Organize, organize, organize! (Forgive me if the contents of this post are blatantly obvious)

18 Apr

So I’m having a crisis of confidence at the moment and I’m sure that I am not alone in having felt this way about classes and teaching.  Like I said in the title, forgive me if what I am going to say seems ridiculously obvious, nevertheless  I think it is useful to put these things down in writing because if you can put it into words you are helping to define it, and once you’ve defined a problem you can start dealing with it.  And since I’m a sharer, I thought I would put this on the blog perhaps to give comfort to other teachers out there feeling the same way: misery loves company.  Regardless, even if this gets read by no one else but me, I’ve found it useful.

Okay, you’ve been warned.  I’ll continue.

I’ve been teaching in Argentina for about 6 weeks now.  I have a somewhat full schedule with 9 classes (approximately 50 students in total) over the week, 24 teaching hours but thanks to some classes taking the same course, I only have to prepare for 9 classes a week… in theory.  Of course, since classes have different strengths and weaknesses and move at different paces, there is some inevitable modification of those lessons which should be the same.

My primary problem is that I am starting to feel the water level rising, I feel I’m about to drop the ball somewhere, the going is starting to get a little tougher… have I bored you yet with all my phrases and metaphors and nonsense.  I’ll stop now.

So that’s what I’m doing

And where is it starting to go wrong?

As ashamed as I am to say it, since I only have my bigger classes once a week (I share the class with another teacher) I am still having huge problems remembering names.  They all remember my name, of course, but I have 50+ teenage Argentineans and I never worked out a system to learn and remember their names.

That’s a symptom of where it started to go wrong from day one: the lack of a system, the lack of a well organized filing and record keeping system on my part.  Part of this is laziness.  We’ve all been there; by the end of the day you’ve been teaching for 6 or 7 hours almost non-stop, taking your breaks for what they were intended, a break!  By the end of the day you are exhausted and even then it’s difficult to remember what you did in the first class.

However, part of this is ignorance.  Knowing what to do and knowing how to do it are two completely different things.  I know I need to be more organized but I don’t think I really know how.

I love computers, I really do.  I started keeping notes in a Word document about what I was doing in class.  But that depends on having the computer available to make notes or ideas when one pops into your head.  This is also a problem if you are projecting something over the computer for the students.  I also keep notes on paper but soon I have a pile of papers with hand scribbled notes, half illegible about some class or another but I’m not sure which one.

So what’s the problem to be fixed?

I’m entering week 7 and I’m wondering “What have I done with whom and why?”  NOT a good position to be in.


I’m sticking to pen and paper on this one (sorry techies) and I’m going to keep a journal.  A teaching book that will keep separate each and every class.  This will serve two purposes (well, at least two really): it will keep track of my classes and keep a track of what I do with each of the classes (hopefully allowing me to start keeping better track of names).  However, it will also serve as a gauge for me; the way I see it, if I don’t have time in class to keep these notes then I am doing too much work in class, too much TTT, too much unnecessary TTT.  In 90 minutes of class time, students need to have some time to just get on with the work.  The benefits for improved recycling of language, reference to previous exercises, activities, vocabulary, grammar, etc, are obvious.

I’m surprised that there wasn’t more focus on efficient, effective note-taking skills when I did my CertTESOL.  Certainly we did a lot of reflection on the course, far more than a teacher can reasonably do in a day-in/day-out situation.  However, the action of keeping track of the class, as it happens, random thoughts that you think of in a flash but that can be gone just as quickly.  How much better and more connected would my classes be if I could start preparing them while in my class with my students?

My Challenge

This is a challenge to myself really.  Over the next few days, I’m going to start posting these notes onto the blog.  This will force me to keep doing it and, since I know there might be an audience, it will force me to keep the quality as high as possible – get into good habits.


Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Reflections


Tags: , , , ,

6 responses to “Organize, organize, organize! (Forgive me if the contents of this post are blatantly obvious)

  1. KBarrs

    April 20, 2011 at 1:06 am

    Nice post and I feel your pain! I have the benefit of going into my second year at the uni where I work and here are a few ideas I have implemented in this new academic year which are going well.

    1. I have a notebook for each class to record those ‘flashes of thoughts’, random things I promised students I would do etc. It is basically a large collection of notes but each page is one lesson and I date them so I can refer back. Sounds like your journal idea.

    2. Along with the notebook I have a simple A4 sheet of paper with a table divided into 2 columns and about 20 rows. I write what we did in the class in one column and the homework in the next. These sheets have been SUPER USEFUL for checking back over the semester to see what we did and repeating the course this year.

    3. Because I have the same classes of students over 1 year I gave out pieces of paper for them to use as name cards. They fold it into a triangle and write their full name and nickname. On the back of the card, for them to see, we wrote down some useful classroom English phrases they would need to learn in the first few weeks. I collect the cards at the end of the lesson and then give them out the next challenging myself to remember their names. Will probably need the cards for about 3 weeks (30 students in each class).

    I also have a class photo with everyone holding a white piece of paper in front of them. I print this paper out A4 size and write in the name of the student over the white paper they are holding. I use this sheet to refer to in and out of class. Works with a class of 30 but not sure if you had a class of 50. Could be tricky.

    Hope some of these ideas help…

    • Gordon Scruton

      April 24, 2011 at 11:33 am

      Thanks for the post!

      Your point about have notes/phrases written on the back of name cards is noted and I’ll be trying that out when classes start again tomorrow.

      Next thing on my list is to post scans of the notes I made from last week, as promised. Watch this space. 🙂

  2. Alejandra

    May 21, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Hi Gordon,

    I love reading your reflections on lessons. I do keep a little book where I write down ideas about each student and myself.
    I´ve found KBarr´s idea about name cards original and useful. I generally don´t have problems to remember students´name ( after so many years) and because most of my students have been with me for at least two years, but it has happened to me with the new students ( due to old age?? je)

    I take notes on every student and write questions about what I´d like to focus on ( for example: attitude?) The following class I do pay more attention to those who I´ve noticed I really don´t know well yet. It´s been useful.

    about organization: I reflect on my classes, but as I always say, the success of an activity frequently depends on the kind of students you have in each class and their mood that day. I´ve done many activities which I considered a failure, but then when I tried it again with a different class it worked wonderfully, so I never give up ( unless I see it doesn´t work at all)

  3. Gordon Scruton

    May 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm


    Your point about not giving up on an activity because of one failure is a good one. You make notes on every student? Wow! Do you do this in class or after it? It’s a good idea and it works well if you want to follow Dave Dodgson’s approach for connecting with young learners wherein he talks about asking them personal questions and remembering the answers. However, it takes diligence and a lot of energy – something I am sometimes in short supply of.

  4. Geri

    May 24, 2013 at 8:44 am

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