I had this mixed-feelings experience a couple of weeks ago in class. To give the reader a bit of context, I’m talking about a group of fourteen 17-year-old students. I can’t help mentioning at this point that it’s one of my favorite groups. They like to engage in speaking activities of all sorts and as their level of proficiency is quite high (around B2-C1), you can bring up any challenging issue and you’re always likely to generate an interesting discussion.
In one of the lessons before Christmas holidays, when the level of concentration and interest is not exactly at its peak and so the students quite understandably try to talk the teacher into something ‘more fun’, one of the boys was suddenly interested in knowing something related to the final exam (which, by the way, takes place next year). Why do Czech high-school students who hold an FCE/CAE certificate still have to take the final state exam in English? I thought it was just another attempt to divert the course of the lesson in the desired direction, yet I was willing to go for it. What
annoyed struck me though was that he asked in Czech. As there is an exchange student from Brazil in our class, I told him that it would be considerate of us to discuss this issue in English. So we did. There’s another boy who enjoys debates and is very good at them so he soon chipped in.
The cut it short, the two boys and I got fully engaged in a heated debate about a topic which only concerned a few students in the group. The others were only listening. It might have been interesting for them but I wasn’t sure. The discussion went on for about 30 minutes, I guess. I wanted to terminate it at some point but the two boys kept throwing in more arguments. So I at least tried to drag the others into the discussion by asking what they thought, but unfortunately, they didn’t have much to say. I had a feeling that the others found the boys’ approach to the debate somewhat inappropriate. I occurred to me that maybe, the boys were a bit too stubborn when expressing their views (considering the fact that they were talking to their teacher). For example, at one point, the second boy said that he accepted one of my arguments but not the other one. And he said that the discussion was actually pointless. I was perfectly comfortable with his view and I told him that I agreed, but I added that although it was a pointless discussion in the sense that nobody can win or lose, it was an important subject encompassing concepts like equality in the access to education which, by the way, I strongly advocated during the discussion.
Nevertheless, towards the end of the lesson, I felt that some kind of guilt … or rather shame … was floating in the air. Not mine, though. The shame, for some reason, seemed to be coming from the class. And I couldn’t quite detect why.
The Brazilian girl, who normally takes part in our discussions with a lot of enthusiasm, remained completely silent throughout this particular debate. In the end, I invited her to compare the situation in Brazil and the Czech Republic. She shared some very interesting things with us and I felt a bit better about the whole situation. She came to me after the lesson and she said that she had agreed with me all the time but that she had seen no point in chipping in.
I had and still have a couple of concerns related to that particular lesson:
- Was it a waste of time for most of the group or was it important in some way?
- Should we terminate such a discussion soon because it’s not on the agenda or should we try to exploit it in some way? If so, how? When? What if it gets out of control?
- Can it be unpleasant for some and even create tension in the class when the students witness a heated debate between a student and the teacher? Some still see the teacher as the ultimate authority after all.
- Did I get too passionate when discussing the subject? Did we all (three) get too passionate? Maybe we just scared the others away. I know I sometimes do. 🙂
- Should the teacher express their views so strongly? Is it their job at all?