TEACHING IS LIKE SEA, or some tips from me for you, Dear Teacher.

For some time I’d been dreaming of living near the seaside; last year my dream came true and for twelve months now I’ve been living very close to the North Sea. It takes about ten minutes on foot to reach the sandy beach. My daily morning strolls, sometimes marches, along the seacoast, give a lot to me: they’re invigorating; they’re inspirational; they’re developing; or they’re simply sunny, cloudy, or rainy at times. The more I walk, the more I absorb the sea in with all my senses. When at the seashore or at sea, your doctor will tell you: “Take a deep breath in! Take a deep breath out!” The sea breeze, filled with a great amount of healthy iodine salts, enriched with magnesium,  is so beneficial for your thyroid gland.

This text is not about medicinal properties of the sea, no matter how advantageous their nature might be. This text is to show a striking comparison, at least in my opinion, between the sea and teaching. The simile “TEACHING IS LIKE SEA” has been used here on purpose; I want the link between the two items to be a mere comparison, not a metaphor.

I’ve come up with a few characteristics TEACHING and SEA have in common. Here they are:

1. Sea is unpredictable, and so is teaching.

You teach a group, you tutor a private student, you supervise students taking an exam – you take on a lot of roles as a teacher. However, you can never plan everything from A to Z because you have human beings in front of you. Students may not understand the difference between non-defining and defining relative clauses and you’ve planned to have only two exercises on the aspect. You’ve got to be flexible this time and prepare more, spend more time explaining, as well as trying to employ alternative techniques. Your lesson may drift away from the lesson procedure you’ve written beforehand. What’s important, however, is the aim: you want your students to grasp this bit of grammar and you do your best to reach the goal, to reach the shore.

2. Sea is colourful, and so is teaching.

You have a group to teach. Within the group there are kinesthetic students, visual students, auditory students, independent students, blended learners. You get to know their needs at the start, you observe your students and the observations give you a hint as for their learning styles. The tasks you propose are student-centred and help you go deeper and deeper into your students’ expectations as well as reveal your students’ linguistic inhibitions. Seeing the magical palette of your students, you seem even more motivated. Sometimes one colour dominates over others, as sometimes some students outclass some others – you welcome this variety and want the multicolours of your group to create a coherent image.

3. Sea is deep, and so is teaching.

There are so many layers to teaching which are called approaches to or methodologies of teaching. Some favour the CLIL approach (Content and Language in Integrated Learning), some others – blended learning or cooperative learning, yet some go for audio-lingualism, where meanings of words are taught in context, and the didactic process in this case is drill-based. Peer teaching, also known as learning by teaching,  may be preferred in a group of students where students want to learn from each other and often take the floor to teach their mates. You can also come across teachers who introduce multiple projects and their lessons are primarily based on task-based learning. Furthermore,  as a teacher, you may also be inspired by the NLP approach. Of course, grammar translation approach is sometimes present because some teachers (and especially their students) may see great progress being made thanks to this methodology. Here, you stress accuracy, with fluency somewhere in the background. When, by contrast, you want your students to speak, you use elements of the CLT (communicative language teaching), where you actually take bits and pieces from various approaches, e.g. from the direct method, where the L2 is used exclusively and, by showing everyday language to your students, you simultaneously show grammar, which is taught inductively here. When you focus your teaching on your students boosting their vocabulary, you should remember to take something from the lexical approach, where language is often taught in lexical chunks. I know teachers who tend to follow the PPP approach in their lessons, with clear Presentation, Practice, and Production stages (the task-based learning is tightly linked to this one). VYLs are enthusiastic about moving a lot and their kindergarten, pre-school and primary-school teachers choose the (TPR) Total Physical Response approach. All in all, teaching approaches are beyond my depth. You may easily measure the depth of the sea but, when it comes to the number of teaching approaches in language, their number appears immeasurable. You take an ingredient from one approach, you mix it and stir it with various ingredients from some other approaches, to finally knead good dough which, when worked into a uniform form, becomes personalized, customised, contextualized.

4. Sea is multifarious, and so is teaching.

You adapt this or that approach to your teaching, the approaches you use become practical methods around which you start constructing your lessons. In your lesson plan, you clearly divide the precious minutes of teaching units into multifarious activities. Here you introduce information-gap tasks, gamification, drawing, comic strip stories, identifying similarities / differences, jigsaw reading / listening, ranking activities, cloze tests, brainstorming, predicting, etc. You see which techniques hidden behind particular activities work and which seem ineffective. “Sink or swim!” (“swim” seems the better option here), give it a go and don’t be too shy to experiment! Don’t stick to the same techniques all the time but dive into new challenges.

