There is a spectre haunting Blogdonia – the spectre of eleven. Blogovians from the world of ELT (it stands for English Language Teaching) are answering eleven questions and then nominating eleven other people to do the same. I have been tagged by the best – @laurasoracco whose blog is a regular read and @joshsround whose blog is a more constructive reflection of life at the top of the bottom than this one is. Laura asks eleven questions which I will try to anonymously answer next:
1. Why did you begin blogging?
Because I had a lot to say and any time that I started to say it, I could see people’s eyes glossing over. Also, there were some individuals about whom my comments were verging on slanderous, so I thought that it would be better cloaking them in the garb of anonymity.
2. What is an aspect of teaching that you struggle with and have tried to improve on?
As a manager, I struggle most with the sense that ELT does not need anything more than a person getting students using the language. Some teachers will waltz into a room with some woefully irrelevant TED talk and think that this constitutes teaching listening. Or some will walk into the room and bang on for an hour and a half about paragraphing and think that this constitutes teaching writing. Some think that teaching writing is now teaching English. Some think that doing a reading comprehension test is teaching reading. Some think that asking students to talk about whether we should protect the environment is teaching speaking. These people often have the gall to opine in public, goddamn it about pedagogical concerns. I even know a teacher who has a list of words that should not be used to talk about teaching: scaffolding, competencies, pedagogy all feature.
3. What is your ideal lesson like?
How ideal is ideal? In my ideal lesson, students have chosen to come because they enjoy the experience. They are there ahead of time and they are talking about the lesson -or at least the focus of the lesson- before the teacher even arrives. The teacher also arrives early. The whiteboard has a prompt on it that gets the students talking before the lesson begins – a cartoon, a visual puzzle, a fact about the day…whatever. Lots of things happen in the lesson – activities are carefully selected, students are fully engaged, time given for pairwork and group work is monitored carefully, there is laughter, there are copious questions, a lot gets written down, everyone leaves the room tired but invigorated.
4. What would you hope your students remember you for?
Being one of the best teachers that they had ever had.
5. Why did you become a teacher of ESOL?
It was that or the Legion.
6. If you were given a paid semester off to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?
My first answer was going to be “write a book”; then I thought I’d probably just sit in the public gallery at the local Crown Court. However, the truth is that I’d probably help out at home (and go to the gym at a decent hour instead of in the last hour before it closes each day).
7. Do you listen to music while grading? If so, what do you listen to? If not, why not?
I don’t grade, darling. And since the birth of little Secret DoSes my musical taste has gotten worse and worse and worse. On my iPhone Nikki Minaj might be jostling for more space along with DeadMau5 and Bob Marley.
8. Who has influenced your teaching?
I have been a big influence on myself. As have a few anonymous individuals – anonymous because they quietly go about their work and are great; not anonymous as an arrogant conceit concocted by a pompous airhead. There are lots of people who have shaped my current teaching – my students are the most obvious ones, but a scroll through the people I follow on Twitter is just as revealing. If I were to shout out to the other influential forces in my life, I would probably give the game away too easily, so I will hold my tongue for now.
9. If you could go anywhere in the world to teach, where would that be and why?
My sitting room. If I could teach people from within the comfort of my own home and earn a living out of it, my life would be complete.
10. Do you have a pet peeve? If so, what is it? If not, have you ever had one, and how did you get over it? (taking this question from Josette)
Teachers saying, “My students want…” when they really mean, “I want…”
11. What is your favorite resource (website, object, activity) in teaching?
It’s trite but my favourite resources are 1) my sense of humour and 2) the students I am working with.
I come to this game late and many of the greats have already been summoned by the Eleven. I wouldn’t know where to begin to find out whose names have been put forward, but here is my First XI:
…that I think would make for fascinating discussion are:
1. In your profession, what is the greatest myth that people still believe?
2. What is the single greatest truth that you think a language teacher should be aware of?
3. If our cognition is located in our environment rather than in our heads, how should language teaching change? (One suggestion is enough!)
4. What do you wish you didn’t know?
5. The Michel Thomas method offers language learners the chance to go from beginner to confident speaker without books, homework or having to memorise anything – how likely is this?
6. Does language learning have more to learn from the field of linguistics, psychology or neuroscience?
7. What single small change would make a classroom a more effective place for learning?
8. Can language actually be taught?
9. Who has more to teach us: Tony Soprano, Jimmy McNulty or Walter White?
10. If somebody doesn’t have what it takes, can they get it?
11. Is language learning a uniquely human endeavour? Are there any parallels to it elsewhere?
Eleven random facts about me
1. I’m not as secretive once I’ve had a few drinks.
2. I read The Grapes of Wrath in one sitting (and with a big hangover).
3. I had a tattoo when it was still the hallmark of sailors and slatterns.
4. I have been arrested twice, punched by police officers on the same number of occasions, had my phone tapped once.
5. I am poorer than a church mouse. Which has been evicted from church.
6. I am a prize-winning poet.
7. My MA dissertation is largely fiction.
8. I was expelled from school.
9. I am not who I appear to be.
10. I wouldn’t say boo to a goose.
11. I’m not even going to swat that fly.