Thanks for the responses, guys. I needed to rant, and the confirmations that I’m not being weird about needing to rant.
Obviously, smithsgj’s explanation is pretty spot-on. And I think most of the teachers are there because they have been told to be there. It’s interesting that all the people who actually showed up are from government schools, while the ones from the private schools who were on the list were absent.
The point where I nearly screamed was after repeatedly telling them that the objective was to get the students to feel like they owned the information they were communicating, someone asked a stupid question. You involve the students, give them a sense of power over the outcome, and motivate them to share their ideas or achievements with you. A simple game like third-world farmer is a good way for the students to decide the outcome - if they can tell you what they want. Some classes try to be successful, some try to wipe out the family. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they can speak up and give the instructions.
So teacher Noddy asks how we teach the students what strategy they should follow, and said three times that it’s important to do so. Don’t, for God’s sake, let them figure anything out for themselves. Just tell them what to do. Aaaargh!
You can’t influence the teacher’s processes if their values are incompatible, and I’m obviously not influencing their values in such a short time. I showed results - video of students working unsupervised with enthusisasm and presenting their projects confidently - but it didn’t cut any ice. They’re all clinging to what they know, threatened by change even.
So I woke up angry today, and I have almost no time to prepare anything for tomorrow - busy today. I’m trying to step back and just look at this as a teaching challenge, but the temptation is to tell them that I can’t help them until they’re ready to learn. I could spend the rest of the three hours hammering the fact that what they teach doesn’t help the students, and that they are therefore traitors to their profession. But Buttercup said something about being invited back and paid well for coming. Sigh.
Oh, and get this, I passed around a survey form with a few questions on it. All the teachers say the ability range in their classes is wide or very wide. These are government high school teachers, so their students have been assigned a school on the basis of a test which is supposed to group students of the same ability into the same school. The students all have very similar test scores, but they have a wide range of ability. So the test proves nothing, but the teachers’ job is to prepare the students for another test. And they teach them by following a rigid curriculum which has no wriggle room if you have students of different abilities in the class. I’m there to offer alternatives.
My activities are all flexible, and you can basically set different goals for individual students - in fact students who are motivated will set their own goals, so I focus on motivation and providing help. No need to push. But the teachers are not able to use them because they have no time or resources to do anything except follow the book. At least, that’s their story. I think it has more to do with insecurity. They’re threatened by the idea that they could do something better, because it means they’re not doing well enough now, so there’s a criticism for them to avoid by making excuses. Wankers.
I also asked for their estimate (as a range) of the number of words you would need to know in order to recognise 80% of everything you read or hear. (The approximate point at which you can start figuring stuff out from context.) The best estimate was 4-7000, which is only 50% more than the figure I have. Many were in the 10-20,000 range and the highest figure was 70-80,000! Surely, even if they disagree with me, these guys should have the same idea about what students need to know.
I didn’t discuss the topic of vocabulary, but after collecting their answers I held up the word list I use, which is organised by frequency and told them that the answer was here for anyone that was interested. NOBODY looked at it during the break. They clearly were not there to be told anything about English by a mere foreigner. It’s the usual story of students dictating what they are going to learn because they don’t feel secure enough to let go of what they know.
OK, I have a better handle on things now. I was focusing on processes, when I should have been focusing on attitudes. Thanks for listening, and keep the ideas coming.
Oh, and someone asked about my ‘colleagues’, whom I didn’t get to meet as we each get an afternoon or morning slot and don’t cross paths. I looked at the material on debating, which as usual was pitched at far too high a level. It was all about advanced techniques, when my experience has been that nobody can get the basics right. The teachers did at least agree with my assessment of that, and asked if I can spend a bit of time on that topic tomorrow. Not much point really, as I’ll be telling them things they won’t like.