JALT 2017

Last Sunday, I went to a conference for the first time in my life, and I absolutely LOVED it!! It was JALT 2017 conference, the biggest one in Japan.

In this post, I want to tell about the most interesting parts of it.

  1. Creative Writing: Essential, not Supplemental by Malu Sciamarelli

This was the best of all! I can’t measure the level of inspiration it gave me. Malu started with a short presentation aimed to highlight the difference between creative writing and expository writing (she involved us into brainstorming the antonyms for the characteristics of expository writing). Then she talked briefly about the benefits of regular use of creative writing in the classroom for both students and teachers. And then there was time for the tastiest part of any workshop – practice! We tried writing a poem, a recipe, a haiku…

That’s what I got:
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Teacher Autonomy (Not That One You Think of Right Now)

So today I’d like to talk about teacher autonomy.

A quick glance at the results of Google search, and you get to know that the concept of teacher autonomy ‘refers to the professional independence of teachers in schools, especially the degree to which they can make autonomous decisions about what they teach to students and how they teach it’ (c). However, it’s not the teacher autonomy I’m going to talk about.

When I started at my current workplace I felt like I had spent more time teaching while being observed than teaching on my own.
When I first entered the room to teach 8 university students I felt so unprepared. To be honest with you, I was really tempted to run back to my programme manager and ask him ‘hey, are you sure it’s a good idea to leave me alone with them?’
When I was planning my lessons, I always sought for an approval from someone more experienced than me.
I felt I lack teachers autonomy, or the ability to make my own professional decisions, even minor ones, without being approved.
I still feel I lack it sometimes. And I’m sure I’m not the only one, and there’re other teachers who have a similar experience (or had it at some point).

It was a couple of weeks ago when I realised that I should be persistent and shouldn’t give up on my ideas.
We were in the middle of planning Lesson 6 about advantages and disadvantages. I had a wonderful idea of presenting this topic by using ‘2 Kinds of People’ cards (I’ve already mentioned them here). It seemed perfect. I could write a long and thorough rationale justifying my choice if anyone asked for it. However, I still didn’t feel 100% sure, and I showed it to my programme manager first in order to hear what he says. He said it seemed cool, and I felt relieved.
When I think about it, I ask myself why I did it. Why couldn’t I go on with this activity if I was sure it’d be successful (and it was)? Simply because I think of myself as someone not experienced enough yet? Why? The performance of my students proves that most of my teaching decisions were good. What is there inside of me that says I’m not good enough?
Also, for this lesson, I made a dialogue comparison activity. I wrote the dialogues myself and felt really proud of my work. However, some people said it might be a bit too difficult for lower levels, so I ended up borrowing another dialogue comparison activity from my colleague. I didn’t quite like the dialogues and what they were focusing on so I tried to change it several times but somehow failed – they would always become as difficult as my dialogues were while I wanted something very simple! At the end, I just tried using the dialogues as they were. After three lessons I realised I just couldn’t continue using them. They didn’t introduce the function the way I wanted to introduce them. And I finally did what I should’ve done from the very beginning: I started using my dialogues for all levels. I gave it to one of my lowest levels. It was challenging, but I just asked them more questions and guided them more carefully to the understanding of the function, and it worked!! They totally nailed it. So I underestimated them and myself – well done!
Why couldn’t I do it from the very beginning? I still don’t quite get it, but it taught me to defend my teaching ideas – not from other people but from myself.

Sometimes it’s better to rely less on others and rely more on yourself.
Sometimes it’s better to make your own mistakes because from them you learn. After all, it’s always easier to remember the right way of doing things if it was you who messed up, not someone else.
It’s important to get detached and obtain teacher autonomy which, for me, is the ability to make your own teaching decisions without seeking a compulsory approval from your seniors.