Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Barbara Blackburn discusses the challenges and strategies for raising motivation and rigor in the classroom. I was bitten by the writing bug when I came across one activity proposed by Barbara. She invites us to write a letter to a first year teacher using 13 very specific terms. Anyway, tempted by her challenge and moved by one ´first time´ experience I have had recently, I decided to have a go at it. And this is what I came up with.

My dear friend,

Welcome to the profession that teaches all other professions. I am excited that you have accepted such a challenging experience. A considerable amount of literature has been published on teaching and the joys of a perfectly taught lesson. However, far too little attention has been paid to the fact that every class should feel like our first one. I don´t mean to lower your expectations, but even after 20 years (yes, I am that old), I don´t take anything for granted. As you get ready to get to work, remember to always keep a positive attitude. After all, what could go so terribly wrong in one of the most romantic professions ever?

You will have a full agenda in the years ahead, workshops, seminars, lessons, lesson observations, meetings, office parties and graduation ceremonies. Taken together all these events could mean that sometimes you may find yourself too busy to eat, sleep or enjoy your family. Are you still there? Great! If you haven´t resigned or deleted this message you are ready to enjoy one of the best things in life: making a difference.

Over the past few decades, the classroom has seen many changes, stunning transformations I would say. Paper, pens, computers, interactive whiteboards, tablets and mobiles, you name it!

Let me make clear that tools will always be tools and nothing else. What will matter most is the partnership that you will establish with your students. Are you willing to set goals for your students and never accept anything less than a ´very productive lesson’ (for all partners involved, you and your students)? Are you ready to understand that lessons are NEVER the same and variety should be one key aspect when planning a lesson? Mind you, variety does not mean showing videos or playing games because you feel that students have behaved on a given day. Variety means that your lesson cannot and should not feel like a linear ´to do´ checklist.

Engagement is a term frequently used in our profession, get used to it. Nevertheless, it is advisable that you know what it feels like. Having your students in tune with you is one of the greatest pleasures in teaching. You will find many definitions for the term engagement. However, I can assure you that the only way to really understand it is to plan your lessons and ask yourself: “would I like to sit through that?, Is that really relevant? What is in it for me?” Those are the questions that students have in mind when they come into your classroom. Trust me. Been there, done that. I am sure that you can remember what being a student feels like. (Which brings me to my next point.)

Never forget what being a student feels like. It is funny (in a very sad way) to see how some teachers change their vision of the classroom when they experience this swap of roles after graduation. Success will depend greatly on motivation. Honestly, would you feel motivated if you were being told to shut up, sit straight, and listen, do nothing but listen? Achievement cannot result from a passive role, can it? Create an environment where everyone has a say in the decisions, but that does not mean giving up on the rigor of a well-managed classroom. You are an authority in class, so you are entitled to say no and to set the rules. However, you shouldn´t dictate. Dictators are not cool, and you want to be a cool teacher, right?

People begin teaching for a variety of reasons but what are the reasons that keep us hungry for more and more classroom experiences? I will share my reason for staying in the profession: diversity. You will get to meet all sorts of people. Warning: you might be tempted to forget that we are dealing with people; students are and will always be people. You will cry with them, laugh with them, love them, and sometimes hate them for making your life miserable. You will meet them, years later, and they will introduce you to their new spouse and show you pictures of their children, and you will think that you are getting old.

Having said that, I have to confess that I have tried other professions, but a leopard cannot change its spots. I am a teacher, and because of that will forever be a learner. Keep on learning and believing and welcome to the best journey of your life. Let´s keep this chain going and after you have been teaching for a while write a letter, note, tweet or a post and let us know how you are doing.


Giselle,an old leopard


  1. I just posted a huge answer here, but it got lost as I logged-on to Wordpress! Oh well... the important part relates to the fact that you have managed to capture most of the challenges and joys of being a teacher here... and I'm thinking of sending the link to my own son, who's nearly 18, as he's contemplating becoming a teacher himself after university! Thanks for this... I look forward to reading future posts, as i'm a great admirer of all your great work in and outside the classroom!

    1. Thank you,Graeme. In my humble opinion, there is a significant positive correlation between sharing and caring.In my professional life,I learned along the way that sharing what we know will make us better professionals. Personally,I can say that it has made me a better person as well. And that´s why you can call me a 'sharing freak', lol.I look forward to your comments and tips.As for sharing this article with your son, it makes me so happy that teaching still attracts young talents. Long live teachers!

  2. What an inspiring post!

    Thanks, Giselle!

    1. Thank you,Angela.Great to see you liked it! =)