Steve Schertzer's column for September
I just got done reading Steve Schertzer's column for September. Why do I keep reading his column? It is like probing that sore tooth, you know it is going to hurt but you can't help yourself. I know Steve is going to represent teachers in Thailand at their absolute worst, unsophisticated, culturally insensitive, and egocentric, but I can't help myself, I need to see what dribble he is going to come out with next.
Here he is, complaining that he got kicked out of his class because all of his students hated his style and then he is giving us lessons on how to connect with students? Talk about being in denial.
Steve, it was not the student's fault you were given the boot. It was not the systems fault that the students thought you were horrible, it is not the fault of Thai society that you were humiliated and replaced; it was because you suck as a teacher. At least in this class you sucked. It is possible that this was one of those once in a million chances where you got a class of total nutcase students and that usually you can make some connection with the students in other classes, but I doubt it. Chances are you suck as a teacher.
From the article, the problem, which is quite common in poor teachers, is you seem to think teaching is about you! Who cares what your opinions on global warming or politics and the what the deficiencies of Thai society are? You are being paid to teach English, not to stand on your soapbox and talk about your mother or play some silly song (in a writing class?) as an excuse to express your belief that egalitarian western values should be universally adopted by all your students.
Teaching is about the students, they're the ones who pay our salaries. If the students want a serious class, give it to them. A good teacher needs to be able to read a class and adjust his or her style for the different group dynamics that each group has.
Steve, join the long line of frustrated and miserable ESL teachers that spend their lives trying to change the world and continue to get kicked out of classes and continue to be unhappy, or teach English, as you are paid to do and be content. Students will not change their entire value systems just because you as an unsophisticated ESL teacher want them to. You need to adapt to the environment because the environment is not going to adapt to Steve's vision of utopia.
I wonder just how bad one would have to suck to get kicked out of teaching a class at a low-priced three letter language school?
Bet dollar to donuts this gets bined quickly.
So do we get the Dollars or the donuts mate???
Riddle me this brother can you handle it
Your style to my style you can't hold a candle to it
Equinox symmetry and the balance is right
Smokin' and drinkin' on a Tuesday night
It's not how you play the game it's how you win it
I cheat and steal and sin and I'm a cynic
I'll have to say (and apologies to Steve if I'm barking up the wrong tree) but there's something fishy in A WHOLE CLASS complaining about a teacher. I've worked with some real horror stories masquerading as teachers who've had complaints made against them but never by the whole bunch of students. One Aussie I worked with got the heave-ho from the school (and he was shit as a teacher, both in his teaching style and his attitude) but of course it wasn't his fault oh no. It was the students, the administration, fellow teachers, the curriculum, Thai society. Anything but him. If a whole class complained about me I'd have to take a serious look at myself.
It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no Interior Minister of Thailand's son.
Human nature mate. Human nature.I just got done reading Steve Schertzer's column for September. Why do I keep reading his column? It is like probing that sore tooth, you know it is going to hurt but you can't help yourself.
The worst job in Thailand must be the man who has to sit down with a blue marker pen and mark a number two on the two-baht coins to stop people thinking they are one-baht coins.
I read this column soon after it was posted. My feeling were similar in substance, if not in style, to ajohny's comments. Ajohny has a style that is a bit, how should I put this, ...blunt. I thought of several other descriptions but blunt seems best.
I had a number of very serious disagreements with the ideas expressed in the article that I wish to express.
First, and this is important to remember, this was an upper level academic writing class. It sounds like the class was composed of adults who had a need to improve their writing skills in this area was wanted to do just that. They were not prathom level students who were forced by their mothers to be there when the preferred to be playing with their new computer game.
Mr. Schertzer writes that at the beginning of the second week it was recommended that he ask his students to write him a letter telling him how he could help them. Unless he asked for advice such as this, it seems to me that such a recommendation would normally be made either before the class began, or never. Because it was given at the beginning of the second week, I would think the students had been complaining at a very early stage. Though this might not be the case, of course.
Mr. Schertzer wrote that he was always well prepared. Then he said he downloaded a lot of light hearted stuff from the internet. Unless it was material dealing with academic writing that was written in a light hearted way, having this material does not seem in any way to be well prepared for an academic writing class.
He next describes a Mother's Day assignment he gave the students, and asks "Did it have much to do with 'academic' writing? Probably not. But who cares?" The students, obviously. And, if I had been in the class I would also have cared. This was the first, but not the last, time he came across to me as an arrogant jerk in this article.
