Flashes of inspiration

This blog post started writing itself in my head last Friday. It’s a little different from my usual posts. It isn’t a close up on a classroom activity or a teaching technique, it’s more like a “moment in time” photo, capturing a small slice of a teaching day and looking at the little things that inspired and motivated me in that little slice of time.

On Friday mornings, as soon as I’ve waved goodbye to the kids at the door, I rush to check my emails, answer any that are urgent, try to fit too much into too little time, quickly collect my teaching materials and stride off for class, running through the shape of the lesson in my head as I march the 20 mins down the road.  Not the best way to start the day!

But last Friday was just a little bit different. There was a change in the routine. I left with the kids and walked with them to school. It meant leaving earlier, it meant walking at a slower pace, it meant indulging in kiddy talk and seeing the morning and the day through their eyes.   It was great to slow down and it really inspired me to see the two of them tripping off happily into school, embracing the day ahead. They really helped set my mood as I walked off to my classroom.

As I walked from their school gates to mine, I listened to a TED talk on my ipod. I was listening to Isabel Allende, she made me smile, laugh out loud and brought tears to my eyes. All in the space of a ten minute walk.  I find the TED talks humbling and inspiring at the same time. They put everything in perspective, but they also make you want to reach out for more.  They’re like a personal pep talk!

I arrived at the school with more than 40 minutes to spare.  I went into the bar next door and ordered a coffee. It was great to have thinking time. My Friday morning classes are in a high school. My class register comes along with an A4 sheet of  smiling photos of all the students.  It was a great help at the beginning when learning the names.  It was a great help on Friday morning as I sat and looked at my lesson plan and materials.  It made it so easy to focus on how I was going to shape the lesson for each class.  To see the class as individuals, not a group and think about how I was going to try to meet the different needs of their different personalities and levels.

I walked into class with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.  I was greeted by biology text books, exam nerves and rebellion!  They were all really worried about the exam that was coming up in the next class.  We talked about it, looked at some of the figures and images in the book, negotiated some attention and commitment to the English class in exchange for an extra ten minutes at the end for biology revision.  It got off to a good start.  They were focused, engaged, working hard. My vision of the lesson over coffee seemed to be working fine.

Until a student announced that the class had to finish early because they had all been called to a meeting.  So that was that.  A reminder that the English class is just a tiny piece in the huge jigsaw of their lives at school. A humbling reality bite.  But a good one. Being reminded of your place in the big picture can be inspiring too!

Scattered puzzle pieces next to solved fragment

Horlia Varan - flickr

I wonder if any of that struck a chord with you?  What are the little things that inspire you in your  teaching life? I’d be interested to hear about the flashes of inspiration in your day.

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26 Responses to Flashes of inspiration

  1. Vicky Loras says:

    Hi Ceri!

    I loved this post – it definitely struck a chord as I was discussing this with my eldest sister the other day (she is also an English teacher!). We were talking about how I rush from class to class, go to school much earlier to prepare and visualise the upcoming lesson and stay longer afterwards (because I like it, but I get no chance for a breather sometimes!) – but I was telling her about something I did two Fridays ago. On Friday I travel from Lucerne to Zurich at midday (I teach Greek in Zurich!) – and I usually have no time to fit inbetween – because I do not let time fit!

    This time I did it though, I fitted time, because I wanted to do it. I left school in Lucerne immediately when I finished and took the train to Zurich an hour earlier than I do. When I arrived I went to a small cafe, very warm and cosy and ordered tea and dessert. Then I went to my Greek lesson with another kind of mood and I promised myself I will always do this on Fridays, and to add a certain flavour to it, I will choose a different cafe each time! Something so simple added “a spring to my step” as you mentioned.

    I loved the changes you made to your routine and I am very glad you liked the turn that Friday took for you. I also love the idea of having smiling pictures of the students, to put a name to the face and make it more personal, much warmer. Plus, I’ll be on the lookout for that talk of Isabel Allende’s – I’m a big fan of her writing…and I am sure she said some pretty great things!

    Thank you so much Ceri for such a heart-warming post. Reminds us that we teachers are human too and need little daily boosts and a variety of things!

    Kindest regards,

  2. Ceri Jones says:

    Thank you for such a warm reply Vicky!
    I know exactly what you mean about “letting time fit”, it’s something I have to relearn over and over – and lessons (and life) are always so much the better for it. So, tomorrow, rather than trying to cram too much work into too little time, I’m going to repeat my Friday experience – walk the kids to school, take my time going to class (TED talk already downloaded on ipod!), sit and visualise with my smiling students over coffee – and cross my fingers that we actually get to do the whole class this time 🙂
    Take care (and hope you’re feeling better tomorrow),

    • Vicky Loras says:

      It all sounds super to me!

      I have to also continue doing these little different things on a daily basis if possible. They help so much and they are exactly what you called them: flashes of inspiration! (I think I should print out your post and put it somewhere I can read it often!)

      And I wish you a super day tomorrow, smiling teacher, with your smiling students : )

      (I feel much better, thank you!)

