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The Rut and How to Get Out of It: Suggestions and Self-Help for Teachers and Trainers

by Alex Rossi

Q: Do you feel stuck in a training job going nowhere?
Q: Are you underappreciated, underpaid and overworked – teaching the uninspired and the uninspiring?
Q: Is the next rung on the teacher-training ladder tantalizingly out of your reach?
Q: Is there even a ladder available to grasp at?
Q: Are you wondering whether that ladder you are on is even leaning against the right wall?

I have no magic carpet to take you away from all this but these questions are useful to trainers and teachers alike at key moments in our careers. We are part of a profession and yet, most of us forget this. We go through a similar process of job evaluation and appraisal as people functioning on the business end of the planet. And the rut for a teacher or a trainer is just as real as for any other job.

The rut itself:
This can manifest in many ways. Here are some options that have come up again and again from colleagues who have discovered they are in a rut. Which one goes for you?

It’s the weekend. It must be the weekend. Please say it’s the weekend. I can’t face another group of enthusiastic people and lie to them about the wonders of being a teacher. This job is great for the summer but can I really fake it for the long termers, like me?

Who let this idiot on the course? I can’t imagine what the interviewer was thinking when they thought this one could possibly pass.

I’ve always taught the trainees to model three times before they get the students to repeat. That’s the way it’s done, isn’t it?

You are counting your life away as follows: Wednesday week 1: the hump is here, ah! Monday week 2: oh no – here we go again! Thursday week 3: the end in sight but the assessor’s here tomorrow; Friday week 4! Ah the bliss – but oh no, here comes another Monday week 1 all too soon. Your year is a series of monthly, semesterly or termly units. You are aging before your eyes.

Your partner is wondering what you look like and your friends think you have emigrated for good this time! Your office is a paper chase on speed and your inbox is a blur of new mail messages which you ignore in the hope that most of them are spam. They aren’t.

You realize that you have seen the same student/ candidate/ client a million times before. So often in fact that you can already assign their course grade and write their final report card and it is only day one!

You haul out the session for Wednesday: day 3, week 3 and realize that it was a flop last course and you were promising yourself a rewrite, but never mind, these guys will never know! And it doesn’t matter any ways because each course is a unique experience for the trainees.

Is this all too familiar? Let’s face it: these are some of the measures of being in a rut and before the rut you are in becomes a trench or even worse a grave, something needs to be done. Ruts can happen at any stage of an educator’s career and can often hide lurking in the corner of an office or a staff room for the longest time before the rut-dweller even notices.

Tell tale signs
Catch your self talk or your staff room or colleague chatter and if you hear yourself saying any of these things to yourself on a regular basis than you may be in a rut or it may just be time to try something new.

How to get out of it
Try any of the following knowing that your author and the author’s colleagues have tried them all and have had mixed success:

  1. Cut the negative self talk and take responsibility for your working life. Often ruts occur in an unhealthy workplace environment where there is a culture of complaint and self-pity. Consider balance: Marx was campaigning for our days to be divided into thirds: eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work and eight hours for play. How does your day balance out?
  2. As in most cases, it’s not about shrinking the problem in any way but about making yourself bigger than the problem. Taking a personal inventory of your needs and wants and deciding if it is in fact the job that is doing the damage and not something else in your life will help as a first step.
  3. Let’s say that we have decided that it is the job that is the problem. OK then do an inventory of the job – assess your job and make a learning plan. If you are bored of your job as it seems too trivial and beyond you, look for some new angle. You can’t possibly have learnt everything there is to know about your job. There must be something new out there: a current trend in EFL that you have yet to explore. Find it and find out about it. If the job is too big, talk to your boss about delegating some of your responsibilities to a colleague or to someone in the staffroom who would enjoy the challenge. There may be someone in a rut of their own who needs the extra stimulation.
  4. Become an expert in some aspect of your job if you are under-challenged and in a rut. Do this by doing research on the internet, reading any number of journals or books written for trainers and teachers or sign up to do a course in a related field or in your own field that will allow you to become an expert in something. There are many Masters courses that run long distance or on-line as well as other courses without a furthering qualification. This will give you a feeling of accomplishment. Soon you will see the world from a wider perspective. You might want to give a staffroom teacher development session or may even want to give a talk at a local ELT conference and then who knows where…
  5. Create or join a Special Interest Group (SIG) for the trainers in your areas to share ideas and feel as if there is a community they belong to. This can be as often as once a month or as little as once a semester. If you add a meal at a cheap and cheerful restaurant into the equation, then it makes it more attractive.
  6. Get back into the classroom and remind yourself why you became a trainer in the first place. Often trainers need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk in order to give meaning back to themselves as trainers. In my rather random and amateur research on trainers who had been in and out of ruts the most often, those most prone to falling into one were trainers who never had an opportunity to teach during their training year
  7. If your school allows you to, go and do a training course in a new environment. Many trainers have contracts with schools that allow them one term a year away at a sister centre or an outside centre so that the trainers can see different systems in place and widen their own world view.
  8. Building on point 7, volunteer your expertise for any number of schools in the sub continent and Sri Lanka that require teacher trainers to train their many English teachers. This experience will challenge you and have you working way outside your comfort zone, especially if you are faced with 50 eager teachers and the Bible as your core text!
  9. Become a free-lance trainer and travel the world! Be aware that this option is difficult for people with commitments to loved ones and houses. Also be aware that while it sounds exotic traveling as a trainer, having to find your own accommodation in a new city where you don’t speak the language or having a course cancelled last minute or even having a contract ripped up under your nose after you have journeyed across time zones and having no recourse to justice can be less than thrilling experiences.
  10. Move out! Change career path – move across to industry! But before you go, assess whether the grass is really greener. Talk to people working as trainers in industry and find out about the pitfalls as well as the paybacks. Talk to training consultants and find out if there is enough work in the field that you are interested in and know that starting your own business is often a very daunting challenge.

The rut is there to remind us that we need to regularly appraise our roles in our teaching and learning journey. Contrary to popular belief it is something we can welcome as it helps us give ourselves professional perspective and can be used as a tool to develop ourselves further.

 

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