The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Two Tefl Loves

19 Dec

On the second day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  two tefl loves

Welcome to the teflgeek Christmas celebration!  Themed around the classic Christmas carol – but going backwards, mostly because it’s more like a countdown that way:

two tefl loves – and because I’m getting all “bah humbug” about Christmas already and in the interests of providing a balanced viewpoint – two tefl hates will also be included!
LOVE:  Moments of Communicative Brilliance
You don’t get these happening all the time – that’s partly the joy of it!  After all whatever happens all the time becomes commonplace and gets taken for granted.  I mean there are those moments in teaching where the sheer desire to communicate the message overwhelms the learner and they almost burst with the effort of getting the words out – and they aren’t always the right words but the message DOES get across.  Or a piece of learner writing that is so well thought out and well argued or heartfelt and passionate about the topic that it makes you step outside of your role as teacher and connect on a much more human level (which you probably do anyway – but you know what I mean?).  Or sometimes, you just get moments like this:  playing backs to the board as an introductory review activity for some idioms associated with expressing anger  (e.g. go off the deep end, do your nut, give someone an earful, rub someone up the wrong way).  One of the learners, convinced he had the correct expression, leaps out of his chair and shouts “Rub my nuts!”  To much hilarity all round….
HATE:  Marking Writing
I love teaching writing.  I think it’s possibly the easiest thing to teach because it’s less ephemeral, more considered and I think the guidelines are easier to communicate.  But I hate marking writing.  I have a system based on the Cambridge exams assessment criteria (CARROT – Content Accuracy Range Register Organisation Target reader) which makes it easier…. but I still hate actually doing the marking.  I think it’s because it’s an area that learners find so difficult, I feel obliged to give them a greater degree of feedback than just scrawling a mark across the bottom of the page.  I need to actually analyse it, point out the strengths and weaknesses and suggest improvements for next time.  And I’m not convinced all the learners read the comments anyway – you can but hope – but that’s not going to stop me from working in this fashion.  And so it takes time.  Lots of time.  So I put it off for as long as possible and then it mounts up and then the only solution is to open a bottle of wine, sit down at the kitchen table and stay up until 2am when it’s all finally done!
HATE:  Pointless Tests

I’m reminded of the Scott Adam’s Dilbert cartoon on the right as I write this – I’m not anti-test, I’m anti-pointless-test.  Generally, I’m firmly in the pro-testing camp.  I don’t agree with the argument that standardised testing is evil – ultimately for the society that we live in now they are a necessity.  If I run a business and I want to employ someone who speaks “good English” and I have 100 applicants for the job?  I’m going to look at those applicants who have a clear, recognised certificate of English language ability.  That might not be my only consideration, but it will be one of the priorities!
What gets me riled, and I suspect from what I hear and posts on other blogs that I’m not alone, is testing for the sake of testing and just simply bad tests!  It’s a very difficult process to actually create tests that are reliable and valid – especially at all the levels of reliability and validity that are considered within the professional language testing community and in all honesty, I don’t think that most language teachers have the skills they need to write tests that actually do what they set out to do – and I include myself in that.  The wrong tests get used for the wrong purposes and because the world we live in is so competitive our learners lives get caught up in this cycle of testing and recrimination (usually an internal psychological process).  There is a clear need to move away from a testing and grade based system – and I think this a viewpoint many teachers are moving towards, not just in ELT.  But I’m not sure that the rest of the world is willing to move that far – yet.
LOVE: Cycles of Creativity
Here I’m thinking of the creativity that gets exhibited in my classes by my learners, but also the creativity I get to expend as part of the daily routine.  I think the freedom to constantly challenge myself and my learners in new and interesting ways is one of the main reasons why I’m still doing this job.  I love being able to take things and twist them, or find a simple effective solution to something (at least in my head it is!).  I appreciate that this isn’t always true for all teachers in all contexts and that many are stuck or constrained by the systems that they work within and the materials and methodologies that are imposed upon them.  People in this situation, I feel for you, I truly do.  But I guess I’m lucky enough to have a goal set for the end of the year, and generally I get given a book at the start, but what happens between those two points is more or less down to me and my classes.  Now I’ve just asked one of my classes for some feedback / done a mid-course needs analysis, and one person asked for fewer “pointless activities” – so I guess maybe sometimes I get too creative, though given that almost everything I do has a purpose of some kind, maybe this just means I should communicate my aims more clearly!  I love that I get to play with ideas and that I get to try and generate fun with learning – not that I always succeed, but I love that I have the opportunity to try!
So what do you love and hate?

Answers on a postcard (or in the comments section) !

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One Response to “The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Two Tefl Loves”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Two TEFL loves… | efl-resource.com - Saturday 14 January 2012

    […] us Two TEFL loves… Posted on 20 December, 2011 by Simon Thomas David Petrie writes about two things he loves most about teaching English.Share this post:Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on FacebookGoogle Buzz-up this […]

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