Always Look on the Bright Side of ELT

One of my favourite posts of recent times (from one of my favourite blogs of recent times - ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections from the incomparable Michael Griffin), is The Dude Abides, in which Mike uses quotes from The Big Lebowski to explain various aspects of working in ELT. That got me thinking about doing something similar and now, 3 months on, I’ve finally got my act together to present you with a post linking the often parallel worlds of ELT and Monty Python, all thanks to that classic of controversial cinema:

Warnings: Spoiler alerts ahead! (If there can be ‘spoilers’ for a film released in 1979)
Controversial ideas and naughty language ahead!
Ripping off of other people’s blogging ideas ahead!

[… having trouble hearing the Sermon on the Mount.]
Man: I think it was, "Blessed are the cheese makers"!
Gregory's wife: What's so special about the cheese makers?
Gregory: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.
Often we the best intentions, teachers and teacher trainers talk of not taking things so literally, not following the coursebook or syllabus so literally and expanding on themes that come up to involve our students as much as possible. Unfortunately, much like Gregory here, we often miss the point. A talk I saw at a conference a couple of years ago springs to mind. The theme of the event was personalising the language learning experience and a well-known coursebook writer was on the stage. Showing us an example of one of his pages, he said “Look! The question asks ‘Have you ever been to Moscow?’ You can’t get much more personalised than that!” For truly personalised learning, we need to go much further beyond those manufacturers of dairy products.
Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!
Crowd: [in unison] Yes! We're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
Crowd: [in unison] Yes, we are all different!
Man in crowd: I'm not...
Crowd: Shhh!

Often as teachers we strive to help our learners become free-thinking, creative, critical individuals. We want them to engage in self-assessment activities, plan their own learning and pursue their own interests. However, we are often encountered with students looking at self-assessment papers blankly before asking “What new words did I learn this week teacher?” Or when presented with a question like “What is your opinion about….?” they slyly try to copy from their neighbour. Or sometimes, they act completely lost when given the option of a project or assignment on the topic of their choice… We shouldn’t forget that while our learners are individuals, a lot of what goes on in a school environment, whether it is a standard coursebook, tests, rules or uniforms, nullifies that and training and guidance is needed to ensure they truly work and think independently.
Nisus Wettus: Crucifixion?
Mr Cheeky: Ah, no. Freedom.
Nisus Wettus: What?
Mr Cheeky: Eh, freedom for me. They said I hadn't done anything, so I can go free and live on an island somewhere.
Nisus Wettus: Oh, oh that´s jolly good well. Off you go then.
Mr Cheeky: No, I'm only pulling your leg, it's crucifixion really!
Nisus Wettus: [laughing] Oh, I see, very good. Well...
Mr Cheeky: Yes I know, out the door, one cross each, line on the left.

However, despite our desire for individual expression and students who break from the norm, we often end up taken aback when it comes!
The next one is more of a scene than a quote so I decided to use the (official) video clip from YouTube:

The classic case of obsessing so much with grammar that we overlook the meaning of what the student is trying to communicate - this is the equivalent of a student sadly saying “My grandmother… she die” only to be corrected “She die? Present or past time? She died…” While grammar instruction and correction is no doubt necessary, we should be careful not to impede communication or fluency on the part of the learner and not to incite fear when correcting as our centurion does above.
Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Teachers like to complain. We complain about our students, our school administration and, of course, those poor publishers of ELT materials. But we shouldn’t forget that however much we get annoyed by such things, the are always positives as well. Take the publishers - sure, an overloaded generic coursebook can be restrictive but a readily-available bank of materials can also be a life-saver when asked to cover a class at short notice. They also do a lot to make sure seminars and conferences happen thus contributing to our professional development. The same goes for admin - sure, at times they seem out-of-touch and unreasonable but they also try to make life easier for us foreigners in a foreign land (for example at my school, extra days off at Christmas, furnished accommodation, flight tickets home and letting us get away with radical things in class that other teachers are not allowed to do like moving desks about and doing loud speaking activities).
Hermit: I hadn’t said a word for eighteen years before he came along!
Followers: [in unison] A miracle! He is the messiah!
I do not work miracles. I am often faced with high expectations from stakeholders whether they be the school admin, parents or the students themselves. Students don’t learn foreign languages overnight and can’t be expected to communicate readily and fluently at a young age (an expectation I have witnessed many times when bumping into students with their families outside school). Nor am I the messiah. I am just a very silly teacher!

Another clip:

While it can be entertaining, amusing and engaging, modern technology, if used with no clear purpose or context, can be completely baffling.

Lead Singer Crucifee: Some things in life are bad.
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble. Give a whistle.
And this'll help things turn out for the best. And...
Always look on the bright side of life.

Be positive. Teaching can be a stressful job but there are plenty of worse things you could be doing. When we do our job well and approach it with a positive outlook, we can make a significant contribution to our learners’ lives. Oh, and we get to go home at 4 o’clock with long summer holidays as well.