The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

remarks on teaching

English language class

Students in the English club.

After five years of teaching and team-teaching and teacher-training and observing lessons, I look at this picture and still cringe that one of the students is texting. It’s a club, sure, but do me the favor of paying attention.1 Students paying attention isn’t the point of English classes or clubs, though; it took me a while to learn that. Administratively, the point of these classes is for students to sit and endure the 40 minutes from one bell to another without doing more damage to themselves or to school property than is strictly necessary. To many of the teachers I’ve worked with, the point of these classes is for students to complete the maximum number of exercises with the minimum amount of noise and effort or planning from the teacher.2 Both of these attitudes came as a surprise to me (I must have been either a remarkably obtuse student or extraordinarily lucky in my schooling not to have noticed this before) when I started teaching, because I thought the point of teaching was to develop a rapport between teacher and student to communicate information, understanding, and – most importantly – a desire to learn in as useful and pleasant a way as possible. That, I see now, is not what state-run schools are for:

Those who employ teachers see them as more than workers who present the official curriculum to the students. A computer or television system could make such a presentation. An important role of the schools is socialization: the promulgation of an outlook, attitudes and values. For example, the schools prepare students for the labor force not just by teaching them arithmetic, English, history and so on, but also by teaching them to follow instructions, adhere to a rigid time schedule, respect authority and tolerate boredom. Lessons in this ‘hidden curriculum’ are taught as much in the numerous school–student interactions not involving the official curriculum as in those interactions that do. The employer trusts the teaching professional to manage these interactions in such a way as to advance the proper values. […] It is revealing that teachers who do question the curriculum attract the attention of school administrators, while teachers who are simply incompetent at teaching it tend to be ignored. (Indeed, when teachers are fired it is rarely for not teaching well.)

—Jeff Schmidt (Disciplined Minds)3

  1. He has the same problem in class – apparently he’s a star wrestler and frequently misses class to attend competitions; even when he’s physically present in the class, though, he’s just not there. []
  2. This is not true of all the teachers I’ve worked with closely, but is true enough as a generality to bear mentioning; more annoying to me than the student texting or answering calls in class is the teacher who flips through the textbook for five minutes after the bell rings and asks the students what lesson they are studying. []
  3. No page number, sorry: I read the ebook. []


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