40 comments on “Are teachers entitled to do what THEY want?

  1. Where my own interests coincide with those of the students, I exploit those shared interests quite ruthlessly.

    Where I have interests that I think might be of interest to the students, I offer them, but if they show no interest after that, I abandon those interests.

    “Beating up my own ego?” Not a chance! I’m far too busy following the students’ own paths to learning.🙂

  2. Hello Jeremy!

    I’m going to be the first to take the dive and comment here, but I believe that YES teachers can (and should) talk about what THEY want once in a while, bring what THEY are interested in to their classrooms.

    See, I am a romantic at heart, and may even be a bit naive at times. But my experience shows me that as much as students get excited and “glow” when they are talking about something that really matters to them, so do teachers. And I choose to believe that just as much as we become involved and eager to hear when students talk about what they want ( One of the best/most interesting student presentations I’ve ever watched in my teaching life was a student of mine talking about black holes – and anyone who knows me knows how much an unappealing topic that is for me) so do the students when we talk about what we’re passionate about. I’ve had students start reading certain books that didn’t appeal to them before, after me talking about these books in class – readaing is one of my biggest intersts,

    Just as what happens with the students, when we talk about the things we really care for, WE glow…and it awakens students’interest, it makes them ask questions about it, wonder….and that is AUTHENTIC. Authentic use of language, authentic listening, authentic interest.

    I do understand that ir doesn’t always happen that way. But do we truly brlI say we should neither be shy nor triumphant about it, but ourselves. And that should be enough- he responsibility of a teacher/ presenter is to present something innovative, something that will mean something to the students; An this is what we aim for. So go ahead teachers: Favor your interests in a lesson. Make your own selfish choices.I have a hunch it will pay off.
    And what do YOU think Jeremy?

    • Hi Cecilia,

      I am so sorry I didn’t reply to your comments earlier; on a tour in South America and somehow I just got everything badly backed up. Apologies.

      BUT

      Yes, I think you’ve got it right. Teachers DO ‘glow’ (like the word) when they are passionate. But perhaps they (we) can glow too much sometimes. I guess that’s my worry!

      Jeremy

  3. Yay! I’m the first to comment I think!
    I’m with you on this one. True education means being able to foster the ability to be interested in something. If the teacher is interested and motivated about a topic I think it stands a good chance of working – obviously this isn’t true for absolutely everything but the cry “give them what THEY want” sometimes results in lessons that miss the mark because the teacher gets dismayed that the students aren’t responding as they should for something that supposedly caters to their desires.
    This is especially true when it comes to the arts. And speaking personally, I like classes where the teacher is obviously fired up and cares deeply about a topic. Enthusiasm can be very contagious and I may learn or appreciate something I didn’t know before, not be dully reminded of something I did.

    • Hey Lindsay,

      you may have been the first (or second) to comment, but I am the last to reply. Sorry! All this travelling and stuff makes blogosphere intereaction very difficult sometimes. Still you know that since we saw each other yesterday in Lima!!

      As you know, I DO tink the arts have a part to play in ELT. The more ‘functional’ we get the sadder we get, perhaps…

      Jeremy

  4. Ops! That last paragraph got a little messed up… What I meant was that I do understand that it may not always be perfect. But do we truly believe it didn’t go well because it was about something we were passionate about? No!!! Being enthusiatic about something is extremely contagious and (IMHO)it makes the students relate to us, feel closer. It makes us more human. (then the rest of the comment is okay – sorry about that).

    • You are forgiven, Cecilia (!) provided you forgive me for late reply.

      I understand what you are saying completely – and agree with it. I think contagion is a good word for what teachers can (at the best of times)transmit!!

      But as Phil said (above) if students don’t’get the bug’ then we probably have to back off?

      Jeremy

  5. I agree with Lindsay, I think it is perfectly okay to teach/talk about your interests as a teacher. The ever competing demands of curriculum topics, student interest topics, PTAesque concerns etc. etc. often mean that things a teacher cares about get ignored or sink to the bottom of the pile. A teacher’s role must be partly to open students up to themes and areas that they hadn’t encountered before and to try and engender a feeling for broader horizons and I think this is true in the arts and the sciences – curricula too often have a rather mechanical, rote feel to them and are consequently difficult to enthuse about.

    One quick caution I feel worth saying is that as you say, just because I am interested in something doesn’t mean they will be and if you teach something once and get zero response then you should probably quit! Anyway, I wish you luck with your seminar and enviously wish I was in Argentina instead of rain soaked Hannover😉

    • Hi Andrew,

      I am ashamed that I didn’t reply to this comment before. I DID have a great time in Argentina and the talk went pretty well – though that was mostly helped by it being the final talk so everyone was a bit emotional anyway. But what with the talk and the travelling (in Lima now – which Hannover-grey, though it never rains)I didn’t get round to replying to you.

