Hugh Dellar on Magic Moments

IATEFL Poland 2018

Recorded by Evgeny Usachev

 

On Teaching

and why I still love my job

I’ve just watched the video below of a session by Hugh Dellar recorded at IATEFL Poland, and it has sparked a semi-rant about and sort of love song to teaching. Sometimes people who don't really understand what I do day-in day-out in my job ask me whether teaching is still interesting. “Aren’t you bored, Hannah?” Or "How did I end up in Lithuania?" (The implication being that I didn’t really choose to be here). Well, here’s the news. I chose to be here. I have the theoretical privilege of being able to live and work anyway really. I’m here because it is a great place to live with lots of opportunities if you are prepared to see them and take risks. I’ll explain why I’m not bored, despite working in classrooms since 2000.

I sometimes market my courses at EnglishTeacher.lt as 'English for Interesting People’. I believe that everyone is interesting. Everyone has stories. Everyone is trying to express themselves and communicate their message.


The joy for any teacher is surely helping people to achieve their aims. One of my aims is to help my students find their ‘idiolect’ — their own voice and way of expressing themselves effectively in English in different situations. This is what motivates me.

I am lucky to have complete freedom in my classroom when working for myself. I also work in higher educational, where, of course, there is a tighter syllabus and more specific aims. But in both cases, the principle is the same. 

Our job is not to be robots. Our job is NOT to teach the syllabus or material or course book. Our job is to TEACH the PEOPLE sitting there in the room with us. That means responding to their needs. Language needs. Personal needs. We are HUMAN

The group I have with a special needs student is completely different from the smaller group of shy people who are rather reticent to speak. My third group will ask questions and ask for clarification without me having to probe the group, whereas in the other groups, I need to ask concept-type questions to check understanding of the usage of a lexical chunk, or how else it could be used. Before I can ask the third group, their hands are already up demanding more information. 

So each group is completely different. That is because the people in the group are unique, leading to varying group dynamics that come from that specific combination of different people at that point in time. This means that I have to work extremely hard in each lesson. What happens in each classroom at a given time is unique if actual teaching/communication/learning/engagement takes place, which admittedly is not all the time and probably not often enough, but not for want of trying! It’s about what Hugh refers to as our “response-ability” to respond to our students.

So no, I don’t get bored, because I work with people and supplement my courses with authentic material that is relevant at the time of teaching. Current news stories change everyday. There is always a new context for teaching the language that students can relate to - this brings the language alive in the real world (not just on the pages of a course book or course outline). The follow-up work and reflection on what happened in the classroom after each class also affects the way I think about planning the next lesson. The materials may be the same but the way the lesson is executed is different every time. The planning is also different depending on what happened last lesson, the student needs, room layout, number of students, available equipment, time of the lesson (how tired they might be, etc.) — there are so many variables. 

I work in different ways but try to be as engaged with each group (although you can probably guess that there are different challenges arising from each group, some of which I prefer over others!). And I live for the moments of magic that happen from time to time. I live for these, because they involve responding to what is happening at the moment. Thinking on your feet. Hugh Dellar wrote the course books I use with groups (see the links). He speaks a lot of sense. Here, he perfectly demonstrates why we should be human and create the space for others to try to express themselves (rather than sticking rigidly to our lesson plan). As ELT specialists, our job is to supply the appropriate language and structures to help people say what they are trying to say. 

Sometimes it is easy to become demotivated in what can, on occasion, feel like a thankless job with rather demotivating conditions. But the daily slog at the whiteboard (or in ever-rarer cases — at the chalkface) is all worth it when these MAGIC MOMENTS transform a lesson, class, human relationships, someone’s viewpoint, or perhaps even people’s lives. So it is the PEOPLE (I may never otherwise meet) and the INTERACTIONS we have that make me LOVE my job. And I hope that is the value that other people see in my teaching.  

<
­