Reflective Teaching and Motivation

(photo by M. A. AL Awaid)

It is lovely when students who took my classes, graduated and are now teachers in their own right with their own students, come back to chat. We have wonderful talks, reminiscing about old times, funny stories that happened when they were students, teachers who have left, happy memories of Steve Cass and future plans.

It’s good to learn from them about how I was as a teacher, to hear the positive and negative things they remember. A different perspective about effective and not effective instruction methods is always useful and they always help me see my teaching in a new light. It turns out I am not as good as I thought I was about catching students using cell phones in class. But I do amaze students by being able to wrap up class exactly on time – 25 years of practice pays off!

The struggles they have with their students are the same struggles I have. Meeting up gives me a chance to reassure new teachers that teaching has ups and downs and to give examples about choices and mistakes I made when I was teaching them.

One of the things that we talk a lot about is motivation which reminds me of an article I wrote more than 10 years ago:

“Understanding the Impact of Culture on the TESOL Classroom: An Outsider’s Perspective,” TESOL Arabia’s Perspective 18.2, 2011: 15-19.’s_Perspective

In that text I explain that usually in Omani cultures, it is not polite to make negative comments in public. Thus, if a teacher says “You are bad students” – students will take that to heart, making the classroom more confrontational than it has to be. In some cultures it is expected that teachers raise their voices at students, refuse to answer questions, speak brusquely or use “negative motivation.” These are not effective tactics in Oman.

Former students and I discuss how a teacher’s words are important and that even one sentence can have a huge impact on a student’s life. Many students have told me positive and negative remarks from teachers which either increased or destroyed their confidence.

I have seen teachers declaring “If you don’t study and work hard, you will fail” and students interpreting this as “I will fail you.” Thus, it’s important to phrase motivational statements to be realistic but not defeatist. This means finding a delicate balance between explaining that the student needs to make more of an effort but not making the student feel that success is impossible or disaster is foreordained. It’s a challenge to explain that the choice is in their hands; they have to decide to do the homework, come to class, etc.

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Teaching Literature

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