Saturday 28 September 2013

Teaching Without Emotion

Have you heard these sayings?
  • Learning should be fun.
  • I'm just a dancing monkey.
  • English is exciting.
I'll never forget during my first year of teaching my boss told me that I should make my class more exciting. I asked her if she could show me what she meant. She taught my class of about eighteen 5 year old for about half an hour. Her class consisted of the following.
  1. She held up a paper with a drawing and the word "come" on it.
  2. She danced around and shouted "come!"
  3. The students jumped around and giggled and went to her.
  4. She held up a paper with a drawing and the word "go" on it.
  5. She danced around and shouted "go!"
  6. The students jumped around and giggled and ran away from her.
She did this for 30 minutes. The students were supposed to learn two words in the entire class and didn't have to say anything (yes, I realise that students don't have to produce language at the beginning, but if they only have to learn 2 words a class, that's not much, especially for children).

After watching that performance, I thought if this is what TEFL is about I want no part of it. While I understand that learning can be fun and running around and giggle can be a part of the classroom, to do it for 30 minutes is overkill.

There's a time and a place for everything. It seems that children do need to have more fun as adults. We have a longer attention span and are used to lectures and the like by the time we get to university. What galls me is when students give teachers low evaluations because the class wasn't fun. I'm sorry, but I've yet to see a syllabus that has "students will have fun" in class. It's just not done. Students should be taking classes to learn. In fact try asking your students and most of them will tell you they're in your class to better their English (and the rest will say they're there because someone made them take the class, like their parents or boss). So why is it that they're there to learn English but then complain when the class isn't fun? If they're learning, why complain?

A strong proponent of boring classes is Noam Chomsky. Despite this, he's one of the top ten quoted authors (living or dead) and he's an incredibly boring speaker, yet all his lectures are packed. He defends his style saying "I'm a boring speaker and I like it that way.... I doubt that people are attracted to whatever the persona is.... People are interested in the issues, and they're interested in the issues because they are important.We don't want to be swayed by superficial eloquence, by emotion and so on."

So there you have it. Learning can be fun and exciting, however, it's not the end all.


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