Sunday, 4 April 2010

Teaching Meme

I found this 'meme' on a blog somewhere. I don't usually go for this kind of stuff, but it's a quiet day, so what the hell, here is my version. ELT, by the way, stands for English Language Teaching, which is what I do.

1. I am a good teacher because... I’ve learned from my many mistakes, even though these still do come back to make me wince in the insomniac small hours. Also, I have learned from being able to observe scores of other teachers fuck up that we all make regrettable decisions in classrooms about management, materials, and relationships. Wherefore he who hath never caused a student offence with his insensitivity, pitched a lesson way too high or too low, or pretended to knowledge he hath not and thereby spoken untruths in class, let him cast the first stone.

2. If I weren’t a teacher, I would be... an unpublished writer, an unemployed actor, a frequent visitor to rehab or possibly all three. 

3. My teaching style is... humorous and energetic and very student-centred, meaning I do as little up-front teacher-to-whole class input as possible, preferring to get students working in pairs or groups on the task in hand, and circulating as they get on with it. I’ve been an amateur actor and director of plays, and despite being an amateur I did at least have a strong sense of audience, and have suffered the arse-numbing tedium that billows from teachers who lack any such sense. There are times when I feel my job is a branch of the entertainment industry and each gig needs its gags, its timing, its changes of pace and its music. This may sound unworthy of a university teacher, but attention spans are not what they were, and in any case for at least half the year we are trying to raise the students' level of general rather than academic English. There is a close link between theatre and language teaching, I reckon, as a classroom is a safe space for students to rehearse behaviours applicable in the outside world, such as making presentations, arguing about the meaning of a text, ordering in restaurants, asking directions, and so on. It's not a coincidence that so many EFL teachers are ex-performers of one sort or another.

I saw a job advert this morning in which Oxford Brookes were after a teacher whose job would involve ‘undertaking teaching responsibilities with a specific focus on the interface between language and society with an orientation to language as a social semiotic.’ 'Christ' I though, 'it sounds right clever stuff, does that. Tin’t fert likes o' me.' Then it occurred to me that it may just be an arsy way of describing exactly what I’m good at.

4. My classroom is... not my own. I teach in several rooms in several buildings as our ‘centre’ has in fact no centre. Room size varies from walk-in wardrobe to aircraft hangar, so rearrangement of the furniture is usually necessary to create space or intimacy, as required. Stern notices on the walls tell you to put the tables back in their original formation before leaving, but I tend to ‘forget’ if it's after lunch. See 6 below.

5. My lesson plans are... in my head and often improvised. In adult education you frequently follow where the students lead, and if some centre director does not trust me to do this well after thirty years on the job, s/he has my leave to get stuffed. I am not, thank God, required to produce a blow-by-blow plan for every lesson as some poor sods in other institutions are. A friend who taught at a College of Adult Education was required to make explicit reference to each of her students’ nationalities in every lesson, and details of how this was to be done were to be provided in every lesson plan. Fuck knows why this was required– some mad notion of ‘inclusion’ contributing to an overall ethos of ‘excellence’ dreamed up by some shiny-arsed management control freak, no doubt. I do occasionally write the lesson aims on the whiteboard at the start of the session, as this is taken as an earnest of high seriousness in certain quarters: British Council inspectors in particular are impressed by the practice. No student has ever complained or apparently even noticed when I don't do this, so I am slightly irritated by the importance observers of lessons like to attach to the 'menu'. Gives them a box to tick, I suppose.

Incidentally, if you join any teaching organisation that makes much of its commitment to the 'pursuit of excellence', beware. It usually means it is managed by control freaks who prefer admin above their chief joy.

6. One of my teaching goals is... to make sure I get the 15.17 train home every evening. This means, dear students, that you can forget about cigarette breaks in afternoon sessions and abandon hope of any activity requiring a CD player or a laptop between 13.00 and 14.50.

7. The toughest part of teaching is... Monday morning.

8. The thing I love most about teaching is... positive feedback from happy students, as you might expect from what I said in 3 above. E-mailed encomia, admiring word of mouth recommendations, prezzies – all very gratefully received. Makes me feel useful. Russian students should note that I appreciate vodka rather more than calendars from Georgia, Cossack hats, fridge magnets shaped like Kazakhstan, and that sort of thing. Once I thought of bargaining with the centre director when our Russian students presented him with a bottle of top-drawer vodka and me with, among the things listed above, a bottle of Kazakh brandy and an Armenian garden gnome. I was, selflessly, prepared to give up my gnome to take the vodka off his hands, but he wouldn't have let me make that sacrifice. 

9. A common misconception about teaching is... that anyone who speaks a language can teach it. Pisses me off, that does. If you believe this, you are welcome to come and try. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get twenty Saudi students to the point where they can discuss, with reasonable accuracy and pronunciation intelligible to a native speaker who is unaccustomed to foreign accents, hypothetical outcomes of a situation or situations of your choosing using the second conditional. You have 100 minutes, minus ten for a cigarette break – theirs, not yours. You don't get breaks.

10. The most important thing I’ve learned since I started teaching is... to stay clear of conferences. What there is to say on the subject of ELT has been said, over and over, and much of it is drivel. No point staying overnight in a hotel to hear it all get re-hashed, re-lit, re-heated. Unless of course the hotel has a swimming pool and a nice bar where you can ignore the conference and its insufferable delegates completely.


Fionnchú said...

As a former if clear-credentialed for life Adult Academic Instructor, I heartily second your ten points. The problem with college vs. ESL teaching is that I no longer receive any presents. Even fridge magnets, which I collect as it were for my dreary, steel-cabinetted cubbyhole. And I am reading a book about Kazakhstan at this very moment...

vilges suola said...

Most of the gifts we receive remain at the office, as few of us know what to do with those arrangements of wire and coloured crepe paper Chinese students are fond of bestowing on us, or the miniature balalaikas, pot sombreros and souvenir flags and pennants. It's the thought that counts.

What's the book? Interesting? Will you be reviewing it?

Fionnchú said...

Christopher Robbins' (yes) "Apples Are From Kazakhstan" so far I find readable if not exciting. Very British, a respectable travelogue, well-told. Certainly it'll earn a review as I am on a Central Asian kick and next want a good read about Mongolia.

I hope more happens soon to your fellow countryman; I had a former colleague long before "Borat" who'd taught ESL there post-independence.

She as happens a lot I bet in your profession married a native and brought him back to the US of A but he reverted to the manners of the steppes and they did not live happily ever after-- which happens a lot I bet in your profession...

vilges suola said...

I'm more familiar with the Greek phenomenon: British girl goes to Greece on sun-sea-sex-wine spree, gets engaged to a Greek and goes native. Is pressured into finding a job in a local language school, which are a dime a dozen, and swells the ranks of Greek teachers of EFL who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground.

Mediterranean kiwi said...

everyone should do this meme - i will write something about it too and try to connect it with food in some way...


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