When you look for good teaching, it’s hard to find.
When you listen to the experts, they seem to say nothing.
The observations sheets try, and fail, to nail it down.
Unable to deal with the complexity of it all,
We dream up a single label and say that this is it.
Look at it from above, there’s nothing that you can see.
Look at it from below, there’s nothing to which you can aspire.
Whatever it is, in essence, it is nothing!
It has always been nothing.
To teach well, go back to the roots of learning,
Remembering that the roots are here and now, not then.
Understand how you learnt before you went to school.
What taught you before you met your teachers?
This is how to teach.
MacDougal told the class to turn to page 78 of the book. It was his first ever effort at being an ELT author and he had gone the extra mile to make sure that the product was different to all of the usual dross on the market. Page 78 marked the beginning of Unit 5, a highly innovative unit that looked at the role of fruit and vegetables in language learning. In space. Into it his editors had shoe-horned a grammar focus on relative clauses, both defining and non-defining. There was a smattering of interest shown in the passive (nothing fancy, just the basic construction). The lexical focus was on adjectives of quality.
The publisher had insisted on each unit being given a rigorous test drive prior to publication and this was precisely what MacDougal was doing. Never before had the material been trialled on a class of students. His heart beat slightly faster as he directed the class to, “Look carefully at the high-resolution picture on page 78, which is the start of a new unit, and talk to each other in pairs about what makes the picture which you can see there different to other pictures that you have seen before.”
He settled back to watch them. Five seconds later, Shoujin put up his hand. Shoujin, the student who had started coming to the class yesterday. Shoujin the investment banker from Shanghai.
“Yes, Shoujin? What is it?”
“Sorry, teacher. We’ve already done this.”
The students have already done it. So what? Does that mean that they shouldn’t do it again? Says who? Oh yeah? You and whose army? The students pay the piper, but the piper calls the tune. Isn’t that how it goes?
Have the students already done it? How do they know? And just where does Shujin get off by interrupting the class in this fashion?
If the other teachers kept meticulous records of work, this sort of thing would never happen to an innocent cover teacher. Would it? Or perhaps that should read, “Or would it?”
THIS BE THE VERSE
Struggling hard to make
An innovative lesson
Condemns you to fail.
Looking for the approval of your students, you will find fear.
Being known as a great teacher will cause you to suffer.
How do I work this out?
Approval cheapens you.
Each time you run to the jump, thoughts of failure emerge.
Each time you fail the jump, you look around for blame.
And how does being a great teacher cause you to suffer?
Simple! Now there’s even further to fall.
Concern yourself with you and you’ll be ready to teach them.
Enjoy your work and the students will enjoy your lessons.
When Mr MacDougal walked into the class, Juan and Isabel hid their faces behind their books.
“Have you done your homework?”
MacDougal tutted. The sound was like crickets in a field of sheep.
Juan said, “But we are making good progress.”
Isabel agreed, “It’s really paying off!”
MacDougal sighed and said, “Tell me about it.”
Would you look at those meddling kids?
When MacDougal woke up for breakfast that morning, he had little idea of what lay in wait for him. He mashed up a gooseberry smoothie and drank it with yoghurt. At the same time, Juan and Isabel were on their way to their class. They had eaten the last cat that percolated coffee. It tasted as you would expect it to. Do crickets live in fields of sheep?
THIS BE THE VERSE
Turn to page 5, there’s nothing there.
MacDougal’s done your ‘ead in.
Christ! Take me to church
In wellies. Would you look at them?
Your many materials stop you from teaching;
Your carefully constructed plans ruin your lessons;
Your teaching ideology fails your students.
A busy, busy classroom leads to lazy, lazy students.
Learning outcomes mean you never come out learning.
To be a good teacher
Do what feels right, not what seems right.
Focus on this; don’t look at that.
Acquisition mechanics remain undiscovered:
the mind cannot discover itself.
All we can do is watch language as it’s used.
Watch the users interact with their world,
react to what happens and what might happen.
Know how to be;
Know how to let others be.
It’s the easy way
with no hidden depths
to uncover within the darkness.
To teach language, be patient as the darkness subsides.
Hang back and let the students act.
The best teachers do not aim for perfection
and in not aiming for perfection,
what is there becomes perfect enough.
When you create your effective learning environment,
The effectiveness comes from what you have no control over.
When you talk about the usefulness of your subject,
Its real use comes from something that has nothing to do with you.
The sticking point of all knowledge
Is to be found around the edges of the knowledge that has already stuck.
Focus on what you are bringing to the classroom and you will feel worthwhile;
Focus on what you are not bringing to the classroom and you will be worthwhile.