Nostalgia. As one gets older, it is easier to have this feeling since life experiences are such that books could be written about each moment. The first kiss, first love, a surprise birthday party, moments with parents and loved ones, travels, every person tends to be nostalgic and bring back the pleasing sentiment to compare them with current situations. Although this might seem hard to be avoided, for teachers nostalgia is a dangerous trap linked to cognitive bias, hindering the effectiveness of our classes.
Cognitive bias are the tricks played by our brains that make us be analytical towards one side only, see things through one perspective. What constantly happens with English teachers in Brazil is the quest for mistakes…. in others. Regarding the students, many teachers still have this technical shortcoming in pointing out errors and mistakes of the students leaving aside their progress and their success, which is a big trap in pedagogical terms for this behavior tend to make students less confidant to produce in the classroom. In addition, how could an English teacher have enough data to check progress if the kids don’t speak, write nor read because they are afraid of the frequent negative feedback? Another issue in this thirst for mistakes that fellow teachers have is the “not me” attitude. Many EFL teachers in Brazil don’t hesitate to appoint problems in other teachers’ plans, activities, posture in the classroom, but fail to self evaluate their own performance. This fundamental attribution error is not applied only to peers. Teachers tend to blame on devices, technology and the latter is considered an enemy when it should be – and is – a facilitator and a tool to give students autonomy in the language and all tasks the English language offers. Time is also one factor always present in teachers who have a hard time being critical with his or her job. Several educators claim they don’t have enough time to prepare a lesson with standard they wish because of the number of responsibilities, students and schools they work for. But do teachers really sit down and plan their lessons?
Lesson planning fallacy is another type of cognitive bias that many English teachers fall into. It is widely known the obstacles educators have, the difficulty in balancing social and professional life, but it is part of every teacher’s JD to plan their lessons even if this means to use some free time to sit down and dig into Google and go through online dictionaries and linguistic corpora. Lack of time cannot become an excuse for a lesson poorly designed or for the frequent use of the same activity. Overuse is common when a plan is successful and then teachers tend to lean on it forgetting to actually analyze whether it worked or not and trick the mind by stating that the outcome came as desired, although this may be a blind answer influenced by a biased perspective. Our mind tricks us into believing that everything worked out due to successful past experiences and then we can keep using the same lesson, activity, task over and over without stepping back and go critical on it. This leads us to another trap EFL teachers fall into, overconfidence. The feeling of mission accomplished can result in a behavior that teachers often have by applying the same activity many times and also by not changing the approach, thus becoming obsolete. Confidence is so high that teachers end up rejecting any analysis and feedback stating their modus operandi needs update, coming up with excuses that were mentioned previously here.
Every time we resort to the past, there is a great chance we are unfair. Nostalgia in education is not only unfair, it impedes evolution and understanding for educators that are trapped in it don’t go the extra mile to design the best lesson, they lean on textbooks and neglect students background, always find excuses for a poorly performed job and deny they are becoming outdated. As Judy Thompson stated in her Linkedin account “When we know we aren’t teaching effectively but we’ll lose out job if we try to change. Denial is choosing not to accept known facts” and the main contributor to that is the bond some EFL teachers have with the past. Another education reformist, Kelvin Oliver, supports that nostalgia makes teachers constantly refer to students of the past, their behavior, backgrounds and challenges, as superior to current kids’ and everything related to them. Living in the past is one big mistake for teachers miss a great chance to actually improve their own skills – falling again in denial – by not acknowledging the characteristics of the new generation of students. As Kelvin also says, denying the new generation and keep trapped in the past supporting that the past was better, makes teachers forget to understand today students, their claims, wishes, context and as a result, lessons have been losing quality. English classes have had the same approach for 25 plus years in Brazil due to this nostalgia effect on educators and there are those who believe are innovative because they use slides in the classroom or because they offer what students like. These may not be giving you the expected outcome exploring the full potential of the students.
Nostalgia sets up cognitive traps that hinder classroom performances of our students. It prevents EFL teachers from attending seminars, workshops, seeking development courses for they say they don’t need them because they self proclaim updated, with approaches that have been successful for more than a decade and deny observations that appoint opportunities for advancement. As a result, Brazil still has students from public, private and so-called bilingual schools with poor performance in English. Teachers, don’t fall into this trap. The past, as awesome as it may have been, is behind us and we need to use it as an experience but always embracing the generations to come.