Swift Common Sense – Fire all English Teachers

hireme The following really is “common sense” but it might shock you. So be forewarned.  What follows might tug at your very nature and deep ingrained notions of who you are and what you do / teach.

I propose that the best way to get students to learn English is to fire all teachers.

Yeah, you heard me right – fire all English (as a language) teachers. Or, in order to make the transition easier, phase in the layoffs and shift those with usable talents elsewhere.  Soften the blow with a nice desk job for a period of time while they get used to the fact that they are NOT needed for students to “learn” to speak English.

Now first let me say that as a teacher trainer, a teacher cheerleader, a person who helps teachers “teach”  — you might have a point if you think I’ve lost it and am off my rocker. I’ll accept that but I assure you that this is not the case. I am fully sane and it is only these experiences that has made me realize the absurdity of my efforts and the futility of my job. It is only by going deep into what and why I do (teach) that I’ve come upon this common sense.  You don’t need a teacher to learn English and in fact, most teachers contribute significantly to their students “not” learning English very well or quickly.   So please – I’m alive serious about all this. This is my confession.

Why is it better to have no teachers?

Well, this would require a book or a lot of time. Or if time isn’t available, money and a book contract. However, since I’ve started, I’ll try and shed some dim light on the common sense of not having a teacher around and letting our students learn language as it should be learned – by, in and of their own volition, need and talents.

Language you see – is not a traditional bricks and mortar subject. It is “of us” and not something we build on nor a kind of knowledge. We “think” with language, so it is pretty hard to “think of” language. As the old Hasidic saying goes, “the eye cannot see itself”. It is something we do, it is something we practice, it is something we experience but it is NOT something of which any qualitative and “knowing” terms can be applied.  If you know English, you are not a great English speaker but rather a grammarian, a lexicographer, a linguist or even may I say, a poet. Not a teacher!

In traditional teaching, a teacher “knows” and shares with those that don’t know. Helps them, leads them, organizes them toward the knowing goal. However, language is not about “knowing” (though with tests, certificates, scales we’ve tried to make this round peg fit. What the heck are we doing? A teacher might be “better” at English, true. But this doesn’t give them any right to teach. I might be a better painter than another but would that make me a better teacher — most likely not.  No native speaker ever studied his/her subject and they have no entitlement to be a “knower” nor a “teacher”.  There is a pretense about their actions, a baby sitting sense about what they do. Let’s get through the day and get on with the charade, they say. It is all Sysiphian, a boulder that goes no where – a perpetual motion machine that only spins in one place.

Next point.  Motivation.

We learn a language from need. Now I agree that need can be false and could be simply the need to get a passing mark. However, marks could be given without a teacher. It isn’t that difficult. Once a semester, student take a test and are assessed. If they’ve made progress – they get an appropriate grade. Hire a few pencil pushers – you don’t need teachers. Further, without teachers, the students would have no fall back plan, no one to blame but themselves. Built in motivation!  Further, further, language is learned in the REAL WORLD — so let’s get real and allow students to stop wasting their time in our classes and get outside (or in language labs or on the computer) and learn where they can really acquire language – on the street of functional language use.

So I hope you are following my argument. I promise you I will stop soon and you can then pause from grinding your teeth and save on your dentist bills…..

Let’s talk money!!!! Yes, teachers cost exorbitant amounts of money (and let me say here – this “common sense” is only directed at teachers in the public sphere – if students want to agree with Barnum, they are welcome to go spend their $$$ on a teacher). Teachers are a horrible drain on the public purse. Let’s give that money to students who could travel to foreign lands and order pizza in REAL English, talk at the pub in REAL English and learn English as it is meant to be learned – by practicing it with real people and not in some fantasy setting. And yes, if they don’t want to spend it on that – their perogative. Maybe by buying an ipad they’ll also learn some English?

I haven’t yet begun to address all the negative effects of teachers in the classroom – I’ll leave that for another post. I’m sure you are upset enough already.

So let me conclude.  Let’s fire teachers, let’s layoff the riff raff that pretends to have some kind of “secret knowledge” . The ruse is up. Let the students teach themselves. Give ’em a mark + or – and that be that. We’d save a lot of pencils and a lot of boring, repetitive, going through the motions, dehumanizing experiences……

Even better if teachers do the honorable thing and quit.  You first.

You might also like this post: Learning as a self-organizing principle.

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ddeubel

Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

17 Responses

  1. Richard says:

    Why that’s crazy news! Well, actually I can see where you’re coming from. But it’s a question of what the teachers are doing.

    Learning Spanish, I have no teacher, only my Spanish friends, the TV and the fact I live in Spain. I tried going to classes, but the teacher wasn’t up to my high expectations. Also, I really can’t deal with learning verb conjugations, I want to learn ‘organically’.

