Doing What Works For You

teachingThroughout my teaching career, I’ve often found myself  in what I term, “the rut”.  Not bored of teaching nor unexcited but rather teaching without any “spice” and just going through the motions.  Settled is what I call it.  Finding myself feeling like I’ve figured it out and knowing exactly what I’m doing and how to do it. Finding myself in a house with a solid frame and foundation – even inviting in others and showing how I’ve made such a great home.

So you are probably asking, “what’s so wrong with that?”  My answer, “everything and nothing.”

Teaching is what can be termed, “transactional”.  There is no daily recipe or any day the same. It consists of hundreds of hourly human, so human encounters and decisions. Teachers need a strong belief system that can underpin and guide their activity which appears so chaotic and otherwise would be so chaotic. But there is a danger, a danger that we just “stop believing”, that we teachers feel like we know our beliefs, this is how it works and should be and that’s it … pass the mustard please, next customer.  I don’t think this should be the case, we need to continually refine our teaching belief system, continually be creating our own system.

Thoreau said we must all follow the beat of our own drummer. Exactly. And we do so by continually listening to the beat of that drummer, our drummer,  day in and day out. Not that of anyone else.   We have so many “this is the way to teach” methods, so many principles and precepts, so many that want black and white answers for what they do as teachers day in and day out. As a teacher trainer, I’ve gone from telling to just showing what works for me and insisting that teachers figure things out for themselves, on the ground and in their classrooms. The worst thing we can do as a teacher is to swallow whole hog the newest trend, the latest PD topic, the philosophy and advice of our latest certificate, course, trainer or professor.  Do what works, test and try.  Continually create your own system – that’s the only way.

And I’m not advocating wrapping this up as being “post method”.  That would defeat the purpose.  The philosophy of teaching that espouses that each teacher continually develop and listen with their ear to the ground (not a head in the ground or above the clouds), this philosophy doesn’t fit in a box or come with a label. It just is a way of being and a way of teaching.

Go forth, keep doing what works, even if all the researchers and PhDs say it doesn’t work. You alone, as the classroom teacher have the authority to say what works. I’m going forth and making some changes over the summer. I’ll let you know more about them soon.  Got to deal with that rut and do what works for me.



Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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4 Responses

  1. bnleez says:

    I look at learning and teaching additional languages as being too complex to resolve one’s thinking to an answer like “this is the way to teach”. Sure, question others who say this about how others should teach, but question yourself for saying the same about your own practice. My advice would be to read the literature (because it is important); be mindful of your own practice through reflection, especially adoption, and adaption; and share successes and challenges with others, openly and with currency (e.g., a dialtectic). Bring these three elements together by looking for relevant patterns that help one’s planning, instruction, and assessment going forward.

  2. ddeubel says:


    Yep. I like your emphasis on looking inward and just as we ask our students to work at becoming more self correcting and to notice their own language – teachers should do the same and develop in this way. This goes for older, experienced teachers as well as those that are new.

  3. Daniel K says:

    A very interesting post. On one hand, we (or should I say “I”) want to feel like an authoritative teacher who knows what he’s doing, who understands the methods he’s using, who can answer the “why” to the “what” he does in class… but does that mean I’m in a “rut?” Does that mean I have to change everything I’m doing?

    Two things have got me thinking about these issues.

    First, is a seminar recording shared by the British Council. It shows Jim Scrivener presenting on something new he and his colleague have termed “Demand High.” He claims it’s not a method or an anti-method, but rather has something to say about every method. He likens it to that iconic scene in The Matrix, when Neo has to choose whether he wants the blue pill or the red pill. I’ve only watched the first two segments, but once things calm down at work, I want to watch the next two segments.

    And second, and more personally, I received… well, not a complaint per se, but some input from a teacher with whom I share a conversation class. He didn’t say how many students shared this, but the students aspire to a more “lively” conversation class, and perhaps I focus on the coursebook too much. I found this a bit odd, as last week I only used the book a bit, since I had developed my own role-play (complete with role cards) to practice fluency and the lexical area we had been looking at. But, it gets me reflecting, and maybe I shouldn’t be so comfortable in my “house.”

  4. David Deubelbeiss says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Now a year late (but never too late) in reply. But doing so given I heard Jim Scrivener in person describe what “Demand High” is all about and got to share some time with him after the conference.

    I’d be interested to know what you think about what he describes as “not a method or approach, just good teaching”. I think he’d approve of this post and that what teachers need more than anything is the freedom to teach, to focus on students’ needs and spend more time making sure they “learned” and not just covering content and pages and feeling that our job is done. He’d also approve of your own beliefs and focus more on language. Providing instruction is part of good teaching and too often we (or as insisted upon by admin like in your case) to just “keep ‘em talkin'”.

    I was very sceptical of Jim’s ideas (partly because of the title but he also admitted the name is problematic) but really surprised how I was nodding throughout his presentation and generally in agreement with his “feelings” of what’s missing in many of our classrooms. In your case, I’d argue for being subversive. Meaning, throw in the conversation focus but when you can, however you can, do your own thing too ….

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