>Why my students hate me

>One teacher confided, “The first thing I do is to explain why I’m asking for change.”

I’ve had entire classes rebel and reject me when they thought I didn’t teach enough grammar. I’ve been told I was the worse teacher a particular student ever had (and he was an adult.) I have taught in classrooms with a big “No Pain – No Gain!” sign over my head that the students’ regular teachers had placed to make sure the students knew that learning was supposed to be an academically masochistic(1) experience.

A teacher has two options in these situations.

A) Go along with what everyone wants. After 10-12 years of grammar translation training in school they have at least reached low intermediate level — so just give them more of it.

B) Help them learn about learning and teach them about teaching.

This is the same thing a doctor does when he introduces a new therapy, drug or treatment. He explains the research. He explains the results. He explains the problems with the older and the advantages of the newer. The doctor teaches you. He doesn’t say, “Well, if your mother always said cod liver oil will heal anything, then let’s try that.”

We have to explain the history of English teaching and the advances that have been made in understanding how the mind and language works. We have to sell our methods and set their minds at ease. I tell my students about Dell Hymes. I tell them about Krashen. (I’m going to have to start telling them about Mert.) I don’t follow a Krashen plan (nor Mert plan) but I mention these things to show them some of the ideas involved in current research. I think we have to hit the problem head on. Teach them exactly why we are going to do things differently and really sell it. Teach them exactly why they don’t already know English from their previous learning experience if it was under strong Grammar Translation.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that cod liver oil is just what some people needed nor the possibility that many people learn best with a strong grammar translation method. I had an American buddy who loved grammar. To him it was like a puzzle. We picked up a how to learn Japanese book with lots of grammar in it and after three months he was speaking Japanese and I knew nothing.

But if Grammar Translation and Audio Lingual are so great then everyone in China should be speaking English fluently by now.

(1) A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences. (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)


3 Replies to “>Why my students hate me”

  1. >I’m basically in agreement, but your analogies are perhaps not the most appropriate. Doctors “sell” their approaches to their patients, and I agree teachers can learn from that. But! patients go to doctors to be healed, not to be taught how to self-diagnose or to be “autonomous” patients. In the case of doctors and patients, it isn’t a big stretch for a patient to understand why a doctor would tell them about the latest research, etc, unless it’s not clear what the connection is with their particular health problem.In the case of students, tho, it’s a different story. True, a doctor wouldn’t be likely to say “If your ma has always used cod-liver oil, let’s go with that!” But a language student expects a language teacher to just teach the language, not to expound on the theories of learning: to know these is the teacher’s job, not the student’s (many students opine). Many of my students, for example, refuse to accept my proposition that they can learn a language without a teacher. For many of them, learning a language simply means obeying the teacher’s instructions, and in fact many will insist they qualify to pass the course because they did just that, and ignore the fact that they failed to demonstrate adequate competency or knowledge acquisition.And can you give a reference for “Mert” (whoever he may be)?

  2. >I have found many teachers will just take the path of least resistance, give the students what they think they want the way they think they want it. Of course, there is a time for that.I know one teacher who doesn’t believe teaching grammar is useful but does it because of the expectations of the students.But I think there is something to say for taking the time and the effort to teach students about teaching and help them learn about learning.This is especially true in places like China where frequently, from my experience, students expect Grammar-Translation training even though they hate it and are not learning much from it for the effort they are putting into it. If you are using a more communicative approach then some students will certainly complain that they are not learning anything and you are not teaching them “words” or grammar.So when there is something new we have to explain why we’re doing something different than what they expect. Doctors have to do it all the time. But there are others who also have to do it. Scientists, engineers, film directors, entrepreneurs, all kinds of people have to make a case for doing something that may seem different.As far as Mert goes, that is Dr. Merton Bland, a dear friend and teacher, known by many other teachers, who is perhaps more radical than Krashen on issues of grammar teaching.

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