He also wrote "I had absolutely no intention of treating this class, or any writing class, with the seriousness that the students demanded. I am a human being first, an ESL teacher second." Give me a break. You are not a soldier in the army who has just been told to execute a group of women and children! You are not in a psychology experiment giving increasing strong electric shocks to test subjects, despite their screams, at the professor's instruction. In cases like that definitely be a human being and apply human decency standards which, hopefully, we all agree with. If they want a serious class about academic writing, give it too them, or, if you are unable or unwilling to do that, leave.
"I'm not here for the money. This is Thailand, who is? I'm here to make a difference. I'm here to help." So writes Mr. Schertzer. If the help he wants is to have his students improve their ability to use English, that is a very good attitude. However, I got the impression he had other thing in mind about "helping". Given the overall view about Thailand and Thai culture he expressed he should become a missionary. At least with a missionary, you know what you are getting and can act accordingly. If you want it, embrace it. If not, you do not have do be bothered.
He said that students will often forgive mistakes in teaching styles, but "...students will not forgive you if you come across as an arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring, robotic son-of-a-bitch." If he has an either/or view (either you are an arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring, robotic son-of-a-bitch, or you are a caring, feeling, sharing, teacher where these qualities are important and course content isn't) I suspect he will continue to experience the same type of problems whenever he meets students who are serious about learning something specific.
There is not reason you can not have a serious class that is also fun and interesting. No reason except, perhaps, the limitations of the teacher.
At one point he complained about some of the students and their near abuse of him. As an example, he wrote "One woman in the class shoved the textbook in my face and demanded to know why I didn't teach a certain page that evening." If that is literally true, I would agree it would not be at all appropriate. However, I doubt the woman actually shoved the book in his face in the sense of it hitting or threatening to hit him. But, that aside, he never told us his answer to the lady. He seemed to think the only important thing was the book's proximity to his face. I would like to know what he told her about why he wasn't teaching that page. There might be many excellent reasons for doing something else, though he didn't seem to thing the reason, or his response to her question, important enough to tell us about.
He concludes with the opinion that the attitude "I want your English--- and nothing more." is a very sad attitude and that if we have come to that the whole world is in some way diminished. I have been teaching children in Thailand for four years and of course they do not have that attitude. If I taught adults I don't think I would be especially put out by that attitude. That is, if they meant the wanted English but not preaching about the "right" way to be and live.
In may places the article has presented its writer to me as an arrogant jerk, and the more I have thought about it, the less I think ajohny's comments particularly exagerated.
Despite Phil's reference to human nature, I will not bother reading any of his earlier articles. I will, however, read his next one to see just why he thinks Thais should never be taught academic writing.
Very good post and I agree with much of what it says.
I'm interested in this debate because I taught academic writing myself for 5-6 years and loved every minute of it. It was a real challenge to try and make the organisation of a comparison and contrast essay an 'exciting' thing to learn and then produce. Academic writing can appear to be a very dry subject to the inexperienced teacher but it certainly doesn't have to be that way.
I'm not saying Steve is inexperienced but he does appear to have fallen into the trap of thinking 'the students don't want this crap' - when actually they do. That's what they've paid for.
One of the worst things a teacher can do is to try and second guess what mature students want without asking them first.
The company I work for insists on the consultant( (teacher) spending at least half an hour of the first lesson asking the student group for their expectations and writing those expectations nice and big on a sheet of butcher's paper. Unbeknown to the students the paper is actually kept, and then if problems arise further down the line and students say "the teacher isn't giving us what we asked for"
Hey presto! the butcher's paper is dragged out of storage and the teacher can say.....er...yes...actually I am.
Ok that hasn't happened yet but it's a very nice security net to have. Students can sometimes have extremely short memories.
Go on....try this course expectation thing with your next new group of adult students. You'll be amazed how much more seriously they take you after that.
Steve is perhaps trying to be too 'wacky' too 'experimental' - it works with a few groups, but with most groups it doesn't. One of my favorite tasks with academic writing was to play five pieces of music and get students to write down who they were, and where they were, etc. But I would only do it with groups that I felt wouldn't laugh out loud or wonder what the fuck the teacher had been ingesting. You have to weigh up the group very carefully before you try something 'wacky' or as Steve found out - they'll be beating a path to the reception or the AD's door and they'll be stabbing you in the back with a knife dipped in shit. Never underestimate how nasty Thai students can get Steve.
I too will be very interested in the next column because I always thought the students gained a hell of a lot from a good academic writing program.
Added after 25 minutes:
I've just gone through your column again Steve.
