18 Jul Teachers Will Be Teachers: 3 Funny Reflexes of a Language Teaching Professional
Author: Ilinca Stroe
Take a moment to think and remember: when was the last time someone dear told you, gazing at you reprovingly, and perhaps in a certain tone of voice, “You’re such a teacher!…” That’s because sometimes, in social, non-teaching contexts, when we’re out with friends, say, our teaching self pops up and we do things. Things that should only be done in class.
Now, every profession shapes our behaviour and ultimately our personality, to an extent: accountants will be serious and reliable, they say; architects – witty and charming; lawyers – inquisitive and talkative; and so on. So how does teaching make us be? How does it shape our behaviour out in the world? In short, what are teachers like? Patient, they say… But that, we all know, is a myth. 😉
There are, based on the empirical observation of fellow language teachers in the very anthropological context of office parties, staff retreats and many a night out with our partners, families and/or friends, at least three typical teacherly things we can’t help doing by default, even when we’re outside of the classroom.
1) Correcting people.
Let’s just imagine you’re out socially with a teacher and friends, scanning a beer garden for a free table. You’ve finally spotted it, don’t want to see it snatched by other thirsty patrons and nudge your companions hurriedly: “Come! There’s four free seats over there!” “ARE!” you’re bound to hear from the mouth of teacher the next second. “There are four free seats over there!” – s/he will insist adamantly.
What can you do? Error correction is in our blood. You let one go, you never know what other, more monstruous deformity of language might come up next! You’ve got to stop it and set it right. Right? If the friends suggest that that’s ok, that we’re not in class, that we should chill and take it easy, etc., the teacher will stick to her/his guns and, more often than not, the discussion spirals into sublime abstract spheres rife with technical explanations and terms such as “plural”, “ending”, “predicate”, “copula” and, of course, etymologies…
2) Gesturing to back up utterances.
It is not at all uncommon for a teacher friend to tell you all, over a cup of coffee, about their trip to Dracula’s Castle last weekend and make a gesture as if they were trying to hitchhike a sort of reverse ride on Route 66: fist clenched, thumb raised and pointing backwards over the shoulder, with a slight to-and-fro movement of the forearm. “I went. Last weekend,” they will emphasise gently but firmly the past tense form of the verb and the time adverbial.
Where does that come from? Well, it comes from many, many grammar lessons where the teacher friend had to suggest to her/his elementary-level students that the past, and not the present should be used to talk about last weekend. The gesture, instead of a curt verbal cue, “Past!”, is preferrable, as it does not interrupt the speaking, but the truth is that the teachers’ reflex action to back up whatever they say with visual illustration such as gestures often turns our chats with them into, like, miming games – charades where things are stated perhaps a little too emphatically…
3) Asking questions Socrates-style
Maieutics is certainly the way to teach in modern education, including language education. We ask students questions cleverly arranged and graded from obvious to deeper, so that by answering them they reach knowledge, they reach illumination. It is all a fancy process of bringing into consciousness wherein question-asking is but the blessed vehicle of learning.
Fine. However, applying maieutics in a casual chat with a friend over lunch can get slightly annoying. Suppose a friend is telling you how she got into a shop, saw a shirt she instantly fell in love with, bought it on impulse right away, got home, tried it on and… saw it didn’t fit her. If you’re that unlucky friend, all you want is a little compassion: an “Oh dear” or “What a shame” will do. Instead, the teacher listening to the story feels compelled to draw the friend towards the realisation that maybe a lesson is to be learned from here. Hence… “Are you sorry about it?”, “Why do you think it happened?”, “Do you think you might act on impulse again if you were to go to the shop once more?”, “What would you do differently?” – the Socrates-style way to make a point otherwise captured in this short, plain piece of advice any non-teaching listener would easily provide: “Well, next time try it on before buying it!” And no further questions.
The three reflexes of a teacher sketched above may at times irritate the teacher’s companions on that pub outing, but then again… surely we can put up with such minor mannerisms for the sake of, after all, some of the most important people in our lives: the people who teach us – in or (compulsively) out of class…
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