My Teacher Manifesto

Why am I sharing my teacher manifesto? I discovered some old blogposts from my now-defunct personal blog recently on professional development that I think stand up and are worth reposting. The best ones were inspired by the 30 Goals Challenge by Shelly Terrell. This was a brilliant professional development idea that had teaches around the world sharing ideas, activities, lesson plans, support, and art!

So I’ll be reprinting them here from time to time, with light editing. I’ve included links to Shelly’s website and book in case you want to try out some challenges of your own. Tag me or leave a comment here so I can see what you’ve done if you do.

Without further ado, my teacher manifesto:

30 Goals Challenge by Shelly Terrell
Click the cover to buy on Bookshop (affiliate link)

Here’s a list of things that I think are important to be a good teacher in the English language classroom, in no particular order.

  • Humor and fun are important. Humor plays a million roles in my classroom. I use jokes to lighten the mood and make learning fun. I use self-deprecating humor to make students feel comfortable challenging me and so that they understand that mistakes aren’t bad. I use jokes and humorous stories to establish rapport. And I make silly skits and demonstrations of words or grammar points so that students will remember them. Occasional bits of irony directed at my students soften the blow of criticism or discipline, although this has to be done carefully and with students you’ve built rapport with.

    Humor is also a great jumping-off point for discussing pragmatics and social rules. Just talking about how people signal they are going to tell a joke is a great lesson! Some people say you have to be careful about jokes in any multi-cultural setting. What is funny in one culture is not funny in another. That’s true, but what a rich discussion you can have on WHY something is funny. What does it say about American society that certain things are funny and others aren’t? What other social rules are different?
  • Learning isn’t always fun. Learning isn’t always fun. That doesn’t mean learning is torture but sometimes to learn something you have to do boring things! I always explain to students, “I’m making you do a rough draft, not just to torture you but so you learn the writing process. I’m teaching you the subjunctive because it helps you express ideas, not just because I’m mean.” But boring drills and cloze exercises and repeating the same point ten times are beneficial in moderation. So is writing and rewriting and rewriting again. Or reading the same passage over and over, analyzing words and looking up allusions, until it becomes clear to you. I believe it was Diane Larsen-Freeman who said something like, “I don’t see it as my job to entertain my students.” I am here to educate them and they aren’t all going to like everything we do.

    Furthermore, learning is sometimes proceeded by confusion or frustration. When you are trying to do something new, at first you may not know what to do. You may not meet your own standards. The negative feelings related to not knowing something is pretty good motivation to practice and improve. Because …
  • Mastering something is fun. Reminding students that the pain pays off with a new skill or knowledge never hurts. Telling them that they will be so happy, and their teachers so impressed, when they can write a beautiful and clear essay because they use parallel structure and linking words well is a good way to keep motivation up.
  • Technology doesn’t matter to me. It really doesn’t. I don’t see it as my job to prepare students to use the Internet. Or not. I do think students have to learn to type and I do now make them type and print their essays, double-spaced, 1 inch margins, etc… so that they are ready for university. That means I am happy to sit down and show them how to do that on a computer. But I don’t see why using Facebook or Twitter inherently makes learning better. I just don’t. And a lot of “technology” lesson plans are just as easily accomplished with bits of paper and a pen. I have nothing against students who like technology (Personally, I LOVE gadgets) and I do encourage students to watch movies and videos and listen to presentations. I think flash card sites can be useful (although I learned Russian with the boring 3″x5″ kind and did just fine). But I don’t really see the inherent benefit of technology for the sake of technology.
  • Grammar is important not as a system of rules to be slavishly memorized, but as a set of tools that make meaning. I hate when students ask me, “Is I like ice cream right or I liked ice cream or I have liked ice cream right?”. I tell them, “I don’t know. What are you trying to say?” One class I taught where students had to read a book over a one month period was truly awful because there was no time to finish the book, and they didn’t get it, and they didn’t really enjoy the book at all. It ended up being me reading out loud and stopping every few pages to discuss what happened. One thing that I did get to do with it was point out grammar in use: “Look here’s a flashback. It’s further in the past. So he’s using past perfect!” “Why is he saying, I have made fire? Because he has that skill now and can use it. Present perfect to connect past to present!” If that could be a course, Read and Notice Grammar, I would be the happiest teacher in the world.
  • Learning is holistic I’m hardly the first to notice this but you can’t teach the present perfect, then stop and teach vocab, and then go on and teach articles. Students learn a bunch of stuff at any one time. You can isolate for the purposes of practice and to clear up any mistakes, but students have to encounter and make language while juggling many different things at once.
  • Communication is the goal Some students (and teachers) get off on learning obscure grammar terms and translating difficult words. Or memorization. I don’t think that’s bad if that’s how you learn, but ultimately the goal is communication. Producing language or recognizing and understanding language. Listening and reading are part of communication after all.

I’m sure there’s a million more ideas I could come up with but I think those are the big ones that guide what I do in the classroom. Always welcome comments, suggestions and recommendations to get better as a teacher.

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