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Yesterday, during a teacher training workshop, I was reminded of a theory I had about "great teachers". Long ago over many beers, in a pub in the Czech Republic, I outlined the idea that a great teacher was a "heretic", a kind of rebel with a cause. Great teachers broke all the rules because they had first learned all the rules (to paraphrase Lao Tze). My theory was rooted in the tradition of Illych and his "Teaching as a subversive act" - I called it "The 7 Sensational Sins of Great Teachers". Here it is fully described and with more clarity (or perhaps less...?) than a beered up brain might offer. A confession, may I one day need to get into the big retirement home for teachers in the sky.
#1 The Teacher as a THIEF.
A great teacher will do whatever it takes to help their students learn - this includes stealing. In many foreign countries, good, authentic English materials are at a premium. So what does the good teacher do? She steals! I would walk into all the 5 star hotels in cities around the world and calmly, with an air of authority, scoop up a stack of premium travel magazines. My students would have wonderful reading material! See some brochures laying around the travel agency? Scoop them up too! A friend has a book that is laying around collecting dust? Steal it - if it will help your students! (maybe leave a note, if possible). I've ripped and torn from too many doctor's offices, too many magazines to count! Great teachers STEAL. They steal words from others. They photocopy and STEAL ideas from others. They do whatever it takes to get their students learning.
#2. The Teacher as a LIAR.
A great teacher tells a tall tale and a good yarn. He makes the students believe that it is "real". A great teacher twists the facts of his life and gets the students interested in "the story". When teaching, I would tell my students fantastic stories of my day, my life. I kept them engaged with the language, who cares if it wasn't "fully" true? A great teacher lies -- tells their students things to motivate, damn the truth! Think about it - we do this, so let's admit the sin and come clean.
#3 The Teacher as a TYRANT.
A great teacher controls EVERYTHING, despite the illusion of student centeredness and student control. She manipulates and gets what she wants to happen, not what might happen. A great teacher pulls the strings of students and merely gives them the pretence of randomness, choice, freedom. You are choosing who will present first? The teacher does the Ennie Meanie Minny Moe but always knows where it goes! The teacher organizes the classroom, says who can go to the washroom then, says, "Open your book" and commands "close your book". The great teacher has a look that says, "Off with your head, if you so much as even twitch!". The great teacher is truly a TYRANT.
#4 The Teacher as a FRAUD.
The great teacher not only lies but also commits fraud. We pass out checks that will bounce. We make statements that students will learn and speak English just like the queen of England if only they do everything we say! We are frauds! We cheerlead and exhort our students to study, no matter they won't ever learn to speak much or have the opportunity to practice in an English country. We make English sound so easy just by speaking it so well ourselves! We fool them and ask them to pay, pay, pay..... We laugh all the way to the bank. We are frauds whatever little good we do eventually do! As a young teacher, I was told by all the ivory tower types I prayed and worshiped before - "be yourself in the classroom". What poor advice! I quickly learned that I had to be whoever I had to be - to get the students to learn. It was a confidence game, it was a con game. I put on many hats, many faces, many costumes. Whatever it took to pull off the con, the fraud. Forget being yourself! The classroom is an artificial place where we sell the students on its "reality". We make them believe that if they do it there, they can do it anywhere.... We aren't much better than Barnum - "There's a sucker born every minute". We are the used car salesmen of education.
#5 The Teacher as an ADULTERER
The great teacher loves their students - really loves them. They are intimate with them, they look them right in the eyes with love and connectedness. They talk about the most intimate details of their lives with students. A great teacher shares all their thoughts with students, allows them into the most narrow corridors of their soul. Our spouses, girl and boyfriends are unaware how we break their hearts! How we share with our students and allow them into this precious corner of our heart. We will rush out at all hours to do things for our students, with our students. Leaving our loved ones cold and alone at home.... let's face it - we are ADULTERERS in everything but the act alone.
#6 The Teacher as a BUFFOON
The great teacher is a performer, , a clown, a trapeze artist walking along a tightrope of language. We laugh, we make faces, we do the most degrading things in front of our students. We will crawl on our knees and act like a baby as we "roleplay". TPR? We sing and dance like a monkey. We have no dignity, we have no decorum. We are buskers, shaking our tin cup of change and asking students to pay the price with their "acquisition". We dress up and wear wigs, masks, make up, props and puppets. We are clowns that hope through laughter, learning will last.
#7 The Teacher as a SLOTH
The great teacher is slow..... They pause a lot. They have the students repeat, repeat, repeat. She asks their students to copy things a million times and makes the classroom a place of review, review, review. She is a sloth that brings language to a slow breeze that can be easily enjoyed and felt by students. No storm here! Great teachers move slowly around the class and take their time. Who cares about the lesson plan! It's about the experience, let's slow down and savor it together. The great teacher is the greatest of sloths, a Frenchman slowly savoring each piece of filetmignon.
Caution: there is a lot of satire in the above. Use with more than a few grains of salt.
If you liked this, you might enjoy The 7 Deadly sins of new teachers.