Image courtesy of Danie van der Merwe
Teaching is a strange career choice. Think about it. For almost the entirety of your young life, your goal is to get out of school. You finally graduate from high school and you willingly choose to endure anywhere from 2-8 more years of formal education just so you can go back to the classroom. Why? What drives a person to return when they have the opportunity to run away and be free? I was never the best student and I certainly had my fair share of difficulties with bullies (I was almost always one of the smallest students and I certainly wasn’t one of the “cool kids”). My parents were both teachers and I swore I would never become a teacher. I saw the amount of extra time they had to put into their job at home and on holidays (anyone who says teachers have a free ride during the summer needs to have their head examined) and I thought, “Who would want to do this job?”
Well, here I am in my ninth consecutive year as an English language instructor and I still love my job. I love the fact that I get to meet so many amazing people, students and colleagues, and I selfishly enjoy it when someone leaves my class feeling they have grown in their language ability. Was it only because of me? Of course not, but I do hope that I was able to help in some way.
But with the good comes the bad. What worries me about the ELT community, is the way we are becoming very dogmatic in our opinions regarding good or bad, right or wrong pedagogy. While I have often heard the analogy of ‘camps’ regarding those who think along the same lines, I feel it is much stronger than that. A camp suggests a temporary residence where people pitch tents and stay for a period of time before moving on to better places. Instead it is starting to resemble trench warfare with concrete bunkers and foxholes, surrounded by barbwire and land mines. Join them, or face the consequences. Make an attempt to meet them halfway and you will be taken down. Some people are willing to call a truce for a period of time, but often times people will become more and more entrenched, taking shots and lobbing grenades at the other side from time to time.
What should it look like? Well, in the ideal world, we would all be on a journey, never staying too long in one place other than to take in the view and check our road map (GPS isn’t allowed. It implies that we know our final destination). This is like a hike in the woods, a leisurely drive off the beaten track. This is when you discover new and interesting things. Some a bit quirky and offbeat, some downright desolate, while others are rewarding and empowering. This way, we grow in our understanding of where we are and where we want to be. We might be tempted from time to time to stay when we find a place we like, but we need to realize that there may even be better things down the road. Don’t like the coursebook? Don’t plant your flag there and shout at anyone like a crazed lunatic at anyone who wanders within sight of you. Do something to change it! Same goes for those who love coursebooks. Don’t build a theme park on all things course book related. Keep exploring! The things you like about it might inspire you to do something even better.
Instead of choosing sides, embrace the differences and learn from them. Just because I come across a patch of wild strawberries on my hike doesn’t mean that I stop and gather as much as I can since that is the only thing I am now going to eat. I grab a few and enjoy the sweetness of the moment and possibly gather a small amount that I might add to that evenings campfire dinner as I gather other things to eat along the way. Listen to one another instead of trying to drown each other out with our ‘superior knowledge’. You might be right, but you aren’t making other want to listen to you as you gripe and complain about how stupid others are for doing what they feel is right for their students. No, I am not a fan of worksheets, coursebooks, etc., but I can tell you that a number of students have actually learner something from teachers who have used them. Shocking!
I know I might be ruffling a few feathers here, but understand that I am writing this as someone who needs to heed these words as well. As I watch my practicum student work through his lesson plan, using some materials and doing some things I wouldn’t, I also smile as I see students grab hold of something for the first time in spite of (maybe because of?) these methods. I guess I better get out of my trench and put on my hikers as I search out new avenues to explore.