Teaching and life lessons from “The Big Lebowski”
I have been dreaming of writing a blog post somehow merging “The Wire” and ELT for some time now. Marlo as a strict adherent to the Grammar-Translation Method? He just wants his
corners grammars. Umm, yeah anyway, maybe I will keep thinking about it. Onto a new idea, then. Through my interview on Vicky Lloras’s blog it has been brought to my attention that not everyone has seen “The Big Lebowski.” It is surely a quotable movie if there ever was one and I thought I would try to share some quotes from the film and how they might be related to ELT.
Spoiler alerts ahead!
Naughty language ahead!
If you are like Vicky and Tamas and have not seen the film yet you might like to come back later.
“That’s just like your opinion man.”
Whether we like it or not, a lot of what we do as teachers has to come from our beliefs and our own sense of plausibility. I get nervous when I hear people talking about universal truths of teaching as the beliefs being espoused are largely just like your opinion, man.
“That’s a great plan, Walter. That’s fuckin’ ingenious, if I understand it correctly. It’s a Swiss fuckin’ watch.”
Often the more simple the plan, the better. It can be alluring to go for complicated steps/procedures/tricks/whathaveyous. I have been there. Often, though, there is a simpler option that would be just as good. If your plan can’t be understood by yourself, your peers, your students or The Dude quickly it might mean it is time for a rethink.
“You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don’t wanna know about it, believe me.”
These days, with the internets, teachers can bring (almost) anything into their classrooms. It also seems that finding resources is a duty that is becoming more and more important on the ever expanding list of roles English teachers have.
My first thought when I chose to include this quote was #ELTpics, a great resource for pictures, which sadly has no clearly labelled toe pictures as of yet.
“That rug really tied the room together.”
I think most teachers will agree that group dynamics are an important factor in how well a course/class goes. What are the things English teachers can do to help groups work better together? What things really tie the group together? I know some people are against “getting to know you” activities but I think under-doing these poses much more of a risk than overdoing them. I remember in a previous job we were banned from these types of activities because there were some complaints one time that teachers did too many icebreakers. My thought was maybe the problem was not that teachers did them too frequently but that teachers didn’t help students see the reasons behind the decision to do these activities.
“Also, let’s not forget – let’s *not* forget, Dude – that keeping wildlife, an amphibious rodent, for uh, domestic, you know, within the city – that ain’t legal either.”
What are you a park ranger, now? But really, there will be rules and norms in particular teaching contexts that we might not be aware of or even agree with. I think it is our job to discover these rules and then decide if we want to follow them. Some rules are silly but sometimes it’s not worth the hassle to defy them. I feel I become a lot happier as a teacher when I decided which “silly” rules I would follow and which I absolutely wouldn’t. I don’t think there is much benefit from having a marmot as a pet anyway, honestly.
“Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?”
Again with the rules. Some people/institutions/students will value and follow rules more than others. Some people like John Fanselow will encourage you to break them. I think it is important to remember that this is not ‘Nam (unless it is!) and everyone is always going to have their own expectations and rules, whether these rules are written or not. The sooner you know and understand them, the better.
“So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You’re like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…”
Context is king. What works in one place (or with one class or the same class on a different day) might not work with again. We need to make decisions based on the situation and context we find ourselves in. Sometimes we will be out of our element. If so, we need to collect as much information we can in order to make better decisions. Also, we *shouldn’t presume we know everything because we have been in similar situations before.
“I’m throwing rocks tonight. Mark it, Dude.”
Sometimes things go very well and we are like Donny getting a strike darn near every time. I think that these are also times for us to reflect on our teaching and think about what is going well and why this might be the case. It seems to me that teachers often think of reflection as something like “finding out what we are doing wrong” or “finding problems” and fixing them. While this has a place, I also think it is important for teachers to reflect on the times we are “throwing rocks” and thing are going smoothly. Things don’t always go smoothly…
“Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you.”
Sometimes we are like Donny throwing rocks and sometimes it seems that no matter what we try things won’t work. I think the Cowboy/Stranger offered good advice here for teachers because it’s important to realize the bad times will change and the good times won’t always continue on just as they have.
“Her life is in your hands, Dude.”
Here comes the good news. No matter how badly class goes, students are extremely unlikely to be injured or killed. They might be bored or confused or something but we can rejoice in realizing that students’ lives are rarely in our hands. Some might say our work is incredibly important and I won’t strenuously disagree but I will say the responsibility is still probably largely left to the student in the end, right?
“This is a very complicated case…You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, a lotta strands to keep in my head, man.”
Teaching English well sometimes strikes me as incredibly complicated. From my view it is one of those things where the more you know about it the more complicated it seems. As teachers, I think we always have a lot of balls in the air. A lot of things to think about. A lot of strands to keep in our head, man. While it is not rocket science (that is the science of rockets) it is surely not as simple as some might believe. I suppose we could say that the being aware of the fundamental tensions and questions related to teaching English can help guide our decisions in what can be a very complicated case.
“Strong men also cry… strong men also cry.”
Hey, this can be an emotional business! From personal experience the goodbyes do tend to get easier.
(Either than or I am more cynical as time goes by)
Goodbye for now and thanks for reading.
All quotes from IMDB.
Special shoutout to Cherry M. Philipose (@cherrymp) whose sharing of quotes got me thinking about a blog post.
Thanks to Vicky (@vickyloras) for sharing my interview on her blog.
Even though he can be infuriating, I have to admit I got the movie quote idea from Bill Simmons.
Thanks for everyone who supported me when I wrote random stuff in the past.