    I strongly believe that one of the most important things an EFL teacher can do is to train and motivate the students to teach themselves. That’s why I titled my blog ‘I’d like to think I help people to learn English’, and that’s why I believe in the internet as an important tool for self-teaching.

    Interesting article, thanks for writing it!

  2. ddeubel says:

    Richard,

    Thanks for your “swift” response!

    Actually, I agree totally with what you are saying but wrote my “article” just to perk up some ears and get us questioning ourselves (which is the best thing anyone, let alone a teacher can do – do I need quote Socrates???). I left plenty of hints as to my purposes but do hope to prompt some debate.

    As for online learning – you got it! Self learning, that’s the holy grail. The link on the end of my post has a great article by a friend and mentor Andrew Finch. Teachers, who needs them? – as always, he was way ahead of me on this…

    Thanks for dropping in. BTW – what is your blogs url? I’ll look it up but others might want to know. Please feel free to post any url that’s educational in my blog comments (so long as it isn’t crap :).

    Cheers,
    David

  3. Richard says:

    Yeah,I saw the blog come up on my RSS and liked the title, so I read it straight away!

    My blog is http://www.richardteachesenglish.blogspot.com

    …whether it’s crap or not is for others to decide! 😉

    I titled the blog differently so that I could contradict the url because I don’t think anybody teaches other people a language; it just doesn’t work that way. Actually, I now wish that I had a different url, but never mind!

    cheers

    R

  4. Greg Quinlivan says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks for the thought provoking article.

    I guess you never studied economics. Do you realise how poorly EFL teachers are paid in general and how many students we teach?
    It would be far more expensive to arrange for the airfares and accommodation to fly the 700 or so students I have to an English speaking country, than to pay my meagre salary each month.

    So, it comes down to a question of opportunity to learn, as no-one here speaks in English except on TV, and TV doesn’t correct your mistakes when you speak to it! Nor does it know why you are speaking to it or what you want.

    Absorbing a language in the way you described is not only expensive but also very time consuming. In addition, if my Taiwanese students spent a few years in the US or UK, where would they learn all their other subjects in Chinese? I strongly doubt if the immigration authorities would really want millions of students turning up at the border without funds and on the pretence of coming in to absorb English.

    Sure, there are good and bad teachers out there, but at least we go to the students, we interact, we answer, we correct and we try to give them some joy in learning.

    Perhaps your idea might work for highly motivated and well-funded adults, but I can’t see it for kids.

    Still, hopefully it will be a springboard for more debate.

    Cheers,

    Greg.

  5. It’s certainly a thought-provoking idea! Though I have to say I disagree with the main concept, and not just because it’s my livelihood!
    There’s a lot to be said for the human element of language learning, not only in terms of verbal communication but also body language. I have no doubt that a person can learn a language online and communicate with others, but repeating phrases from a website can’t compare to having a real-time conversation with someone, be it a teacher or a friend who’s willing to help you learn (and therefore taking on the role of “teacher”).
    Sending language users off to the native speaker country is a great idea, though I can’t see it happening with Young Learners, who would no doubt benefit most from the experience.

  6. ddeubel says:

    Oh Teresa,

    I’m not against “learning”, it is only the “teaching” part that really drives me up the wall!

    What I mean is that like you, I really think we need human beings to learn with/from/by (I’m as avid a Vygotskyian as there be – even got his pic on my office wall) however I just don’t think we need to pay someone for the mere pleasure of their presence or the fact they were born into an L1 or have a passport from one of those preported “English” countries. Why can’t students just find them on their own? Online is great. Skype would benefit and it costs mere pennies. I can imagine all the hundreds of chat rooms linking up the aging western population with young and hungry for marks ELLs (English Language Learners). At the end of the day, I just think that a teacher should be paid for something more, much more than that they wag their tongue in much the same way the queen does.

    Of course I’m being facile, but hope you get my point. Your point about young learners is taken.

    However, with young learners, why can’t we hire native speaking phys ed teachers. That’s the best way to learn English! I taught my elementary kids more English in one hour while sweaty on the soccer field than a whole year sweaty (or freezing) in class. I’m not being facile with this point!

    But I do agree, let’s keep it real. Just that I don’t think we have to pay others for something they are born with and into. That’s slavery – wasn’t that abolished or are our student’s still slaves, their parent’s too, since they are working hard to pay those sharecropping fees???

  7. ddeubel says:

    Greg,

    Never studied “economics” but I don’t think that should stop me from being an expert. Never stopped an English teacher! And let’s not forget that economists can’t even agree on whether we should save money or invest – let alone what we should invest or save in!!! Not a rocket science me thinks.

