Catch up with points 1-to-6, then continue below.
Pro-stuff in Teaching Point 7: Roll up, roll up for the greatest party trick on earth
“Language is our species’ party trick, akin to the octopus rolling up like a coconut. Unlike the octopus, humans’ unique adaptation caused a profound cascade of consequences for our species, the full breadth of which we are still grappling to understand.”
Be thankful we are not teaching people how to roll up like coconuts; our party trick instead, is language. And the secrets behind the trick are yet to be fully revealed, as David Crystal notes 'language is always on the move'. However far it moves though, the magic still remains when two students start communicating fluently in a second language.
So, channel your inner David Discourse-field, keep the magic going, and remember to always have a few coloured hankies up your sleeve.
Pro-stuff in Teaching Point 8: You can be like Smolin
Be a Smolin. Watch the video and you’ll get the point.
Pro-stuff in Teaching Point 9: Have nuanced debates about the meaning of ‘things’
You can have robust arguments, well, about things and what a thing means…
According to Alexander Stern:
A thing, then, corresponds to a real need we have, to catalog and group together the items of cultural experience, while keeping them at a sufficient distance so that we can at least feign unified consciousness in the face of a world gone to pieces.
Here I was thinking thing meant an object or item. So, the thing is, it’s rewarding to be part of a living breathing thing like language and talking about the subtleties between things - with teachers, students and um things.
Pro-stuff in Teaching Point 10: It’s fun!
Marcus in his guitar learning journal said 'a truly talented teacher diagnoses the problem then proposes a treatment that is fun and rewarding.' You have the power to put a bit of fun in your students’ lives: games, puzzles, music, communication, jumping, laughing, acting and much more… The great man David Lynch said 'In work [study] and in life, we’re all supposed to get along. We’re supposed to have so much fun, like puppy dogs with our tails wagging. It’s supposed to be great living; it’s supposed to be fantastic.'
Get those student tails wagging and have some fun!
Pro-stuff in Teacher Point 11: Old dreams come alive again
Our old dreams don’t die when we become a teacher, instead they are rewired, rebuilt and repurposed in the classroom. When I was younger I had many ideas on what I wanted to be, from comedian to diplomat. It didn’t happen, but aspects of these career paths live on in my teaching.
Wanting to be a comedian was about making people laugh. Making children laugh is a lot of fun, and it’s a hell of a lot better than the silence I received on stage for my part in the ill-fated comedy duo Chimponobo!
While, wanting to be a diplomat was about seeing the world and learning languages. I’ve been to many countries through teaching, and I now live in Thailand and run my own school – verging on intermediate in Thai as well!
None of this would have been possible without teaching. If you’re bitter with your lot as a teacher then dust off some of those old dreams: rewire, rebuild and repurpose them.
Pro-stuff in Teaching Point 12: Healthy
We are doctors giving the medicine of a second language to our students. They will live longer; function cognitively at a higher level; and have less chance of getting Alzheimer’s. Better than a fish oil capsule - that’s for sure!
Pro-stuff in Teaching Point 13: Bring out the Gimp
And so we get to ‘the gimp’.
Oliver Burkeman believes 'Human interaction is a matter of yelling between mountaintops, through driving rain, in different languages, with socks over our heads.' This interaction is based on two native speakers; so, what does it mean for non-native speakers? Maybe human interaction is then yelling between mountaintops, through driving rain, in languages that don’t exist, in a cellar under a house, in a gimp costume, with a sock over your head.
We should never forgot this when teaching: it takes a lot of effort to learn a language.
From my own personal experience of studying Thai and living here, I crave to be seen as me, not a childlike version perpetually stuck at the kids table on Christmas Day with the cheap crackers and hats. Occasionally, you might be paraded out from under the stairs, invited to the adults table ever so briefly, and tolerated for your mangled attempts in a foreign language. But for all your efforts the conversation quickly passes you by until you are trudged off, zipped up, and locked away again.
A skilled teacher helps a student get out from under the stairs, takes the mask off and helps them to be them in another language. Creditability soon follows, and an invitation to the adults table beckons.
Teachers guide students from this language purgatory to a better place of acceptance.
Let me return to Tim Minchin: if you have a friend thinking of a teaching career or maybe you’re thinking on giving up on teaching coz you work with a bunch of dickheads, then “please, please, please, be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world…. Rejoice in what you learn and spray it.” Here, here!
What are you Pro about in teaching?