My story: how I lost my mojo (and got it back) – a blog challenge with a human touch

This is my first blog post, hopefully the first of many. I couldn’t think of a better way to start than with a challenge. This challenge was proposed by the amazing Vicky Loras. In case you don’t know who Vicky is, she is an educator from Toronto, Canada and she is also an entrepreneur. She currently lives in Switzerland, where she founded, with her sister, Eugenia Loras, The Loras Network. Both Vicky and Eugenia blog and I strongly recommend that you follow them.

Vicky’s challenge got me thinking: what’s my story? I have many stories to tell, but there’s a bigger, unfinished story that I’m not ready to share yet, after all, I’m still here! So I decided to tell you the story of when I lost my mojo. What is mojo and how can that relate to education and to a blog that, in theory, is going to talk about English language teaching? According to the Cambridge dictionary, mojo is:

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 12.37.47(Taken from: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/mojo)

Basically, mojo is that sparkle of life, that special thing that makes you who you are. If you are feeling burned out, bored and depleted, whether it’s physically or emotionally, you may have lost your mojo. When you feel like that specially when going to work, red flag, your teaching mojo is at risk.

I lost my teaching mojo when I was observed in a group of pre-teens. There were about twenty students and I was having a hard time with those kids. I remember asking this person to observe that specific group because I was having issues regarding classroom management and my students were very difficult. That class was right after lunch and some students were surprisingly full of energy, which was odd because I knew some of them didn’t actually have the time to eat. Apparently hunger can give you tons of energy when you are ten.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong. If you look up ‘Murphy’s Law’, you’ll see a picture of my students, a bonfire, the observer and me helplessly trying to teach the present continuous. Okay, there was no bonfire, but just because the students didn’t have a match. They went wild, all of them, even the ones that (usually) behaved, and on top of that I was very nervous. You know when people almost die and have those out-of-body experiences? That’s how I felt. I remember looking at the observer and that face was not a happy one.

We would normally have a feedback session afterwards, my observer would write a report, the usual. I couldn’t help myself, I could not wait a week or two, I needed help. So, in the end of my Greek tragedy, I asked “What do you think?”. I knew it had sucked. I knew it would. That’s why I asked for help in the first place. I guess I’d never had so many kids that age before. I hadn’t had any pre-teen group in a while. The perfect recipe for disaster.

It’s funny to think that my first students ever were children and I did a pretty good job. What had changed? I certainly had. It seems that, some years later, children had changed too. What I couldn’t see at the time is that not only were those children totally different, but the setting was different as well. First, I didn’t have twenty; I had ten students in class, maybe fifteen when I started. Most kids groups I had were in the morning and, oh boy, what a difference it makes. The ‘angels’ I had before were not perfect either, they used to misbehave at times. What had changed then?

“It wasn’t good. You need to be tougher with them, they do whatever they want. What about that boy clicking that pen, Pedro, isn’t it? I looked at him and I said ‘stop it!’, ”, my observer said, “everything was wrong.”
“Okay, but what can I do then?”, I asked as we passed by the teachers’ room.
“You’ve got to be tougher with them.”
“But how can I do that?”
“This will come with time. First, you cannot let that boy click his pen all the time, it’s annoying! But don’t worry, it’s about experience, it’ll come with time. The kids are normal, not so out of control. Look, I’m not even going to write a report, I don’t want you to have a bad report in your records.” and those were my observer’s last words, as I rushed to my next class. To my great dismay, that was all I the feedback I got. I’d been teaching for about six or seven years at that time, how much more time would I need? One, two years, a lifetime?

I felt like a total failure.

One and a half years later, I started working at a place that I’d always dreamed about, a very prestigious language school in my city. I was hired to teach two groups: a conversation group and a, guess what? A kids group! Remember what I said about Murphy’s Law? Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. If going wrong is having a big kids group, things did go wrong. If going wrong is having a big, loud, wild group of ten year olds, welcome to my life, things went double wrong. At this school, I’d be observed twice by a mentor and once by a supervisor. The mentor was a sweet fellow teacher, she gave me useful advice. “They don’t expect things to be perfect, they just need to see that you’re trying and that you know what you’re doing”, she’d say.

The day finally came and I was observed. I sucked. Again. For the second time I had sucked. I mean, I’d sucked big time.

At the end of the class, I looked at her and asked, “How was it?”.
“I won’t give you any feedback now, but don’t worry. Gosh, those kids are brats, I’m sorry you have to teach them.”, and that’s all she said about that lesson on that day. That instantly made me feel better. She acknowledged that they were not easy students to control.

