a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
Starting out as a teacher can be frightening. I was a puny 21-year old with an anxiety disorder and a severely low self-esteem. Deciding to become a teacher was just one of the many things I have done to punish myself and to prove to my inner bully that I can. So what did I do when I first found myself, standing in front of my first class of 12 middle-aged Saud Arabian businessmen, petrified? I talked. I talked and I talked and I talked. I talked and my students listened, slightly dazed, but I felt better: There is safety in words, comfort in noise. Besides, how much do our students really understand, anyway?
Now, 12 years later, I am a teacher trainer and I regularly do observations of new teachers. The most noticeable thing that new teachers usually do? They talk. It’s painful to watch but over time I have come to realise there are three different difficulties with teacher talk time (TTT) and one delightful solution:
1) Train of Thought TTT
“Now we are going to turn to page 12, we are moving on from page 11 because we have finished that exercise – are we all ok? Any questions about page 11? No? – ok so let’s move on and look at exercise 5c. Let me just write that on the board quickly, where is my board marker – they’re always getting lost! – what did I say? Oh yes Exercise 5c. You know, sometimes I feel like I’m losing my memory, but it’s probably just because I haven’t had my coffee yet this morning. Anyway, are we all there?”
If you look closely, the relevant information is “Turn to Page 12. Look at Exercise 5c”, which is remarkably easy to understand, but the students have been dumped with a truckload of unnecessary information and are left to sort through it to find those two little sentences.
2) Excessively Difficult TTT
When “Please turn to page 12” becomes “ Would you be so kind as to turn over your folio to the subsequent page”.
3) Constant Instruction TTT
Why say once what can be said repeatedly, while they are trying to do what you are telling them to do?
“So first you need to read the paragraph and then answer the questions. I’ll give you 5 minutes.
The best way to do this is probably to read the title first.
Or you could read the questions first, then do the reading and find the answers.
Whatever suits you best. There are no right and wrong ways to do this.”
And the solution? The power of SILENCE.
Don’t be afraid of a little quiet-time. Quiet-time is not necessarily dead-time and it can actually be some much-needed brain processing-time. Time to allow the new information to settle in its rightful place among all the old information, time for the appropriate words and their grammatical forms to make their way from the brain to the tongue, time for the input to be translated and turned into action. So take a deep breath, take a step back, hold your tongue and you might find your students are grateful for the opportunity to think.