Over-preparing is a time and energy-wasting habit. It keeps you from focusing on what’s important.
Real change always starts with changes in your mind.
You need to understand first – why are you over-preparing like crazy? What drives you?
If you are only beginning your teaching career, you definitely need to get ready for class, have a plan B and develop classroom management skills.
“Like cooking, you start off following the cookbooks faithfully, until you start acquiring some reliable cooking skills and intuitions, and you can start to improvise successfully.” Scott Thornbury 2
But in a lot of cases, you don’t give yourself that freedom and keep over-preparing.
As if there is a hungry ghost inside that never feels good enough.
Cultivate an attitude of being enough
I remember how I spent nearly a whole day preparing for evening classes. Creating 20 entertaining slides, a detailed lesson plan, cool games, you name it. In class, I spoon-fed my students – because I thought it would make me a better professional. I honed the technical part – all stages, perfect structure, smooth transitions, etc. But for the moment of the actual lesson, I felt like a squeezed lemon. And I couldn’t get rid of that subtle taste of artificiality.
But the moment I would trust myself and divert from my lesson plan to respond to my students’ needs we had lively discussions and lots of fun. And they would understand and remember things better.
It is one of the biggest challenges – to trust ourselves and feel that we are enough now.
Not when we create 100 more slides or get another certificate that confirms that we are good teachers.
We have enough now. Yes, we keep learning – it is a life-long process. But we do it from another place – we do it with whole-hearted awareness.
Less is more
“Minimalism is not about having less. It’s about making room for more of what matters.” 1
Imagine entering a cluttered room with lots of books, random things, stickers, colorful games. Things that don’t belong to you personally. They do attract your attention, but they don’t spark much of your own creativity. It is hard to breathe in such an atmosphere.
But what if we get rid of everything unnecessary, clean and air the room, create the space and conditions for things to appear. When there are no external distractions, it’s easier to look inside and see what really matters.
What if we let students bring everything that is meaningful to them to the lesson? Give up the idea that this room belongs to you as a teacher because you’re an authority here.
But instead assist, support their language, help them structure, and put things on shelves. Let them be the content creators. Clarify their motivation why they need all these things in the first place (so we don’t clutter the room again) and give them control and responsibility for their learning process.
It is in tune with my favorite approach that Scott Thornbury introduced. Its origin lies in his article written in 2001. 2 Later together with Luke Meddings, they wrote a book “Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in ELT.” 3
Benefits of not over-preparing
Think about the benefits you get when you don’t over-prepare.
You create more space in your life for things that nourish your soul. It feels liberating – no more rat race.
You have more time for:
- yourself, your family and friends
- quality rest
- hobbies (for example, I came back to writing that I’ve always loved and it feels fantastic), books, traveling, sports, etc
- reflection and analysis that enriches your work
- hanging out with colleagues and sharing knowledge
- creativity and artistic expression
- quality education
Take a piece of paper and continue the list with the things that matter to you. And how it will feel when you have enough space in your life.
An excerpt from the book “How to reduce your time preparing for online classes and prevent emotional burnout” by Maria Glazunova 2021
- Anonymous quote
- Thornbury S. (February-March 2000) A Dogma for EFL. IATEFL issues, 153: 2
- Thornbury S. and Meddings L. (2009). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Printed in Germany by CEWE Stiftung & Co. KGaA, Germering.