Please teach them English-The full full story

In July the crack research team here at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections reproduced some emails from a language school manager to a new teacher and a few weeks ago (with the help of Steve Brown) we were able to share the teacher’s perspective through her replies. Now we are thrilled to share a learner’s perspective through a learning journal we were able to recover through the help of Maria Theologidou. This post will likely be even much more enjoyable if you read the previous post(s).

10/10
Today was the first day of our English lessons at the SHEA. I had mixed feelings as last year was dead boring and if I didn’t have to put up with my parents’ concerns about my future, I wouldn’t probably be here. Our teacher this year is Ms. Susie. The first thing that struck me about her was how she came into class. She was holding a big beach ball and a box full of stuff. She introduced herself and then we started playing a ball game-turns out the ball had questions on it which we had to answer. That was pretty cool as I couldn’t stand another year of “Find someone who” bingos! She also shared some things about her-she loves drawing, cooking and playing video games. In fact, she showed us a video of some Minecraft tips and tricks. When homework time came, she asked us to write a letter to ourselves about what we expect to learn by the end of the year. She didn’t specify how long the letter should be-still, I don’t have a clue what to write about. We did some goal setting in class last year, but this is completely new to us all. Let’s see how everything will go.

14/11
It’s been more than a month since my last entry, but seriously I had no time to write at all. Ms. Susie is something else! This past month was full of firsts!

Every week we have a different project we work on-last week it was bullying, this week it’s renewable forms of energy. She grouped us in teams which I didn’t really like because I don’t get along with all the people I have to work with. I complained at first, but she explained that we need to learn to work together even if we end up being with people we don’t like much. The first days were a disaster-no one paid attention to me, so I ignored them as well. But then she gave us all different roles, so things started to run more smoothly. Sometimes we run out of time, but we all see how much effort she puts in all of this. She’s more excited about projects than we are!

Another thing which I didn’t expect was all this speaking and writing. Although I enjoy writing (here, not in class, no one corrects my writing here), I’ve always hated speaking. Maybe it has to do with Mrs. Theo, our Beginners’ class teacher, who always repeated and corrected my mistakes after me. She constantly had this huge grin on her face whenever she said “You mean…” or “Not like this, dear. Hear me and repeat!  So, I hated and still hate speaking. You can imagine how I felt then when Ms. Susie asked me to talk about my favorite band in class and what inspired me about them-Arctic Monkeys btw. I turned red and only muttered “Because they are great. Arctic Monkeys are great.” Of course, we didn’t stop there! She then said “Bill, why don’t you tell Maria what you like about 30 Seconds to Mars?” I don’t think I had ever spoken to Bill before and everyone knows Bill is way too shy. So, we just stared at each other for a minute or two. I could see beads of sweat running down Bill’s forehead-after what seemed like a century, Bill managed to say “I like them because they’re nice!” Success!

Since that day, we have speaking activities all the time!!! Speaking time still freaks me out, but we’re getting somewhere I think. One thing I don’t miss is grammar-hooray! Ms. Susie shows us short films in class which we then discuss and surprisingly enough there’s grammar there! Who would have thought?

Have to go now, I still have a poster to prepare on wind and solar energy using Canva, it’s a web tool Ms. Susie showed us in class.

20/11
How can I suck at something I’m supposed to be good at??? Today we did some story writing in class. Half of us had to work on preparing the background to the story and the rest had to work on the plot. At some point we started looking into tenses–Ms. Susie drew a forest on the board with two stick figures walking. Then, she wrote a list of verbs next to the picture and asked us to make sentences. Before doing that, she asked if we remember the differences between Past Simple and Past Continuous. I was Grammar Queen (no comment) 3 times last year, so I was sure I knew the differences. So, I raised my hand with confidence and said all the rules I had learnt by heart last year. I expected something like “WOW, that’s awesome, Maria”, but instead she said “Thank you for telling us the rules, Maria, but can you give us 1-2 examples using the verbs on the board?” And that’s when everything fell apart! Everything I said was wrong!!! I’m so confused-what’s grammar supposed to be about IF NOT rules?

20/12
Christmas is almost here-yay! We’re having a party later on today and I’m trying to come up with something to cook/bring in class. We talked a lot about Christmas, especially about how the holiday has been commercialized and we analyzed popular ads in class. I’m still not sure where all this is leading us to though – I know that some of my classmates (actually their parents, but anyway) are worried about all the grammar and vocabulary quizzes we’re not taking. There was a big incident the other day during the parents’ meeting. John’s mum complained to Mr. Lee that we’re not having enough grammar practice, not taking enough tests either (tbh, we’ve only had 2 tests since September and that was because Mr. Lee stepped in and said all students should take them). I’ve thought about it as well from time to time. It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed being in the English class, but am I supposed to be having fun? We have our C1-level exams next year, so will I be ready then? Obviously, we won’t be asked to comment on John Lewis’ ads there! I don’t know-I trust Ms. Susie, but then everything is new and I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

