Today Wasn’t Great

bigstock-Business-Woman-Customer-Servic-84197477Today 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.

If you are reading this blog, then you’re probably familiar with my world, a world that spins around teaching, grammar, pronunciation, sentence structure, Canadian culture, and all things English. I’m fascinated by the places where cultures intersect: when Asia meets America, South touches North, and desert dwellers converse with snow shovellers. I see these things every day in my class, and they are the things I want to post about. After teaching EFL in China, and computer skills in LINC, I started teaching EAP at the University of Guelph, and sixteen years later, I’m still at it. I earned a BA in English literature from the University of Waterloo, and a B.Ed from Western Ontario University. I also have my ESL Part 2 and TESL Certification.


6 thoughts on “Today Wasn’t Great”

  1. Yes, I’ve had days that were not great, but it has never been because the students were not ready to learn. I am fortunate to have keen, eager students who are almost always bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in class.

    When I have an off day, it is either because I’m the one who isn’t well rested, or because the school is in flux that day. As someone who loves the comfort of routines, I get rattled by fire drills, assemblies, field trips and even guest speakers.

    If I were to have the teaching day described above, I would try to work with what was happening. What is David doing? He is nodding off. Sandra’s eyelids are closing. Roberto is slumping in his seat. We can get a kick out of what is really happening and teach present progressive at the same time. We might not get to the book exercises, since those will only add to our soporific state. But at least the whole class period won’t be a write-off, as we will bond in our shared acknowledgement that not everyone has come prepared and alert today.

  2. Eve, thanks for sharing your experience with us. We have all had such frustrating days when all our efforts to motivate and inspire the students fail. However, our decisions on the kind of tasks and activities could reduce the passiveness.

    Like Kelly, I would minimize the routine textbook bound tasks, and include as many fun activities as possible; some hectic types requiring to move around, get up,..if conditions allowed, I might change the environment and have the class outside in the lounge, computer lab, or even outdoors.

  3. Language learning is hard work. We all have those days where we just feel tired, unproductive or unmotivated. I think the most confident student’s comment said it all – “We’ll do better tomorrow”. That is the right attitude.

  4. Thanks for sharing your day with us Eve. I really enjoyed reading your post; and although I’m sorry to hear about your bad day, it’s nice to know that even the most experienced of us has both good and not so good days when teaching. Hopefully much better days for you from now on.

  5. Hi Eve,

    Enjoyed reading your take. Certainly, I had days as described, but because I love to travel to different countries and speak about them, I use this opportunity to awake sleepy students or those who may not be interested in the topic being taught as the time. I have them travel. So I ask or name four different countries and have students move to them. Next they discuss among themselves, the why and how etc. I get them talking and slip my lesson in (sometimes they are not aware of my trick). I used different ideas, I especially like talking about the Caribbean, and so do they. So yes, I do have some of those days

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