A few days later, she gave me some feedback about my lesson and I hadn’t sucked as much as I thought I had. There was room for improvement, specially concerning classroom management, but there were positive points too. This supervisor gave me tons of very practical suggestions of procedures and activities. I was eager to implement them. Some worked (for some time), others did not. At the end of that term that group was still far from what I’d like it to be, but the improvement was undeniable.

austin-powers-quotes4

(Taken from: http://sayingbook.com/austin-powers-quotes-4.html no copyright infringement intended)

And that was how I lost my mojo and I got my groove back. It sounds a bit like Cinderella, doesn’t it? There was no prince, but there was a cool trainer who gave me back my professional self-esteem (which would be the shoe). Maybe the shoe would be my lesson plan. Does that make my other boss a witch?

Hell no! I’m no Cinderella and neither are you. We don’t need to be saved. My boss at the time was a good person, although, as a trainer, I don’t agree with her choice to not write a report. As harsh as it would be, it would have been beneficial to me. I am sure the decision to observe me again in another group came from a loving and caring place.

I wonder how many teachers lose confidence in themselves every day because of negative feedback. We are teachers, but we are also human beings and as human beings we sometimes take things to heart and that takes us to dark places. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize that, yes, I am a good teacher and, yes, it’s okay to struggle with some groups and that does not necessarily imply there is something wrong. It breaks my heart to think that you or a fellow teacher close to you is feeling shattered and lost when they received negative feedback. I was lucky to meet a person that reminded me that I was worth it, what about those who are not as lucky? That’s why I have three tips for teachers to never lose their mojo or get it back if necessary be.

 

  1. If someone has an opinion, it’s their opinion.

Criticism is just another form of people’s opinions and there is no way you are going to please everyone. Even having a set of very specific criteria in mind, different trainers are going to give you different feedback. While they may agree on the overall strengths and areas of improvement of your lesson, you are never going to get the exact same feedback.

 

  1. Every problem is serving a greater purpose.

It may sound like fluff, but we are here on this earth to become better at everything we do. It’s like George Patton once said, ‘Pressure makes diamonds’. Often during hard times we turn our wounds and worries into wisdom. When times are tough, think about what you can learn and remember nothing happens by chance.

 

  1. You are responsible.

Nothing has meaning besides the meaning you give. It’s up to you to assign an empowering or disempowering meaning to your experiences. The outside world cannot dictate how you feel and others can’t validate you. Pave your own path, and remember it is not possible to live up to the expectations of others.

 

I would like to hear from you! Have you ever received harsh feedback that made you question your teaching skills? Have you ever lost your mojo? What did you do to get it back?

Thank you for reading!

T.

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27 thoughts on “My story: how I lost my mojo (and got it back) – a blog challenge with a human touch

  1. I so wanna have the pleasure to be the first one to write a comment here!
    Well, wow. Pretty much: wow. A humongous wow, that’s what I have for you, my friend. Congratulations on having the guts to get it all out of your system in such a classy and altruistic way. I certainly have been there many times and I can say this kind of feedback, the bad one, the one that doesn’t aim at growth can be extremely harmful. It’s very easy (to say the least) to irresponsibly claim: it comes with time. That kind of thing helps nobody. I am happy to see that though this experience may have scratched your mojo, it did not smash it. Life taught me something pretty basic: Love what you do, do what you love. The rest is just pride. That’s less Cinderellesque, more Polyannesque, but certainly clarifies lot of doubts and helps you get by in times of need. Keep on inspiring us teachers. We miss such space. You have a beautiful mojo, let it show!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, thank you for your kind words, Mauro.
      I’m not sure if I’d say that feedback in particular didn’t aim at growth. As I said, it came from a good person, I believe she meant well. She had given me valuable feedback at different occasions. This one definitely was not constructive to me, but that had to do with my expectations as well.
      The thing is, we cannot give so much power to someone or to a specific event to define us. We often forget that it’s up to us to assign empowering or disempowering meanings to our experiences and this is what I want everyone to keep in mind at all times.

      Like

  2. I haven’t really ever been too negatively criticised about my teaching. More often than not, that has come from within. I know when I’m not doing my best, but I’ve learnt to give myself a break. Sometimes there are factors beyond our control; we can only do something about those that are.

    Congrats on your first post! Cheers to more posts.