22/01
I knew this was going to happen, I just knew it! After the Christmas break, we started talking about web design and how we can promote our city to tourists. It’s a project I was scared of at first (like I always am), but I loved how we all came up with ideas and actually worked on something different and personal at the same time. Of course this meant that we focused on the project alone and only touched our books once or twice the whole month. John’s mum has paired up with 4-5 other mums and have been complaining about Ms. Susie again. Last week they were in Mr. Lee’s office and I overheard (ok, maybe I eavesdropped a bit) them saying that she only wants to be friends with us and there’s no real educational value in what we’re doing. Mr. Lee tried to calm all of them down, but they complained that we shouldn’t be focusing on skills and talents. Bill’s mum (Bill, the shrinking violet, remember?) said that her son feels intimidated by Ms. Susie and that this isn’t what the school is famous for. “Where are all the nice practice tests they used to take?” she shrieked “Have you forgotten how much we pay for your “success guaranteed” results?” and so on and so forth. Luckily, Ms. Susie wasn’t around at the time, but I’m afraid this isn’t going to end well.

14/02
OK, so today I’m confused. Like hopelessly, terribly confused. For Valentine’s Day we had agreed to work on a class debate about beauty campaigns and how they influence our perception of beauty. Instead, Ms. Susie walked in class with a stack of worksheets and said we wouldn’t be doing the debate at all. She had brought us a nice article to work on, answer some questions on it and then work on Indirect Speech in more detail. We were all shocked! That wasn’t what we had been used to! Ms. Susie was obviously upset – I could tell from her expression and the frozen smile (which reminded me of Mrs. Theo btw) that someone had changed her mind. As you can guess, it was the most boring lesson we’ve had so far. The only ones who seemed to love everything we did were the “gang”-John, Bill and the rest. Then, we had 6 (???) grammar exercises as homework! When it was Ms. Susie who told us again and again that simply answering questions and filling in gaps doesn’t mean we know how to use grammar in speaking and writing. It’s not that I minded doing the exercises, they took less time than all the other homework assignments we had to do so far. It’s just this creepy feeling I have that the forces of evil have taken over-the same I had while watching Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader! Seriously now, I’m scared that all the other parents have managed to make Ms. Susie change her mind about how teaching should be and how we are supposed to be feeling. Let’s hope she won’t turn into a Sith Lord!

18/03
It took me a week to find the strength to open this notebook, pick up a pen and manage to write a line or two about everything that happened last month. Ms Susie was fired. She never told us, but we all knew. The Dark Side finally won. I don’t know what’s worse-that she showed us a different way of learning and I know what I’ll be missing from now on or that I’ll have to get used to doing things the old way? Our class is split in two-those who feel relieved Ms. Susie is gone and the rest of us. Mr. Lee has already told us we will have extra Saturday lessons to make up for all that time lost in project work. So now my weekend is completely ruined! He has already given us two essays as homework and told us we will meet our new teacher tomorrow. Can’t wait…

I’ve been wondering a lot about the reasons why adults behave this way.  I mean it was obvious to all of us, even to those who couldn’t stand Ms. Susie, that she really loved teaching and always bore our needs and interests in mind. I can’t really tell if she was a good teacher, but she was definitely someone who was passionate about teaching and cared for us. She was the first to organize Mini Master sessions in class where we shared our talents and offered tips on how others can learn what we do best. She was the first to respect that some of us hated English or speaking (like me) or writing and had class discussions on how we can change that or what we would be interested to talk/write about.

I can’t blame Mr. Lee entirely-I know we spent tons of hours working on projects, special days, debates etc. It was something no one else in the school did or had done before and it was against all school’s standards and rules. But yet-why not find some middle ground? Why not give a younger person who obviously likes teaching a second chance? And now that I’m thinking about it why not ask us instead of our parents how WE felt about Ms. Susie?

I heard some of my classmates saying that none of their friends did what we did in their exam-prep class. So that got me thinking again -why should teaching an exam class be all about tests and exercises? What was wrong with project work and speaking and …fun? Why isn’t fun serious or important enough? There are so many questions on my mind right now that I really don’t know how to put everything in words. One thing is for sure–Ms. Susie helped me discover a part of me that I never knew existed. I don’t know if she is the best teacher ever, she was a good teacher for me and that’s all that matters.

 

Just like the previous entries in this series these learning logs are invented. Maria Theologidou was kind enough to take up the challenge of writing from a learner’s perspective and I am thrilled to share it here and I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I did. I’d like to share a big thank you to Maria for this! Please be sure to check out Maria’s excellent blog if you are not already familiar with it.

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7 comments

  1. M. Makino

    So one student was very inspired, which is good, but she could have thrown a bit more of a bone to John, Bill and the others (where is this supposed to be again?). I like this entry because it shows like the first one did that teachers can alienate by being too progressive as well as by being too pedantic.

    • mariatheologidou

      Thank you for liking the journal entries, I also enjoyed the process of writing as my student self a lot! 🙂 I live and work in Greece, so I was definitely influenced by everything going on in education here. I do sense though that things aren’t much different around the world, especially in countries that are exam-oriented.

  2. mikecorea

    Hey Mark,
    Thanks for the thoughts. It is nice to see that you are following the saga.
    I wonder if you’d be interested in writing from the perspective of Bill or John?

  3. Pingback: Please teach them English: The even fuller story | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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