A 1.5 Million Yen Secret (by Steven Herder)

If you read Stories from the Front Lines of EFL, and thought, “I’d really like to be part of this project, but I’m not sure anyone would be interested in my story” then this post is for you.

Answering just a few important questions can give you the confidence to share your thoughts and ideas about teaching. It may take a bit of time, some reading and some effort, but anyone can do it. You can benefit yourself and all of us by taking this step in your own development as a teacher. Everyone has some great successes from the classroom to share, and all of us really do want to learn from you.

Here’s one way to get started:

I was a shy teacher for 16 years. I had learned so much over the years but was too timid to share any of it with my colleagues. I had so many worries: they would know that I wasn’t originally “trained” as a teacher, they wouldn’t believe what I had to say, they would ask me questions that I could not answer, and so on and so on. Even though I had years of experience in the classroom, and loads of common sense, I was lacking the theoretical background, in both the science of learning and the art of teaching, that always left me feeling like an impostor or a fake. For me, doing my MA TEFL was the way to become a complete teacher: but now, having recently finished, I realize that it is not the only way. I’m going to share a secret with you that can save you 1.5 million yen and make you feel equal to your educational peers if you’re willing to put in some effort.

There are only two small steps that you must take. In return, you’ll enable yourself to make a giant step in your own professional development and feel like a very well rounded teacher: define your theory of learning and your theory of practice.

A theory of learning (TOL) is simply an opinion about how people learn a language. There are probably 436,782,285 other opinions out there, so don’t feel like there is any one “correct” answer that you must follow. What I’ve learned from three years of reading about and discussing this topic in detail is: teachers who stop and think about how people learn have more success than those who simply teach from the teacher’s manual, or teach as they were taught. Simply writing down what you think leads to learning, and then giving reasons why you think like that, will put you way ahead of many other teachers who have yet to realize this simple truth.

The second step is to define your theory of practice (TOP). This is like making a list of all the things that you will do in your lessons to help your students learn. Of course, these TOP methods or activities should be directly connected to your TOL opinions. If you can decide to do more of what YOU believe leads to learning, and stop doing things that you don’t believe leads to learning, again, you will be way ahead of many teachers who unfortunately don’t know the power of this secret.

I ‘m happy to share examples from my own personal TOL and TOP. I’m always looking for new colleagues to share ideas back and forth with. Who knows, maybe we’ll work together on a classroom research project; maybe we’ll publish something together, or even better than that, maybe we’ll become friends.

Finally, the reason I wrote this is that I want to help those who would like to share their thoughts on this blog but don’t have enough confidence to get started. I think that is a shame, because I realize that some of my best ideas that I now share are the same ideas that I first used 15 years ago. Nobody at that time helped me to realize that I could share them with others. So now you know that you can!

Good luck and cheers for now! I hope to read your story soon.

Note: This article by Steven Herder 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.

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13 Responses

  1. Just back from a trip around Steven’s blog and website. You HAVE to go and have a look! Hats off, Steven!

    • StevenHerder says:

      And WHEN you visit my blog, please check out the link to The Potato Diary under my blogroll. There you will find a super-creative, fun and engaging space designed by Patrick Jackson!

  2. I agree 100% – I remember reading the steps to mastery in teaching/training

    1. The unconscious incompetent: you don’t know what you are doing is wrong – you don’t see that your students are learning
    2. The conscious incompetent: you know something is wrong but don’t know what and don’t know how to fix it
    3. The unconscious competent: you know that your students are learning but you’re not sure what it is that you are doing that is working
    4. The conscious competent: you know what works and why and how… you practice this regularly

    ..but like all things, 4 is a slippery slope – if you get to comfortable you’ll end up right back at 1.

    Thanks for sharing Stephen and Barbara,


    • StevenHerder says:

      Hi Karenne,

      I have never seen those 4 points before. I can quite clearly remember all of them. I’m in my 20th year teaching EFL and somewhere at the start of the 4th stage. I will heed your warning about the slippery slope, though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  3. Marisa Pavan says:

    Hi Steven,

    I couldn’t agree more on your opinion as to teaching theory and practice. I’m an ESL teacher and I believe that despite the fact that teaching was a gift I received when I was born, I needed to develop these skills through studying and practice. Experience teaches one a lot and the creation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) contributes a lot to one’s professional growth.

    • StevenHerder says:

      Thanks Marisa,

      I see on LinkedIn that we’ve both been at this for about the same length of time. Having the opportunity to connect with people like you keeps my days fresh and exciting. Thanks a lot.

      I bet that your perspective as a translator would make a very interesting article on this blog. Let us know if you’re interested.



  4. I really enjoyed your post! I think you offer inspiration for educators just starting to blog. I know I feared no one would be interested in my blogging stories. I’m still surprised people do read the posts and respond! 🙂 However, some of my favorite bloggers have blogged less than a year and I love their passion and enthusiasm! I think blogging helps readers define their teaching values as well and continue to reflect on their own pedagogy. Thank you for sharing!

    • StevenHerder says:

      Thank you, Shelly. I’m sure that we’ll be in touch again. I’m looking forward to getting to know more about your teaching context and your thoughts on both teaching and learning.



  5. Dear Steven,
    thank you for sharing this.
    Some people are born teachers, but because of the jargon that surrounds any profession, if they have not been initiated (paid the yen – lol), they think they are not serious teachers and can, at times, be viewed with distrust by others.
    Congrats on your MA, but more on realizing that we can educate ourselves. However, to do that we do need to reflect on what we are doing, all the time.
    My reflections can be viewed on my blog at livejournal, and you are welcome to link to it at any time: https://leoteaches.livejournal.com
    Happy teaching!

    • StevenHerder says:

      Hi Leonie,

      I’ve enjoyed having the chance to read through some of your posts, and
      I’ve happily added your journal to my blog roll. It strikes me that we all have the same questions and challenges, as we share the same EFL context. Being neighbors, I hope to meet you some day.



  1. September 23, 2009

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Barbara Sakamoto, Barbara Sakamoto and Graham Sk. Graham Sk said: RT @barbsaka New post: A 1.5 Million Yen Secret by guest blogger @StevenHerder https://bit.ly/1B3oyO […]

  2. January 1, 2011

    […] A 1.5 Million Yen Secret (by Steven Herder) […]

  3. January 6, 2012

    […] There are only two small steps that you must take. In return, you’ll enable yourself to make a giant step in your own professional development and feel like a very well rounded teacher: define your theory of learning and your theory of practice. A 1.5 Million Yen Secret (by Steven Herder) – Teaching Village […]