I used to make resolutions about my English teaching processes not yearly, but WEEKLY. Okay sometimes even HOURLY.
Every time Sunday night rolled around with the crushing need to lesson plan, I vowed to plan my lessons further ahead next week. Every time I spent the 20 minutes before class frantically trying to hunt down an exercise I had already used many times before (with no luck) I vowed to keep better track of my work. Every time I gave up planning altogether and decided to 'wing it' during class, I felt guilty knowing my students deserved better than that, and vowed to do better next time.
I had the best of intentions—so why did these problems persist, week after week? Why couldn't I get a handle on things? Was I the only teacher working this hard and barely treading water?
I felt like I was already giving my students so much of my out-of-class time, my UNPAID time. And as much as I was pulling for their success, my schedule was pulling me too thin. I couldn't afford to take on less classes, just to give me the time to do all the work required to get my business in order. So I circled back around to my own bad habits. After only a few days, I gave up. Again.
I now can see that the problem wasn't me. The problem was that every solution I could come up with involved hours of work, notebooks, copies, binders & spreadsheets just to start the system and even more time to maintain it.
I feel bad for that harried teacher, and wished I could have known then what I know now.
So today, I want to talk about the 5 resolutions YOU'RE probably making on a weekly—hell, daily basis. And the 6th resolution that is the easiest one to keep, and helps you keep all the rest.
I often joke that teaching English is like tap dancing, especially at the lower levels where you really have to elicit with your body, your face, your gestures. It can be exhausting, but if you have the temperament for it, it can also be super fun. All that fun goes away when you are unrehearsed, unprepared. I used to get nerves in my belly, the feeling that I was a fraud, when I stood in front of that class without a plan.
"Can they tell I'm winging it?" I'd think, stalling to do a deep dive into the origins of a random English idiom. Their faces were confused. The clock ticked slower. I lost the thread.
On rare occasions, some forgiving, lesson-planning fairy let me slide and the hastily planned lesson went off without a hitch. But those were rare. More often than not, a lesson I'd planned at the last minute resulted in a waste of time for us both.
So, in the new year, I vow to plan each lesson ahead of time, respecting my students' needs and the path we've set out for their growth.
Want to know how to totally automate lesson planning? Keep reading.
This sounds like an insane resolution to pretty much everyone. But YOU, my dear EFL teacher, know exactly what I mean.
How many times have you planned that same Present Perfect lesson? How many times have you rummaged through a shelf full of textbooks 20 minutes before a lesson, trying to find the same exercise you've used multiple times? How many times have you left a perfectly planned lesson on your home computer and scrambled to recreate it right before class started?
Multiply that by 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Add up those hours of re-planning and look at your calendar for 2018. What else could you do with that time? Take up Taichi? Take on more students and earn more money? Take a daily nap? Make a resolution here and now never to plan the same lesson twice.
We give our students our ALL from the moment class starts until we erase the wipe board—not to mention the hours of planning that take place before they even arrive. Do we really need to keep track of everything we've taught and everything we need to teach?
If you've ever felt like you are correcting the same mistakes over and over again, and your student is just running in place, you know that something has got to change.
Let me tell you how your students see you: to them, you're not just an English speaker who can supply them with the right word when they struggle to express themselves. To them, you are a guru, a shaman, a skilled professional who has the experience and skills to guide them along the path to fluency.
This is so important, and I can't say it enough—your student is not paying you for an hour of your time, they are paying you for an outcome. That outcome does not result from disparate, unconnected lessons you throw together every week.
Lessons with you are, in fact, an investment they've made in their future. The better you help them fulfill that investment, the more you will be respected and recommended and the higher hourly wage you will earn.
So take this vow with me here: I will track my student's progress out of respect for the investment they are making in themselves and in me.
This one is a vow to preserve your own sanity.
Let's get real with ourselves, shall we? That stack of papers on your desk, by your bed, in your bag? The lesson plans, the worksheets, the cut up cards, etc.? You're never going to organize them. You didn't with the last pile and you won't with the next pile. So let's give ourselves the gift of sanity and sweep them mercifully into the trash.
Because really, you'll be a better teacher when you understand that this paper system isn't working for you (don't worry, I've got a system for you that will!) Phew. Now doesn't that feel zen-like?
Wait, is this one even an option? I mean, aren't teachers SUPPOSED to dedicate nights, weekends, and metro rides to planning, organizing and all the other unpaid administrative work required of us?
Uh, sure, if you don't mind your hourly wage being cut in half.
Let's do some simple math: if you make $20 for an hour of teaching, but it takes you another hour to plan, grade, travel to and organize that hour, you're getting paid $10 an hour, not $20.
The solution? Automation.
Automation is nothing exotic. In fact, it's more present than ever. Let me take you back a decade or so...we used to have to go down to the curb and wave down a taxi cab. We used to buy maps at gas stations if we wanted to go on a road trip. And we used to have to find jobs by printing countless resumes on actual PAPER and submitting them IN PERSON to HR drones.
Why the hell are you still doing all the unpaid teaching tasks the hard way?
So, right now I want you to raise your right hand and solemnly vow to stop spending time on non-paid teaching tasks and figure out what you can AUTOMATE. Because time is money. Because you are worth it, and your students are worth having a teacher who is well-compensated.
I know what you're thinking—you'd love nothing more than taking these vows with me. It sounds dreamy...to stop wasting time, to be so organized you can practically roll into class in your pajamas and teach a knock-out, drag-down lesson. But this is the stuff of fantasy—not reality. Right?
Once I figured out the fool-proof way to organize resolutions #1-5, it completely revolutionized my teaching life (and my personal time). Never again did I feel like a fraud, never again did I feel like I'd half-assed lesson planning and felt guilty because I knew my students deserved better.
So when I say you need to INVEST in yourself, here's what I'm talking about: it is impossible to move forward in your career without investing in yourself. When you wanted to become a teacher, you invested time and money to take a TEFL or CELTA course. There were opportunity costs—you could have spent that money on new skis or new tires. You could have spent that time learning to play guitar. But you wanted to move forward, and you knew that investing time & money on your career would pay dividends in the end.
I invested time. I invested A TON of time (we're talking major time that I could have spent taking on new clients and earning more money). It was a personal challenge...I'm a systems freak and I enjoy nothing more than life-hacking my way through impossible organizational problems.
I invested months of my life figuring out this system so you don't have to.
If you want to learn more about the system I created to automatically help you keep resolutions 1-5, you can check it out right here>>
Working together, we won't let these resolutions become a faint memory by February.
Here's to an amazing 2018 for you AND your students!