Getting Unstuck…10 Experiments (by Theodora Papapanagiotou)

We have all been there! Sometimes you’re swamped with work, with personal problems and you just can’t function. As a teacher, as a person, you just go through a very non-creative phase and you actually don’t know what to do. That’s how I have been feeling lately and in an attempt to get “unstuck” I have asked Chuck and Barbara to suggest a subject for me to write on and maybe I could get over what I am feeling right now. So Barbara said: “Why don’t you write something about this? How to get unstuck!” I found this a wonderful idea and started doing a bit of research on the Internet. There is plenty of material with lots of advice. The thing is…does it actually help you to move on? So here is me experimenting…

 1. Change of scenery

Maybe if you are in an unfamiliar place, your mind starts working differently. Acting like a tourist even in your own hometown helps you find out more things about the place you are in. You take photos, you meet people, you ask for new information,and you clear your head. Maybe you don’t get new ideas immediately, but it does help to just relax and not think about work and problems.

2. Accept yourself

A little self-reflection does not hurt. Look back at your actions. What happened in class today, this week? Did I achieve the goals I had in mind? What was the best moment of the week? Did I live up to my expectations?  I must have done something right. And how about my failures? Why didn’t I achieve my goal? Why did the students not understand the grammar I have been teaching? And why did my student do poorly on the test? Was it my fault or didn’t he study?

All in all…count on yourself. Maybe everything is not in order, but we are getting there….

3. Change something

Is there anything you don’t like about yourself? About your teaching? Why don’t you just change it?  You can do something irrelevant to your work. Dye your hair or get a haircut. Something that will make you feel good and confident. Change a teaching approach, or a book, or  flip an exercise. Did it work? Did you feel better? Reflect on that!

4. Try out new things

A different book maybe? What do you usually do in class? If you only have to use a course book, why don’t you watch a video or listen to a song? Or read a book in the last 10 minutes of your class? Do the students like it? What are the benefits of trying a new thing? Did it not work? At least you know!!!

5. Talk with somebody

Two heads are better than one. And we do feel better if we communicate with other people. Arrange to meet a friend or colleague for coffee or if it is not possible, you can Skype or chat in your comfort of your home! Find out what they have been doing and share your ideas.  Don’t be competitive, it is not a competition. We all try to do our best in our work.

6. Stay away from negative people and situations

As I mentioned before, it is not a competition. Constructive criticism is good, but there are always people who try to make you feel inferior. Believe me you are better than they think!!

7. Do something that makes you uncomfortable

Are you afraid of talking in front of an audience? Are you afraid to write an article? Do it!! Do something that scares you every week!! Get out of your comfort zone! It will be difficult, I know, but when you are done with it, you will feel so good about yourself. You will feel so strong, you will be able to do everything you have in mind after that!

8. Make lists

Not only lists with your everyday tasks. Make Goal-diaries. What have you always wanted to do? Collaborate with a school abroad in a project? Use a new teaching method? Go to a convention abroad? Write it down! One day you will make it! And you will feel proud!

9. Dig out old projects

What were doing, let’s say 5 years ago? Were you working on a project back then? Why don’t you try it with your new students, with some adjustments? What went well back then? What went wrong? Can you do it better this time?

10. Do things that please you.

Devote some time to yourself. You don’t always have to be a teacher. Stay home and read a good book, or watch a movie, or go out running, or cook something. Whatever you like. We cannot be teachers the whole time. We have to unwind.

I don’t really know if all this can help us create new ideas. I am still experimenting.  I’d love to hear what you think!!!

Note: This article by Theodora Papapanagiotou originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

Theodora Papapanagiotou

About Theodora Papapanagiotou

Theodora Papapanagiotou is a teacher of EFL and DaF (German as a foreign language) in Greece since 1992. She has worked in various language schools in her hometown, Thessaloniki and with various levels and ages. In the past few years she has been working as a freelance teacher and taking parts in conventions, webinars and online courses, trying to become a better teacher.

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10 Responses

  1. Barbara Barbara says:

    Thank you so much for this, Theodora! I’m going to keep this bookmarked for the next time I feel stuck. You’ve given me a treasure trove of ideas to try 🙂

  2. It was a great chance for me to start digging!! Let’s hope we’ll get some more ideas from the readers!

  3. Alex Case says:

    Some great ideas. My own feeling of being stuck recently is more feeling that whatever I do my students are simply not learning much, or sometimes anything. Obviously no easy solution to that, but some of these might help me come up with ideas.

  4. How about using examples from your students interests? That would motivate them to learn more maybe?

  5. Natalie Hörner says:

    Talking to collegues, to other teachers can be very helpful.
    The other thing on your list that I always find helpful is the one that tells us that we need to think of ourselves as persons and not only as teachers. We need to constantly work on a good life-work-balance. We need to find out, what is good for us (Running? Yoga? Cooking? Reading a good book? Meditation?) and then we need to make time for doing it. Thank you for this wonderful article, Dora!

  6. This is wonderful, Dora, thank you.
    I can’t find something to disagree with, really, except perhaps for making lists which is a personal thing, they just don’t work for me.
    I would add talking to your students to those experiments. Every time I feel I’m not moving ahead as I should, I take a pause and talk to them again. It’s amazing how many ideas they can add to our own, usually without realizing the impact a simple remark can have!

  7. Thank you girls for your comments!! Wishing everybody a great new year without getting stuck!!!

  8. I have been through that zombie like not-creative phase for a year, maybe long. I would say nothing is more authentic method to come out of it than reflecting on your own self. You can’t afford to avoid people or expect miraculous suggestion from people around you. If you are in teaching profession for long, a burnout phase is almost inevitable. Psychological consultation helps too. These guys know this brain stuff better.

  9. Miguel says:

    I have one more thing, it helps me a lot whenever I get stuck on something. It is a variation of point 5 (talk with somebody), in my case, it is “help somebody” because whenever I get to contribute creative ideas to a friend, or even help someone on the street, I feel happy and I get new ideas.

    Great article, thanks!

  10. SmileTutor says:

    I completely agree with most of your points here. Most of the time people get “stuck” because they’ve been too stagnant. The trick revolves around switching and shaking things up. What I like to do personally is get active physically, go out for some sprints and get my blood pumping. Then I take a cold shower and my mind and body gets “unstuck”.

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