Guest Post: Being Yourself

I’m delighted to welcome back Ania Musielak to the blog. Ania is a passionate teacher and teacher trainer from Poland who I have been lucky to see speak at international conferences. She is well known for her energetic and dynamic presentations, often speaking about her passions of drama and literature. Here she argues that in our teaching we shouldn’t chase the latest trends and that our lessons must reflect our personalities and strengths.

When I was 19 I started my driving course. All my friends already had driving licenses, some even had their own cars and they said that it’s impossible to function without that little piece of paper. So I did my best at the course, and whilst doing it had two minor accidents, broke my leg and went through a mild break down as I really didn’t like driving. It felt unnatural and forced and I really sucked at it!

But finally I finished the course, passed the theoretical part and… failed the practical exam. And I was relieved as I realized that it is something I disliked very much so I decided to “give up”. My friends and family members were surprised, they tried to persuade me to give it another go and told me that “I ain’t a quitter” and I won’t survive without a driving license!

Well, I proved them wrong – I am 34, without a driving permit and functioning pretty well ☺ I turned my weakness into my advantage – I walk a lot so I do get plenty of exercise, I plan my day well as I know that I have to get everywhere on foot, I learned who my true supporters are whenever I really need a ride and, what is more, I am no threat to the other drivers!

What’s the point of that story? Well I decided that I want to do the things I am actually good at and that I enjoy. That is why some time ago I forgot about the pretty image I had in my head about me driving, wind in my hair, looking calm and classy 😉 And the thing is – I’m not saying to give up and not try to learn something new or push yourself – just don’t do something you are uncomfortable with.  It doesn’t mean you should never “leave” your comfort zone – it just means BE YOURSELF at what you do, and do it your own unique way.

Ania, as she used to see herself, behind the wheel.
There are lots of inspirational quotes and slogans out there like “Do what you love, love what you do” or “Do more of what makes you happy”. We read them and promise ourselves that we will take them seriously, but the sad truth is – we quickly fail to recall them.

I think that if you do something you love you cannot fail. Do not force yourself to do the things that others like or things that are popular and trendy, just do what you are passionate about. The same is true about teaching. Passion is contagious. A lesson conducted with dedication and enthusiasm will be unforgettable but if you force yourself to do something you are not at ease with – students will feel that.

For example if you feel uncomfortable with drama – don’t use drama techniques in your lesson or pick the ones you feel will work for you. If you are not a fan of drilling – stick to those forms of revision you are familiar with. All your friends teach using iPads but you cannot bring yourself to do so? Use other forms of technology that you feel contented with.

I have a lot of passions in my life but three stand out –literature, drama and music. And I use those interest and strengths of mine in teaching.

Passion 1 – Literature

I do my best to show my students that reading does not need to be dull and tedious. I use every piece of authentic texts I can – from nursery rhymes and fairy tales to novels and plays. I pick texts that I know well and try to animate the lessons by introducing fun and up-to-date activities.

Do your students like Twilight Saga or Harry Potter? Well, why not introduce the classic Romeo and Juliet and find differences and similarities between those stories?
Do your young pupils learn poems easily? Create your own version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or use poems as a springboard to create a collaborative class book.
Are you preparing your FCE students for the exam? Well, there are plenty of literary texts that are copious in idioms.
My theory is that if you show them that you love reading and that it can be challenging and rewarding, your students will follow suit and start reading on their own.

Passion 2 – Music

I listen to music almost all the time. And so do my students, especially the teenage ones. On English lessons we talk about our favourite bands, the bands we hate, types of music, we compare our playlists and study song lyrics. Sometimes my students “laugh” at my musical choices but they are tolerant and open minded because I do the same with the songs they pick.

Some time ago they were even willing to have a lesson on country music (one of my guilty pleasures, and I don’t mean Taylor Swift country, more like Johnny Cash) and we talked about its history, themes and artists. We looked at songs and tried to find different styles of music that deal with similar or totally different topics.

It was great as from country we moved on to blues, hip-hop and rock. Why? Because my students saw how passionate I was about the topic and how comfortable I felt having a lesson like that. If I had to talk about playing instruments or show them how it’s done – that would be a different story so I would leave it to the experts.

Passion 3 – Drama

I think that drama techniques and games are excellent for every type of lesson. They can be used for enhancing overall fluency, for practising writing, reading and listening. Lately, I have incorporated some of drama games to teach grammar as teaching sentence structure and language rules is one of my weaknesses. When I have to conduct a traditional grammar lesson I am stressed out and it always goes wrong. That is why I use drama games and my students engage in role plays that focus on specific grammatical aspects we are discussing.

Sometimes we use miming activities to talk about various tenses. I feel comfortable teaching like that and my students learn much faster than by listening to my theoretical babble! Another thing that made me fall in love with drama is the fact that with drama you move a lot – and I am a very active person who cannot keep still. Drama is the perfect outlet for my bottled up energy and it helps with motivating my students.

What more can I say – I really believe that by sticking to what feels right and natural to us our teaching will be memorable and what is more, effective. Just as the lyrics of the song say:

Being myself is something I do well.  Whatever you do, do it good.
Express Yourself by Labrinth

Ania Musielak lives and works in her hometown of Tarnowskie Góry, Poland after graduating from Silesian University as a Philosophy Doctor. She has worked as an English teacher, trainer and writer for 12 years, specialising in using drama and literature in teaching English.

Photo attribution:
Photo 2, Photo 3 and Photo 4 supplied by the author.


5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Being Yourself

  1. Ania and James – you two make an amazing team. I always feel inspired when I visit this blog – guest post no exception!
    I appreciate your analogy regarding the driving – needed to hear that.
    Keep up the good work you two!

  2. Hi Anna, just came across this post looking for James' post about Carl Sagan (Chuck Sandy mentioned it in his talk). Glad I found your guest post! Like you, I love music, drama, art, literature, etc. I event started off majoring in classical music before changing because I liked it so much I didn't want to grow to not enjoy it because it was my “job”!

    You're absolutely right in that we have to be ourselves in the lessons and bring what we love to our students. They may not be as passionate as we are, but our passion will certainly create student motivation for the lesson!

    I teach a lot of 1-on-1 business clients, so my lessons tend to be a lot of presenting graphs, welcoming visitors, and taking part in meetings, but I think I need to shake things up every now and then with maybe a class or two per program on more artsy stuff! I'm sure even the most business-y of clients will appreciate a chance to be a little more creative during their English lesson!

    Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Thanks Christina. I'll let Ania reply to your comment, but I just thought I'd let you know that my Carl Sagan post will be up on my other blog in the next couple of days.

  4. Christina thank you for your nice comment:-) Im glad you came across my post.And just like you I believe that a lesson conducted with energy,passion and gusto can really motivate our learners!

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