My first ELT home – Guatemala City by aboutguatemala
Having been thrown back into using a coursebook recently, I’ve found myself doing a fair bit of thinking about my own relationship with English teaching tomes recently. If you’ll forgive a little self-indulgence, it requires sharing a little of my “ELT Story”. There is a point here though, I think…
I (like many people reading this, I suspect) did not enter the English teaching profession with a career in mind. Finding myself out of a job in the Autumn of 2008, with the economy apparently collapsing around my ears, I decided that I might exercise my grey cells a little more by learning a second language than by not buying advertising for investment banks. A friend mentioned another friend with a language school in Guatemala City, and a few emails later I had a job for the new year.
In the time before I left England I took a woefully inadequate 40 hour online TEFL course, but realising (correctly) that it might be wise to actually see the inside of a classroom before starting my job, I called a friend at Oxford’s wonderful Kheiron School of English (that’s £10 please Poppy) who kindly agreed to let me do some work experience there. It was actually a great success too. I was given a book and a classroom of students and dived in. We started talking about the topic in the book, and then diverted into talking about each other. This discussion lasted the rest of the class and featured a lot of recasting, correcting and new language generated. In fact, it looked an awful lot like a do-, ahem, unplugged lesson. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and while I’m not sure how much the students learnt, they certainly had a lot of exposure to natural language.
On arrival in Guatemala, I found myself similarly thrust blinking into a classroom clutching a textbook (Headway, and an old one at that). Having more time to actually read it over the course of a few weeks, I found that no matter what the content of the chapter, the really important thing was the grammar (and usually the verb tense), and this became over time, all pervasive. This reached its zenith/nadir when having to drastically reduce the amount of content to fit the rest of the book into the time remaining, I went through and struck out everything except the grammar exercises!
The question I wanted to ask when I had the idea for this post was whether the coursebook is a symptom of the presence of completely untrained people within ELT, not aimed at readers of this blog of course. I know they are there though, because I was one, and I see many of them in Korea. Are coursebooks designed to support people with little to no experience, rather than teachers with more training and experience? Coursebooks these days seem to require very little from the teacher – in something like Face2Face the lesson is more or less done for you. I’d suggest that some teacher suspicion of modern coursebooks is that they just make it so boring for you as a teacher if you follow them.
I did however realize that it was perhaps my lack of training or experience that allowed me to approach my work experience in the way that I did. More questions arise – does the coursebook strangle a natural way to teach? For that matter, does ELT pre- and in-service training (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have taught like that had I done a CELTA in advance) strangle teachers from their natural inclination? Was (am) I just a raving weirdo with no idea what he was (is) doing?
Before I get too into coursebook bashing, I feel like I should offer an alternative view as well. It’s easy to forget that coursebook authors are still ELT professionals, with reams of qualifications and aeons of classroom experience, and they are out to facilitate learning and help us teachers. This semester I’ve been treading a path fairly far away from the book, only lifting themes and grammar functions (sigh) from it, and trying to work them into a natural conversational framework. On Monday it all went wrong – we started by doing a lot of discussion, followed by a live listening, followed by my desperately trying to wrench the language back around to what we were supposed to be learning. Basically we wound up with so much language that the students and I were completely swamped, and I don’t think anyone really took much away from it.
Sitting down to do some reflection in the evening, I realized I’d gone about it entirely the wrong way around, and it would have been much more sensible to introduce the discrete items in context first, work on them a little before extending out into a more open discussion where they could be used. Having had this thought, I glanced at the book, which was laid out in exactly that way. Sometimes, only sometimes, I don’t know best 🙂