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Update since July 2020. Part 1. Teaching (and Coaching)

It’s been a while since I last posted anything here. After My Teaching Journey, which was notoriously difficult to write, I toyed with several drafts, but they are still as they were – unfinished. And never mind that I haven’t spent a day without thinking about this blog and what I want of it. Making content plans, schemes interlinking articles and taking notes on my ideas… Somehow, I couldn’t bring it to life. Now, I hope, I know what to do.

From the very beginning I wanted two main topics in this blog – teaching and learning. I needed a place to consolidate and share my teaching experience. And to reflect on my learning experience, because I’m interested in many things and my mind never stops analysing the way I do them and how to do them better. Reflecting helps me learn better.

So, I’ll made an update on both. I’ll start with teaching because it’s still my main occupation. Then I’ll write about my learning experience, which for now is happening in five dimensions: data analytics, languages, productivity, dance and reading. Let’s go.


Bit of crisis

Over the last several years my teaching had been in a sort of crisis after CELTA. Not a fundamental one, but I started having doubts about myself as a teacher and whether I should be doing it. I worked too much and burned out. It was a funny feeling – I come to the class, and I know what to do. We talk with the students, and I enjoy the process. We laugh, we share ideas, opinions and experience. But the class is finished, and doubts start creeping up. Was it a good lesson? Was it productive? Could we have done more? Shouldn’t I be looking for materials and activities that would resonate better with this student? And where to find the energy to do that? Or is it just not where my place is? Why do I get so tired?

With the pandemic and classes moved online I miscalculated the workload I could manage. At first it seemed easy – finally I didn’t have to rush between offices and schools all day. Just sit in front of the monitor and talk. But, as it turned out, working for three-four hours almost without breaks is not an option for me. No idea, how other teachers do it.

I got to feel it to the full in December 2020. My head got so overloaded that my working memory wouldn’t retain what my student said two minutes ago. That was scary, because usually I remember not only the content of one lesson, but of several of them – what was said and done. Something needed to be changed.

Language Coaching Course

By January I’d been searching how to change the format of my classes to move from regular teaching to something like consultations or mentoring, where I could work with a particular request rather than lead a person from lesson to lesson. The whole idea was to help people become autonomous learners. So they would come to me to identify what to work on independently, and how. And then they would go away, do it and come back with results and new questions. Something like a huge homework where they would learn to develop all their language skills without a teacher, and then come to activate new vocab and hone their speaking skills.

And while I was thinking how to present this new format and where to find first students/clients, I came across a course on language coaching that combined it with neuroscience. It sounded very much like what I wanted to do. Plus that intriguing buzz word ‘neuroscience’. And even though I had some second thoughts, doubts and apprehensions that it would bring even more chaos into my not then structured system of teaching, I signed up.

The course took four weeks in January-February. In general, it was nice but left quite a lot of questions. Of 12 sessions only the last two or three were dedicated to show how the method works on ongoing sessions. The rest was spent on general coaching principles, introduction to neuroscience and the first session. So I couldn’t grasp how the method was ‘so different’ from the communicative approach and what really made it ‘effective and efficient’.

My critical thinking wouldn’t just take and accept the introduced method without breaking it into pieces and analysing each of them. I still needed more information – about coaching techniques, the brain, existing teaching methodologies and approaches. There were also some points that I couldn’t agree with, like not using books.

By the end of the course I was again exhausted (there was obviously something wrong with my energy levels). However, although my apprehensions were justified, I finally understood how my background (and interest) in psychology could be used in teaching to my advantage. That gave a kind of inspiration and a new perspective on how I could organise my work. I also understood that what I had been using intuitively was actually quite nicely aligned with the coaching approach, I just didn’t know about it.

More information

So, because I wasn’t satisfied with the information from the course and was confused by all that neuroscience talk, I went to explore language coaching further.

Surprisingly, even though Wikipedia says that the term ‘language coaching’ has been in use since the beginning of the 21st century (that is almost 20 years!), I managed to find only three books on the market about it. One was by the author of the course, which left two more to familiarise myself with. And I ended up with having three different views of what language coaching is.

I hope to write a review/ summary of the books a bit later, so I’ll just leave here the main ideas from them.

The first was Coaching For Language Learning. My first impression of it wasn’t very favourable. I was a bit lost in the structure and reading the same ideas again and again. But the main point is to use some techniques from Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and change the way people think about their language skills. That should give them more confidence to use what they know, and more motivation to keep learning. Something like this.

