Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Do a Zoologist and a Teacher Have in Common?

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium

I was reading an article in the January 2011 edition of O Magazine recently about a zoologist, Laurie Marker, who is working in Namibia to help save the cheetah from extinction. You might wonder what a zoologist in Africa could possibly have in common with an English teacher in Belgium. Well, not much, really. But, one thing that she said in the article really resonated with me. She was talking about how she came to this place in her profession, and she concluded by saying, “I don’t take what I do lightly.”

I don’t take what I do lightly.

Those words have stuck with me for weeks now. I believe they perfectly summarize how I feel about my profession and my career. However, I spent some time thinking about exactly how I demonstrate that I don’t take what I do lightly. What have I done and what do I do to show my dedication to English Language Teaching?


I have spent many years (and a lot of money) working to develop as a professional. Once I decided that being an English instructor was for me, I realized that I needed to get my Master’s degree. I don’t think that a Master’s degree makes one a better teacher by any stretch. Some of the best teachers I know don’t have one. But, I do think it shows a commitment to the field. I believe that both my MEd and my PhD show that I don’t take what I do lightly. I realize this is a contentious claim, and I am interested in hearing what you think about it. Am I way off base?

Professional Development

Similarly, a constant hunger for professional development demonstrates that I respect my profession. My former supervisor used to say that if you are finished learning how to be a good teacher, you need to get out of teaching. I liken it to being a doctor. You would never want to get advice from a doctor who stopped learning about medicine 20 years ago, would you? So why would students want to study from an instructor who has given up learning about teaching? Professional development can be anything from attending a conference to searching for a new teaching strategy on the internet. Just by reading this blog, you are demonstrating that you don’t take what you do lightly, either.

Regular Critical Review

Many years ago, I taught at a school that required teachers to journal after every class. We even had to “turn in” the journal to the academic advisor at the end of every semester. Although I am no longer as meticulous, I have held on to the habit of making notes in my lesson plans when a lesson goes well or when something bombs. I try to be open to new approaches, ideas from other teachers and suggestions from students. Although we always like it when things go well and students tell us how much they loved a particular lesson, there is much to learn from lessons gone horribly wrong.

For instance, recently I did a listening activity with my intermediate level class. About a minute into the recording, I realized that it was too hard for them. The speaker was too fast and the topic was not as interesting to them as I had predicted. While they were listening with crinkled brows and worried eyes, I made a quick note in my lesson plan – “too hard!” Next time I come across this lesson, I will find a different listening to do. When students say that they really like an activity, I make a smiley face in my lesson plan so that I can remember to include it next time round. By constantly assessing how my lessons are going, I am always renovating my approach and my materials. I believe this attention to results is more proof that I am serious about my students and my job.

So what do you do that demonstrates that you don’t take what you do lightly?


Comment from Luis
April 14, 2011 at 9:11 am

Thanks for a very good article.

Comment from Annet
April 20, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Hi, Tamara.

I don’t take what I do lightly because I’ve been following your posts for almost seven months now. I love your ideas! Thank you for sharing. I just re-read some of your posts and realized that I stole a lot of ideas from your bag of tricks.

In the near future, could you give some suggestions on classroom management (i.e., managing learners who like to dominate class discussions)?


Comment from Tamara Jones
April 21, 2011 at 3:09 am

I am delighted that someone else is able to benefit from some of the ideas that I have “stolen” from others throughout my years of teaching! Good idea on the posting topic suggestion. I recently had a class almost derailed by a student who dominated the conversation, so I share your pain. I was at the IATEFL Conference this past weekend and got a great suggestion that I will pass on in a future blog once I get it all straight in my head. Stay posted! 🙂

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