How an ELT version of Neil Finn might contemplate the temptation of going into new classes with coursebooks and pre-made materials... as opposed to an emergent and unplugged approach.
After teaching English for almost two decades, it always surprises me how certain emotions and inclinations rise to the surface when I face the prospect of starting new classes at a new school with new colleagues.
On the one hand, there is a sense of "stage pressure" - a sort of nervousness about how I will be received. After those first few classes, what impression will the learners have? What will the other teachers think of their new colleague's approach to planning and teaching?
And then there are the real world pressures. With one child in kindergarten (and starting to prepare for his introduction to school), a wife with a busy school schedule of her own, and a little toddler that will need to be taken to and picked up from child care, it's almost like looking up at a cliff... How on earth can I juggle my schedule and be adequately prepared for my classes?
And I'm not even going to go into detail about taking time away from a rapidly growing and highly satisfying online teaching business to dedicate time to classroom teaching...
It's at a time like this, contemplating the massive challenges to my time and energy, that a certain sense of temptation begins to creep in.
Why not just use coursebooks? And/or, dedicate some hard work in advance and prepare a nice stash of ready-to-go activities and handouts? Get as much done as possible in advance. Make sure there is plenty of material, to keep the learners busy, and perhaps assure a new school management and teaching team that I am an organised and well prepared professional...
No one would blame me, right? I'm one of millions of over-busy and under-paid teachers around the world, slaving away trying to balance home and family responsibilities with a teaching job. Those publishers know how I feel and they're sooooo capable of helping me out, right? They're even kind enough to do a huge percentage of my planning and thinking for me (and the learners too - how brilliant is that?).
I find myself wading through thoughts like these each morning, and by the time I'm fully awake, have the kids busy with their breakfast, and finally have a good strong coffee to sip from, the 'real' teaching me begins to emerge.
Mine is an unplugged approach. I know how important it is to just sit down with a group of new learners and really get to know them first. I have decades worth of teaching experience that can be drawn on at any given juncture, a huge mental sack of tried and true activities that can be selected and put into action on the spot. It's not a matter of selecting and planning those activities in advance. It's about calling on them once the flow of communication in the classroom has started (however limited that flow might initially be) and the right activities can be applied for the right reasons and directions.
Half-way through that morning coffee, I re-evaluate that earlier panicky feeling about being adequately prepared and capable of making a good impression. Sure, I need to get a grip on the curriculum's learning goals and assessment criteria. But other than that, I'm more than ready to step into those classrooms...
Remember those other times you went with an unplugged approach? Remember how you doubted yourself in the week before starting the classes? Remember how they ended up starting so comfortably and just took off, organic and exciting and fresh from one day to the next? Remember the great outcomes at the end of term? Remember the sheer exhilaration of being in that room and negotiating each new path, each new fork in the path - or crossroad? Remember that awareness in your learners' eyes...?
I have a multimedia version of the first version of Windows almost ready to go (and classrooms with Interactive Whiteboards and Internet connection). The only serious photocopier time I'll need to put in involves running off a couple of hundred copies of my Wizard English Grid.
So yeah, once I manage to remind myself that the learners themselves will be generating most of the content and doing more of the legwork with the language, I realise it: I'm ready.
Despite, of course, that temptation to resort to a linear and pre-manufactured approach that will appear to save me time and perhaps make me look more professional...