      Have a great Tuesday,

  3. seburnt says:

    It’s nice to have a change in routine, isn’t it, especially when that change brings about a happier, more relaxed perspective. I almost always have these moments when I arrive early to work–a common theme I’m seeing develop in your post and Vicky’s comments. Having that chance to leisurely get coffee (from Second Cup, my favourite shop, which is in almost every university building here) and reflect on the day ahead or just to make sure all is in order allows a certain calm and confidence to wash through you.

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Tyson,
      Thanks for calling by! Yesterday the weather kind of disrupted the new routine. We rushed to school in a massive downpour. The kids had to change their clothes in class. I arrived at my classes looking like a drowned rat. Not really conducive to calm and confidence! But there was time to dry off a little, make last minute decisions and changes before going into class, exchange banter with a couple of kids in the corridor. And my biggest inspiration yesterday was my students. They took a really simple little idea and ran with it. It’s a pretty mixed ability class, and they all got stuck in and all stretched themselves to perform great little one-minute presentation. I was positively glowing by the end of class.
      Hope you’ve started your day with calm and confidence and a coffee from Second Cup 🙂

      • seburnt says:

        I have, thank you. =) Sounds like a downpour and drowned animal resemblances certainly doesn’t seem conducive to relaxation and preparation. You dealt with it, mind you. I hate being rushed or uncomfortable. Hate it with a passion. I’m not sure I’d come out of that as glowing as you.

        What was the “simple little idea”?

      • Ceri Jones says:

        Hi, there’s a quick rundown of the activity here – it’s a very old favourite and I’d forgotten how well it could work : https://cerij.wordpress.com/workshops/tefl-del-sur-swapshop/ . I’m thinking about writing a post about how these kids tackled it sometime soon. They really made it their own 🙂

        re being rushed – kinda comes with the territory of juggling young kids’ schedules and work 😉 the classroom can seem an oasis of peace (sometimes!)

    • seburnt says:

      Sounds like a fun activity for younger learners, for sure.

  4. Glad I was drawn here by @CeciELT’s tweet about an ‘inspiring post’.

    So many beautiful reminders here, and yes it struck a chord. It reminds me of the lil’ philosophical trick I’ll sometimes rely on when life’s ‘details’ seem a bit overwhelming – I zoom up through the skies and up into the stars and then look back at our little planet, this little place in the galaxy that we call home. I imagine watching it spin magestically.

    I’m also reminded that the peace or trouble we experience in our personal lives is inevitably projected outwards, just as the peace in your pleasant walk to school brought much the same to your students, and as your acceptance of being such a little star in their galaxies allowed you to find peace when Biology seemed so much more important.

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s started off my day with a philosophical and peaceful perspective. 🙂

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Brad, and I’m really glad you called by.
      I love your philospohical trick. I used to do that a lot as a teenager. We lived in the country. On winter nights I walked home in the dark, no company, no torch, and just enjoying the stars – and the comfort of feeling like such a tiny piece in such an enormous picture. Nowadays it tends to be the sound and the rhythm of the waves breaking on the beach that brings that same peace.
      Thanks for calling by!

      • Love the teenage starry night image n yes for some reason that philosophical trick was often used during my early years too… 🙂

        The sound of waves… now im gettin jealous! Haha

        Wish u the best 2day!

  5. Hi Ceri,

    I’ve been slowly trying to catch up on blog posts reading and what a fantastic post to arrive at! I can start answering your question about what little things inspire us with this very post. It has made me stop and reflect, think back, trying to put my finger on these little things, on how we let ourselves be rushed from place to place, task to task. How we look past things that makes us happy. How we deny ourselves little pleasures – for no good reason sometimes.

    So, I am truly inspired by posts like this, that force me to stop the rushing and see the beauty.(I love a saying – or is it a quote? – I read somewhere that said sometimes we rush so much to get from where we are to where we want/need to be that we forget to look around and see the view of the path we choose. I really like that.)

    I am inspired by our PLN, by the great teachers I see with lives as crazy and hectic as mine – sometimes more – that still find the time to support and help, and write and share, and comment on blogs, spreading the inspiration. I am inspired by the hug I got from a student in the end of class today. By the comradery in the staff room, with jokes and laughter during the breaks between classes. By taking some hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and taking my daughter to her volleyball class, and sitting under the shade of the club’s trees and just reading a book, writing something while watching her run and spike.

    I discovered I am inspired by the very special student in one of my classes this semester, who will be a big challenge with his differences, but who wants to learn English so so much and gives me a big smile when I praise him for getting things right, for trying. I could go on and on now… You’ve open the floodgates 🙂

    Thanks for that Ceri. I needed it.

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Ceci,
      Great to see you here. And thank you for sharing your flashes of inspiration. It’s reminded me of a whole list of other little things – and how important it is to stop and appreciate them. To “let time in” as Vicky said. Yesterday it was little flashes of enthusiasm and confidence from one of my shyer students. This morning it’s the comments on this post 🙂
      Have a great day,

    • seburnt says:

      Please go on. What’s his big challenge? Curious minds want to know.