    Like

  3. Feedback is a gift and gifts can be returned, especially when they are not worthy of your time. Of course not every negative/constructive feedback is bad. Some people need to learn to give it, some people have to learn from it. 🙂

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  4. T is for Teaching, Teacher, Trainer, Touch, Time, Trust and Thiago 🙂
    Thiago,
    Thank you for sharing your lovely experience.
    I am sure it will encourage and motivate many other professionals.
    Congrats on your openness and kindness to receive feedback – but above all, your willingness to improve and become even better.

    Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher, Thi.
    And your trainers were very lucky to have you as well.

    Since I got this great gift from you, I’d like to offer you another one in return (a thank you for inspiring me!).
    I hope you like it.
    xoxo,
    Anninha – missing you tons :*

    ‘Life offers its wisdom generously.
    Everything teaches. Not everyone learns.
    Life asks of us the same thing we have been asked in every class.
    “Stay awake.” “Pay attention.”
    But paying attention is no simple matter.
    It requires us NOT to be distracted by expectations, past experiences, labels and masks.
    It asks that we not jump to early conclusions and that we remain open to surprise. Wisdom comes most easily to those who have the courage to embrace life without judgment and are willing to not know, sometimes for a long time.
    It requires us to be more fully and simply alive than we have been taught to be.
    It may require us to suffer.
    But ultimately we will be more than we were when we began.
    There is the seed of greater wholeness in everyone.’

    Rachel Naomi Remon, MD in My Grandfather’s Blessings

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  5. Hey, there! Gr8 text! That really happens to us teachers very often. In addition, the enormous workload and lousy payment, in my case, has made me lose my mojo, along with my passion towards teaching.
    It seems to me that observer should truly rethink her practice. You’re not the only one, or the first one (I’m sure), she’s scarred. We strive with so many challenges in the everlasting dream of recognition, pleasure and efficiency. Those “above” us ought to be encouraging and loving.
    I currently find myself at a very particular intersection, if I may sway the topic a bit. I see teachers who are just amazing for being funny and for amusing students. Others state we must not play clowns and affirm learners must come to senses and behave for the sake of discipline itself. I’m personally much more inclined to act the first way, although motivating is a tough job when you yourself are far from the fountain of plenty and merry. As it is, I’ve noticed some teachers engaging in various pleasure-seeking activities to make up for the time they endure in class. That’s partially sad, but also extremely valid when attempting to balance emotional needs and money.

    Like

    • Hey, look who’s there!
      I’m so sorry that you feel you’ve lost your mojo. You’re so lively and fun, never forget who you are, your true essence.
      I feel you. Been there, done that. I find it very difficult to keep a positive vibe when I overwork. Let me tell you a quick anecdote. When I shared an apartment with some friends back in the day, a lot of the furniture was not mine. I only owned a fridge, a computer and a desk. As I knew I was going to move out, I needed to make more money and save. Moving out to an empty place with only a fridge and cold water was out of the question! During six months I worked my ass off at three different schools across the city. It was very tiring, but I had a clear goal in my mind, I needed furniture. What I mean is, if you are overworking because of a plan, keep your focus on what matters and that drive will give you the energy you need to bring passion again to everything you do. However, you can only do that for some time. At that time, I was leaving home at 7a.m. and getting home at 11p.m., this is not normal. Maybe there’s someone out there reading this and thinking ‘it’s totally fine’, but it’s not fine to me and I suspect this workload wouldn’t be fine to you either. You have to know what your limits are. If it’s making you unhappy, maybe it’s the time to come up with a new strategy to reach that goal.
      Think about the joy you used to feel in the classroom. What was different back then? How was your life different?
      About the comment you made about some teachers being naturally funny, I believe there are several teaching styles and none of them is wrong. As long as we keep the learners in mind (and liaise with the principles from the institution), do your thing, stay on your game.
      I’ve noticed the same thing and I honestly think it is very sad, because it sounds like it’s a escape from reality. We spend a considerable amount of our lives working, no job should be so unbearable that the only way to experience pleasure is when we’re not working. Unfortunately, that is very common. Sometimes people live miserable lives because of a ‘stable job’. Maybe it’s better to live with less, maybe it’s better to have peace of mind instead of the new Iphone.

      Thank you for dropping by, dear.

