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Dead Class

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I love an audience. That’s definitely one of the best parts of teaching. I talk to my students basically the same way I talk to my friends: casually, informally, personally. Yeah, there’s some risk because there’s real communication; I don’t see eye to eye with everyone, but it’s good to hear other views, and I learn. Teaching really is a two-way street: I learn as well. If not, teaching would be dead boring.

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William Christison
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Also, teacher talk does involve the challenge and creativity of continuously recycling the language that comes up in class. For example, in a recent class we came across the expression “it cracks me up”, and now I use it every chance I get.

Anyway, it can be a bit disconcerting having a class that doesn’t respond to you. That’s the case of a largish advanced class I have at the academy where I work. This definitely isn’t the first non-forthcoming class I’ve had in my life, so it doesn’t like stop me dead in my tracks. It does, however, make me wonder why they’re this way.

I generally assume it’s because that’s just they way they are. Every class has its personality. It’s a very curious thing how the combination of personalities in a group make up a personality for the whole group, and it could be that, just like people, you get on better with some groups than with others.

On the other hand, it may be a sign of a weak group. Students sometimes work up through the levels and get into an advanced class, but really their level is lower and I’m talking over their heads; or they have a complex and don’t want to say anything in front of the whole class for fear of looking bad.

Yet another possibility is the group isn’t “jelling”. Sometimes the students just haven’t really bonded and don’t feel much trust, which is decidedly unhelpful when having whole class discussions.

Or I could take it personally and think they don’t really appreciate my sense of humor or my teacher talk and would rather be doing something else. I think there really is something to the idea that some groups have chemistry and some don’t. I’ve been around the block a few times and have experienced both, and everything in between.

Nobody is immune. I remember I was once substituting for my boss for a week or so, and the class complained to me about this person. This has actually happened to me more than once. It’s a weird role reversal. What am I supposed to do, have a “chat” with my boss? I think you’ve got to take this sort of thing in stride: you just can’t make everyone happy all the time.

The way I see it, one thing a teacher can always do is make sure they’re learning. Even if the chemistry is not there, they should never be able to say they’re not progressing. I personally wouldn’t be caught dead without having clear lesson aims.

So for me good teaching means everybody’s learning, the teacher as well as the students. It means you and your students are taking a trip in your car. You’re going somewhere and steering clear of dead-end streets. If your air-conditioner isn’t working, it’s less comfortable, but role down the windows and make the best of it, and make sure you get to where you’re going.

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