Teaching unhugged

There is no more pressing question in any field of education than: what is the best way to learn?

Another popular question with a similar intent is: why isn’t student X learning?

Or: why isn’t method X working?

For some time now, I’ve felt that the biggest thing holding back the trendy Communicative Approach is that it’s just too nice to students.

Forget grammar translation, forget drilling; those are too hard and boring. Far more effective are those catchy Communicative collocations:

build rapport

lower the affective filter

Let’s all sit in a circle, smile and speak, speak, speak. How lovely. How warm and fuzzy. How jolly and how communicative we will be.

Ugh. Haven’t we gone too far? We’ve become absolutely obsessed with students being happy.

Seriously – there’s no need. Genuine learning ultimately comes from rigorous application to serious study. Dedicating any more than 2% of lesson time to ‘generating rapport’ is an utterly pointless exercise. Let’s just get on with the task at hand, for goodness’ sake: learning English.

And anyone with teacher training experience knows ‘rapport’ is a meaninglessless category on observation sheets anyway. Trainee X has frozen in front of the whiteboard? Completely confounded poor Pablo, who only wanted to know if “I’m lovin’ it” was something he could get away with saying? Produced a woefully misguided worksheet asserting that we use the present perfect for a specified time in the past or something that recently finished but might still be ongoing? Oh well, at least there was “good rapport”.

But “good rapport” is not a substitute, even a temporary one, for “good teacher”. Language teachers aren’t supposed to be nice, friendly people. They aren’t trained to be nice, friendly people. Let’s be honest: the nice, friendly ones aren’t teaching anyone anything.

And why should we be friendly with students anyway? This industry has a bad enough reputation for being a ‘doss job’ for gap-year students and other no-hopers without us trying to collect ‘teaching hours’ to boost our pathetic incomes by going to the pub and calling it ‘work’.

Way back when I did my CELTA, after a Facebook-related fiasco, someone sagely suggested we should “be friendly, but not their friend”.

But even to that, I ask: why???

They’re not your friends; they’re paying customers who want a service.  That service is language tuition.  Not pastoral care, not trips to the pub, not Facebook ‘friendship’. We teachers aren’t trained to deliver any of those things and we shouldn’t be attempting to provide them.

April Fool!

Chrysa Papalazarou for #eltpics

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About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

3 comments

  1. EBEFL

    I have a feeling this might be an April fool -which is kind of a shame 😉

  2. Don’t hold back Laura, speak your mind! Seriously, I’ve been saying this for more than 15 years. I do ‘befriend’ students on FaceBook, however, this is a ploy to keep in touch in order to provide editing and proofreading services to them once my IELTS or EAP sessions have got them into uni. Cynical but profitable; and my way of keeping wolves from the door.

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