    Seriously, you are right, there are costs involved and so they could take “virtual” safaris. Hook up rooms with all the latest 3D stuff and have them wander around speaking to people out of history. Or maybe chatting with Beyonce. Or maybe they could just start hooking up with all the elderly (that are growing in numbers) and who’d gladly speak English to gain friendship and community. Why import a foreigner as an indentured servant (as you so described, given the pittance of wages).

    The point is — let’s spend money on how students learn best. I still say they learn better without a teacher than with. Yes, I’ve no studies to back that up but neither does anyone on the other side. It is unresearchable and I prefer my experience and “shyte detector” that I’ve calibrated as a teacher – to anything else. I’ll give you an example. If my students were in my class in Canada learning ESL – they’d learn some English. BUT, if they were out there ordering a donut in English and talking up a babe in English, they’d be learning more in 5 min than my 2 hour class…. so why don’t we let them? All for the sake of a diploma and an industry???? I’m not so sure about all this…

    I appreciate your answer and I’ll elaborate tomorrow with a full reply. I intend to talk about all the ways a teacher negatively effects learning (as mentioned) and will deal with some of the issues you raise about young learners….

    Cheers,

    David

  8. Spain is taking steps towards offering students bilingual education from a young age and I do agree with you about hoe learning through playing is by far the best option for young learners. The problem comes though with people’s perception of what a classroom is – I’ve had many classes where students have said, “We played games all lesson!” Which from the teacher’s perspective is great as we know that our students have been doing all sorts of activities with grammar and vocab revision, etc. Unfortunately you have to try and explain that to the parents who complain that they are spending x€ a month for their children to play!
    And I definitely don’t think you need to be a “native” to teach a language – my adults students know far more about phonetics than me!

  9. You bring up a very important point……just because you speak the language doesn’t mean you can teach it. However, I, as a certified ESL teacher, am a guide for my students who are studying English in a student-centered, problem-based classroom. I like to think that they’ll never understand the grammatical differences between an information report and an expository essay without the help of a teacher. These language features merit explicit instruction. I understand that most countries can’t find enough certified ESL teachers to provide this type of instruction so they do with what they can get. In my opinion, it’s better than nothing.

  10. ddeubel says:

    Sharon,

    I think you hit the nail on the head – I’m not against teachers , just “teaching” as it most often occurs. It may seem like semantics but to me it makes sense for many reasons.

    I’m also not really a big fan of “credentials”. I’ve seen so many great teachers who had zero qualifications – it was in their blood and being.

    But 99% of my post was satire — meant to get us thinking critically about what we do in the classroom. Tomorrow, I will publish more about this and why I really value teachers! Thanks for the comment. I’m sure your students are flourishing along with you….

    David

  11. Hi David, this is one of the most interesting posts I’ve read in a while. I 100% agree, but I don’t think most students would. I always tell my students that, at the very least, the Internet has everything they need to learn English and it’s free.

    However, the responses I always get are these: 1) I can’t work on my own. I need someone to push me or a schedule organized by a school to keep me organized. 2) I like getting help from people knowledgeable about the subject as many people I ask often can’t explain anything to me 3) I don’t feel comfortable learning in non-graded environments where I’m afraid of making mistakes or being misunderstood 4) I like learning with other people who are going through the same struggle.

    I used to always tell my students they don’t need a teacher, but these are the responses I get. I think many people do need and want a teacher, so why not?

  12. ddeubel says:

    Nick,

    I get those questions too and many others. “I want to make friends”, “My mother wouldn’t be able to live if I didn’t have a class or teacher!”, “It helps me organize my time” etc…. I think progressive teachers have it hard. They want their students to find freedom but yet they at the same time cannot turn away from helping them. And that sums up a lot of teaching, balancing a lot of things and compromising. I find I have to do a lot that I don’t believe, but I keep looking at the larger picture.

    I don’t believe we shouldn’t have a teacher. My post was satire and jest. However, I do think that we don’t need stand and deliver teaching nor a teacher organizing how/when a student will learn. Why can’t we have a teacher who is there for when the students want to learn? Why can’t they learn to motivate themselves, as life demands? The teacher is there to offer advice, to offer motivation and direction but not as a tape recorder or language jug filler upper. Kind of like the Sudbury school model where students can learn when they want to – the only “must” is that they pass exams and show their learning….

    When you get some down time, take a read of the attached – Teachers, who needs them? Andrew Finch puts a lot in perspective. I really think we need more teachers and will write a post shortly. But not to “teach” but for other reasons, very important reasons…..

    But glad to get people thinking about this, about learning and less so teaching. Cheers,

    David

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