The other book is called From English Teacher to Learner Coach, which made much more sense to me. The author’s idea was to encourage students to use English instead of just learn it in the classroom. It also had a selection of forty or so activities to try out with learners to help them understand what works for them in language learning and how to use it for real. I had seen this idea before as something like ‘English for life’ or ‘Live in English’, but in the book it very really well presented and developed.

In August, I found another mentor/ teacher on IG talking about language coaching and offering yet another approach, Language Leading together with Microlearning, and her own courses at a surprisingly reasonable price. I’ve watched several live streams with the lady and I really like her calm and professional composure. She does create the impression that she knows the subject really well and is ready to tackle any questions within it. Maybe I’ll take her courses as well, but later.

Interesting, how the pandemic has jumpstarted the whole online ESL industry. It’s now huge, with online courses of all imaginable formats and types. More and more teacher are becoming entrepreneurs and content creators. It seems that now it’s not enough to just teach groups or individuals. What is fashionable is a whole line of products/ courses actively promoted on Instagram. And there’s a feeling that otherwise it will be increasingly difficult to stay afloat.

Anyway, looking at those teachers gave me a lot of food for thought. Do I need my Instagram account? Does it make sense to try and create a course? Or start a club? For now I’m just thinking.

More reflecting on my teaching experience and more writing

So almost four months after the course I started to have more understanding of what language coaching was. I thought I was ready to put the bits of the newly acquired knowledge together and restructure my approach. I just needed to reflect more on my previous experience.

Interesting that with my actual classes I had little questions. I’d tried several coaching techniques back in the winter and given my students more responsibility for their learning process. We set goals and were working towards them. With new students it was also clear what to do and how to do it. So my need to ‘restructure my approach’ was more about bringing more conceptual clarity for myself. And looking for more theory to justify what I was doing in my classes.

It was middle of June. Accidentally I caught inspiration and sat to write down some ideas in Russian. A month and a half later I ended up posting two ‘sagas’ – How I Learnt English in 5 parts and About Teaching in 6, all of them adding up to about 60 pages (still in Russian).

It was an interesting experience that highlighted how I feel and think differently in different languages. Because here I also wrote about my teaching experience and thought that would be enough. But it wasn’t. There were deeper feelings and more complex ideas of my core Russian self to explore.

In general, writing those 60 pages was a kind of therapy. I feel better about both my English and my teaching. If I managed to write so much about my experience, there’s definitely a lot of it. Now it’s not just 15 years of work. It’s a ton of lessons learnt from mistakes, lessons analysed and thoroughly reflected on. It’s also about observing the process of learning English over time in myself and many students across several levels. And discovering mechanisms that guide this process.

Then I tried to continue my channel on a Russian content platform called Zen and published five articles. I thought I could use them for marketing purposes as the platform automatically shows new posts to potential readers. But it seems there’s a mismatch between my writing style and the entertaining purpose of the platform. For now, I’m unable to write 350 to 500 words posts as it doesn’t serve my purposes. So I put the channel on hold.

All those writing endeavours helped my gain more insights into my style and my writing capabilities. For example, I really like to put things in a chronological order (as this post shows very well). But I tend to go off topic and pick up stories, details and comments only distantly related to the main idea. And I’m much more confident in using figurative language in Russian that in English. And I can’t write every day as it takes too much energy.

As my writing helps me observe how my mind works, I’m learning more and more about my type of thinking. And it seems I can be really good at conjuring up different meta categories and using them to understand, analyse and influence different processes. As well as applying systems thinking and critical thinking to the world around me. Obviously, I’ll need to develop and refine those skills, but I’m getting increasingly curious where it can lead me.

Summing up

It was a good year in the comfort of my home with a lot of free time on my hands. Time which I used to understand myself better instead of pushing myself to live up to the plans I created. Time which I much needed for many years.

What I intended to do last year didn’t happen, but now I understand that it couldn’t have happened. I had wrong understanding of how much time my plans really may take to be realised. And this is a very important discovery. Hopefully, I’m becoming more realistic in my planning.

My teaching self is back, alive and very well rested. I’ve found a way to combine my interest in psychology, my teaching experience and my way of thinking. I’m going to call it language coaching for a while, and what will happen next, we’ll see.

Now let’s go to the update on my learning experiences =)

Cover image by Dorothe from Pixabay

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