One of the masterpieces of the whole of the history of literature is Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and one can find its application in different aspects of human life. Human science relies heavily on the knowledge of humans and their behaviour. Teachers are all individuals with their own expectations, needs, wants, and their ethical, societal and cultural backgrounds. Knowing them and the needs they have can help trainers to provide better remedies for the problems teachers have. Different theories of teaching and teaching styles agree on the importance of individual teacher differences in the success of a language classroom. As MacBeath (1999) urges, teachers and students do not exist in a vacuum but are influenced by one another’s expectations and behaviours. To this end, I will try to discuss different types of teachers alongside the characters of The Little Prince’s story to make it clear what we mean by these specific individuals.
Illustration by Arezou Kamali
The summary of The Little Prince says:
The Little Prince comes from a very small planet, which the narrator believes to be asteroid B-612. Over the course of the next few days, The Little Prince tells the narrator about his life. On his asteroid-planet, which is no bigger than a house, the prince spends his time pulling up baobab seedlings, lest they grow big enough to engulf the tiny planet. One day an anthropomorphic rose grows on the planet, and the prince loves her with all his heart. However, her vanity and demands become too much for the prince, and he leaves.
The prince travels to a series of asteroids, each featuring a grown-up who has been reduced to a function. The first is a king who requires obedience but has no subjects until the arrival of the prince. The sole inhabitant of the next planet is a conceited man who wants nothing from the prince but flattery. The prince subsequently meets a drunkard, who explains that he must drink to forget how ashamed he is of drinking. The fourth planet introduces the prince to a businessman, who maintains that he owns the stars, which makes it very important that he know exactly how many stars there are. The prince then encounters a lamplighter, who follows orders that require him to light a lamp each evening and put it out each morning, even though his planet spins so fast that dusk and dawn both occur once every minute. Finally, the prince comes to a planet inhabited by a geographer. The geographer, however, knows nothing of his own planet, because it is his sole function to record what he learns from explorers. He asks the prince to describe his home planet, but when the prince mentions the flower, the geographer says that flowers are not recorded because they are ephemeral. The geographer recommends that The Little Prince visit Earth. (Lohnes & Lowne, 2019)
This is a journey by The Little Prince into language classrooms in search of a good teacher to learn language from. In his journey, The Little Prince attends different teachers’ classes and finds out their unique attributes, attitudes and personalities.
These teachers are the ones who have some divine assets such as beauty, a special ability such as drawing or singing, and the like. In the story, when the flower arises from her bud and the prince sees her for the first time, he cannot hide his admiration and exclaims: ‘Oh! How beautiful you are!’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 7). And the flower sweetly replies: ‘Am I not?’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 8). These teachers are mostly arrogant and sometimes cause heartbreak for their students.
As the story goes, the flower always complains about situations such as the weather on the planet, or she even fakes a cough just to make the prince feel guilty. Like the flower of the story, the flowery teachers are the ones who always nag about pay, students’ progress, managers’ behaviour and the like. They even pretend to have some problems to attract attention.
In the story, the flower’s thorn is used as a weapon for her, but it cannot defend her against some wild animals; however, she tries to rave about them and show them off. It brings to mind the Dunning–Kruger (Dunning et al, 2003) concept which claims little expertise leads to the highest confidence. These are teachers who do not possess enough knowledge about English (especially non-native teachers [NNT]), but they think they do and show off that little knowledge.
Snakes in literature are always dangerous. They are mostly sinister and evil. Snaky teachers are the same. They are the teachers who can bite the students with their words, remarks, scores and the like. They can kill students’ motivation to continue learning language. However, as the snake of The Little Prince sent him back to his own planet by biting him, these teachers can sometimes send the students back to the place they belong to. Students who do not have high language aptitude do not need to study hard to become English teachers. They may become great musicians, mathematicians, etc. Therefore, these snaky teachers sometimes are needed to show the way to some students, although they are counterproductive for others.
There are some teachers who like to see the world from their hearts as the fox says in The Little Prince. ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 36). They like to be affectively connected with everyone: their students, their supervisors, their managers, etc. They believe in ties, as when the prince asks him what ‘tame’ means, the fox says it means ‘to establish ties’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 16). Establishing ties, or the term in language teaching which is rapport, is one of the indicators of success for language teachers. This is what the humanistic approach (Rogers, 1962) to language teaching tries to convey. These teachers are the ones who consider it serious and try to establish rapport with their students.
