This is a slide from one of the talks I’m currently giving. It’s called ‘Ten Quotations To Make You Think’. Vesna Novicic, a teacher who came to see the talk in Belgrade, posted the slide on Facebook. It’s actually the second part of a quotation from Bill Gates. This is the whole quote:
Vesna’s re-posting of the slide led to the following Facebook remarks from Graham Stanley and Daniel Martin.
Daniel’s is quite amusing, so I’m posting it to give all you teachers a bit of a chuckle. Graham’s prompted me to post this rejoinder.
Now, I know that over the past twenty years, the emphasis in education has shifted from teaching to learning, and the needs of the learner should be at the forefront of all our thinking as teachers.
But teachers, don’t you ever get a little fed up with all this emphasis on the learner? Some learners are absolutely delightful, of course, but some can be (dare one say it?) a bit of a drag. And the less than delightful ones are the ones who mean you have to really work to earn your dollar a day.
I’m aware that teachers reading this will be rehearsing the usual arguments about finding strategies to engage all students, which is one of the points I make in my ‘Ten Quotations’ talk. I don’t mean this post to be a criticism of lazy students. I just want to fly a flag for teachers, their rights and the reality of their situations.
Some observations about the relative importance of teachers and learners:
> Not all teachers are saints, but most of them I’ve met are hard-working and dedicated. Plus, they take the job on long-term, which in some cases can mean a career of 40+ years. How long do students last?
> Teachers almost always prepare a lesson plan, even if they have to stay up half the night. Students often don’t do their homework and give some poor excuse for not having done it, which the well-meaning teacher smiles and accepts.
> Students may wake up in the morning, look at the inclement weather, turn over and go back to sleep. Teachers lose their jobs if they do that more than once.
> If the students actually manage to turn up to class, some of them take their seat and sit back and enjoy the teacher’s presentation. If the flow of information stops and the teacher asks one of those awkward questions – ‘What do you think?’ ‘Do you agree?’ or worst of all, a direct question: ‘François, can you give me an example?’ – there can be an embarrassing hiatus, what we educational gurus call ‘silence’.
Teachers, can you honestly say you have NEVER experienced that icy cold moment when you throw an activity open to the class and absolutely nothing happens?
It happened a lot during my German classes last spring, which I blogged extensively about at the time. Our teacher had a lovely soothing voice and was a joy to listen to, even when she was taking us through grammar paradigms. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that the grammar paradigm is an aspect of teaching that is guaranteed to make me froth at the mouth and throw machinery around.
When my German teacher stopped and asked for a response, there was often an embarrassed silence, usually broken by me piping up to fill the void. Eventually, the rest of the class just looked at me, knowing I was bound to say something, even if it was wrong.
The point I’m making here is that students often enjoy the sound of the teacher’s voice, preferring to listen to a monologue and reluctant to turn the classroom event into a dialogue. And this reinforces my belief that it’s not wrong for educational thinkers – at least OCCASIONALLY – to think about putting the needs of teachers above the needs of learners.
I realise some of the points above relate more to students in private language schools, but I also have extensive experience of observing state-school English teachers at work in places as diverse as Beijing and Bucharest, Tokyo and Teresina, Brazil. Even when it’s clear that students in these classes really love their teachers, many of them are still happy to play the role of recipients of information, rather than taking a more active role in proceedings.
So – let’s hear it for teachers. And I’ll add another quote from my Ten Quotations talk. This one is from Maja Angelou.
I’ll leave you to reflect on the importance of this statement in your teaching life. Think about how many people you have affected, and how positive that effect is. How many warm memories of you there are every time your students get together.
Teachers, you deserve medals. Learners, keep on working to make your teacher’s life a little easier.
I’m writing this on Monday January 14th, and tomorrow night, Tuesday 15th, I will be giving my ‘Ten Quotes To Make You Think’ talk at the British Council in London. The talk won’t be live-streamed, but it will be filmed, and will appear on the BC website in the fullness of time.
‘In the fullness of time’ – what a lovely phrase to end on. And if you’re using this blogpost as a reading text, now you can stop talking and say – ‘François, can you give me an example?’ and enjoy the silence.