Home > Commentaries on TTC > A problem shared is…now ruining another person’s life

A problem shared is…now ruining another person’s life

Dr Drake Ramore is on holiday this week, so Dr. Scott Meddings has stepped in to answer readers’ problems. If you have a problem that you think Dr Meddings might be able to solve, please send it, along with the usual payment to the Teachers’ Benevolent Fund (more accurately known as the Teacher’s Benevolent Fund) taped to whichever bottle of hard liquor you are sending as a gift to the doctor. This week:

Dear Dogtor [eh?! eh?!]

I am a teacher of young learners. Much as I’d love to do the dogme with them, it is impossible. They need order and structure and they wouldn’t know what to say. Please pray for me.


Ermintrude Blekinsop

Dear Ermintrude

Why so? Of course, young learners need some structure, but have you read of the work that Neus Figueroa did in Barcelona?  [Note to Dogme editor: is this the right name?]. Why not chiggitty-check out the post from Sue Murray about young learners. It’s number #1272. There is nothing incompatible with dogme, order and structure.

How long have you been a teacher of young learners? Where in God’s name did you get the impression that they wouldn’t know what to say?! Would that it were true. You do realise that you have to remove the gags occasionally, don’t you?

Dr M.

“Now then, the future continuous is used…”

Dear Dogtor

I have 50 students in one class. How can I be expected to organize my classroom into smaller groups?! It’s impossible.

Dear Overworked

How can you not be expected to organise your classroom into smaller groups? Look – if you are the sole teacher in a room full of 50 people, then you are not really expected to teach. You are expected to fill their time. Their real teachers are busy for now and need someone to keep an eye on their sheep.

In situations like this, you often find that the students also expect you to do a shepherding job. They will probably expect you to pour English into their heads. You will need to proceed with caution. Begin with casual chats at the start of the class; introduce more group work where students have to discuss; always allow time for group discussion before any feedback stage. Before you know it, you’ll have weaned them onto dogme. Now just make sure that nobody finds out.

Dear Dogtor

You see, the thing is, I really dig the dogme vibe, man. But, whoah! I teach Chinese students, like, you know? And it’s like a cultural thing, see.. they’re not a nation of talkers. And like, Confucian cultures and all, you know, they expect like a leader. What can I do?

Dear Knobhead

I know what you mean. I was in China last weekend and it was eerie. Sooooo quiet! And those who weren’t blindly following around a leader were just stood there – lost. It’s their culture, you see. Just like it’s our culture to blindly paint any other cultures into reductionist stereotypes.

One strategy that works for me is to stop seeing my Chinese students as Chinese students and start seeing them as students. I met a traveller from a distant land and he confided to me that China was actually a very big place. Even cats have room to swing cats there. He said that it was hard to isolate any characteristics of the “Chinese” because it was such a huge place with so many different cultures within it. However, you may prefer to adopt the Orientalist approach which means negating all of these differences and just seeing them as Different and Other.

You may find that some of your students are not used to being expected to perform actively within your classroom. In which case, it’s part of your job to help them acquire these skills. One simple way is to expect them to perform actively in class.

And before you write me off as a hopeless romantic, I’ve been teaching “Chinese students” for the last ten years or so – so be careful what you say. I’ve got a scalpel, knock-out drugs and a market for body parts of unknown provenance.

Yo! Dog!

I teach English fo’ Specialized [with a ‘zee’ then…so be it] Purpozez. All that technical vocabulary, I mozt zurely have to know it all to teach them the jargon they deal with daily.. zurely?

Oh don’t be so stupid. And don’t call me Shirley [RIP Leslie Nielsen]. I teach English for Nuclear Quantum Physicists. When we do activities in class, I have no idea if I don’t understand the students because of their English or because they are discovering the structural laws of time. Surprisingly, New Headway for Quantum Physicists still isn’t out, so I have to make my own materials. I also have a world to inhabit. I can’t do both [Although after the last class I had with them, I’m not so sure anymore].

Who knows the material better than me?

Who is going to learn more about their existing knowledge by having to teach it to the dummkopf in the corner?

Is it possible to reassemble matter from the past to form a portal into the future?

Dear Dogtor

You think you’ve got it all sussed, don’t you? Well, try this for size. I teach on…Moodle. People need pop-up instructions to know what to do. You ain’t so smart now, are you?

Dear Evil Villain

Thank you for your letter. You raise some good points. I wasn’t sure how to answer them at first. Thank god that the internet comes with its own instructions manual. We would never want anybody to learn from experience – would we? No. Christ! They might make a mistake! Imagine! And the possibilties of global meltdown if somebody presses the wrong key in Moodle, well, you’d be a real fool to try and do Dogme-Doodle. The other day I heard of a teacher who was foolish enough to try it. He’d created an exercise for students to do without any instructions. Well, you’ll never guess what happened! One student hadn’t got a clue what to do…so they only went and asked another bleedin’ person!!!! Crazy stuff, eh? What was that teacher thinking?

What’s that? Am I picking up a telepathic vibe that you are saying, “But the students won’t do the exercises if they find them confusing…?” That’s not strictly true though, is it? What you mean to say is that the students won’t do the work if they find it boring. Is there any reason why the students aren’t preparing all of the material for Moodle anyway? Just that you’re a control freak who knows better? Oh. Well, you seem to have everything under control. Good luck with that.

Dear Dogme Doc

My students want grammar… and Dogme teachers never teach grammar.

Dear Pastiche

Dogme teachers never teach grandma (to suck eggs). An easy mistake to make. What strange students you have! Fancy wanting grammar on its own. How do you meet this need? Liquify Murphy and let them ride the dragon?  Grind it into powder and snort it? And what’s the result?

