I am very excited by this issue mainly because the theme is Young Learners and, for once, I can honestly say that that sort of teaching is right outside my comfort zone. I have been a father of young children but never really had to teach them as such. Yet reading the articles I have been incredibly impressed by the issues our contributors have noticed, thought about and found solutions for. That is, after all, the point of the magazine; to see something, discuss some solutions or improvements, try them out and share them. The articles do a full 360° view of the topic from the importance of talking to parents, teaching as a parent, the need to develop independent learning, the role of grammar and the absolute necessity to allow young learners to ask questions, move around the room and experiment with English. All of these values are equally key to all teaching and there are many who feel we shouldn’t differentiate learners from young learners. I’m not sure about that. As we move into hybrid learning, dealt neatly with an article in another part of this issue, I think it is the mobility which is so vital. I have often said that the most sedentary teacher can be dynamic, the challenge now is to make the online teacher equally so. But it is not only the teacher who needs to be dynamic—how do you get the learners to be the same? A couple of other articles give you some great ideas.
I do think in many ways the most stressful form of teaching is probably dealing with children, not necessarily because of what you do in the classroom, but because of all the peripheral but core aspects of checking behaviour, assessing development, comparing progress, and dealing with administrative tasks. I think it is quite appropriate that Stress Awareness Month in the UK is April and as I write this, I am increasingly conscious of the number of teachers impacted by high levels of stress, particularly given the two years we have all been through. It is so important that managers realise how much teachers are affected by the emotional toil of dealing with classes which are made up of so many individual learners, all with their own issues often only shared with their teacher. The pressure this puts on the teacher is hard to calculate but anecdotally you know it is massive.
I was thinking of this the other day when quite out of the blue I heard an interesting conversation between two people at a café here. It basically went, A: How are you? B: Can’t complain. A: No-one listens anyway. B: True. What are you going to have?
In less than thirty seconds they had got down to their conversation. Now this wasn’t two teachers, but it could easily have been. Why shouldn’t they complain and, more importantly, why don’t people listen?
What worried me as well about this conversation was the level of English required to deal with it. I was fine and I shouldn’t really have been listening anyway. But we need to keep exposing our learners to real English, in authentic situations spoken by real people.
As I write this, I know how hard that is for the ELT writers and publishers but it is vital. Otherwise, we are preparing our learners for a make-believe world where the grammar, the vocabulary and the pronunciation features are graded. My view of language learning has been reinforced by the new phenomenon of WORDLE. I am fine with the English version, as I look at five blanks I know, intuitively, what can and cannot fit. When I do the French version, despite having lived there for sixteen years and having a degree in the language, I don’t have the same feeling, knowledge, awareness, ability or even confidence. I simply haven’t been exposed to enough French regularly to gain those habits.
That’s what we somehow have to teach and expose our young learners to – real English. So whether you are a parent, a teacher, a manager or the child themselves we must all be moving in the same direction. Take every opportunity to see, hear, read, notice, write and discuss the language through school, games, music, sport or even, if I may add, social media. All of it is available in English – just use it.
All my bags are packed, our boxes have been sent, and in a few weeks we leave New Zealand. It has been the best place to spend a few years not only travelling but also looking at teaching, how we do it and why. I’ve learned a lot. I hope this issue gives you similar chances to read, consider, experiment and reflect.
Have a great summer/winter.