This one is about autonomy in the classroom. Is it a given?
The most memorable lessons in my career as an English language teacher were those that involved lots of talking (by students) and playing language games such as Scrabble and crosswords from Drum Magazine. Somehow I had managed to get away with the “mischief” until one
Your class, your way! Wait a minute.
If you asked me why I chose to become a teacher and why English was the subject of choice my response would be many things. Off the top of my head my answer would be ‘I loved my English teachers and I was going to teach just like them’. Did I really know what they had to contend with? The other inspiration for my career choice was my love for reading, writing, and talking… a lot. Teaching English allows me to do all of these. You might ask me to try again, but that’s it. And I do not regret a moment of it.
I remember going to class and telling my students “today we are going to chat, about anything. Even gossip is allowed.” And we would have the best speaking lesson ever. That would be it. In the end the students would tell me what they thought the topic and objectives of the lesson were. And there we go: a successful lesson without going through the convention of getting to class, writing the topic on the board and listing objectives. There are several stories about writing lesson objectives on the board. I have challenged this convention and got the best learning outcomes in my lessons. This does not mean I would go to class without a lesson plan and objectives though.
Caught red-handed and Pleasantly guilty
One day as we were going about our business, I sitting on top of the table at the front, laughing and enjoying a story that we were reading from Drum magazine, the head master passed by. I bet she sensed something was not right, but I kept my cool. Students were looking at copies of the story that I had handed out to them. Magazines lay on their desks. They were going to read the magazines afterward. I had no idea I was going to land in trouble for this. The goal was to reduce teacher talk, a practice for which many of us are guilty. It takes a lot of restraint to wait for learners’ nerves to settle so they can do the talking.
When I was summoned at the end of the lesson I was so oblivious to any chances of being reprimanded. The more I tried to explain the objective of the exercise and support it with the lesson plan the more my boss got angry. And when she came to realize that it was not the first time I had done this, she nearly had a heart attack. I had to be monitored closely. But I stood my ground, I was going to do anything I could to make my teaching effective and enjoyable and promote learning. I was saved by my students’ performance. From this incident I learnt that autonomy in the classroom is not a given. But how do you take directives regarding how to teach a subject on which you have carefully selected the method to use, taking into account the characteristics of the cute little people looking up to you for some inspiration? Well these are the dynamics and paradoxes of teaching and management…