Here are just some of the many factors that might come into play:
- whether one is part of a unionized or non-union workplace
- whether one has a supportive or oppressive leadership team
- whether one believes one is well compensated for prep time and has enough of it to cover the extra work that PBLA ramp-up and early years of implementation necessitate
- the level taught (with the exception of Literacy Foundations, low levels may prove easily tractable, as might very high levels)
- the demographic makeup of the class (learners with uninterrupted formal education do not need much time or teacher intervention to get used to organizing work in a binder)
- the degree to which the class is multi-level (all are to some degree, as we know)
- number of students in class(es)
- whether school has separate class for special needs students
- whether school is experiencing a wave of refugees with PTSD
- the amount of freedom the employer gives the teacher to adapt and mould PBLA in a way that is less dogmatic and more respectful and responsive to the particular needs of the group
- the number of years the teacher has been teaching the same level (and therefore has built up a reservoir of 'go-to' materials for that class)
- the degree to which the teacher is tech savvy (can easily download resources from the web, participate in forums such as #ELTchat, etc.)
- whether the teacher has a perfectionist personality, preferring to perfect a new skill before using it as opposed to being able to flow with on-the-job training without experiencing anxiety
- whether the teacher is an introvert or extrovert (this introvert is cognitively and emotionally depleted after each class)
And this brings me to a factor that had been in my blind spot until this week. That is...
Almost all of us are familiar with the concept of cognitive load. An understanding of cognitive load is the reason I play the same game with my literacy learners every Friday. It is just one reason my students and I love Back to the Well. It's why I try to stick to a rather predictable (but hopefully not boring) set of routines with literacy learners and with seniors.
I had not stopped to consider the implications of my own cognitive load limitations!
That was my EUREKA moment this week. It's not just that PBLA is taking more of my time and physical energy. It's this: I am someone who regularly teaches at the brink of my cognitive load limit. That's my thing. That's who I am. I am always looking for ways to make the upcoming lesson, module, or set of modules even more engaging, authentic and effective for my learners.
I am also someone whose brain is not particularly good at multi-tasking. Weak short-term memory runs in my family. I write on my hand. I send myself emails or log items on my smartphone to later be transferred to a paper calendar at home or at work. I write notes to myself in the corner of the whiteboard. I ask students to remind me of things: "Guys, don't let me forget to give you this handout before you leave."
Okay, now PAIR my cognitive idiosyncrasies with the fact that I do not want to be that lazy teacher we have all run into at some point. You know the one I mean: the one who fails to plan before class, sleeps in late, and just photocopies a page from a book and rushes into the classroom five minutes late expecting to be able to wing it. Please shoot me if I ever become that teacher.
I have been, from the beginning of my TESL career, the kind of teacher who is committed to giving my students real-world tasks with authentic materials and realia. This is not easily done. It takes time to gather everything. It takes energy. The planning and execution of such lessons and units requires a lot more of my available cognitive load than if I were teaching out of a text book--pages 22-23 on Monday, pages 24-25 on Tuesday, etc.
When I combine awareness of my teaching style and my idiosyncrasies, what I end up with is this realization: I am continually operating right on the brink of my cognitive capacity.
At the recent TESL Ontario conference in Toronto, Joanne Pettis said to me that she often recommends that struggling teachers give themselves about three years to get into a groove with PBLA. I take that to mean it could take me three years to reach a point where PBLA is almost second nature. Like my literacy students on BINGO day, I won't have to dedicate any of my precious cognitive capacity to the form of teaching; it will all be freed up for the content.
But in the meantime, until I get to the top of this learning curve, something has to give. I have already heard from some teachers on this topic. They have shared with me where they feel they must cut back in order to make time, physical energy and cognitive energy for PBLA. Some are starting to 'work to rule,' abandoning field trips, cultural lessons involving extra shopping, and volunteer time to facilitate clubs for students. Others have been sacrificing family time. I have heard of incidences of stress leave, a few resignations, an increase in alcohol use, more stress at home among family members, and so on.
I don't know yet where I'll cut, I just know I have to cut something. I don't want to continue living like I am right now. When I finish work at 3:00, there's no mental capacity left for an hour at the nearby coffee shop with my library book (my brain can't process any more language at that point). I cannot currently enjoy certain hobbies, such as sewing, because following a pattern requires too much thinking.
Anyway, I'm not going to pursue this topic here on the blog unless others in the same boat care enough to join in the conversation. I don't fancy being a lightning rod. For now I am going to go back to focusing on what I can do instead of on what I can't do.
I can continue to share links to good resources as well as resources I create that might make all our lives easier, such as this checklist I developed tonight for my end-of-term writing assessment for my CLB 1L class. I'll add it to the activity pack for the last housing module in my free literacy materials area.
Also, I can continue to simplify the ways in which I execute my PBLA duties, and can develop routines in order to reduce the portion of my cognitive load that PBLA saps. I will continue to advocate for and try to assist those who are struggling--including some who are in an earlier training cohort than my own.
Take good care. I hope you'll leave me a comment.