      Like

  6. I remember the very first time I had a class observed by a mentor.
    Needless to say it was a total disaster.
    I would play a film snippet and ask students to memorize its lines. Bizarre, I know.
    The feedback session was even worse. This “mentor” person listed everything I did wrong, without telling me how to do right from scratch. Teacher training was not even considered back then.
    Class observation became a huge trauma in my life. I would pay to escape it.
    As time went by, I found out there are so many techniques and games and websites and paraphernalia that I saw myself turning into a teacher I would like. And I was only 19.
    I started loving being observed and feedback sessions became an actual gift. 🙂
    Loved your blog! Looking forward to reading more of your posts.
    Maite

    Like

  7. Masterfully written! Good to read from you!

    As I have selective memory, I just remember some criticism on timing I had from a tutor when I was being observed for certificate purposes. I should have stuck to the lesson plan. Nevertheless, I preferred to move out of it to cater for the students’ needs. Told her I believed in ‘student-centered-timing’! Got a ‘D’, never sorry, don’t regret it, know I was right in terms of teaching for real.

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  8. Hi Thiago,

    I can’t believe this is your very first post – it’s so well written and insightful! Anyway, thanks for teaching me a new word – mojo. I guess we lose and gain our mojos in regular intervals, and it’s quite natural. How could we ever fully appreciate finding our mojo without having felt the lost before? Moreover, the loss-rediscovery cycles teach us a lot all along the way.

    I believe, and it’s similar to Tyson’s idea, that if this happens to us, if the sparkle gets lost, the key is to take a break – to stop and let things be for a while, preferably without analyzing them too much. When I feel worst and I know I can’t do anything to change the feeling, I say to myself that in three days’ time I’ll feel better anyway, no matter what I do – I remind myself of the cliché that ‘time heals all wounds’. Then I try to observe the bad feeling as if it was a foreign entity, something that doesn’t relate to me personally. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your fascinating journey. Reading about it felt like rediscovering my mojo.

    Hana

    Like

  9. when I first started teaching and could not control students I found something to do. I would “bark” at the student being inappropriate, “Unacceptable!”
    I barked it because I was afraid and nervous.
    I would just say “Unacceptable!” At the one student and then go right back to teaching.
    I think it was so weird and random embarrassing to have a teacher bark that word at you that the student usually stopped right away.
    For me, I was able to get that word out really quickly, without having to have too much bravery. And it kept me from entering it into discussion or debate with the student about his or her behavior. It was a quick fix that I still use sometimes if I get someone with really aberrant behavior.
    Good luck on your dream to move someday.
    Saw you on humans of ny and followed your FB page to here.

    Like

    • Thanks for the sweet comment, Mrs. P.! How could I imagine that a comment on HONY would make someone read my blog? I’m glad it did and I hope to see you here more often.
      I’m afraid barking out ‘unacceptable’ wouldn’t have had much effect on that particular group of students. I can’t help but think how funny it must have been! We teachers have so many stories to tell. 😀

      Like

  10. Dear Thiago,
    I’ve just found your blog through the Teaching English – British Council facebook page, and I wish I’d found out about it sooner. Firstly, I’d like to say that I also intend to start blogging soon – haven’t gathered the guts to do so yet. However, one of my resolutions for this year was to get in touch and share more experiences with fellow teachers, so here I am. Secondly, I must say your writing is so sincere and compelling, I had such a great time reading it.
    Now as for your post, I can relate to most things you’ve shared. It is indeed very hard to get your mojo back on, and apparently we found ourselves having to do it more often than not. I’d say sharing experiences with different teachers is one of the best ways of doing it. Like you said, no feedback is ever the same, so getting more than one person’s opinion might help you put things into perspective more easily.
    Anyway, thank you for taking up the challenge. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do the same soon.
    Cheers,

    Leandro

    Like

    • Hi Leandro!
      Thank you for your comment and kind words! I’m glad you liked the blog, there is a lot more coming soon, stay tuned!
      It is hard indeed. I’ve got to say I love your advice! Sharing our good and bad experiences is certainly a great way to deal with feedback, specially negative feedback. After all, we’ve all been there and those who haven’t will.
      I can’t wait to see your blog. Remember to let us know once you set it up.
      Best,
      T.

      Like

  11. Dear T. Veigga,

    Thanks kindly for teaching me a new word ” mojo” .
    I love the way you shared your experiences and I wish I could write like you.
    Your post is well-written.
    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    Warm Regards,
    Nasim

    Like

    • Hi Nasin,
      Thank you for your comment! Let me tell you a secret, I sometimes struggle with writing too. It’s not easy to translate our voice and thoughts into text, but it helps if you practice. I’m sure if you practice and get feedback from your friends, it’ll eventually be easier for you.
      There is new content coming out very soon, stay tuned 😉

      Like

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