5. Sea is challenging, and so is teaching.

You dive in with your both feet when you know that teaching is for you. You know it’s your vocation, not just a profession, when you miss your students, when you have some time away from the classroom, when you keep writing new materials, or when you simply accept any new challenge teaching entails. Challenges make your teaching truly fascinating and, once you’ve overcome these challenges, then you become stronger and ….ready for the new ones. Your students give you the greatest lessons of life. What is life if not a string of continuous changes?! You teach, you change your students’ minds, you learn from them, they learn from you – you change when you face up to challenges. Don’t ever go back when teaching! Keep going further and keep looking ahead. You may find an absolute treasure at the back of your classroom when teaching skillfully, as you may find a treasure at the bottom of the sea when looking carefully.

6. Sea is elemental, and so is teaching.

“I’m in my element, I really am!” Hearing a colleague teacher telling you this in the teachers’ room, you may either think: “She’s crazy in the head” or “Wow! She’s really into teaching!” Either or, you see in front of you a zestful and spirited teacher. The teacher never ceases to brave the elements by entering her classroom full of irrepressible students. She’s the one to tame them and to keep their attention. The once wild students (usually adolescents or lively VYLs) get positive vibrations from such a teacher. I bet you’re just like her: energetic, charismatic, ready to conquer a world of teaching. Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

7. Sea is exhaustive, and so is teaching.

People say that you’d better change your life when you don’t like it. Some other may say that you’d better change your profession when you don’t like teaching. When does it happen? Well, you may suffer a professional burnout. Then, as a burnout, you choose to do something else in life until you’ve come to realize – in a perfect world – that you actually miss your teaching. You may always comfort yourself by saying: “Ok, it’s better to burn out than fade away.” There’s a way out – you may go back to your teaching with new ideas, fresh mind, and previous experience. Just remember that you may do anything, anyhow, but not everything. Waves at sea exhaust swimmers, as teaching exhausts ambitious teachers. Don’t make waves unless you want to destroy yourself!

8. Sea is powerful, and so is teaching.

You are in the classroom, you conduct the lesson, you guide your students through activities, you monitor, you facilitate, etc. Can’t you see that “you” is the most often repeated word in the previous sentence? You don’t want to be in the spotlight all the time, do you? You don’t want to act as if you were a god / goddess, as if you were a smart aleck, a know-it-all, do you? Why? Because teaching, just like the sea, is about humility. It’s not that you think less of yourself. It’s that you think of yourself less. Think more of your students. Or: think of your students more. Teaching shows you where your place is when you don’t play by the rules. Respect your students and they’ll respect you in return. Similarly, respect the power of the sea and play by its rules. The sea engulfs the arrogant and the know-it-all. So, humility also helps in the classroom.

9. Sea is inscrutable, and so is teaching.

The longer you teach, the more concepts there are for you to discover. Teaching isn’t just about lexis, grammar, or functions. Teaching is about skills, too. Reading, listening, writing, and speaking are the four basic competencies for students to develop in their encounters with a foreign language. Being a teacher, you should remember that, “The end of education is to see men made whole, both in competence and in conscience” (John Dickey). You teach the easily measurable elements (words or tenses), but you should never ignore the sometimes immeasurable elements (speaking, reading, etc.). You’re also expected to teach the so called “soft skills” or “life skills”. Here, you enhance your teaching kit and your personal teaching potential by focusing on the following: an ability to solve problems, an ability to make decisions, networking, human interactions, career prospects, adaptability, flexibility, ethics, and team work. Still, tomorrow you may discover another hidden gem in the treasure trunk called TEACHING. Similarly, the bed of the SEA holds mysteries and we get to know about some hidden shipwrecks or pirate treasure. “Expect the unexpected” – discover new things in teaching, as you discover new things in your daily life. Stay open, always!

10. Sea is fun, and so is teaching.

You plan your lesson, you put your plan into practice, you finish the lesson and then you forget it. And so do your students! It’s boring, it’s standard, it’s coursebook-based. Where’s your imagination? Where’s the spark, where’s the fun element? You go to the beach and you don’t just sit there wearing the saddest face in the world. No, no, no! You breathe in the air filled with beneficial iodine salts. You lie on the towel and soak up the sun. Then you get up and walk nearer to the shore, go for a swim. You see the sea (“Water, water everywhere!”); you hear the waves around you; you smell the salty air and water; you touch the seashore sand first, the sea – next; you taste salt on your lips – your senses are all activated and involved in the total immersion in the sea (and the seashore). You’re having a wonderful time! The same happens in the classroom: you actively involve your students; you gradually immerse your students in their learning process; you bear in mind their multiple intelligences and their learning styles. Have a great sense of humour all the time, well…. most of the time you teach, have a warped sense of humour, have a dry sense of humour, have a gallows sense of humour, but have any sense of humour at all, and have it in the classroom. Don’t leave it outside! Bring it inside and let your students see it to see sense and fun in the language they’re studying.

 

And, in this way, I’ve somehow managed to show to you the meaning of  my simile “TEACHING IS LIKE SEA”. Of course, there may be more aspects hidden behind the phrase. Just one last thing which comes from Rabindranath Tagore: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” Likewise, you can’t know anything about teaching merely by standing and staring at your students.