Dear Me with an Educational Twist

Several days ago Joanna Malefaki wrote a post called Dear Me with an Educational Twist where she asked herself:What advice would I give my younger teacher me?’ She answered that question beautifully in the form of a letter to herself, and then invited other bloggers to join and do the same thing. I started brainstorming my ideas immediately.

That same evening there was a new post on the same topic from Hana Ticha. She tagged me in her post, which meant there was a real chance, or a reason, to share. Doing it now!



A while ago I read a book ‘One’ by Richard Bach. The main characters there travel in time and space and meet themselves in certain points in the past and talk to ‘younger selves’, or even ‘alternative selves’. It is probably not a super new idea about a parallel/alternate worlds where ‘we’ or our personalities keep going according to the choices we made. A quick example: even though I had decided to become a teacher in the past and did not become a film director, as I had been dreaming, there is ‘another world’ where ‘Zhenya the film director’ is living and working.

The big questions of the book are: What if we could talk face-to-face with the people we were in the past: what would we tell them, and what would we ask? I thought that #DearMe idea adapted for teachers can work beautifully if I add a specific point in time where I would like to address this message to myself. It is 12 January 1999, the night before my very first lesson at a state school in Ukraine.

Dear Zhenya,

You might be surprised to read this letter now, and even more surprised to learn who it is coming from. First things first.

Tomorrow you will be giving the very first lesson in your life, and I know this is all that has been on your mind for several days. You are feeling scared that you are only 4 years older than your students tomorrow, and you are afraid if you are going to be treated like a teacher at all. You are rehearsing what to say, anticipating possible questions the students are going to ask you, and imagining how you would respond. You are thinking a lot about the lesson steps (yes, I know you are not super sure what the steps of the lesson should be, because you have not even had a course in Methodology at your university yet). You are thinking whether or not you should be entering the classroom at all, because you know that it is not a job of your dream. (well, at least, this is what you are thinking now). You called your friend asking for advice or support, and all you heard was ‘Remember how we were treating those young teachers in training when we were teenagers?’ You are worried about the senior teacher and what she would think about your lessons (if she ever has a chance to observe you). You are worried of more and more details with every hour brining that lesson closer. You can’t sleep the whole night.

I am writing this message to reassure you: the lesson will be all right. The students will listen to you, and you will feel there was a warm understanding between you and the group. You will feel relieved after the lesson, and you will be teaching in this school (this class and the other group of younger kids) group till May, combining your full-time studies, missing classes, making up for them and making sure you get all A’s at the end of the term. By the way, you will never be observed in that school at all! You will go and observe a couple of lessons by other teachers — but that’s not the point now.

Believe it or not, teaching will be your job, your lifestyle, maybe even your calling for the coming years and years. No, it won’t be teaching in a state school: later this year you will take a teacher training course in Kiev and receive a certificate of Teaching English to Adults (it will be called CELTA later, but now it does not make sense to you anyway). It might sound strange now, but those 4 weeks will turn your world upside down, and life will never be the same for you again. Remember how often you were wondering about the decision you need to make: to become a teacher/educator or to work as a psychologist/coach? Well, the truth is that teaching English using communicative approach will give you a chance to apply your knowledge in both fields. You will work in an international language school. You will travel – for conferences and courses abroad. You will run courses for teachers yourself. You will meet a lot of amazing people from around the world. You will…

I can’t tell you much more and take away the surprise part, or the joy of discovering and learning by yourself. Maybe the tips below will seem general to you — just read them now, and maybe keep this piece of paper to look at later. Especially at the time when you doubt and worry. Like now.

  1. welcome observation of your lessons: you will be observed a lot in your teaching career anyway (by your boss, your peers, new teachers, colleagues, potential customers, guests, etc.) Most of the time, the situation won’t allow you to say ‘no’ to that, but you can definitely learn a lot from this experience. [A little ‘tip’: invite your boss to observe you as often as you can — that will actually guarantee that he won’t be coming to see your lessons so often!]

  2. learn (about/with) your students: about their lives outside the language course, about their study habits, their personalities, hobbies — anything they feel comfortable to share with you might be helpful in their learning process. Remember, you will be using Communicative Approach, and it is all about (and for!) communication in a foreign language

  3. don’t trust course books, don’t take everything they offer for granted, check the information (even Grammar rules!) Yes, even in those beautiful colorful foreign course books. Definitely in the state school books your students are using right now. You will be amazed to learn that those books were written by human beings, who also make mistakes

  4. (connected to the above): develop your critical thinking skills. Well, I know it is a new term, and unfortunately, it never came up even in the Psychology courses you took — so you need to do some homework and read everything you can find on this subject. Yes, I know how much time you are already spending in the libraries, but that’s a very important thing to do. You will see why.

  5. Stop worrying about ‘teaching correctly’: there is no such thing! (Believe me, there is no perfect lesson either) Embrace making mistakes. If you combine these ideas, you will see what I am hinting at: enjoy the process, both the learning and teaching, appreciate the beauty of human communication, be grateful for those wonderful people around you, trust your luck and intuition — and you will see miracles happening! 

