Reflections and responses…

Laptop is back in hand.  Order has been restored and all is well.  Hurrah!

So, my last post on ajarn.com certainly roused some opinions in a few readers.  I was accused of possibly being ‘happy clappy’ and an ‘instant expert on education’.  I did get some positive comments too, which was nice.  In fact, that article was my most commented on so far, which goes to show that it is a topic that many people have their own opinions on.

I’ve been churning some of those more negative comments around in my head and wanting to get some of my feelings down on paper (or in this case, type them on a laptop).  So here are some of my thoughts in response to those comments and some of my own reflections.

Happy clappy teacher?

OK, so I didn’t actually identify my teaching style in the article, I just wrote that the school had said that they don’t want ‘TEFL style’ teaching.  And they weren’t directing this just at me, this was a general opinion being passed on to me because I tend to be the most outspoken.  (Side note: this is probably why this whole thing happened in the first place – I may have ruffled some feathers at this point and am now suffering for my sins…)

If I had to put myself into a teaching methods box, the one I would fit into would be the communicative approach.  I see no value in the memorisation of fixed dialogues of no real life use (which, incidentally is one of the favourite methods across Asia and especially in Thailand).  I would much rather enable my students to explore the language and understand the meaning of the language in contexts that will help them in real life situations.

I base my lessons around the basic concept that the teacher talking time (TTT) is gradually reduced as the lesson goes on, following the formula of presentation-practice-production (PPP) where I present the language and how we can use it, use activities to enable the students to practice using it and finally get to a point where the students are producing the language with minimum input from the teacher. But of course, this is life and so usually I have to magic up activities to fix situations as and when I need to.  Students get distracted and some lesson plans just don’t work!

I don’t walk in to a class of matthayom (high school) students and try to make them sing ‘Old Macdonald’.  I don’t even do the Hokey Kokey, a staple of many a TEFL training course.  There is a massive misconception of what TEFL style teaching is and I’m still not at the bottom of whether my school are under the impression that that is what I am doing in my classes.  Maybe if they had actually observed me and my colleagues in class they would have more of an idea.

In contrast to the happy-clappy ring around the roses impression that people get of TEFL teaching, my classes are usually a mix of vocabulary activities, small group work, class competitions, conversation activites, worksheets… it’s a mixed bag but it isn’t all pointless games.  I am also responsible for grading my students which I tend to do through 1:1 or small group speaking tests (NOT with pre-prepared dialogues – I am looking for natural, meanginful responses!) or having small groups presenting something to the class.  Plus checking and grading books, worksheets and participation levels in class.  You see?  It really isn’t just a hippy happy, lets all get in a circle and sing a song thing – although I have to say that having a silly time every once in a while doesn’t hurt…!

Instant expert on education

With regards to my being an ‘instant expert’ on education reform because I spent three weeks on a TEFL course – far from it!  I was merely using my blog space to vent my frustrations at the inability or refusal to address an issue that lies within a system, and more personally, an issue that I was having with my school.  That’s what a blog is for, right?  I didn’t make the figures up – Thailand really isn’t doing that great educationally – and maybe schools need to consider making changes or at least being more open to suggestions, not only from the teachers but other schools in other countries that are actually performing well.

My TEFL training was useful for preparing for working in the Thai classroom but I base most of my working approach on my six years experience working with children and young people as a youth worker in the UK.  As a youth worker I worked with some of the hardest to reach young people with a range of behavioural issues.  One of my roles was working with young people that had been excluded from mainstream education (for a range of reasons from behaviour to drug or alcohol abuse, family crisis or criminal behaviour).  During my time as a youth worker I developed a responsive, sensitive approach to working with some very unstable young people who had otherwise disengaged from all services.  I had to build up trust with those young people, being seen as just another face from the system alongside the teachers that rejected them, the social workers that judged their family, the policemen that charged them, the counsellor that made them talk… it wasn’t easy.  Every day and every individual brought with it a new challenge.  I learned to be flexible, to think outside of the box.  I gained an intuition and insight into how groups of hormone filled, anti-authority kids work – and it’s no different to how their minds work here in Thailand either.

I gained many, many transferable skills during my time as a youth worker and as part of my degree I studied group dynamics, psychology, sociology and learning styles – so no, I’m not basing my supposed ‘expertise’ (which I would never profess to have) on a measly three weeks on a TEFL.

OK, I’ve vented for 1000 words.  Time out.  Thanks if you made it this far.  Apologies for the general ‘ranty’ path this blog is travelling down – I promise you I am working at turning things around.  Just you wait!

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