For these teachers, facial expressions, gesture and posture are important since they can convey a lot of information. In the story, The Little Prince sits down on the grass and says nothing because, as the fox tells him, ‘Words are the source of misunderstandings’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 37).
The fox in the story believes that the golden wheat will remind him of the prince’s golden hair, which will make the wheat fields a source of happiness to the fox. Thus, according to the fox, it is our relationships that make the world around us significant and meaningful. These type of language teachers, therefore, are the ones who make the class colourful and memorable for their learners.
In the story, the fox says, the prince will be ‘nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 18). And to the prince, the fox is ‘nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 18). But after the fox is tamed, the prince and the fox will become unique for each other, which means these teachers pay close attention to the well-being of every single student in their classes. This concept is appreciated in the liberationist approach (Fenstermacher & Soltis, 2004) in education.
The fox tells the prince a ‘secret’, which includes all of this:
‘It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 60). This is very true when it comes to this type of teacher, who can give voice to their students. It emphasises lowering teacher talking time (TTT) in class.
‘You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 63), and this is the whole life responsibility of these teachers, who see education as a life-time process.
4. The king
Indeed, this king sees subjects everywhere. However, his authority has a twist:
‘For what the king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority should be respected. He tolerated no disobedience. He was an absolute monarch. But, because he was a very good man, he made his orders reasonable.’ (10.15)
The king in The Little Prince is the sign of a good man in a bad system. Sometimes cultural, social and even educational systems make us what we are not. The kingy teacher is the one who tries to practise authority but deep inside believes that he cannot ask for irrational things. This is very close to the concept of non-assertive teachers (Hardin, 2012). These teachers always try to establish rules which are mostly disobeyed by students, as the king, by trying to be ‘reasonable’, ends up having no real power. He only gives orders that will be followed anyway. For instance, when the prince asks him to order a sunset, the king says he will order the sun to set when ‘conditions are favorable’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 34) – that is, he will order the sun to set at the time of a real sunset. And this teacher will, for example, order students to leave the class when they have to.
5. The conceited man
The second planet the prince visits is inhabited by this character. Both allegorically and literally, this guy has an adult obsession with an adult thing. He believes that everybody he meets should think he is awesome:
‘Ah! Ah! I am about to receive a visit from an admirer!’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 2–3) he exclaimed, from afar, when he saw The Little Prince coming.
The conceited man cannot think of a scenario in which this is not true, or in which he is not the centre of attention.
Conceited teachers are always searching for admirers. They mostly do not find a way for their own Continuous Professional Development (CPD). Conceited teachers are the ones who think they are the best and there is no need for improvement in their job. They are the ones who have many years of repetition in their working experience. Burnout (Maslach et al, 2001) for them is undeniable.
“Thus, according to the fox, it is our relationships that make the world around us significant and meaningful. These type of language teachers, therefore, are the ones who make the class colourful and memorable for their learners.”
6. The tippler
‘Tippler’ which means ‘drunkard,’ inhabits the third visiting planet. The Little Prince feels really sorry for the tippler because he looks so disappointed. The tippler turns out to be as silly as most grown-ups and explains that he drinks to forget his shame, and that he is ashamed because he drinks. In this vicious cycle, he is never able to get anywhere: he is always drinking, and always miserable.
Drunk teachers are the ones who always think they could choose another job, but they have been chosen by an external force to be a teacher. These teachers are mostly not courageous enough to change their jobs, and not motivated enough to continue their job well. They are in a vicious circle. They are always teaching, and always miserable.
7. The businessman
In a conversation of the story The Little Prince says of the businessman:
‘I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved anyone. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over … “I am busy with matters of consequence!” And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man – he is a mushroom!’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 24)
These type of teachers – businessman teachers – are the ones who do not care about students’ feelings. They only think about teaching and no care is spared for learning. For them, covering the assigned syllabus is the ultimate goal. These are the ones who pay no attention to affective filters. For them, students are like machines who should study. They are very poor in interpersonal skills. They are the opposite of the foxy teachers.
8. The lamplighter
As the prince expresses, the lamplighter is the least ‘absurd’ of all the people he has visited till that point of the story:
‘It may be well that this man is absurd. But he is not so absurd as the king, the conceited man, the businessman, and the tippler. For at least his work has some meaning. When he lights his street lamp, it is as if he brought one more star to life, or one flower. When he puts out his lamp, he sends the flower, or the star, to sleep. That is a beautiful occupation. And since it is beautiful, it is truly useful.’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 2)
All the people the prince meets seem pretty weird. While the lamplighter is doing something good, he is so connected to and obsessed with his job that he never has time to relax. But, the prince explains why he thinks the lamplighter is the best of an odd bunch: his job is both ‘beautiful’ and ‘useful’. Being ‘useful’ implies that he thinks of people other than just himself – the other men the prince meets are only concerned with themselves.
