From the Blog

The ?Why?? Question

 

My three-year-old son never stops wondering. The world is an incredible place, indeed, and there are so many strange processes going on all the time that I cannot blame my curious boy for asking me this key question “Why?” right from the moment he opens his lovely blue eyes in the morning till he closes them in the evening, to have his well deserved rest. There’s nothing but to be happy and proud that a little child craves to learn about the phenomena that he encounters and that he doesn’t give up until he gets a satisfying answer.

I pray for so curious students! When students are curious or at least interested in the language they learn, the lessons are pure pleasure. It doesn’t mean that you can prepare less meticulously, or that the work is easier. Quite the opposite. Lesson preparation has to be thorough, tasks and activities well thought over, materials without mistakes or errors and lesson plans well designed and flexible so as to follow the students pace. And apart from that you have to be ready for the questions that will pop up in the course of the lesson. Being ready doesn’t mean that you have to provide an immediate answer. It means that you are not surprised and don’t panic when a question turns up.

There is this special type of students who always want to know “why?” and insist on having everything explained by the teacher. I’ve learnt to resist the temptation of explaining. Sometimes justification for using this and not another word or tense is too long, which causes the students’ frustration and boredom, or there is just no good justification beside the fact that “that’s just the way it is”. Moreover, in most situations students can find the answer themselves if they just make an effort. So I usually decline that question or say “You tell me, why!”

I’ve observed that when you learn a language for communication purposes, “why?” is, most of the time, an unnecessary question. Of course, when you study a language at university you get this whole historical background that helps you understand a language as a complex organism that is constantly evolving. But if you want just to use a language, much more vital questions are

“what?”

“how?”

and “when?”.

 To become a fluent language user you need to know first of all what you want to say, then, how to say it (grammar rules, vocabulary, pronunciation) and in which situation you might say it.

“Why?” is completely redundant. Unless, of course, you are a student who attempts to make your teacher go mad.

On My Own

When I decided to start my own business I knew my savings weren’t spectacular and it probably wouldn’t be enough to buy everything I needed. Therefore I planned to get some support from a) the state and b) the European Union.

To become entitled to get a grant for starting up a business activity I had to obtain an unemployment status. So I started working on it only to find out it was much too complicated and in fact I could not become an unemployed person as there were too many obstacles. I would have to distort the reality way too much to achieve my aim.

So I gave up my hopes vested in the state and turned to the European Union funding. This looked very promising and I expected to receive funding. And everything seemed to go smoothly up to the point when it turned out that the opportunity would come too late and I couldn’t wait so long with establishing my company. Two days ago all my hopes for financial support were dispelled.

To my surprise, I felt released. I stopped bothering with thousands of papers I had to fill in, with counting, calculating, wondering what to do and how to prove all my investments are indispensible and fit in the supreme purposes of the EU. I realised I had to count on myself only and I was responsible only to myself. And I felt good. This seemingly unfavourable situation gave me a strong incentive to work harder and to believe that if I achieved anything in the future, I would owe it only to myself and my family. This thought made me stronger.

Face to Face – Teaching Challenge

One-to-one teaching is a challenge to all teachers I’ve had a chance to talk to. While I taught at school, I could just imagine some minor difficulties one had to deal with when giving individual classes. But generally, private tuitions seemed to be a perfect solution:

  • teacher’s attention focused on the student
  • syllabus tailored exactly to the student’s needs
  • the student has the opportunity to speak new language all the time (provided the teacher gives them that opportunity)
  • pace of teaching adjusted to the student’s capacity
  • more time for practice
  • an excellent field for all kinds of teaching experiments (various techniques, new types of activities, interesting materials, etc.)
  • immediate feedback
  • progress well monitored
  • free tea/coffee
  • no stress connected with public performance – which for some teachers is a real nightmare
  • it’s easy to reschedule the lesson
  • you do not have to bother with the place, as the lessons usually take place at your students’ or your home

Plus many other advantages that depend on individual situation.

There are many good sides, indeed. However, when I started providing private tuitions myself I came across many challenges that weren’t obvious at first.

First of all, having two little children, I’ve decided I cannot teach at home yet, so I am always a guest. I invade my students’ territory with all materials I need for the lesson (course books, my laptop, handouts, props, pens, clipboard and paper – used as a board, a guitar) which logistically is a bit complicated, as I need to remember about everything, put it all into my car, take it out of my car, put somewhere in the place where I’m teaching in order to arrange a provisory classroom and after the class collect everything to my car again. Some places, where I teach are not really suitable for the lesson, but… I cannot do much about it. It’s somebody’s house not a classroom – that's a fact. I just have to adjust.

Another challenge is connected with teaching itself. A huge number of materials designed for students are based on activities for pairs or groups of students. Pair work and group work are tasks which develop communication skills, encourage creative thinking and give a sense of achievement when completed. They are usually fun, too. But when you teach one student, you need to be both a teacher and a partner, which is hard because

  1. you know all the answers (at least your student thinks so)
  2. you have to pretend a student, which is a bit awkward
  3. it may be difficult to be credible when you have no information gap
  4. the student’s motivation is lower.

On the other hand, you cannot focus solely on student’s individual work because it would be boring. There needs to be some kind of interaction to make the language purposeful. So you need to redesign tasks, think a lot, prepare good questions and a trustworthy version of yourself as a partner and not only a teacher. There is much room for creativity and I do my best to use it.

Moreover, lesson plans have to be very well prepared, as you cannot lean on timesaving activities – contests, games, etc. You can do it once or twice but then it becomes boring as the student competes only with themselves which they do anyway. Therefore every minute of the lesson has to be planned and activities well designed and attractive. Because there are only you and the student it is very tempting to talk all the time. You need to resist this temptation and arrange tasks so that the student has to talk and do things with language during the whole class. This is really challenging.

And apart from all that, you need to make sure that your socks are in a good condition. In Poland, when you enter somebody’s house you usually take off your shoes, so be careful not to present your toes right after you say “hello” as this might distract both you and your student and turn your lesson into a disaster.