In our final post on our SIG Day at IATEFL this year, we’re happy to share the work of Margit Szesztay. Margit is a Hungarian teacher and teacher trainer. At present she is the coordinator of IATEFL’s Global Issues SIG. What she is really passionate about is group creativity. Harmonizing energies and tapping into the group’s potential. She believes that indiviual creativity – no matter how outstanding – only gets us so far. Schools all over the world tend to value individual achievement over cooperative efforMarit. At the same time, human beings need to be creative, critical, compassionate together. As Einstein put it, we need to ‘widen our circle of compassion’. As ELT practitioners, trainers, presenters, materials writers, we need to balance personal ambition with doing things for the common good.

Alternatives to Coffee & Chocolate
Margit Szesztay

The title of my workshop is: ’Alternatives to Coffee & Chocolate’. And no, I’m not going to suggest ’tea’. ☺ … We will be focusing on energy management for teachers.

I think that being able to manage our time is important, but far more important is becoming aware of what situations, people, tasks tend to drain us, and which are the ones which tend to give us an energy boost. We will be exploring ’near gifts’ and ’true gifts’, ways of recharging our batteries, fifty shades of ’being tired’, as well as finding out about an amazing gadget that can actually measure your current energy levels! I hope you will leave the workshop feeling energised and more aware about how to become a bit more alert, awake, and refreshed … without coffee or chocolate!
There is an activity I often do on training courses that goes like this: „Imagine a week has eight days – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 8th Day. … You have no duties on this day, it’s completely free, 24 hours of free time on every 8th Day! …. What are you going to do with it?” The majority of teachers say they want to sleep! It’s often their first, instinctive response. This goes for beginner teachers, as well as for more experienced colleagues on in-service courses.
So I became interested in how to manage our energies as teachers. To begin with, I wanted to understand better what it means to be exhausted after a busy day, or a busy teaching week. Of course, I’ve experienced this myself often enough, but I thought that reflecting on the experience, stepping back from it, talking to colleagues about it would help me to get on top of it.
I found out that there are different kinds of ’tired’. For example, if you’ve had six lessons back-to- back with only short breaks, but each 45-minutes was rich, eventful, dynamic, with some special learning moments, you are likely to be exhausted, but are probably feeling energised at the same time. Working with people, facilitating learning can be immensely energising. On the other hand, there can be days when you don’t feel the energy flow, the give and take between teacher and class, the excitement of student-to-student interaction, those attentive, interested looks. On these days you might just feel drained, without the rewarding feeling that you’ve helped to create meaningful learning experiences. And most days are probably somewhere in-between these two extremes.
The important lesson for me has been how to release and channel energies in the classroom. And then as a trainer, how to share this knowledge with my trainees. I’ve found that connecting with the learners is key. One of my guiding principles has been a quote by Guy Claxton: „If you want to lead someone out of the woods, you have to go in and find them first.” At the workshop, I will share with you what ’going into the woods’ means for me, and will also give you a chance to reflect and share your stories of how you connect with your learners.
Connecting with ourselves is also key, perhaps the key. Finding ways to bring our special talents into our work more and more fully. Our sense of humour, love for language, artistic skills, care for the environment, our persistence, creativity, or interest in critical thinking, for example. We will focus on ways to get in touch with our deeper selves and bring fresh ideas, alternative classroom routines into our teaching.
As we know, there are no recipes for good teaching, and neither are there recipes for managing our energies as teachers. But being ready to experiment, trying out new routines can be exciting, liberating, and energising. For example, in Hungary, classes in most secondary schools start the same way: the bell rings and everyone stands up. But in some schools, instead of standing to attention, students sit down with their eyes closed, and have two minutes to ’arrive’ for the English lesson.

Classroom routines are not carved in stone: they are passed on to us through school traditions. The workshop will be an invitation for all of us to revisit some of our routines and try out some alternatives.