a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
A few years ago, a Chinese colleague’s renewed enthusiasm for our profession inspired me to invite a group of co-workers to my home for a weekly Teachers English Corner with the purpose of cultivating our passion for English and teaching. This get-together gradually developed into a teacher support group, a gathering of teachers in a safe environment for mutual encouragement and cooperative growth.
During our most recent six-week session, we discussed trends in education. (Click the link, and you can read about them here on Master Teaching.) First, we “discovered” a trend together in our face-to-face meeting. Then, my assistant and I followed up with a blog post. Some of the participants also completed the “homework” and posted results in our closed WeChat group.
Many of my Chinese colleagues would gladly tell you what they’ve learned from Teachers English Corner, but my purpose here is to focus on what my American co-workers and I have gained. As we’ve participated, we’ve learned some of the same lessons about teaching as our Chinese colleagues. Last semester, for example, two of us were stimulated to design choices into classroom activities. We’ve also had an opportunity to hone our communication skills. But there’s more…
Learning Culture: Our colleagues have become our cultural informants. They’ve unraveled mysteries that make us better teachers and better guests in our host culture.
Learning Teaching: Our colleagues have inspired us with their approaches to teaching. What has stood out most to me is their compassion for students. They give them the benefit of the doubt. One colleague responded to abuse (A student slashed her bike tires.) with forgiving kindness. When another was dealing with an unengaged student who was skipping class, she tracked him down in his dormitory and offered a gift of food. Their talk about his attitude in his territory over some chicken legs brought about a complete change.
Learning to Learn: One colleague, by her own admission, lacked confidence when she first joined our group. She’s the “life of the party” now. When she was a college freshman, a teacher challenged her class to practice English by listening to VOA radio broadcasts for thirty minutes each day and writing down what they could understand. Every day for six months, the only sentence she recorded was, “This is VOA signing off.” But she persisted like she has in Teachers English Corner. She’s been an English teacher for almost thirty years now and still listens to VOA. As she openly shares her struggles and how she overcomes them, she’s a model of grit for her students and encourages me to persevere.
Learning Life: We’ve also learned life lessons from our colleagues. Once when talking about cross-cultural communication, one spoke sincerely about how lowering her expectations improved her relationship with her husband. The week we talked about differentiated instruction, another gave my American co-worker and me food for thought (and practice) when she asked how we could design choices into our relationships with family and friends.
By far the greatest gain from our teacher support group is deeper relationships. We listen to each other’s successes and failures (in teaching and life), and we offer encouragement and advice. Hugging, not a usual part of Chinese culture, has become part of our Teachers English Corner culture. The more we learn and the closer we grow, the greater the harmony between us and toward the Prince of Peace.
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
Set up a teacher support group with a few of your colleagues. It could be weekly or monthly but for a pre-determined period (a semester) and duration (an hour). It could be informal (over tea or lunch) or in a more formal setting (a teacher workroom). It should be mutually encouraging toward cooperative growth. In fact, you and your colleagues may want to take turns facilitating the discussions or projects.