      I am sure you are right that we have to keep an eye on whether or not the students are interested in what we are saying and doing. Overexposure to our interests is probably not a good thing!!

      Jeremy

  6. Well, I’ll shockingly agree with Lindsay – but only up to a point.

    The example you’ve given us above, the sharing of one’s passions is indeed where “real-life-listening-skills-practice” comes in, it is through common-shared-interests or learn-about-something-new-interests that teachers can get to give students authentic listening experiences.

    In life-story-telling, students get to have real exposure to real language – the absorption they feel when listening to the (usually foreign) teacher telling a story based on their own culturally distinct experience provides a natural touch to a “text” which a tape-recorder, YouTube video or whatever provided by a coursebook usually cannot give (although that’s why I tend to like YouTube authentic videos over ‘created-for-learning-videos’ as it creates an environment of attention.

    And, of course, most importantly usually when sharing our passions, we encourage others to share their own. (AND THAT IS essential – the point of rabitting on for a chunk of time should be to then step back and let students take over after)

    The trouble is though, most of the time when the teacher is doing the talking re your Is it OK for teachers to talk about what they (the teachers) want to talk about? is that usually it’s not so much about whether or not teachers are sharing their personal interests – the thing that gets the wooden club beating down from the heavens via Thornbury, (+Nunan, Seedhouse, Wells, Long, yaddda yaddda….:) is that much of the talking which distracts from the learning process is not personalized sharing of interests but long-extracted-lectures about “language” and is thus not in fact language.

    Karenne
    p.s. am so glad to see you blogging again, now have to go bug Meddings to get back in the seat.
    p.p.s who knew England was so beautiful! Have a lovely time in Brazil.🙂

    • Well Karenne, you have probably slipped back into thinking that I am a disgrace to the blogosphere!!! I should have replied earlier, but sometimes when you are travelling you just can’t get the time or the focus. That’s what hapened to me and I am sorry.

      OK?!!!

      Yes I completely agree with you that the wrong kind of endless teacher talk is not helpful. TTQ (teacher talking quality) is what matters in the end, and that’s why WHAT we talk about matters. I like cecilia’s (see above) idea of teacher enthusiasm being contagious, though of course, contagion can be a bad thing too!!

      Jeremy

  7. Training, techniques and experiences in the professional practice give teachers the ability to choose the right tools for the students, understand the results that will be achieved and help them to get the maximum benefit from the learning process.

    However, each teacher has also been molded by an unfolding life experience and their unique walk on the spiritual path; each has had the experiences needed to be a better teacher for the students he or she will have. The struggles someone has experienced and overcome surely provide the wisdom to assist others through similar challenges. And it is exactly within all of that practice, experience and wisdom, that there walks the presentation of a human being; and within humanness there are imperfections but a lot of passion as well. As we walk inside our classrooms we bring along every single bit of what we are, and I´m afraid we share that with our students whether aware of it or not. So why not share whatever inspires us (provided that it is something we see as noble and might as well help in their learning process)?

    I truly believe that it is our awakening consciousness along with knowledge gained from experience which carry the real value of anything we can teach, not merely our (academic) degrees. It is my experience of transformation that allows me to assist others in travelling across the same path. Education is not (just) about producing good workers to prop up our society. I feel it is much more about touching, inspiring and transforming. And the fact that we teachers can do that by sharing our passions with students can be so rewarding and enlightening for everyone involved… And, last but not least, I totally agree with Karenne when she says that, most important when sharing our passions is that we encourage others to share their own…🙂

    p.s. so, are you coming to Brazil again…?

    • Valeria,

      you will have seen from all my comments above that I have been apologising profusely for not replying to comments before. I just kind of ‘lost touch’ with the outside world in the immediate demands of an author tour.

      No matter.

      I have almost no comment to make about what you have said except that I find it moving and totally convincing. Thank you very much.

