My second guest blogger of 2011 is Monica Mondiru, a Romanian teacher who I met at the Macmillan Romania conference in Brasov in 2007. With her colleague Mirela Urluianu, she gave a workshop full of electrifying activities. At the end, I went to congratulate them, and asked if I could adapt one of the activities for my book Drama and Improvisation. They agreed, and I credited them with originating the activity. They are the only teachers in the book who are credited in this way.
I can’t introduce this piece in any other way than to say it’s a stream of consciousness about teaching.
Read it and you’ll see what I mean…
HAVE I DECIDED TO GIVE UP TEACHING? I DON’T KNOW…
A British examiner who came to Romania to assess some students doing a famous international oral exam felt obliged to give the teachers (I was one of them) who had prepared those students the following feed-back: “I think you should teach your students that it’s not a shame to say I DON’T KNOW”. And he continued: “When I first assessed some students in Spain, I said to myself it would be my first and last time to do that…Why? Because anytime they didn’t know the answer they looked at me, breathed in and went “Pffffff”, which I found extremely rude and frustrating.”
Now, when it comes to Romanian students who don’t know what to say, 90% of them (the obedient ones (!)) look down and start moving their lips or murmuring something, pretending to be looking for the right answer. They would go on like that forever if I didn’t stop them. So, I think I kind of prefer the Spanish style…no offence!
I guess that scared attitude is unfortunately reminiscent of the communist system. You would probably have got slapped if a teacher asked you a question and you dared to answer “I don’t know”. Because that meant an offensive “YOU didn’t teach me that, that’s why I don’t know”.
So we, the kids, discovered the safer murmuring strategy, which should have been translated as “I don’t remember the answer because I am an idiot”. And the teacher’s remark would come right away “You ARE a lazy idiot.”
No slapping for this passive attitude…
Being surrounded by teachers who limited education to learning everything by heart and obeying rules was one of the reasons why I was not attracted by this job. I remember that most of my teachers were really hated by kids, as their only concern was to be angry, authoritative and unfriendly. I didn’t want to be hated.
Not by so many people at the same time, at least…
I became a teacher as I had no idea what else I could do with my Romanian and English studies. I studied what I liked most and I never thought that I would have to get a job, eventually…
Well, then I said to myself that teaching for one or two years, until I figure out what I would really like to do, wouldn’t be that bad…I wouldn’t have time to get stuck into the system and let it destroy my…creative personality :-)
And I would be good to the kids. I promised that to myself.
And so, I’ve been teaching for eight years. I guess I’ve kept my promise, I didn’t let the system affect my views and I’ve been nice to the kids. And, what is more…I sometimes believed I was actually made for this job! Sometimes. It was more often that I wanted to quit.
Students of all ages can be extremely motivating. If they are talented, lively, enthusiastic and have big hopes and dreams. If they are open-minded, assertive and want to create things. That is one of the reasons why DEDICATED teachers have that beautiful youthful smile on their face and their teen spirit reflected by their restless bodies, even in their sixties. Youth is very contagious if you haven’t been regularly taking your Grumpiness pills.
These over-enthusiastic teachers, that Ken called Angels in one of his posts, have that feature that connects their brains to their hearts and automatically turns them on whenever they are in a compatible environment. And their thrill can be very contagious as well. You can see them carelessly driving their small cars, riding buses with the morning after tell-tale smile on their face, telling language jokes to the impatient cashier at the supermarket, teaching the kids in the neighbourhood a new game or even striving to have a proper conversation with an even worse a jobsworth person than this one:
Those dedicated teachers look as if they had plenty of time to waste with anyone who would listen to them. And they would spend their weekends assessing students’ papers for a good cause. Well, do you remember that sound of a tape breaking in the middle of someone’s daydreaming? Or the CUT! yell during the making of a movie? Or the notice on your computer screen that says it can’t find or read the CD? These sounds and images, as results of various disruptive factors, meant for me re-considering giving up teaching. I guess I am NOT a dedicated teacher.
Factors that would turn my AutoPlay off/on
Ignorant/Slow Directors vs. Motivating Ones
In my second year of teaching – for a public (state) school – there was a director so obsessed with rules, regulations, order and authority, that all he would do was walk along the corridor and listen to what the young teachers were doing in class. The only thing that sounded pleasant to his ears was a graveyard silence filled only by the voice of the teacher’s ghost. In any other case, he would open the door in the middle of the class, put on a mocking smile on his face and ask the teacher to explain what was happening there.
So, this funny guy caught me many times “breaking rules” in various situations: students STANDING (students have to sit. They stand up one at a time and answer/murmur, get a mark, then sit down and shut up), NEXT TO their desks, in GROUPS of four (in the last years of communism even groups of three walking on the street meant a riot was being planned), talking ALL AT THE SAME TIME; students RUNNING across the classroom to stick stuff on the walls. And students claiming they like the English class, because it’s FUN (but school is not a circus!).
“Of course they like it,” say the ignorant directors. “They do like chaos and we’re here to teach them RULES and how to OBEY”.
Oh, I almost forgot. The director told me once – in the teachers’ room, giving some satisfaction to the older ones: “I’ve been told you’ve been playing some cassettes with the lesson recorded on them. This means the cassettes do your teaching job and you relax.” I told him the cassettes were part of the lesson and they had their benefits, such as giving students the opportunity to listen to genuine language. “What if everybody started doing that? The History or the Romanian teachers playing a cassette? What would they get paid for?”