<<<<<By the beginning of the second week, one of the managers gave me an interesting idea. Get the students to write a letter to you, (the teacher), telling you how you can help them with their writing. Good idea in theory. A bonehead move in reality. Eleven students, eleven different letters. Eleven different letters, eleven different ideas. Eleven different ideas, eleven different ways on how I can help them. Eleven different ways on how I can help them, eleven different demanding students pulling me in eleven different directions. All at the same time! You see where I'm going with this>>>
Firstly, the manager was just giving you a 'fancy-ass' way to ascertain the students' needs. Trust me - the butcher's paper brainstorming session works better and the students would have all seen instantly where they stood. Of course 11 students have 11 different sets of expectations. That also happens when you put 11 farangs on a TEFL program. It happens everywhere.
You need to tell some students right from the off that their expectation won't be met if that particular expectation is 'unreasonable' and is NOT shared by the rest of the group. If a student has very specific demands then they need to pay for private lessons and not go for one of those sooper-dooper 52 baht an hour, bums-on-seats AUA deals. You don't fly first-class if you buy a second-class ticket.
Personally, I wouldn't teach academic writing to a group of 11 advanced students anyway.
SIX students yes. Eleven students no.
Added after 31 minutes:
<<<<For the August 12th Mother's Day here in Thailand, I shared stories with them about my mother. I showed them pictures of her in her wheelchair while telling them about her bout with Multiple Sclerosis. I played the song "Coat of Many Colors", by Dolly Parton, a beautiful and touching song which tells the story about a poor girl who's mother makes her a coat from rags because the family couldn't afford a new one>>>>
It's touching Steve, it's very touching.
you have to have students VERY firmly on your side before you do something like this. It sounds like they hadn't yet warmed to you.
You shared stories with them about your mother. How long were these stories bearing in mind that the average student has an attention span of 30 seconds? In fact you can cut 12 seconds off that if they're studying after work and in a group with ten other people where the whole dynamic is different compared to a smaller group.
This sounds cruel and it sounds heartless but they don't really care too much about your mother. Show them a couple of piccies. Give them a very brief overview of the situation (if you feel you must) and move on. Move on.
Added after 33 minutes:
<<<I know exactly what kind of teacher I want to be. A human one.>>>
Fair enough. But your AUA students also want an academic writing one.
I hate to find myself giving support of any kind to OP, but he's right in this case.
None of the titles listed as class materials had any aura of being either "advanced" or "academic." No wonder they weren't smiling! People taking this kind of class aren't doing it for light-hearted fun- they usually have a serious reason to improve academic writing- for instance, doing better in a serious academic career?
Speaking of seriousness- I've never heard someone complain about a THAI class being too SERIOUS- if I had one, I'd consider them a blessing. I think this may be a time for SERIOUS reflection for Steve, about following the curriculum of a class.
"Teachers, we are having some technical problems with our PA system. If you are having any difficulty hearing this announcement, please send a student to the main office to let us know."
Heard in a U.S. Public School
Modelling - it's all about modelling...
For an academic writing course?Originally Posted by laoshi
Are we talking about teaching or making money? A big difference.
Mutually exclusive.Originally Posted by geo
To begin with, I couldn't be bothered reading the big posts, but skimming seemed to suggest that students were leaving as unhappy. To my mind, they were asked to deliver something that was beyond them.
"Write me a letter telling me what you want." Call me old fashioned, but it's your job as a teacher to tell them what they want. As Phil says, that's why they pay.
So, you start off by modelling...
Perhaps you might want to actually read the big posts before commenting on them. I read Phil's post earlier, and just reread it. At no point do I get the impression that Phil is saying that the students are paying to be told what they want."Write me a letter telling me what you want." Call me old fashioned, but it's your job as a teacher to tell them what they want. As Phil says, that's why they pay.
Clearly, to me, Phil is saying the students know what they want and are paying for what they want, not what the teacher tells them they want.I'm not saying Steve is inexperienced but he does appear to have fallen into the trap of thinking 'the students don't want this crap' - when actually they do. That's what they've paid for.
One of the worst things a teacher can do is to try and second guess what mature students want without asking them first.
You seem to think the students were unhappy because they were asked to deliver something that was beyond them. I guess you mean the letters they were asked to write, though that is unclear. In any event, I believe you missed completely the reason the students were unhappy. They were not unhappy because they thought they could not deliver something. They were very unhappy because they thought the teacher was unable to deliver what they wanted, and what they had paid for.
It might be a good idea, when commenting on something, that you actually read it. It is always possible to misintepret what is written, and that sometimes happens to just about everyone. When you can't "...be bothered reading the big posts,..." and just skim them, it is increasingly likely you might not understand the main ideas and points that are being made.
Of course, there is nothing wrong if you can't be bothered reading big (or not so big) posts. I find I feel that way myself often. But, I don't then comment on the content of the posts that I couldn't be bothered reading.
I comment on posts I haven't read all the time. I find it affords me more clarity. Anyway, as I succintly pointed out - the key is modelling. Go and re-read the posts in entirity again and see if you find yourself you ...