Dear Me – to my #youngerteacherself

30 Mar

Dear David,

It’s been almost fifteen years since you started teaching.  In fact I think at this point back in 2002 you were busy trying to complete the IH London CELTA pre-course task and trying to make sure you had enough cash for the course fee.  If I remember rightly, the original plan was about five years?

Well, here we are now and it’s been a bit longer than that.  I’m writing to you because, well, it’s mostly Joanna’s fault because she started it, but you can also blame Sandy as that’s where I saw the first of these posts; retrospective letters to our past selves – tips and advice across the years of experience.

I’m tempted to say “Don’t change a thing!”  I like where I am now and what I’m doing now and all of the people that I’m with.  I worry that my advice will act as a causality loop in the space-time continuum and that when I click “publish” on this post, that this iteration of me will disappear to be replaced by one where I am either ruler of the known Teflverse, or where I gave the whole thing up and went back to the office job I started teaching to escape.  Of course that would create a paradox in which I never sent you the advice in the first place – so we’ll probably be alright…

When I think back now to the things you struggled with on that CELTA course and in those first few years of teaching, there are probably a few things I’d suggest.

1) Take your head out of the books more.  You have a tendency to focus in on the material that’s in front of you, to look at the pages of the book and spend hours figuring out how to make it work.  Remember the 50% rule (which I think Nick K. will tell you in about six months) and try not to spend more than 50% of lesson time in the planning and preparation.  Also, just try to not teach the book so much?  You can use the book as a syllabus if you want, a guide to what language to teach and in what order, but you don’t necessarily need to teach the book.  After all, you are meant to be teaching the students.

2)  It’s OK to not know and it’s OK to tell the class “we’ll come back to that later”.  (As long as you do).  Especially if you’re being observed (and yes I am thinking of one or two very specific situations you’ll come up against soon).  Ignorance is not a crime, but refusing to acknowledge your ignorance is.  If a student asks you about the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for modality – confess you have no idea what they’re going on about!  It will at least stop the tutor at the back of the room from holding his head in his hands and weeping…

3) Get out and about more.  This will be difficult in some places because of your timetable, but you are going to spend a lot of time in some fantastic places and you will regret it later if you don’t take advantage of them.

4) Do more of the things you want to do.  You will run around a lot thinking things like “I don’t have time for this” and “I can’t do that because I need that hour for something else.”  This is foolishness.  You still think like that now, but you’re slowly getting better at not doing it.  If you mostly do the things you want to do, you will find that the things you have to do get done anyway – probably to the same standard as they would have done had you given them more time, but with less procrastination involved.

5) Start blogging.  Now.  I mean it.  OK, I’ve just checked and WordPress won’t be released for another year and you are about to disappear behind the Great Firewall of China for two years, so you’re off the hook for now, but as soon as you get to Poland, you need to start blogging.  You will discover a fantastic community of ELT teachers, thinkers and writers.  You will find that writing about it helps clarify your own thinking on a number of teaching aspects.  Basically, you’ll really enjoy it…

There’s probably more I could say, but these things are really the only things that feel important enough to write down.  So it’s off down to the inter-dimensional post office for me, and if the world hasn’t melted by the time I get back, then we’ll know that either (a) time travel doesn’t really work, (b) time travel does work, but in so doing all you really do is add another layer to the multi-verse, (c) you didn’t listen to a word of it…..

Take care  (and don’t eat the sea cucumbers!  They’re disgusting!)




11 Responses to “Dear Me – to my #youngerteacherself”

  1. joannamalefaki Monday 30 March 2015 at 16:05 #

    Hi David,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I loved the sentence about ignorance. I totally agree! When I started teaching, I thought that if I said, ” I don’t know” ,my students would automatically think that I wasn’t a good teacher. I am ashamed to admit that I would actually either ignore the question (act as if I didn’t hear it) or turn red and go through grammar books or dictionaries during class like a maniac. Now, after so many years of teaching, I say, ” I don’t know this. I will find the info and let you know later”. My students are fine with it!! It’s OK to not know…..
    Thanks for writing and btw what on earth is a sea cucumber?!?!?!

    • David Petrie Monday 30 March 2015 at 16:19 #

      Hi Joanna,

      Thank you! Yes, I think initially I thought I was meant to have all the answers, all of the time. It was quite liberating to be able to say “let me check that out and get back to you.”

      A sea cucumber is a sort of cross between a slug and a caterpillar that lives in the oceans and is considered a delicacy in China. They look dodgy and taste worse!

      All the best,

      • joannamalefaki Monday 30 March 2015 at 16:26 #

        Oh! OK, so it’s a worm… yeah, avoid it :p
        Thanks again for writing.

  2. Sandy Millin Monday 30 March 2015 at 16:50 #

    “Ruler of the known Teflverse”: now there’s a job title! 🙂
    I’m happy to be at least partly to blame for this post – thanks for making me smile, and good luck with number 4. Tasks expand to fill the time available for them…

    • David Petrie Monday 6 April 2015 at 14:10 #

      Thanks Sandy!
      Number 4 is always a bit of a fight against the machine – still working on being paid to do exactly what I want to do…. getting there slowly…..


  3. English Expressions Wednesday 1 April 2015 at 02:26 #

    This was such a nice blog post to read! I especially loved what you wrote about not knowing. I’m still relatively new at this, so when a student would ask me a complicated grammar question that I didn’t quite know how to answer, I would feel so embarrassed. But I find students appreciate when you’re honest and take the extra time to help them understand. I just need to remind myself that it’s okay not to know all the answers! This is just what I needed to read. Thank you. 🙂

    • David Petrie Monday 6 April 2015 at 14:12 #

      Hi Katie,
      thanks for commenting! In teaching, as in many things, honesty is the best policy. Unless you’re teaching young learners who want to know what certain scatological terms mean, in which case I pretend ignorance! Good luck with it!

  4. punster30 Thursday 2 April 2015 at 13:43 #

    Great post. Wish I’d never tried sea cucumber too. And the whole ‘I’ll get back to you’ thing rings true. I need to say this or do this more as I have those cringeworthy moments in class!

  5. teachingbattleground Saturday 4 April 2015 at 08:52 #

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


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    […] David Petrie’s post can be found here […]

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    […] Sandy Millin, Angelos Bollas, Zhenya Polosatova, Fiona, Phil Wade, Mike Griffin, Sophia Khan, David Petrie, Ageliki Asteri, T. Veigga, […]

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