      Jeremy

  8. IF (in capitals) we assume the classroom is a social context like any other, such as a table in a student cafeteria, or a dinner party among friends, or around the water-cooler at the office, or in a train compartment with strangers, then any and every topic is legitimate – so long as it is mutually acceptable. That requires, of course, considerable sensitivity, even negotiation. Amongst strangers you’d probably build on what happens to come up; with friends you can take quite a lot on trust. But if I start banging on about my pet obsession (let’s say it’s cooking but it could just as well be cricket), however enthusiastically, in the face of either boredom or outright hostility, then more fool me. The same rules would seem to apply in the classroom. Of course, teachers have the advantage of their ‘authority’ – but, to my way of thinking authority does not mean licence (i.e. that I can talk about whatever I like) but comes with certain responsibilities, e.g. not to be boring, offensive, dogmatic, etc. The same rules ought to apply to conference speakers, but it’s seldom the case that a conference talk is ‘socially negotiated’. More’s the pity, perhaps.

    • Hello Scott,

      here we go again – I mean her’s me saying sorry again. And I am. I really like what you say here and I would have said that before if travelling hadn’t totally overwhelmed me this time.

      Sorry.

      Yes, I totally agree that the ‘same rules ought to apply’ in the classroom. But I am more inteerested in the idea conference speakers. Any conference speech IS co-constructed in the same way as a music performance, I think. But that is different of course from being socially negotiated. Does the difference matter?

      That’s something that is exercising my mind (ish) at the moment….

      Jeremy

  9. I’ve thought about this issue many times, Jeremy, and I think it is important for a teacher to bring his/her passions and interests to the classroom from time to time. If we consider our classroom as a social environment (which is often the most conducive to exemplifying, promoting and harnessing genuine language skills), I think every participant (teacher included) ought to have a chance to bring something they are genuinely interested in to the table.

    Of course, just as with any social situation, we need to be careful not to bang on with our ears closed. We need to be mindful of overkill in anything, and careful that everyone has a chance to talk about their interests. More importantly, considering the group dynamic, we need to find and gather the various sparks that more of the wider group will be interested in discussing.

    I’ve generally found, however, that students want to be interested in their teacher and want to look to them as an example. Quelling our own personalities, personal experiences and interests may be a good idea sometimes, but I think they it can also demonstrate our investment and interest in the students to “give a little” of our real selves from time to time. How can we create genuine personable relationships with students and the group in general if all we are is a facilitator (and dare I say it: manipulator?).

    We often ask and urge students to talk, tell us what they think, tell us what they are interested in. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to try and exempt ourselves from the very same thing – certainly not all the time, anyway!

    • Hi Jason

      (for a list of grovelling apologies for my late replies to comment, see above!)

      I really like what you say about (if i understand you correctly) ‘do unto yourself what you ask others to do’!!). The trick, of course, is in making it relevant, entertaining, contagious (see cecilia above), and knowing when you’ve gone on too long!

      Jeremy

  10. Training, techniques and experiences in the professional practice give teachers the ability to choose the right tools for the students, understand the results that will be achieved and help them to get the maximum benefit from the learning process.
    However, each teacher has also been molded by an unfolding life experience and their unique walk on the spiritual path; each has had the experiences needed to be a better teacher for the students he or she will have. The struggles someone has experienced and overcome surely provide the wisdom to assist others through similar challenges. And it is exactly within all of that practice, experience and wisdom, that there walks the presentation of a human being; and within humanness there are imperfections but a lot of passion as well. As we walk inside our classrooms we bring along every single bit of what we are, and I´m afraid we share that with our students whether aware of it or not. So why not share whatever inspires us (provided that it is something we see as noble and might as well help in their learning process)?
    I truly believe that it is our awakening consciousness along with knowledge gained from experience which carry the real value of anything we can teach, not merely our (academic) degrees. It is my experience of transformation that allows me to assist others in travelling across the same path. Education is not (just) about producing good workers to prop up our society. I feel it is much more about touching, inspiring and transforming. And the fact that we teachers can do that by sharing our passions with students can be so rewarding and enlightening for everyone involved…
    And, last but not least, I totally agree with Karenne when she says that, most important when sharing our passions is that we encourage others to share their own…

  11. For me the answer is yes and no. Give two teachers the same lesson plan and each will finally imprint their personal style to the lesson. Why? Because we have all got different interests and goals, though our main aim is to raise our students’ interest we will, in the end, do as we please without losing the track (or at least, we hold on that idea!). On the other hand, trainers have a different objective. To my mind, trainers are allowed to do as they please, as it is them who can raise new interests on their trainees or, perhaps, create the need for knowing about a specific subject that others might not have thought about before. Of course, everything revolves around the same goal: our students’ development.
    It is fascinating to listen to new ideas from someone who has been brave enough to experiment more, a person who would not stay in his/her comfort zone. And how do people get these fresh ideas? By linking topics -in your case, art- that apparently have nothing to do with teaching. And these innovations can just come from teachers’ own interests, which will eventually be shared and propagated among others, creating new ways of learning and/or teaching.

