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Teachers -- Are we obstacles to ourselves??
by Aviva Shapiro

When was the last time you "sharpened your axe"? Aviva explains why being a successful teacher may not be just a question of hard work.

Sometimes I think that as teachers we stand in our own way and make life much more difficult for ourselves than we have to. We work incredibly hard all year and forget that we too need a break or order not to "break down".

At the end of the last school year (which was more demanding than most for me ) I read a folk tale which "woke me up". What do I mean?? Well ... I realized that as teachers we are sometimes obstacles to ourselves in being or becoming better or more effective teachers. First let me summarize the tale that I read.

It is a short narrative about a man who worked as a wood cutter. He got a job working in a forest cutting down trees and of course wanted to do his best. The first day he worked hard and cut down many trees. His boss was satisfied but the woodcutter wanted to do better. (ring a bell??) So the second day he worked even harder but managed to cut down fewer trees. This continued throughout the week and finally at the end of the week, the wood cutter (exhausted) apologized to his boss. He said he didnít understand what had happened as every day he'd worked just as many hours and just as hard. His boss just looked at him and asked "Have you sharpened your axe recently??" Wow, What a thought. You can work and work and work but if you donít "sharpen your axe", you aren't going to get as much done or be any better at what you do!!

As teachers we must take time every year to "sharpen our axes". What exactly does this mean? How can we do this? Well first in my opinion it means taking some time to read professional journals, and/or to attend in-service training days. Reading professional material is much easier than it used to be. Most of us have access to the internet and believe it or not, there is a lot of material out there which can help us develop our skills as teachers. Furthermore all we have to do to find a site is to start with ETNI and link from there (or you can Google any subject you want). Really it's as easy as pie!!

As for attending in-service sessions which deal with what is going on in our field, changes and so forth, we are lucky that over the years there are such organizations like ETAI which have made the effort to organize small learning sessions closer to home in addition to the 3 yearly conferences. Moreover, just meeting together with our fellow teachers can help us develop and grow. Even the informal talk at an in-service session can spark an idea or lead to a new thought or better understanding of some issue.

Yet another and possibly much better way to "sharpen our axe" is simply to learn to take a break. I know that many, if not most English teachers have more than one job. (which I wonít go into why we do this as, unfortunately, it's clear to all of us). Whether it's running a summer camp, marking bagrut exams, tutoring private students or teaching evening classes, we never stop!!

In spite of the fact that we could work round the clock, we need to learn to stop (occasionally) and recharge our batteries. (And yes this is coming from a true workaholic!!) We need to find low cost but effective ways of letting go and freeing our minds once in a while. This could just be taking an early morning walk, or allowing ourselves to sit and read a book, watch a movie, go swimming etc. We need to make the time to walk away from the pressures of teaching every once in a while and relax. Otherwise we end up nervous wrecks. (believe me, I know!)

I have found that when I have a difficult problem to solve as either a teacher or as the English coordinator I have to totally disconnect and do something else and then the answer will often come to me. I am sure many of you understand this concept and use it too . For when we focus too much on something we lose sight of other possibilities, get bogged down and feel overwhelmed. By stepping back and focusing on something else we allow our minds to rest and quite often the answer "appears".

I know how hard it is for many of us to slow down. However, in order to move forward as productive and effective teachers we must. We face enough obstacles in our daily lives so why add ourselves to this list. We do have control over our attitudes and we should be aware of this.

As we move forwards towards the changes in the field of English language teaching and become used to to being critical thinkers and "HOT" teachers who are able to teach our pupils how to question and think on their own, we owe it to ourselves and our students to learn to take the time to "sharpen our axes".

So let's all remember the importance of keeping our axe sharpened or we won't be accomplishing more but less and not only harming our pupils but ourselves. So don't be an obstacle to yourself.!!! Start sharpening your axe and remember to give yourself a break from time to time!

Have a great year.

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