What’s in a name?

Troubles, problems, puzzles, difficulties, predicaments, headaches, nightmares…

What’s in a name?

 How do you describe those moments when your lessons don’t go according to plan? Are they challenges or headaches? Difficulties or predicaments? Problems or puzzles?

Perhaps it seems like just a question of semantics. All of the words above are given as synonyms for “problem” in my computer’s thesaurus. So maybe it doesn’t make that much difference what we call these situations – a situation is a situation, right?

Except that the words that we use reveal our attitude. And our attitude can do one of two things. It can be the first barrier to solving a problem. Or it can be the first step in the solution to understanding a puzzle. (See what I did there?)

A teacher who complains every time something goes wrong brings herself further and further away from making any positive changes in the classroom. All she sees are the problems and difficulties. A teacher whose curiosity is piqued by something that doesn’t go as planned is that much closer to finding a solution. I know – I’ve been on both sides of that story.

My first job in Japan was teaching company classes for a large multinational Japanese company. In the first year I had a class of overseas trainees who were infamous for not being very interested in English. Despite being trained to work at their company’s overseas factories, they had very little desire to actually go overseas. It hadn’t been their idea to join the program. They were not at all interested in participating (in English). They were very interested in socializing (in Japanese) with their friends in class. I begged and cajoled them to cooperate, but nothing seemed to work. I complained to my colleagues. Nothing changed.

One day a trainer from the head office in Tokyo came for a visit. He suggested a new tactic – to engage the trainees in activities which were interesting and which could only be completed by using English. He also suggested “micro-planning” lessons and changing the activities often to keep the students engaged. I decided to try out his suggestions. What did I have to lose?

It was my first experience of methodically reflecting on my classroom practice to see how I could improve my lessons. It ended up being a lot of work but the time and effort paid off. The classes went a lot better and the overseas trainees became more engaged. It was my first teaching success story. And it happened because of a change in attitude. I started to think of what was happening as a “puzzle” rather than a “problem.” And I took the opportunity to make a change.


So what do you do when you face a….

…whatever it is you choose to call those times when things aren’t working out as planned in the classroom?






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