Anyway, I had this one-to-one with a big fish in a bank who only seemed to want conversation. So the first couple of classes went OK, but then he started fading away and then massively missing classes. So as a teacher, I had to wonder what was up. Was my scintillating conversation not up to snuff?, or maybe he just felt he wasn’t really progressing. I hope it was the latter because that’s where I’m going today.
But first, I’d just like to say I occasionally meet teachers who basically do conversation classes and that’s it. That always kind of blows me away because here I am fretting about giving well-rounded classes, hitting all the bases, making sure they have language input, skills work, adapting to different personality types, language needs, learner expectations, past learning experiences, the six R’s, what have you; and here’s this guy saying, “To hell with all that, I’m just gonna talk to ‘em. That’s all they need.” How do they get away with that? Actually as a teacher I know students sometimes have very different learning styles, maybe teachers do too, and can get away with that.
And another thing, it’s surprising what students get used to. Maybe these students think, “This is it. This is state-of-the-art English teaching. Now I’m on the road to fluency”. This must also happen at the other end of the spectrum in certain own-method academies where, at the end of the day, their methodologies are narrow, and I suspect many were out to lunch during the communicative revolution as well. So do these students just not know better, or do they actually prefer this? Different horses (as the Brits say).
Well, getting back to the business at hand, the big fish that got away from me, I was saying it’s important for students to feel they’re progressing. One way to do this is to slot in some hard work in every class, or at least every now and then. I’m talking about some let’s-really-get-down-and-look-at-how-English-works activities.
Now as you can imagine, this is not without its dangers. In fact, some students who are used to being mollycoddled may freak out on you; and you also get tired out business people who want to take it easy. This can be a tough call because often if you’re tough on them, in the end they’ll thank you for “making them learn”. Again, a tough call: what do they really want: a “light” English class, or to go into the breach?
For me most of these grunt classes tend to be lexical where we have a look at a text and spend time noticing collocations, idioms and expressions. By the way, many books have lexically rich texts, but my favorite is Innovations advanced, which at times is just brilliant: it’s amazing how much you can get out of just one text.
But getting back to danger, when you really milk a text like this, it won’t normally be the bouncy, dynamic part of your class, and you have to be careful not to push too hard lest things become a drudgery. In fact, we were deep in a text last week when one girl put her head down on her desk and looked like she had a headache. But afterwards another girl commented on how useful it all was because this is the language she comes across when she reads and travels. Vindicated! And I thought this really separated the women from the girls.
But obviously we’re not slave-drivers: teaching is our bread and butter, so the bottom line is happy students. I’d say we have to develop an intuition on how hard we can push them, and we won’t always be right. But let’s just face facts here, TEFL in not for the faint-hearted; so once more, dear teachers, I bid you go into the breach, once more, expose them to language, let them see their lexical shortcomings.