Self-development as a way to tackle low self-esteem by Katherine Bilsborough

18/01/2017 - 16:12

Have you ever said or ever heard anyone saying you are just a teacher? Just a teacher?! Katherine Bilsborough says there is no such thing and is here with her new post, introducing us to her webinar on June 5th! Katherine points out all the hard work teachers do and fills us with self-confidence! Are you ready?

Self-development as a way to tackle low self-esteem by Katherine Bilsborough

Katherine has worked in ELT for about 30 years as a teacher, trainer and author. She has written books and courses for OUP, Macmillan, Richmond, the British Council, the BBC and others. Besides writing monthly lesson plans for TeachingEnglish, Katherine is a TeachingEnglish Associate, blogging regularly on the site. She also co-curates the Free and Fair ELT Facebook page. Katherine lives and works in a small village in the mountains in northern Spain.

Don’t take any notice of me, I’m just a teacher: A blog post about self-esteem

I was lucky enough to attend a British Council conference a few years ago for employees around the world. The event was for staff from all departments and not exclusively for teachers. Participants included country directors, project managers, peace-keepers, trainers and teachers. We were given badges with names and countries so introductions went something like this:

A: Hello (Bill), I see you work in (Spain). What do you do?

B: Hello, yes, I’m the Teaching Centre Manager in … what about you? I see you’re in Hong Kong.

All good up till here but unfortunately time and time again I witnessed the following response:

A: Yes, I’ve been in Hong Kong for a couple of years.

B: What do you do?

A: I’m just an English teacher.

Just? What can possibly be just about being an English teacher? Having noticed this kind of exchange a couple of times I decided to make a point of watching people meeting for the first time in talks and seminars. By the end of the conference I’d witnessed at least 20 other teachers putting themselves down in this way. It made me feel sad and angry in equal measures. It also ignited my interest in the whole issue of low self-esteem in members of our profession and I started noticing how many of the teachers I was training often referred to themselves in negative terms.

It’s perfectly normal to feel this way sometimes, of course. Everybody has moments of insecurity and self-doubt but when this becomes the norm and starts affecting a teacher’s health and well-being, something needs to change.

In order to tackle problems of low self-esteem, we have to know how to recognise it – in ourselves or in colleagues who we might be able to help. Research has shown that while people with high self-esteem focus on growth and improvement, people with low self-esteem spend much of their energy focusing on not making mistakes. (Silverstone, & Salsali, 2003) People with low self-esteem are much more troubled by failure and have a tendency to exaggerate negative events. This leads to social anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. (Rosenberg, & Owen, 2001)

Signs of low self-esteem include:

being excessively critical of yourself

focusing on the negative

ignoring your achievements and accomplishments

comparing yourself to other people

being unable to accept a compliment

talking negatively about yourself.

If we use these signs as a starting point, there are plenty of strategies we can try out to help raise our self-esteem. Here are a few that are tried and tested. Why not choose a couple to try for yourself.

Keep a ‘positive’ teaching journal. After every class write down one thing that you felt went well. E.g. I was able to help Anna understand the difference between the present continuous and the present simple or My students enjoyed playing a miming game.

Have realistic expectations. First write 2 or 3 musts – things you expect to achieve in a lesson. E.g. All the students will learn how to use the passive voice. Then, next to each one, write an alternative desirable – things that would be acceptable to happen. E.g. Most/Half of the students will learn how to use the passive voice. Then, after the lesson, measure your success according to whether you achieved the desirables. Anything above this is a bonus.

Arrange to have an informal chat with another teacher/other teachers. This can be face-to-face over a coffee or in cyberspace using Skype or a chat function. Before meeting make a note of three things to talk about – such as: (a) a problem you have with a student/class (b) an idea you have for a lesson (c) something interesting you have read about or heard about recently related to ELT.

Next time you notice that you are comparing yourself with another person, stop and remind yourself about your own strengths. Everybody is good at something. You need to acknowledge what you are good at. E.g. I’m really good at organising my work schedule or I’ve got good rapport with my Intermediate class.

Above all:

Surround yourself with supportive people who make you feel good about yourself and avoid those people who bring you down and trigger negative thoughts.