Rant. I might need help. Today!


A few months back, a well-respected university asked me to prepare a couple of lectures for a course they are offering this summer. The students are experienced high-school teachers, and the topic was to be some of the funky activities I use in my high school classes. The teachers are “looking for new things they can use in the classroom.”

I looked at the list of other speakers and topics: debating, using movies in class, and other non-textbook acivities.

My summary: This course focuses on ways to ‘engage’ the students though task-based activities. Tasks must be interesting to students, but also achievable and have clear language goals for the students. We will look at 10 different activities over 2 x 3hr sessions, discuss the target language or skills being practiced, and look at students’ motivations in completing the tasks. Most activities are multi-purpose and can be adapted to focus on different language or skills. I included a short description of each activity, two months ago.

The reply was very positive, and I’ve done a lot of work preparing handouts etc.

During the first session, today, it became apparent that this was not what the teachers wanted. In summary, they have to teach a very full curriculum from the book given and don’t have any time for anything extra. I understand this, but what’s the bloody point hiring someone to speak about something that isn’t relevant? I doubt these guys have learned anything useful to them all week.

Anyway, on Friday morning I have to go back and do another three hours. My new topic is “how can I make your text books more interesting,” which will be quite challenging as they all use different text books! I collected a few emails and will be sending out a challenge tonight: bring your books on Friday and I’ll tell you what I would do with them. Obviously this is risky, especially as I surveyed the teachers and all of them (15 different high schools) report having a wide range of ability and class sizes ranging from 30-50 students.

I’ll have a few generic activities up my sleeve, but would appreciate any suggestions.

On the plus side, the main thrust of my lecture today concerned the importance of stating the main idea clearly. Now we know why!

Do they have stuff in the classroom or is it just tables and chairs and the faint aroma of biandang and farts?

(I hope you’re getting paid well for crap like that!)

Computer. Internet. Projector. Even the whiteboard pens work. No time for playing third-world farmer though, so no practise at explaining things or reporting what happened. Can’t use the Toyota Hilux ad from Australia to practise narrative writing either. No teaching magic tricks (directing people) to practise imperatives. No happy kids making model windmills to illustrate their talks about how they plan to save the world. (Thanks to William Kamkwamba.) No speculating about the usefulness of the metal bowl versus the box of matches if you get stranded on a desert island. Have to complete exercise 12 before the break, and finish the chapter for homework. Honestly, what the fuck is the point of asking me to be there? How do you make Far East Reader interesting to a bunch of disempowered teens who either know it all (really) already, or have concluded (probably rightly) that they’ll never understand it?

Well, it’s more than you made in your last teaching job. :sunglasses:


Well, it’s more than you made in your last teaching job. :sunglasses:[/quote]

Well, that’s not saying much. But then, I knew how to do it, you cheeky wee monkey.

So do you need help or are you just bitching 'cos you got ‘white monkeyed’?

Hey Ch…Loretta.

Would this work?

Get a few of the teachers to send you scans of readings / grammar pages / vocab lists in their books as email attachments.
Then, turn them into student-focused Communicative Language Teaching type activities. For example: messenger or info gap games for the readings, interesting questions strips based on the grammar points, and games and other activities for the vocab lists.

Imagine the kind of activities a CELTA trained teacher working with a good class at KOJEN or ELITE might do, but only based on materials in the textbook the teachers need to be using.

The teachers would participate in your class the way the students would in theirs.



what’s the bloody point hiring someone to speak about something that isn’t relevant? I doubt these guys have learned anything useful to them all week.[/quote]

Ming Chuan Uni, where I used to work, organizes stuff like this. Usually they just get uni English teachers – like me – who have absolutely no clue how to teach high/elementary school kids to lecture the interested teachers. It’s a step in the right direction that they have taken the trouble to find someone like you, with relevant experience, and committed to your own teaching and to carrying this project off well.

Your temporary colleagues teaching the video and other topics: are they from high schools too?

What has probably happened is that the MOE has made a special fund available for training high school teachers. The MOE bigwigs will have done this with the best of intentions, but they will not have thought at all about how the training would be done or what it would consist of, or how anything the teachers learnt could realistically be taken back into the high school classroom and implemented. They haven’t thought about this because it is not their job to do so: they are paid to make decisions at executive level only.