    • Hi Nadia,

      thanks for your great comments and sorry (see above) for not replying before.

      I agree that linking topics really works. That the metaphors we live and breathe by may be exactly the stuff that provokes learning and engagement. But the flip side, of course, is knowing when we are not getting through, when even our own passion has not been enough to ignite their consent. Like relationships perhaps, we should never believe ourselves too much?

      Jeremy

  12. Hi Jeremy,

    It’s OK to share your passion with your audience but make sure that you connect it to what they do in their real lives. ‘Art’ is too broad and like what you said it includes music, drama, dance, and yes- language. Sharing your recent project, poetry and music, is an example of the fusion between English and Arts. Just avoid self-promotion overkill. Aside from Shakespeare, can you do a P. Diddy (just kiddng!) But that’s something you can consider. Include modern poetry, modern ways of self-expression (that’s art)- think what students do/like nowadays, and how they can make use of that in enhancing their English skills.

    Think of Gwendolyn Brook’s ‘We Real Cool’ poem- I know- far cry from Shakespeare, but that’s something students (esp. teenagers) could easily relate to.

    Think also about the production- teachers need to tell students how to do a poetry-related class project, right? You’ve got Bingham, what resources do they have?

    Goodluck on your presentation, and give them a piece of you🙂

    Cheers,

    Aiden

    • Hi Aiden,

      many many apologies for not replying earlier. You’ll see from all the apologies above that I kind of got ‘dis-connected’ but I’m back now.

      I completely agree that Shakespeare isn’t the whole story. More modern poets experimenting with form, poets who tap into the zeitgeist etc – they are all up ‘for grabs’. The concern is to give students language and tasks that they can engage with and which will help their reception and production of English. Anything that does this is worth using I think!

      Jeremy

  13. Funny, I’m kinda posting on this subject now and will be posting on it more fairly soon. Great minds think alike I guess,🙂🙂

    Yes, teachers should do what they are interested in as often as possible I think. This idea often gets shoved aside with the current large focus on student-centered learning, but it’s an important element. If you are passionate about something it will show through in the lesson and the time you put into preparing it. That enthusiasm is contagious. Plus, you are probably very familiar with things you are interested in.

    • Hi Nick,

      sorry I didn’t reply before. I went AWOL a bit, trying to travel and write at the same time.

      Looking forward to your views on this subject, but yes, I think we bring our enthusiasm and knowledge with us when we use our own enthusiasms. However, this all sounds good provided we like what teachers are enthusiastic about. How would we feel if teachers were taking ‘unpleasant’ (I means political views etc) enthusiasms into lessons?

      Jeremy

  14. I agree that a teacher should be sensitive to the interests of his or her own students, but also that it is healthy for a teacher to use their own interests in class from time to time. I think we can assume an interested and engaged teacher will be a more effective teacher, and we all do things the way we want to do them – after all, a learner-centred classroom is such because the teacher has decided to make it so.

    But you’ve set up two slightly different questions, Jeremy. If we think about the context of a course, there is room and opportunity to negotiate. The teacher can judge when the students are unhappy, and adapt plans and curricula accordingly. Some lessons may be centred around a teacher’s interests, but others can be generated entirely by students. Do you think the same applies to a one off plenary or presentation? Perhaps this is what Scott alludes to near the end of his comment…

    • Hi Darren,

      so sorry my reply to you is so so late. Back in the UK now, perhaps my brain will starts to work properly.

      Now you asks a really good question. Audience-generated plenaries? Well we do ‘panels’ and many of them are pretty horrible. But is there a way we could do that amusingly, entertainingly, provocatively?

      I do believe that plenaries are, in a sense, co-constructed. I wonder (I can’t see it at the moment) how they can be ‘socially negotiated’ in the way Scott suggests. He’s ahead of me (as so often) there!

      Jeremy

  15. Your specific mention of teaching with poetry reminded me of a (closely related to the topic of this post in many ways!) post I put up on my blog a few months back, called Poetic Injustice?

    http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/07/poetic-injustice.html

    In that post, I actually described how I had (up to that point) made a specific effort NOT to feature poetry in my language teaching, mainly as a reaction against assuming my own passion and interest in something might be worthy of classroom application (but also based on my school experience, which showed me a lot of my peers loathed poetry).

    The comments on that post were quite persuasive in terms of informing me the rebellion against a personal interest/passion was not really justified, and I had in fact probably missed out on some exciting language teaching opportunities…

    So that is potentially another (reverse?) angle on the topic you have raised here!