He didn’t mention himself and the other upset Math teachers, a subject for which cassettes and CDs couldn’t be invented, unfortunately… :P
I would have liked history more if my teacher had played, once in a while, a relevant documentary or at least a short movie illustrating a battlefield scene. And if we had heard the recorded voice of a talented actor reading a chapter from a Romanian novel, I am sure more kids would have liked literature.
But that’s still a current problem of the Romanian teaching system that is NOT going to be solved soon. So, the whole thing with me playing cassettes was a matter of envy, after all. They thought I discovered the ingredient for being on a permanent holiday, while they still had to WORK.
I gave up teaching for public/state schools. I started working in a private school and I liked the freedom that I had. But year after year, I became more and more dissatisfied with the slow management progress, lack of organization and employee motivation. It was one step ahead of state schools, but the narrow-minded attitude towards people – whether they were teachers or clients – persisted.
Clients noticed this odd attitude and started fading away. The employers also knew what my feelings were, because that was no secret – and they didn’t feel quite comfortable. Neither did I. The only thing that prevented me from leaving earlier was the fact that I could keep most of my students coming back year after year, and they were great.
My current director is NOT a teacher, but a businesswoman. She knows that money comes from satisfied clients, who feel comfortable with happy and motivated teachers. I feel comfortable here.
Weak Students vs. Talented Ones
As I don’t like dealing with weaker students, I am sure I should not be a teacher. By “weak”, I mean students who have no talent for languages and are very difficult to teach. Moreover, I’ve noticed these students have no favourite songs, no favourite movies and no hobbies at all. Most of them learn a lot, spend too much time doing that, actually. And they are desperately boring, having no personal opinions on anything.
If they are given a written task, they would copy-paste anything from the internet, without even bothering to understand the content. Because they’re bored. In the case of an oral task they would say they have been so busy learning for their term papers or simply state they have had no ideas.
I will always remember Sorin, the most talented child I’ve ever seen in my life. An eleven-year-old fifth grader with average marks, Sorin had a beautiful British accent and a fluency that seemed unreal. HE seemed unreal. He said it was all due to a set of English audio CDs his parents had bought him. I think he also lived in Britain in one of his previous lives. But then I noticed that his Romanian was also beautiful and so was his acting talent.
The funniest class I’ve ever had was in the public school. Some six graders that formed a ”football class”. They were actually the least obedient and study-oriented pupils in school and the manager made the decision to form this class to help older teachers get rid of them. They called it the ”football players class” as they could not call it the ”evil guys” class. Some of them were very good football players, in fact.
They were funny because everything they did was to try to amuse me. They thought I was too serious. So they would spit at their deskmates, slap them and pull each other’s caps over the eyes. But when I wanted to involve them in a task, they became serious. They noticed I cared about them and appreciated it for a few minutes. They were used to being sworn at by their football trainer.
Their English was below zero, I thought, and their coursebook was for advanced students! Tough selection and tough job! I didn’t know what to teach them first. One day one of them stood up and said: “Teacher, I’ve seen this word, it seems to appear all over the place and I got no idea what the hell it is. What does “the” (he pronounced it T-H-E, with a lot of stress on H, as if he’d wanted to clear his throat) mean? Don’t try to imagine how I explained that to them or if they finally understood… How did I assess them? The one who remembered the most English words from computer games and could work out their meaning got the best mark. I found no alternative.
Routine vs Creative Interaction
I couldn’t teach students who don’t like to get involved. And I don’t want to sound like a broken CD. It’s like ten years ago when internet was not really available at home here, in Romania, and we were playing the same CD over and over again, till it got scratched and did not respond anymore. If you don’t have time to write other tracks, that is, to come up with new tunes, materials, ideas and strategies for teaching your students you will eventually become a droopy bore.
There was a time when, as a private school employee, I had to teach too many classes a week, so some of the groups of students who came there in the afternoon never got the chance to see an energetic or creative me. I was sorry for them and sorry for myself.
As I have been collaborating with a different private school for some months now, I have had the opportunity to choose the classes and levels I wanted to teach, and I have plenty of time and freedom to come up with anything that would help my classes be cool. Not to mention the high-quality ultra-modern devices that make any type of information immediately available during the courses…which I was only dreaming about some years ago…
Low quality v inspiring training sessions
There may be no or very few high-quality training sessions provided by state schools here, in Romania, but there are national conferences that you can take part into and at least the guest speakers will surely make you take some notes about something you’re going to do differently when you go back to class.
When I started teaching for a private school, I hoped they would also provide some great training sessions – but I was wrong. In five years, I attended only a few inspiring courses, provided by one of their guest trainers. The in-house training was a big waste of time and energy, with activities that didn’t prove or teach anything, with some of the teachers really lacking any presentation skills and with a general atmosphere of fantastic boredom that made my thoughts start yelling and pushing the walls of my brain: “What the hell am I doing here?”
The best training sessions that I have taken part into so far (besides listening to the gorgeous conference presentations of some really skilled ELT material authors, teacher trainers and stand-up comedians) were the one I attended in Ireland, five years ago, which was mostly English in Action and the last year’s Train the Trainers course, which was led by two psychologists and, although it was in Romanian, gave me a lot of brilliant ideas …
However…I guess I am still considering giving up teaching one day …😛
I prefer the words guiding, suggesting, sharing, listening and enjoying instead of teaching…
I’d just like to point out that all the illustrations were chosen by Monica, and she wrote all the captions, too.