It can be easy to isolate yourself when you’re a teacher. I am one of four instructors in the intensive English program where I work, and I have gone days without speaking to or seeing at least one of my colleagues. While it feels unsettling to admit this, it is part of my reality.
As a teacher, you shoulder most of the responsibility for your learners’ growth. You create the lesson plans, you gather the materials, you create the assessments, you grade the assignments, and you go into the classroom. Alone.
Having this singular responsibility day after day, year after year can get, well, lonely. Fortunately, there are ways to make it less so. Today I’ll be sharing three ways to combat the feeling of teaching in isolation.
#1 - Participate in Professional Development
Use professional development (PD) events to not only learn new things but also refresh yourself and gain different perspectives. Start by being intentional about the PD opportunities you choose. What do you need to know more about? What interests you? In what ways do you learn best? Knowing your desired focus will increase the likelihood that you’ll find yourself in good company; you have peers who are no doubt facing similar challenges. As I’ve gotten more selective about the types of PD I participate in, I’ve experienced an increased motivation to attend, a desire to investigate topics further, and an eagerness to be a presenter myself. Keep in mind that you don’t have to just take part in big conferences. Opportunities like online webinars, peer observations, and even informal meetups with those in your own institution can be highly beneficial. Choose a structure that is right for you – one that saves you time and money, is relevant to your current situation, and provides you with an uncomplicated way to follow up to keep you motivated.
#2 - Collaborate with Your Colleagues
When you feel overwhelmed with managing every aspect of your teaching and students’ learning on your own, it can be difficult to find the time, and maybe even a reason, to collaborate. Yet, collaboration can actually save you time in the long run and bring about new possibilities. When you think about the people you work with, both within and outside of your organization, who do you trust? Who inspires you? Who has helped you in the past? These are the people you want to collaborate with. That collaboration could be planning lessons together across skill areas so that students see the connection between public speaking and writing a research paper. It can also come by way of having informal discussions about how to teach a particular listening skill or solve a continuing challenge, such as student engagement. The goal here is to broaden your perspective while sharing and learning with your colleagues. When I was thrust into teaching multilevel classes for the first time, I tried with all my might to figure out on my own how to manage my time, reach every student, and not plan multiple lessons for every class period. I quickly realized that I needed to collaborate with my immediate program colleagues and those in other programs experiencing the same struggles. It was through sharing my challenges that I was able to first identify and assess the difficulties and then make positive changes.
#3 - Create or Expand Your Professional Network
It’s easy to get caught up in all the responsibilities of being an English language teacher, so forming relationships with peers in the field is usually not high on the list. Yet this component is helpful for sustaining momentum and growing. Networking can look different for different people, but it often includes being a member of a professional organization, whether locally, nationally, or globally. In this context it can take the form of both formal networking events as well as informal meetups. Interacting with peers can also include engaging on social media. The key is to react and comment. There are many opportunities for making high quality connections on various platforms. Since becoming more active in professional organizations and on social media, I’ve been very pleased with both the quantity and quality of conversations that have taken place. I’ve gotten lesson ideas, been introduced to new terms, and formed meaningful relationships. So, ask yourself: Are you currently a member of an English language teaching professional organization? Do you engage with peers on social media on a professional level? Have you thought about which platforms or organizations have content and participants that interest you?
In closing, don’t feel like you must jump all in. In fact, it’s probably best to start small. Begin with one of these activities, choosing the one that feels the most comfortable and applicable to you in this season of your career. Over time add the others and experience the full benefits of learning, working, and sharing with others.
About the author
Heather Johnston is the Academic Coordinator of ESL at Murray State University and business owner of ELT Resource Room. Connect with Heather on LinkedIn.