FOREWORD BY ALAN MALEY
It is sad to reflect that the vast majority of publications in the discourse of ELT focus exclusively on the technical aspects of our profession. This focus on knowledge and pedagogic skills comes at the expense of the human qualities of the teacher, and the relationships she builds with learners. Knowledge and skills are, of course, necessary – but they are not alone sufficient to bring about deep learning.
As Earl Stevick reminds us in Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways: “success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analysis, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom, … I have begun to suspect that the most important aspect of ‘what goes on’ is the presence or absence of harmony — it is the parts working with, or against, one another.” (Earl Stevick)
All too often, we forget the validity of our own learning history. For most of us, what we remember most about our teachers is not their technical expertise but their human qualities. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” (Teddy Roosevelt). We neglect this human dimension at our peril.
It is therefore heartening to see this new publication, which focusses on precisely those human qualities. To be ‘authentic’ is to be vulnerable, to open ourselves to the unpredictability of the classroom, rather than taking refuge behind a wall of superior knowledge. It is to take that necessary risk, in an effort to create a living, learning community. It is to leave space for spontaneous response, to hold back from our inbred tendency to believe that correction will lead to perfection. It is having faith in the human capacities of our learners.
The very varied experiences expressed in these chapters do not offer a one-size-fits-all solution to the teaching conundrum. But they do show how learning can thrive when teachers act authentically, as living, caring beings in a mutually-respectful relationship with their classes.
This book features success stories, but the origins of the book come from frustration and failure. For example, we, the editors, are often frustrated to observe people who talk about protecting the environment and reducing their carbon footprint; however, sadly, these same people seem to live the same lifestyle they did 10 years ago, before the climate crisis. They fly off for frequent holidays, drive cars instead of taking public transport, and eat large amounts of food from animals.
Practicing What We Preach in Education
Similarly, some people who advocate for good ideas in Education do not actually implement those ideas in their own teaching. For example, in their articles, books, webinars, and presentations, some noted academics sing the praises of student centered learning methods, such as cooperative learning, but in our observations, these academics’ teaching consists almost entirely of long lectures. They do not practice what they preach.
More than a 100 years ago, Dewey (1916, pp. 43-44) bemoaned a similar lack of progress away from top-down teaching, despite the lip service already being paid to more democratic methods of learning: “Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so entrenched in practice? That education is not an afair of “telling” and being told but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory.”
We do appreciate the temptation for teachers or lecturers to talk, to enjoy the certainty of a well-prepared lecture, escaping the uncertainty of what might happen if they need to depend on their students’ input, on students’ willingness and ability to interact with their peers. So, in a way, this book was created to remind ourselves to practice what we preach.
Students Cannot Read Our Minds
Another kind of failure that motivated us to produce this book is shown in a study we heard about many years ago (apologies for not supplying the reference) in which after English language classes, the researchers asked first the teachers and then the students what had been the focus of the just-concluded lessons. The two groups’ responses differed. We have experienced that same gap; our students were not able to read our minds! We thought we were being student centered, for example, by trying to involve students in formulating the course syllabus, but instead, we were seen as lazy and unprepared.
To lessen chances of such miscommunication, in this book, we advocate a three-part model in which teachers first Talk, i.e., we explain ideas that underlie our teaching. Second, we Walk the Talk, i.e., students see and hear us implementing the ideas that we talked about. In this way, students observe us being authentic. Third, we facilitate students Walking Together with us. In other words, students join us in behaviors similar to the ones they had observed us doing.
Leaps of Faith
Teaching itself involves many leaps of faith, faith that our students will remember what they appear to have learned with us, faith that they will be able to use that learning to help themselves and others, faith that they will pass on to others the kindnesses that we have bestowed upon them.
An example of such a kindness, such a leap of faith, by a student not by a teacher, appears in the book Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan’s Soul and was highlighted in a 2022 podcast about professional basketball (https://overcast.fm/+d1tijdWmM). The author of the story, Ellen, was a school student who was never a good athlete. In Physical Education class, whenever the girls were going to play a game, the two best players in the class were chosen as captains, and the captains then took turns to choose their teammates. Ellen was always one of the last to be chosen, and this caused her shame.
However, one morning, when the girls were to play softball, one of the captains, Joan, made Ellen her first choice. Joan’s second choice was another student not known for her athletic gifts. Unsurprisingly, Ellen and Joan’s team lost, according to the score, but perhaps in the end, they won. Joan went on to be a teacher, and several decades later, Ellen wrote the book chapter and sent a signed copy of the book to Joan to thank her. Joan’s leap of faith had been rewarded, as we trust many of your leaps will also be, even if you never find out.
A Special Book
The editors of this book took two leaps of faith. First, most books for educators are written by academics with doctorates, with university positions. We the editors fit that category or soon will. Nevertheless, we took a leap to encourage other educators at secondary, primary, and preschool levels to contribute to the book. To make this process less intimidating and time consuming, we asked for chapters of about 1000 words, without references and jargon.
Second, another feature of most books for educators is that they are published by prestigious publishers who charge high prices even for short books. We have authored books with such publishers. However, publishing this way did not align with our belief about education being open to all. Thus, to try to make the stories in this book accessible to teachers who are not at well-funded universities, we chose to publish this book free online.
Fortunately, PeacheyPublications agreed to take on this project. We had faith in this publisher because we had seen the excellent work they did on the free online book Integrating global issues into the creative English language classroom.
The editors want to thank all the exceptional teachers who are chapter authors. As you can see in their chapters, they make important contributions to the lives of their students and all those with whom their students interact. The authors were also patient with us editors, as we pushed them to make various rounds of changes.
In conclusion, being 100% authentic in teaching as in life generally is probably impossible. All we can do is to try our best to occasionally reach the lofty goal of authenticity. Let us hope that the stories in this book inspire more teachers to Walk Their Talk and us, the editors, to continue trying to do so.
Best wishes – Adelina, George, Qingli and Willy
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