Hope you can sleep now. Wish you could write back to me (from time to time) and ask specific questions about everything — but that would probably spoil the magic of life. (keep writing those questions down, just in case — who knows, maybe one day you can share them with someone else)

So… good luck in this journey. We can do it!


Teacher Trainer, EFL/ESL Teacher


While I was drafting my notes and posting this entry several more bloggers created their letters to selves: by Christina, by Marjorie, by Angelos, by Sandy (I might have missed someone else— and there seem to be coming more – watch #youngerteacherself on Twitter!)

Thank you for reading this far — looking forward to the comments and thoughts! 🙂

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
This entry was posted in Teacher Reflections and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Dear Me with an Educational Twist

  1. Hana Tichá says:

    Dear Zhenya,

    Thanks for taking up the challenge and for coming up with this lovely post, which has given me another opportunity to get to know you more.

    Although I’m not absolutely sure, I might have read the same book by Bach you mention in your post. The plot sounds familiar (but I used to be into the sci-fi stuff so I may be a little confused now). I confess that I find the idea of living a parallel life truly appealing. Personally, I sometimes catch myself dreaming of opportunities which I know I can never turn into real experience. Not that I lack courage or something, but the truth is (let’s be realists) that there are things that I can only dream of now. However, based on my observation and personal experience, dreams may sometimes come true in a disguise; for example, someone once wanted to become a film director but now they’re running a private language course, so they need lots of those skills directors need to do their job.

    It was a great idea to describe the way you felt before the very first lesson. Unfortunately, unlike many teachers, I don’t remember my own. I remember some bits and pieces from my teaching practice but nothing really consistent.

    Well, you seem to have given your younger self lots of useful advice. As for the tips, I totally relate to all of them.



    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Hana

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. You are right – this is what the challenge is about: getting to know each other better (one great thing) and then perhaps sharing some experience with those who are starting to teach (another valuable part?)

      As you said, there might be (well, for sure there are!) more than one books/movies/stories where there is a chance to travel in time, or to live more than one life. Fascinating. For some reason, I almost feel it is possible in reality. Well, I know 😉

      On a serious note, one exercise I learned from Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s Way’ was the following: list 5 other jobs you would have liked to be doing in the ‘parallel worlds’ and then, next to each of them, write one thing from each you can be doing in this life. I tried it, and had a lot of fun. Like with the example of being a film director, I started to take a lot more pictures outside, and pay attention to, or participate in conversations while traveling. Small things, really, but fun!

      Thank you once again for stopping by to comment. Wish there was a chance to involve those ‘other us’ into this conversation, too. Maybe ‘their response’ can be another round of the blog challenge?



  2. Pingback: #Youngerteacherself | My Elt Rambles

  3. joannamalefaki says:

    Hi Zhenya,
    This was a great post. I really liked the part about not trusting course books. I think that when we are new teachers we think that course books cannot make mistakes and that if it’s in the book, it must be right. As a newbie, I was scared to stray from the book. I wanted to do everything. Now I know better!!
    Re observations, everyone is scared of them, aren’t they? Once, you have a few, you know it’s not a big deal!!
    Once again, thanks for taking part in the challenge. I have read some amazing heartful posts these last few days.
    Till the next challenge!! : )


    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you Joanna for reading and commenting (and for starting the challenge encouraging teachers to share those memories+advice) I enjoyed writing this one, and of course love reading what others say to themselves.

      Yes, till the next challenge! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. careymicaela says:

    Hi Zhenya!

    I’m just catching up on all the reading I haven’t been able to do lately and I came across your Dear Me letter. I really enjoyed reading about your beginnings as a teacher, possibly because we have some things in common. Reading about how you worried about the first day of class and couldn’t sleep because of it took me back to my first year of teaching. I had never taken an Education course and knew nothing about Methodology. Like you, I had studied Psychology and to this day I use that knowledge in every single class. I learned a lot about teaching during that first year through trial and error as well as observing other teachers. In some ways I’m glad that I didn’t start off with a background in Education because I think it forced me to pay more attention to what I was doing and to strive harder to become effective as a teacher.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s nice to find we have things in common. I also enjoyed reflecting on how far I’ve come since that first year. 🙂


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Micaela

      Thank you very much for reading and for leaving your kind comment. Yes, there are many things we have in common! (just thinking that blogging is perhaps one of those rare opportunities to find see it?)

      Yes, those first lessons felt like being in the dark, and guessing a lot. Yes, trial and error, observation, reflection (all of these were unstructured in my case, thinking ‘what would work for me as a learner’, etc.) and also listening to my own intuition a lot. And as you said, paying a lot of attention to the students, trying to help those who are in my classroom. Maybe this made a perfect start then? (especially as you wrote in the last sentence about reflecting on the progress made since those times?)

      Once again, thank you for reading and responding. I would love to read your own Dear Me post, if you ever decide to write one. I am learning a lot from the series! 🙂


  5. Pingback: #KELTchat Slowburn: My #YoungerTeacherSelf. 28th April 2015, 11am–7pm (KST) | #KELTChat

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