    Cheers,

    – Jason

    • Hi Jason,

      excuse the late reply.

      I enjoyed reading your poetry blog and yes, come back to poetry, all is forgiven.

      In the end I did show quite a few poetry activities in that plenary and they did seem to go down quite well! Of course the focus of the talk was poetry and music, but poetry is only just one of many forms we can use to try and provoke students engagement.

      Jeremy

  16. If teaching is about human communication, and it involves empathy, sensitivity and warmth, then I would say we do have to take our students´interests into account. We need to be democratic when we choose the topics.This means respcting not only the students´interests, but ours as well.

  17. Dear Mr Harmer,

    I’m from Argentina and I attended your talk at FAAPI conference last Saturday. Actually, I’ve just started teaching as I’m only 21 years old and I’m more than once faced with this matter, I mean, I feel I’m torn between two loyalties: teaching the plan catering for what I feel are my learners’ needs, or designing a lesson plan according to what I feel both the learners and I need.

    In my limitted experience as a teacher, I must say that I believe that in either case, you’re putting into the plan more of yourself than you can imagine. It’s you the one who is thinking the plan, feeling it, giving birth to it, hence you are inevitably shaping it according to you.

    I feel that even if we have to think about our learners, our audience, we will inevitably be lead to taint what we do with our personal touches.

    By the way, your audience at FAAPI WAS delighted to listen to you. It was inspiring to listen to you and a great pleasure.

    Cheers!

    Gabi

    • Hi Gabi,

      thanks for your comments. Very interesting.

      I DO think teachers can and should put ‘themselves’ into their lessons. The worry occurs, of course, because we have to decide how MUCH of ourselves to bring along. I think some of the comments that have been made here get it about right: we have to be very aware of how our interests are going down with the students, so that we know when to ‘back off’ if we are, frankly, boring them!
      Jeremy

  18. Hi Jeremy,

    What a great post to make us think! I think, as teachers we can allow ourselves to talk about what we want sometimes. I think it’s acceptable to let students know our opinion on some issues, however, we must be careful on the subjects that we raise in the classroom
    Once, I remember that I started talking about sustainable project, some of my students didn’t know exactly what it was, once they’ve got to learn about it, they’ve got involved in the concept itself.
    As teachers we can have a positive or negative influence on them.

    Cheers!

    Luciana Podschun
    São Paulo, Brazil
    @inglesinteract

    • Hi Luciana,

      thanks for your comments. Of course you should be allowed (encouraged?) to talk about sustainable projects! But would that also be OK if teachers whose views you really didn’t like started bringing those views into the classroom? That’s a thought, isn’t it!!
      Jeremy

  19. Hi! Jeremy, I’m from Argentina and attended your workshop on September 21st in Buenos Aires. I had attended Alan Maley’s lecture first and wasn’t going to stay for yours but I did and I’m glad I took that decision. ( I was on the sidewalk when you arrived and directed you to the appropiate door, by the way) I was delighted to be there and somehow you gave me courage to finish some of the studies I had left behind. (I’m 44 years old) Thanks for your enthusiasm!

    • HI Gabriela,

      yes I remember meeting you (briefly). I am so glad you stayed for the talk on Saturday. I am really pleased you liked the session and felt enthused by it. That’s the best feedback I could get!

      Thanks.

      Jeremy

  20. (sorry! whoops… didn’t mean to hit the submit button! It’s Friday… I’m tired!)

    …As I was saying…
    I have two main interests the classroom.
    01. Learning from my learners.
    02. Teaching my learners something.

    In the first case, I should really follow THEIR interests and see what I can find out about them as people and their learning styles.

    Secondly, there are many things that I have an opinion on – certainly some things I’ve learned about teaching – that learners may not have been exposed to or have realised. I know this, THEY know this, so if I think it will engage them, I feel justified in choosing something I find interesting (and useful).

    Like everything else we do in class, there should obviously be some kind of balance. Let’s face it; it’s basically up to the teacher to have the necessary skills and judgement to know when to do what, and with whom. To be perceptive, on the ball… not to be a bore, really.

    I guess, for me, it may boil down to simply giving the learners a choice or opt-out clause when I want to foist something on them (an article, a video etc) that I find interesting and that only I have chosen. They can choose something else if they really want or in some cases next time it will definitely be them who chooses – This time me, next time (and most of the time, actually) you. It seems fair that way. Much of the time, they do seem happy and curious about what I have chosen… as far as I can tell!🙂

    Cheers, Mr D

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