other students - in that situation I would have given them their money back and told them to go elsewhere.

Theodora Pap said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! In my case it was not possible to tell them to go, since I was not the owner of the school. I think that our job as teachers is not only to teach the language, but also to motivate students and make them interested. Of course there will always be lost cases and I have learned to cope with that too!