What is it like to teach? What makes a ‘good’ teacher? What is ‘good teaching practice’? What ‘method’ is the best?I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I watch the #langchat community grapple with the rise of the “(fill in method) teacher” and the staunch defense by some of one ‘method’ over another…There are many teachers leading the charge these days to find the ‘common’ among all of these schools of teaching thought. I thank Martina Bex, Thomas Sauer, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Lisa Shepard and Amy Lenord among those leading a spirited discussion on line about this.
And it led me to wonder what language teaching, or teaching in general, is like? Now it may not be golf season for you but here in my corner of Canada we can (you may not believe this) golf outside year round. So allow me the analogy when I say that teaching, to me, is like golf. It is because…
I have a lot of clubs in the bag – As a golfer you don’t go out and play with just one club. And I don’t teach like that either – but rather I borrow/use/try a variety of approaches in order to enhance my students’ learning. Truth be told I experiment because I like variety. With 30 kids in class I realize that employing one kind of teaching style may not be allowing all of my students to learn in the way they like or need to. So I mix it up and use different ideas, approaches and styles as it suits. That’s not to say that, like my trusty 7 iron, I don’t have go-to strategies and activities that work for my students but I’m always looking to add to me repertoire.
I play the club for the lie I have – In golf you have to learn to pay attention where you are – and choose your club accordingly. In the classroom, in the past I admit there were days, lessons, where I ignored where I was in pursuit of an activity. It wasn’t working, it didn’t meet my students’ needs but I was so enamored of the activity I pushed ahead. And yes, the lesson bombed. I’ve learned to pay attention to the individuals in the room and adjust (or not use) things as needed. In teaching you are most effective when you pay attention to the room.
The club may differ but the swing is the same – No matter what approach or activity I choose my principle goals remain the same. (1) Teacher not as leader but coach (2) a “can do” learning environment that prepares students for success (3) proficient students aware of and driving their own learning (4) learning that prepares students for beyond the classroom.
Sometimes I make birdies, and sometimes bogies – It’s nice to hit a lesson or unit out of the park. But what is most important for me is to realize that it won’t always go well. I remember an authentic resource lesson I was so keen on. It really used the resource but ultimately it stank! It wasn’t until I looked at how I was using it that I was able to re-jig it and it was much more successful. I think the bogies are more important than the birdies though – because they tell me that I am risking and trying new things.
I may play the same course over & over – but fortunately I’ll never play it the same way twice – In golf you rarely duplicate a round and its the same in the classroom. We know that every class will be different. Their skills and their needs, we learn, dictate the how/why of the approaches we choose. However, this isn’t just about a different mix of students each time. I also think it speaks to teacher growth. As a teacher you are constantly reflecting on your class work. How did it go? What didn’t work? What did? What changes can I make?
I have a great caddy on the bag – Okay in real life I’ve never had the chance to use a caddy, so my choices in clubs and approach to each hole are mine alone. But as a teacher I have a great caddy in the #langchat PLN. This amazing group of teachers offers mentorship and support that is so needed to by all of us on our teaching journey. #langchat allows me to share my successes, and offers advice and direction when things don’t go so well. It is an inspiration to me, and a guide to improving my teaching game.
Thanks for indulging me in this analogy….what is teaching like for you?