Unfortunately, no-one at any level below them is paid to do any kind of decision making at all, except of the most trivial administrative kind. The funding is announced, a university president learns of it and instructs his underlings to apply. Once the application is accepted, it’s just clerical bollocks, fill in this, stamp it, sign it, oops forgot to chop it, go round again, find some teachers, check their submissions for duplicate keywords, get new teachers, stamp sign chop again, get assistant #1 to order the biandangs, #2 checks the whiteboard pens, #3 chases the rats from out under the e-hua classroom keyboards, not forgetting the funky poster design (probably doesn’t match the website but who’s going to check?) and the obligatory red banner.

It’s a huodong, man, no more and no less. It’s not about learning, except it’s good experience for the “assistants” who ban (=undertake) it. It probably counts for something on those HS teachers’ CVs though, so make it look good on yours. And think of the money.

Yebbut that’s no reason to not even attempt to make it less shite than it could be.

I think he’s just letting off steam, anyway. It’s not a ‘rocket science’/unusual scenario. The point of teacher training is no more to teach teachers how to teach any more than English classes are to teach English. L’s job is to make it fun and to give the impression that time and money was not wasted so he will be hired again, hopefully at a good rate. The key to any class/group dynamic is to crack the vanity of the key players, assuming you can figure out who they are.

We all dig our own graves. Good luck. :roflmao:

Just because the teachers have to have X exercise done by X date doesn’t mean they have to be running a hard-ass handout mill, does it? Maybe it does if it’s scripted curriculum. So maybe what you should be “teaching” is a different mindset towards the profession? Good luck with that.

Couldn’t you encourage cross curricular team teaching? Science and math teachers (just for example–all teachers could) could surely work together to teach multiple concepts at once and students would get the added benefit of seeing how their curriculum actually applies and works together.

A simple discrepant event science lesson and the mathematics to explain/discribe it should be a breeze and allow the students to atempt a little critical thinking. Again, this may be too revolutionary if they have scripted curriculum or are afraid to lose any face by working together.

But it’s good teaching practice, teachers stand to gain support and insight from working in tandum, and students learn to LEARN. Plus, more curriculum can be covered in a shorter time while students are much, much more engaged for a bigger percentage of class time.

Good Luck!!

Interesting. The point of both endeavours in Taiwan/Asia, I suppose you mean, not the UK/ the West?

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. :slight_smile:

Would you be? I think that most of the local teachers enjoy discussing the shortcomings of the system here (advanced over basic, test-driven, reliant on memorization) and the underlying reasons (parental pressure/absence of creativity/because I am a Chinese). Do that and you’ll probably have fun.

What you’re trying to do is take it a step further, and improve things. That’s the part they’re less interested in, because it requires taking initiatives and making change happen. And like I said in my post before, no-one is paid to do those things.

Another advanced over basic issue is this: You’re presenting in English, right? How much of what you are saying to them are they actually able to follow? Don’t take that the wrong way – I know you’re an experienced teacher, and part of that role is assessing whether your students understand. But don’t just assume that because these are high school teachers their listening comp and other English skills are way up there or something. The guy who asked a stupid question possibly just didn’t understand what you had just said. Just a thought.

I agree they probaly don’t understand a lot of what you say.

How about you ask them how they grade the GEPT instead? I just found out that the reason that LTTC can’t tell you how it is graded is that they don’t know because they put out the grading(speaking and listening) as piecework to junior and senior high school teachers. I’d like this bit of info verified and you have the perfect oppurtunity to do so.

Five years ago, I was paid by the MoE to teach a class of Elementary School teachers who needed to pass the GEPT for promotion. I showed them the IELTS guidelines, and asked for the GEPT equivalent. I even offered to pay money to whichever of them could direct me to the relevant offical publication. I still do the same thing whenever I address teachers, including my group yesterday, and I still have no answer. Nobody knows, because LTTC doesn’t share information with anybody, and asking LTTC directly isn’t helpful either, for the same reason.

Perfectly possible. That’s one reason why I’m having them role-play high-school students and actually do the activities. I have provided them with evaluation forms, and ask them for feedback on each one where they tell me what the benefits and disadvantages are. It’s odd that they can be laughing and clamouring for attention one moment, but still dismiss the activity as not relevant a few seconds later. Their feedback consists of “I don’t have time to do this” and there’s no further discussion of the merits of having students consult with their friends to get the grammar right and then chase you around the room shouting questions they really want you to answer.

