I bet you are all enthusiastic and full of energy now that the conference season is at its peak. I bet you feel in awe of what your colleagues do in the classroom and you are eager to try out all those new ideas you took down during the workshops you’ve recently attended. But let me tell you something, professional development and teacher training are both completely futile. Or at least that’s how some of our students see it.
Earlier today I had a lesson with a group of teenage B2 students. They were preparing for a written test – an opinion essay. The topic was: Can money buy happiness? I’d brought some material which I thought would help them get a broader picture of the issue (a 12-minute TED talk video and a handout with random excerpts from online articles related to the topic). During the speaking activity, I overheard a student say that money can definitely buy happiness. He went on to explain that you can actually buy anything you want; for example, you don’t need to be talented or hard-working because you can buy a university degree. He added that there is basically no difference between someone who has obtained the degree legally and someone who has ‘bought’ it. I chipped in and said that I disagreed. I told him that he would probably tell that one of his teachers, for instance, had once bought a degree. Now I realize that I should have used a different example, such as a doctor because what the student then said virtually spoiled my day (which by no means was his fault, of course).
Practically anybody who speaks good enough English can enter this classroom and ask us to talk about whether money can buy happiness. And I wouldn’t tell if the person’s degree is fake or real.
First of all, now that I’ve written it down it looks more cynical than it actually sounded. He didn’t sound rude or offensive to me and I actually got his point. In fact, he is a very motivated and gentle student, who always cooperates with me as well as his peers.
Still, his remark got me thinking. It occurred to me that maybe, the more effortless our teaching appears, the less professional it looks. Apparently, it doesn’t matter that the unbearable effortlessness of our teaching is a result of many years of experience, years of teacher training and further professional development, a lifelong passion for teaching and maybe a bit of talent too. It seems that our students believe that as soon as we enter the classroom, we start throwing some random stuff at them, which anybody could do for that matter.
I think the problem is the Communicative Language Teaching. I mean, CLT simply looks suspicious because the teacher does very little while the students do a lot. Consider the following activities:
You ask your students
- to discuss a topic in pairs or groups and then you ‘just’ go around the classroom and monitor. Later on, you ‘just’ give collected feedback to the class, but X and Y are not really paying attention because they think it doesn’t concern them – they didn’t make this particular mistake after all.
- to discuss something and you don’t ‘even bother to’ correct their mistakes at all.
- to watch a video and take notes while listening. Later on, they ‘only’ compare and discuss the notes with their partners.
- to read an authentic text you found on the internet (because you thought it might be interesting for your students) and discuss the questions below the text (which, obviously, you created yourself).
- to play a game.
- to brainstorm ideas and make a mind map.
- to do a collaborative project on a specific topic.
- to revise vocabulary in pairs, i.e you ask them to test each other and give each other feedback.
- to create their own questions for a text you later give them.
- to create polls and questionnaires.
- to take an online personality test.
- to make a PowerPoint presentation.
Since sometimes I tend to be hard on myself and I care about what (I think) my students assume about me as a teacher, I asked myself this: What should I do to make my teaching look ‘more professional’ in the eyes of my students? Is it possible and/or necessary at all?
I hope I will speak on behalf of many English teachers out there if I say that all the above techniques are always chosen carefully and the choices are based on the teacher’s pedagogical beliefs and scientific research into how languages are learned. But this is something our students don’t and can’t see. Should we constantly justify our choices then? Shall we tell them why we want them to do this or that? Shall we show off from time to time and prove that we know our stuff – at the expense of student talking time, for example?
Or shall we just relax and enjoy our (seemingly) effortless way of teaching?