      • Hi Tyson 🙂

        I hope you meant what is my student’s big challenge (or why he is a big challenge) or I’ll be making a fool of myself in the next few lines…

        This student is special. He’s had some problem that his mother doesn;t want to tell, and he has ADDH – takes ritalin for that. He has a weird, high chest, walk a bit funny and acts/talks funny, which adds to his social awkwardness. He is in a class of normal kids, with normal cognitive development. He demands a lot of extra and special attention, constantly interrupts the class, gets distracted… So it’s been a real challenge teaching him and the group as a whole.

        See the challenge? But good news is his mom told me last class he is absolutely in love with me, thinks I’m the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen (bless his heart). That, in my humble opinion not only makes me smile and boosts my ego but mosre importantly, makes my life a little easier.

        Stay tuned for the next chapter! 😉

      • Ceri Jones says:

        Hello both,
        I’m definitely staying tuned for the next chapter 🙂
        I have a much smaller challenge in one of my high school classes – a student with such a thick affective filter you could touch it. He refused to participate in any way at all to start with. Didn’t even make eye contact. He was basically only there in body – his spirit had retracted and was hopefully somwhere better! But after three months of coaxing and gentle “ignoring”, he’s now smiling, writing sentences and even short texts – not speaking yet – but I reckon that’ll come too. Every smile and every word from him is as precious as all the excellently crafted compositions from his more confident classmates.
        The satisfactions of teaching, eh? 🙂

      • seburnt says:

        Ceci – I see how that could be challenging. Special needs children are integrated into mainstream classrooms here too, even if their special needs could be best addressed elsewhere by professionals. Establishing a report with him (as it sounds like his crush has) is likely very important.

        Ceri – Have you gotten out of him what that affective filter might stem from? Yes, getting students like that to feel comfortable enough to relax a little and become engaged is a fantastic feeling.

        My main challenge is students with very poor time management issues. It tends to end up stressing them out a lot when assignments are due (which is pretty constant).

      • Ceri Jones says:

        I’m guessing it stems from being one of the weaker students in a very multi-level group, all preparing for the same (very “mono-level”) exam, I guess it stems from repeated experiences of failure and scepticism about what our classes (they’re a new, “experimental” twist on the usual mainstream classes) can possibly do to help. It seems, though, that he’s slowly being convinced of their usefulness! And yes, time management is an issue for all these kids in their last year when they are continually cramming for exams, both internal and external. I only see them once a week for an hour – all I can do really is try to ease off the pressure and get them joking and chatting about it in English. My “silent” student has started nodding and smiling and grimacing in those conversations. I’m hoping the ice’ll break soon. Maybe he’ll burst out of his silent period cacoon and surprise us all!

  6. mark andrews says:

    Hi Ceri,

    really like what you did with the biology stuff. If students have their mind on something else, like a test in another subject, I think it’s great to spend time doing what is important for them and if you can do a bit of it in English too, that’s great.

    Also think slowing down and having a bit of thinking time has an impact on the quality of the class. I like walking to work over one of the Danube bridges, the river is always different and the boats going down it are different. There’s something about doing that 20 minute walk that puts me in a calmer state to work in the classroom. and which gives me some inspiration of ways of doing the classes.

    We don’t often talk about these things but there is a relationship between quality of life outside the classroom and quality of life inside the classroom.

    Really enjoyed your post. Thanks!

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your sharing your thoughts and underlining the importance of the link between the world inside and outside the classroom for the teacher too.
      I visited Budapest briefly a couple of times when I was working at IH Eger years and years ago. Once a teacher lent me her flat, looking out over the river. I could have sat and watched it for hours. When I lived in Madrid I often used to walk 40 minutes to work, walking through three or four very different parts of the city. It gave me a real sense of grounding, of where I was and who was around me. I loved those walks. As you say, they brought a calmer more focused state of mind.
      Have a great day!

  7. I think what most resonates with me, Ceri, is in your 5th paragraph above. I’m a big believer that you have got to see your class as individuals, whether they are all 14 and love Justin Bieber, or they are from Afghanistan, Turkey, Guinea, Belgium, Spain, Iran… and so on. Individual (and individuals’) differences are for me what make teaching so interesting, and something I’ve written about before on Barb Sakamoto’s Teaching Village blog: Individual differences count

    Thanks for this post =)

    • Ceri says:

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the link, I’d missed that post. Spot on. I totally agree, the spark, the inspiration is often in the differences. And the challenge too. That’s really coming home to me with my classes at the moment. The students have all been in the same school and in the same town together for so long. Some of them have been in school together since they were three. They’re all studying for the same exam, the input we are required to provide is fairly strictly controlled and standardised, but the personalities, the attitudes, the different abilities in different fields are all so diverse. Sometimes it takes longer to see and access those differences when they’re not maybe as marked as the ones you discussed in your post. But it’s these differences that are helping me come to grips and manage my first truly mixed ability class.
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing 🙂

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