A little context – “Try before you buy”
Before becoming a TEFL teacher training, I worked at a London language schools for a few years as an ADoS (assistant Director of Studies) and later as a DoS (go on, have a guess what that means!). One of my duties was to observe the teachers and give them some feedback on their performance, praise them and point out a few areas which could be improved. I used to insist on observing potential teachers before hiring them – before you scream: “exploitation, it’s just a scam for getting teachers to give classes for free!” – they got paid for their troubles. Not a bad strategy because you’d be amazed at how many bad teachers can ace interviews and how many good ones can’t. Anyway, the reason I’m giving you this back story is to tell you that I’ve watched hundreds of teachers give classes.
Now, whether that makes me an expert on what constitutes a good class is open to debate. I do know, however, what is generally considered bad practice in the TEFL world.
THE FIRST DEADLY SIN: Too much unnecessary, irrelevant and self-obsessed TTT
Appearances can be deceiving
I interviewed a jolly chap for a job once. He seemed bright, knowledgeable, affable and listened carefully before responding to my questions. I liked him immediately. He agreed to give a demonstration class the following day and I explicitly mentioned that I wanted to see a student-centred class in which the students provided most of the speaking output. He nodded vigorously and returned the next day with a beautifully written student-centred lesson plan.
Pride comes before a fall
As I sat back to watch him teach a group of multi-national Intermediate learners, I glowed with a sense of inner pride at my unfailing instinct to spot great teachers. The jolly chap introduced himself in a jolly manner and asked each of the learners their names and nationality. So far, so good: the students instantly relaxed with him and he provided some pithy and humorous comments as each student spoke in turn. Then, it began……..
Squeal like a pig
He told them that he was (briefly) going to talk about himself. I expected a few lines about where he was from, his hobbies, his favourite food. Well, that’s what he did at first and then he started to talk about his boyfriend, his boyfriend’s awful taste in clothes, his even worse taste in music. There was more to come. His boyfriend’s countless infidelities, his disgusting habits, his poor hygiene.
As he continued, he spoke faster and faster, his voice rising and rising until it reached a pig -like squeal. When it reached that upper limit, he would sit back on his chair, catch his breath for a moment, and then continue with another anecdote about how his boyfriend picked his nose while watching TV, how flatulent he was, his inadequacies in bed.
That car crash moment
At this point I should have stopped him but there was some nightmarish quality to this situation that kept me rooted to my chair. The students sat there, eyes wide open, watching this whirling dervish as his squeals became more anguished, his gestures more grotesquely flamboyant, his eyes bulging like boiled eggs, his vocabulary more colloquial and obscure. One tiny Japanese lady looked as if she was about to throw up, so dizzy was she at watching him perform his crazed pirouettes around the room, knocking over chairs and tables, swiping poor students with his flailing limbs.
And then he stopped, remembered I was in the room and announced:
“Well, I was going to teach you the rules about when to use the present perfect but it appears we have run out of time. Anyway, my little darlings, I’ve really enjoyed teaching you all and hope to see you soon. Here’s an exercise you can do for homework. Oh, if any of you would like private classes, here’s my email address.”
Before he could write his details on the board, I informed him and the students that individual lessons could be arranged through the school and ushered him out of the classroom. I remember picking up his jacket and bag before marching him downstairs to the main entrance to the school.
A little self awareness goes a long way
At the door, he blithely shook my hand and gave me what he considered to be a million-dollar smile:
“So, I assume you liked the class. When would you like me to start? Monday at 9?”
He squealed like a pig again as I pushed him out the door.
The moral of this story is: ‘let the students do the talking. They need the practice.’