Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Ask any language student where they feel the majority of classroom time should be spent and you will get a variety of answers. Students who have grown up in a more traditional educational system may believe that teachers should be at the front of the classroom running exercises based on grammar and lexical structures. Others advocate for more language usage such as conversational groups or essay writing. Whatever their reason, what students feel is important and what is actually going to help them is often disconnected. There are a those who are going to argue that students need to be in control of their language learning of which I would whole-heartedly agree. Anyone who has spent time in my TESL training classes would hear me push for a more learner-centred classroom based on each student’s needs. What that means is that we need to be helping guide them through the process of finding what they do need, not what they have trained to believe they need. Often times, the reasons they choose one system or method of learning over another is simply related to something cultural or familiar. Even the way we approach teaching is strongly influenced by what has happened in our past.
This is where my journey as a language teacher began. I drew from what I understood to be the way that someone learned a language, even though my TESL training had told me otherwise. Why? It could be I was afraid to try something different, or maybe I thought I WAS making a change, only to find that I was just putting a different coat of paint on the same old house. Was that wrong? For the most part, yes. Did my students learn something? Certainly, but I could have done so much more to help them achieve their goals.
That time seems so long ago and my classroom looks much different than it did on that first day. The fear is that what I have now is the new normal. Because of that, I am committed to ongoing (or continuous) professional development. What does that look like? I am still working on that, but for now it involves communicating with other teachers through conferences, face-to-face meetings, seminars, webinars, social media such as Twitter and Facebook, etc. It also includes reading books, journals, and blogs related, directly or indirectly, to my field. Lastly, I evaluate my teaching through peer-to-peer observation, student-teacher sessions, and action research projects. Of course, I can’t do all of those things all of the time, but these are actually scheduled into my calendar to continually remind me that I need to stay on task.
That is where this blog comes into play. I know that I will never become famous teaching, nor will I ever make fortune giving presentations and writing books, but that shouldn’t keep what I learn to myself. There are times I will be off base and I expect that others will gently (and sometimes not so gently) guide me back on track. I expect that. In fact, I encourage it. I am not the most eloquent writer or speaker, but that shouldn’t stop me from doing either of those things. This is what I expect of my students and if it has been shown to be successful for them, it can only help me as well. I choose to put myself out there for the sake of my learning and for the greater good of the field. I don’t expect a lot of visitors, but for those that come, I would appreciate any feedback you may have to give. In return, I hope that you are able to glean something from what I am offering, possibly even challenge you a bit.
Which leads me back to the language classroom. The topics for this blog will be focused primarily on what others in the field have said or done regarding language teaching. Sometimes I will agree, other times I will challenge their viewpoints. I don’t do that to disrespect them or to lift myself up by pushing others down, but I simply want to show that there are other ways of viewing things. I will attempt to do this in the most respectful way I can so as not to cause someone to be hurt by my comments. I want to critique without being critical. I fear that this age of open communication of which social media is king has led our society to elevate those who are critical of the establishment. It hurts me to see those on Twitter and Facebook who choose to be critical of seemingly everything just because they feel that this is the only way to create change. What happened to personal differences or methods? I feel that in our haste to break away form the norm and make changes to the way things are done, we have given way to another norm that says those who use that method or support that group through using their products, etc. are bad. We are taking away the very thing we are fighting for, that is, an individuals right to choose what they feel is best based on their understanding of the situation. No, it might not be correct or best, much like what I was mentioning earlier about my students, but I don’t belittle them because of that. I honour their ability to choose and listen to them in order to gain their respect and help them in the future.
I have mentioned this before; there are two rules in my classroom from which everything is measured: have fun and respect one another. So many things fall under those two simple statements. I wish I could say the same for how we treat one another as professionals. I also hope that I am giving each of you the respect you deserve. You have earned it. I hope I can earn your respect as well.