Then they ask how they can motivate their students.

Lack of comprehension falls into basically two categories. One is that you don’t understand the language, the other is that even if you understand the language the concept doesn’t fit your world picture. We learn by integrating new knowledge into what we already know or by adapting - changing what we believe. I’m asking people to do the latter, which they’re resisting for all sorts of reasons.

But I have to add this: One of the questions on my little survey concerned how important their school considers the GEPT to be. One guy raised his hand and asked what GEPT was. I do honestly have students in high school who speak English better than any of the teachers in the room yesterday. (Average age is probably 40yo, btw.)

Would you be? I think that most of the local teachers enjoy discussing the shortcomings of the system here (advanced over basic, test-driven, reliant on memorization) and the underlying reasons (parental pressure/absence of creativity/because I am a Chinese). Do that and you’ll probably have fun.[/quote]

Sorry mate, but the teachers are the system. Why is the MoE paying for stuff like this? They’re trying to make change. At the top levels there is a recognition that there are problems with the system, parents also recognise that there is a problem - which is why they pay for their kids’ schools to hire foreign teachers. Students know there is a problem, but teachers make excuses about why there can be no change. They are afraid of letting go of what they know.

The questions yesterday all boiled down to control. How do I tell them what their strategy should be? My class is too large to allow students to leave their seats. If students are working in groups instead of listening to me then how will I know if everyone is working? How can I make them complete their bookwork if they’re busy figuring out how to chop the desks up to make blades for a windmill? Scary shit, guys!

Taiwanese are very creative, btw. If you can take away the fear then it all manifests in delightful ways. And as for parental pressure, who is supposed to be the expert in this relationship? Any parent tries to tell me how to teach English gets a very long and forceful free class on how little they know and the foolishness of assuming they know more than me.

If they want to tell me how to get the students through the university entrance exam then that’s a different matter. I’m an English teacher, not a fucking slave-driver. My job is to teach my students how to perform useful work in English so that they can make money when they are older. I’ll gladly share what I know with high-school teachers, for a price, but if they don’t want to learn - or if they want to pervert it so that they can break more young spirits - then why should I co-operate?

Tomorrow I will just teach what I was hired to teach, and if they don’t get anything from it then they came to the wrong class. Not my problem.

Look, just go in, say “OOH! OOH! OOH-OOH BEDOOH!” scratch your head while rubbing your tummy and talk about sailing for a bit.
The sailing talk will go over their heads, of course, but then, that’s really for your own benefit. They’re not even remotely interested in what you have to say, neither the organizers nor the people you’re addressing. They want some of that handout and therefore need a white face. You’re it.
These guys are TEACHERS and ADMINISTRATORS, for heaven’s sakes! What could a white performing monkey POSSIBLY be able to tell them?

My bank details? “Just put the loot in there, thanks!”

Buttercup, stop being mean.

My bank details? “Just put the loot in there, thanks!”

Buttercup, stop being mean.[/quote]

I was being nice!

Those teachers all know that they can’t fuck with the system. You get shitcanned if you do, and there is someone right behind you waiting to play the arsehole for the sake of a job.
Fight the good fight. But give them Taiwanese a break. Only pawns in a game.

EXACTLY!! I came back to post again and tell you that you should give all your presentation information to a Taiwanese guy, let him present it, and see what happens.

I missed the part at first where you were only talking to English teachers. The most competent Taiwanese English teacher I ever met had been teaching all her life and knew her stuff, but for two years I thought her name was “Grace” because she kept mispronouncing her English name, “Grass.”

Most Taiwanese English teachers I met were the hardest people to get along with because they were worried some white woman was going to tell them they weren’t doing their job correctly, or didn’t know their subject well enough.

I had JR. High kids once bring me their speeches to help them practice for the English speech competition coming up at school. These were kids who’d lived in Australia and had near perfect English. The speeches they were making were full of mistakes. I tried to correct them but the kids said, “Housecat, we know it’s wrong but when we tried to tell the teacher she got very angry at us. We can’t give a speech with correct grammar because our teacher will lose face if what we say is different than what she told us to say.”

The problem is that the teachers have no room for what’s right in the classroom because they have to be concerned with what’s “correct.” This is cultural. You’re never ever going to change anything with a few government paid for lessons that the teachers must attend.

You have in fact become a part of the system you aim to change. Hey, if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em, right?

Good luck. Really.