No! Let me tell you the result! The result is a bunch of students who find it impossible to speak or write and who are confused by the slightest variation from what people like you have told them is correct. And I’ve spent the last fifteen years or so trying to clean up the mess that you have made. I should be trying to win you over through gentle persuasion, but people like you make me sick! Sick, I tell you! You are damaging your students and you should be put in a cage and pelted with elephant dung. You are a disgrace to this noble profession.

Where dogme teachers are different from you is that they are not so bloody stupid as to think blindly that language and grammar are somehow separable. Nor do they wield their grammar knowledge like a club with which to bash down insolent students and assert their own dominance of the group. They recognise grammar as having a valuable role to play in providing logical (and illogical) explanations of why something is or isn’t said or written, but they don’t linger under the misapprehension that language is just about following rules. You see, they actually give some thought to their work. Unlike you, it would seem. You like to think that grammar rules because that is the way that it has always been. Undoubtedly, you never read about recent research or current trends (probably full of liberals banging on about how we need to treat students as our equals!!!WTF!!!).

Your students want grammar? Or you want grammar? Oh shut up, you idiot! That was a f*cking rhetorical question. Jesus! Some people!

Dear Irascible Doctor

My students want their textbooks,and their workbook, CDrom, DVDrom, i-phone downloadable app, mousepad, pen…

Really? And on what grounds did you come to this conclusion? Whenever I hear a teacher mouth the words, “My students want…”, I reach for my gun. Or a donut. Whichever is nearer. In my experience of hating the human race, it invariably means, “I want [X] and I am going to come up with this ingenious plan to make it so that you cannot refute me or deny me my right to live life exactly as I want: I am going to tell you that my students want it. And you are just going to have to lump it or like it. We live to serve our students and the moral high ground is mine.” You can sit there on the moral high ground if you wish. It just makes you an easier target (if I ever find my sodding gun).

Here’s a thought: next time that you presume to speak for your students, try the first step of actually speaking to them. I can’t say any more. My blood is beginning to boil…

Dear Dogtor

Dogme is out for me: my students are doing the TOEFL. They’ve a lot of words to learn.

Dear Socrates

You raise an interesting point. I no longer know what I was thinking of. I have now prepared fifty sheets of A4 with all of the words that students need in order to use English for all of their everyday needs. I am going to distribute the lists and then have a nap.

I don’t know if you  know very much about mathematics, but let me ask you if you know what this symbol means: ! No? Well, allow me to explain: 5! is factorial 5. It means 1X2X3X4X5. So, 5! is the same as 120. It’s useful if you want to know how many handshakes there will be if everybody in the room shakes hands. If there are 3 people in the room, the answer will be 3!

According to the Macmillan Advanced Dictionary, 95% of everything that we say uses the same 7500 words. I suspect that you probably think that the students just need to learn these words. Whereas the truth of the matter is more likely that the students have to learn 7500! combinations.

You’d better stop reading now, Brains. You had better start teaching right away. And don’t stop at bedtime either – because there ain’t enough time in the day.And forget retirement. And change your name to Sisyphus.

Dear Sir or Madam

Don’t ya know…I’m a new teacher. You can’t make me do no dogme. I got my PPP injection.

Dear Noob

What you really mean is that you don’t need to do any dogme. I have no intention of making you do anything other than go away and leave me in peace. But even with that, I am going to try and allay your fears. You have been socialised into the belief that the coursebook is your friend and your tool. You have been taught that without it, well…life in the classroom would just be downright weird. Nobody would know what to say to each other; nobody would know what to do with each other; you wouldn’t know what to teach; the learners wouldn’t know what to learn. Look around! There isn’t a country in the world where people learn English without coursebooks.

I imagine that somewhere along the line you must have heard about dogme. You may have read a little bit and seen that there are some people who disagree with this rather unimaginative view of the world. People who subscribe to the idea that individuals can exercise their own agency; people who believe that teachers are capable of listening to students talk and isolating purposeful learning opportunities in what the students say; people who regard language learning as being primarily driven by people talking to each other, with the other skills either serving the conversation or extending it.

To be honest, it doesn’t take much for a newbie to become a dogme teaching. All you have to do is disregard most of the nonsense you were taught on your certificate. You need an enquiring mind, a realisation that the students are likely to be better versed in language learning and teaching than you are and access to a community of EFL sources who have nothing better to do than to spend their non-working time talking about their work. And then you have to be prepared to go into the classroom and teach as you would have taught if you hadn’t been fleeced for however much that certificate cost you.

But you are more likely to trust what you have paid for. After all, it was familiar and you certainly didn’t suffer from receiving such an education. Hell – look where it got you. You are a newly-qualified EFL teacher. Look above you on the next rung up. Recognise him? He’s the guy who handed you your McMuffin this morning, isn’t he?

Uh, huh…

Categories: Commentaries on TTC Tags: ,
  1. dingtonia
    December 1, 2010 at 19:27

    Another cracking post – ’nuff said….


  2. December 2, 2010 at 19:23

    I’ve been giggling in front of my computer like a mad woman…really hope the neighbours can’t hear me!!! Your sarcasm is so spot on – I loved

    the young learners, remove the gags

    the chinese cultural one always gets me as well (lived in HK, the noisiest city ever!!! and have a Chinese student at the moment – he shares and shares and sharess…)

    and your villian … oh, I don’t need to quote you back.

    You’re an excellent writer Diarmuid!

  3. dfogarty
    December 4, 2010 at 12:31

    Thanks to both Candy and Karenne. Kind words mean a lot and mean more when they come from others who are considerably more consummate at this writing lark.

  4. December 5, 2010 at 00:41

    In a way I hope this puts to bed every objection to Dogme. But what would we all be left to write about? Very funny and erudite. Are Buddhists allowed to swear so much?

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