The lamp-lighter exemplifies the dedicated teachers whose only responsibility is teaching students. They mostly do not have a fancy life and their job is very repetitive; however, they are so self-devoted that they do not want to change it. They can teach a concept, lesson or unit for ages exactly like the lamp-lighter who lights and extinguishes that lamp every day 1,440 times.
“They never try to make their class an enjoyable place for their students. For them, not only can fun and learning not live simultaneously, but also they are completely opposite entities.”
9. The geographer
In the words of Senge (1990: 140) ‘people don’t resist change. They resist being changed.’ The geographer is the manifestation of this sentence. For him, everything is fixed. ‘Geographies,’ said the geographer, ‘are the books which, of all books, are most concerned with matters of consequence. They never become old-fashioned. It is very rarely that a mountain changes its position. It is very rarely that an ocean empties itself of its waters. We write of eternal things.’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 37)
These teachers always resist changes. They are the ones who always nag about a change in coursebooks, observation systems, evaluation schemes, and the like. They are mostly sending negative energy to everyone who works with them.
When the prince appears and tries to tell the geographer about his own planet, he did not get excited. These teachers do not seem to be excited by students’ new ideas. In effect, they are too conservative to accept new ideas. They do believe in spoon-feeding students and reject any type of discovery learning in their classes.
10. The railway switchman
The railway switchman is an epitome of a person who guides people to the right direction. The railway switchman wonders why people are always going from place to place, looking for things. He helps the prince discover that people are looking in the wrong places, and that they do not even know what to look for. Because adults are always searching and hurrying, they do not seem to enjoy the present.
The switchman teachers are the ones who lead students in the correct direction. The one which can help them be better people. These facilitators do not impose any way but try to make people see different ways and at the end come up with the best choice for themselves. They are the teachers who believe in democracy in education.
11. The merchant
The merchant sells things that are supposed to be efficient. In particular, he sells a pill that quenches thirst. By swallowing it, you can save all the time you would have otherwise spent drinking water. According to the merchant,
‘Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save fifty-three minutes in every week.’ (de Saint-Exupéry: 5)
The merchant type of teacher is very much product oriented. Washback effect (Alderson & Wall, 1993) plays an important part in their life. Success of their students in exams is the only indicator of success for them. They never try to make their class an enjoyable place for their students. For them, not only can fun and learning not live simultaneously, but also they are completely opposite entities.
Discussion and conclusion
The Little Prince is an example of an ordinary student and what he sees is compatible with learners’ opinions. Each student comes from a planet which shows how different people can be. The student experiences different teachers in language classrooms who can make him/her understand how language teachers are different and how they can facilitate or impede learning (see Table 1).
Flowery teachers are the ones who can annoy students with their arrogance. Snaky teachers are demotivating by their words. Praise has no room in their dictionaries. Foxy teachers are the ones who we need a bunch of in our education system. They believe affection is primary. The father of foxy teachers, Carl Rogers, believes in the whole person who is made of affection and cognition. The kings are teachers who are wishy-washy, with some rules for their class which are not followed by anyone and there is no consequence for disobeyers. The conceited teachers cannot survive teaching for a long time since they become frustrated and leave their jobs. The tippler is the one who becomes a teacher by chance. The best for them and others is changing their jobs. The businessman is a teacher who wants to finish what he is assigned to do, nothing more. The well-being of students plays no role in his class. The lamplighter is a dedicated teacher who does not do anything for his own professional development. He may teach repeatedly for years. He becomes tired but he never nags. The geographer is the most conservative teacher who never welcomes an innovation or new ideas. For him, old is always the best. The railway switchman tries to get the best from everyone by showing them the way. He knows the importance of the present and wants to make people aware of it. The merchant is an exam-oriented teacher who can make the classroom a hell for students in order to get good results in final exams (see Table 1).
This article tries to raise awareness about different types of teachers who exist in language classrooms and how students see them, e.g. flowery, foxy, … This article can help teacher educators to diagnose these types in the first instance and then try to provide remedial help which is highly beneficial for each specific type. For instance, remedial help which works for a snaky teacher is not good for a king one.
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Jaber Kamali is an instructor at Farhangian University, a specialised university for teacher education run by the education ministry in Iran. He teaches TEFL courses to undergraduate students who are going to be teachers.