Mutual slump

I recently read another great post from Dave Dodgson ( about the slow and gradual decline of learner enthusiasm, as exams become the main focus and learning fatigue takes hold after a long school year. I had certainly started to notice this in my own classes, but more worryingly I have started to notice it in the staff room, too. This is especially true of my own approach to planning and general attitude to classes.

It’s not just the learners who are struggling towards the end of the year. As teachers, we have worked late, worked weekends, marked homework, set up mock exams, blogged, spoken to parents, attended PD sessions and conferences and genuinely gone out of our way to make our lessons positive learning experiences.

This decline in motivation is only a recent one, but on Monday I spent an hour and a half staring at a course book, devoid of inspiration. I had no clue what I was going to do, no new ideas, no energy to search through the library and source some materials or scour the Internet for lesson plans that would probably need adapting anyway. I was lethargic and tired of the same old routine and material. When I was in the lesson, everything was fine. I got the usual buzz, which I hope never leaves, but the before and after seems like a slow and cheerless grind towards the end of term. Is this normal? Is it just me, or do other teachers get this feeling?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I care about my students and their learning, but when they have that feeling of apathy in class it’s hard not to get sucked into that depressing atmosphere yourself and it requires even more energy to get the class enthused and excited about the lesson. Energy that I no longer have. Energy that is propped up on coffee and the thought of the weekend.

A colleague said to me today that work seems to be getting in the way of life at the moment. I completely understood where she was coming from. We immerse ourselves so deeply in our work at times (I certainly know I have this year) that when we come up for air and take a look around we realise we have a life to lead. At times, I have felt guilty about having a life and often felt that I should be doing some sort of planning or reading up about a particular language point to make sure I could give my students the best lesson I could. This train of thought lead to the end of my last relationship and I’m damn sure I won’t allow it to affect my next one. A healthy balance, like anything in life, is of vital importance. A lesson certainly learned this year.

I’m pretty sure it’s not just me. Staff room talk is no longer about up coming projects and future lessons, but the summer and where to go on holiday. There seems to be a lull in the blogosphere at the moment (unless your name is Chia Suan Chong) and as Phil Wade has pointed out, a large part of our PLN has gone underground and all is quiet on the twitter front. Is it expected that teachers should be highly motivated and giving the normal 100% effort 24hrs a day? We are human after all, we have our limits, we have our needs.


12 thoughts on “Mutual slump

  1. Great blog Adam.
    I no what you mean about work getting in the way of your life. I’ve had several weekends and holidays where I’ve spent long periods working towards various courses, job applications all connected to work. Yesterday was the first time I managed to read for pleasure for about a month!
    I think the situation is made worse by the fact that towards the end we seam to have to do all the “boring” work. Exam techniques, admin, revision, etc. So, in spite of the increased need for those about to take exams etc they all seam to relax. I think it’s especially true of teenagers who are facing the same things at school too.
    What do you think?

  2. Yes, I would agree. The end of the year is where all the loose ends need to be tied up. Paper work filled in and unfortunately the delivery of end of year exams , which I must admit I hate doing. It’s not the marking, it’s just that I’m not a big fan of exams. The revision beforehand, the exams themselves, the marking, the report writing and the paperwork that goes with it can make the last couple of weeks all that more stressful and boring. Not the best way to finish a school year.

  3. Hi Adam
    I strongly agree with the decline of motivation, staff and students included! I’ve sat for hours looking through course books and tired myself out more. I also think my momentum has dissipated through boredom and probably, as you have described, the lack of ‘living’ my own life.

    Recently, I managed to get away for the weekend – normally, this would be out of the question due to the demands of work and studying for my MA – but old friends from across the globe were gathering to meet and I just had to go. It was the best thing I’ve done in ages, it reminded me of who I was out of my teacher persona, of what I enjoyed, and of what made me happy. I didn’t do anything related to work once. That did the trick! I came back tired but rejuvenated and have allowed myself to look at things in a different way.

    For the past few weeks, I have made more time for friends, catch up with mundane things that I usually leave till the holidays. This has been my main issue… cramming everything into my holidays has not allowed the batteries to re-charge. At work, I have incorporated a more TBL approach in my classes, monitored my TTT, incorporated more peer-teaching. I think I was quite obsessed with making lessons interesting without realising how teacher-led the activities had become!

