Today wasn’t a great day in my EAP class. It was very definitely Monday and more than one student had spent the weekend battling non-stop computer games; World of Warcraft is apparently an indefatigable foe.
And, something had convinced my students that grammar class was the best time to catch up on lost sleep. Nothing was going to keep them from their rest, not even the most fascinating facts about the present progressive tense. So, I opened my bag of teacher tricks in hopes that I could lure them from Mr. Sandman. If they engaged, we could all go home content at the end of the day.
I had them write on chalk boards, scribble on the white board, role play, and question each other with today’s vocab. I commiserated over the Raptors’ loss, arranged and rearranged them in groups, demanded they walk around while practicing today’s sentence structure, and finally joined them at the back table where one-by-one they’d slumped into the chairs. All to no avail. The merest lull in our determined march toward English fluency sent heads drooping onto desks without even one sleepy eye pretending to glance at the textbook pages. Finally, out of tricks and in exasperation, I assigned tomorrow’s homework (more exciting present progressive tidbits) and ended class early.
Now, you’re probably thinking there’s going to be a surprise, redeeming ending to this blog of misery. No such luck. My students packed up their books (most without recording the homework assignment), relieved to be dismissed. As they said their good-byes, I wished them a good afternoon and suggested they get a good night’s rest, expecting they’d continue out the door without a backward glance. But that’s not what happened. The whole group stopped, while my most confident student lowered his head and said, “Yeah, it wasn’t good today. We’ll do better tomorrow.”
And then it hit me: what happened in class today was not about me. It was not about my competence as a teacher; not about my ability to engage the students in meaningful learning; not about my desire to be liked by them; not about my success, or lack of success at presenting today’s curriculum in an exciting way (it was the present progressive tense, after all–what could be more thrilling?) I realized that once again, I had personalized the situation and had become ever more frantic during class to “fix” the problem. But I couldn’t fix it because it wasn’t about me. And I suspect that tomorrow will be a new start when perhaps my well-rested students will grasp the excitement of the present progressive tense, or at least be awake enough to take a few successful steps toward English fluency.
Have you had days that weren’t great?
Eve Mazereeuw has been an instructor in the University of Guelph’s English Language Program for 12 years. In that time, she’s met interesting students from all over the world and perhaps even convinced a few of them that grammar is fun.