    I’m not saying going away for a weekend will solve it, but it’s about not feeling guilty for taking time out. This is when deep reflection can take place, not just for work but for life. You might have seen it already but Chiew Pang suggested for great ideas to staying healthy and motivated.

    Thanks for sharing your interesting thoughts 🙂

  4. Hi Adam,
    I know what you mean about demotivation – with our school closing for good at the end of June, no one can be bothered to do anything other than get ready for whereever they’re going to next. At least it’s let me catch up on my blogging (if you’re desperate for something to read…)

    I have to admit though, having never worked at a school in Europe, I’ve never had a summer break. Do teachers really go on long vacations or just work at summer schools? If it’s the former, I might have to try this!

  5. So, PLN’s gone underground, is that it? So, I’m not alone in noticing that Twitter seems quieter these days? Yes, you’re not the only one, Adam. In my last lesson with this group of teachers, I asked them which was the worst month for them and May appears to be heavy for the majority. It’s normal. And it’s normal to feel more tired and less motivated when you’re doing things you don’t enjoy – exams, reports, stuff like that.

    My email inbox is full of lines in bold, linking me to things I would like to read but, deep down, I know that the majority will simply end up being archived. I struggle to keep pace with Chia’s robotic outputs, my blogs are lying dormant… in the end, we all have out limits. It’s important to get the balance right, if you can. Because, sometimes, you can’t.

  6. Hi Adam,
    Definitely agree with your thoughts–at times, we feel like we have to put in as much time as we can to develop the best thought-out lessons, with clear aims, variety of interaction, student-centred, interesting, catering to all learner types….. etc etc. But we are all human, and it’s important for us to have our own time, even if it means feeling a bit guilty at times. But then again, why should we? The weekend is ours to have for ourselves, and sometimes even if you think you should be working and planning for the week ahead, if you take it to enjoy yourself and have some personal time and do whatever you like, then later on, you feel more refreshed. Otherwise you will end up feeling like you work 7 days a week, with no weekend and nothing to look forward to (trust me, been there, done that and not going to repeat!).

    I think that as teachers we already put in lots more beyond our contact hours, whether it’s prep time, marking, creating projects, designing new lessons, blogging, tweeting, searching for resources online, sharing experiences/advice with fellow professionals etc…. With time, we learn more about how to develop as a teacher, and have to accept that we can’t be experts in one go. I’m sure my students already know that I don’t know everything about all the doubts they may have in English, but they appreciate also that you are human, with a unique personality, quirks, hobbies and interesting opinions to share. A group once said to me that they were surprised that I allowed them to ask me personal questions about myself (within limits of course… 🙂 because that’s something that’s “atypical” of teachers. Well, why does that have to be the case? Instead of hitting ourselves because we aren’t reading up on how to best teach phrasal verbs, we can divulge time to our personal lives and allow that to influence our teaching style. Give ourselves a unique personality different from others and let students discover that side of you! Then we won’t have to feel guilty for one thing or another. 🙂

    Thanks for the honest and heartfelt thoughts you always share.

  7. Ey up lad,

    Ai, I know this one well. Some of classes only have 2 students and I am jaded, very. It’s normal, everyone is tired, exams are coming and the end is in sight. Perfect time for revision/consolidation/projects/class magazine/class video/trips/online stuff/films etc BUT used in a good way not just for time wasting.

    This post underlines my belief that the typical Dogme lesson we hear a lot of only works on eager, enthusiastic and keen students. I don’t teach those and rarely have. If Dogme is to be taken seriously it has be done in reality ie with tired, unmotivated and even demanding students who are not accustomed to TEFL methods. What I mean is that it needs to be applied across the board and not just in language schools full of rich and fun loving students. Here and now you have a real chance to show and prove that it can work against the odds.

    What can you do to motivate the students? Have you covered everything you need to? Is there anything else you need to prepare them for or are you free to do what you want?

    Good luck!!

  8. We might have an iron deficiency that’s causing a general slump in our energy levels. It’s quite common at this time of year apparently, yet is something often overlooked which can be remedied by a few multivitamin tablets. Just sayin’…

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