05 December 2005

esprit d'escalier

Second Episode: December 4 2005 12:15

Finally we are done, the course is over. The bus has taken us to the airport, the trainees are ready to split off, go away, leave us. My co-trainer will soon revert to being my drinking buddy. We'll be able to take off our humanistic masks and become bitter and cynical again, openly ogle women, tell sexist and rascist jokes. No more need to be warm and fuzzy and culturally sensitive. He can go back to being British, I can go back to being a grumpy old prick.

The trainee that I've lusted over so desperately these last four weeks is there in the crowd of them, and she doesn't need a ride into the city with us after all. This is it, I'll never see her again, and I won't be able to pull her drunk and horny up into my hotel room to explore her body, steal some of her youth and happiness to energize my tired dying soul. This is a drag, and I am resigned and disappointed as I stand there with my luggage on my back, waiting impatiently as the trainees emote and cry and tell us how we've changed their lives and they'll remember us forever.

So now it's her turn, and she says "It looks like the last thing you need is another goodbye."

So I won't get any contact from her at all. Not on, young lady, all I want in the world at this moment is more of you, your time, your attention.

So I stick my cheek out and point to it, and she comes up and plants a nice big smack on it. And for half a second I get a last deep look into her eyes, she flashes me her brilliant smile, a tiny little portion of her life energy is sucked into my soul, devoured voraciously. Not enough to feed it, just enough to make me realize how hungry it is. Consolation prize. And we all part company and she is gone.

The correct action in this situation, had I only had the presence of mind, came to me just minutes later in the taxi. And the correct action was: to quickly rotate my head, at just the last moment, so that her lips would have met mine.

First Episode: December 2 2005 13:40

The debriefing was very positive, lots of strokes, the participants love the training they've got from my co-trainer and I. The assessor is American, trained in these sorts of feedback sessions, so his concerns and doubts and action plans for our future development are sandwiched into the middle of the good things.

Earlier in the day we had discussed the state of English as a Second Language teaching in the US and in Europe. "That's one thing I've got to say for the British," he tells my colleague, "Europe is 10 or 15 years ahead in teaching methodology."

And he's absolutely right.

And the two of us, my co-trainer and I, have both come from a British / European teaching and training background. And we both think teaching grammar to ESL students sucks.

So here comes his question. "I was wondering about the grammar teaching during this course. There didn't seem to be much of it from the participants towards the end. Could you say something about that?" Very open-ended, he's ready to enter into discussion, find out what we think, ready to build a dialogue. This is part of the schtick, there are no right answers, everything is potentially up for debate.

But the subtext of his statement is clear: "I have my trainee teachers teach grammar to their students, and what you're doing strikes me as wrong."

I didn't want to say "Because teaching grammar sucks," because that would have come off as snarky and unprofessional. I brooded and smoked my cigarrette instead, avoiding eye contact.

So my colleague jumped in with a hand waving song and dance, he's very good at running interference, telling people what they want to hear, and he went on about functional language and use activities and blah blah blah, without saying in so many words that teaching grammar sucks.

The conversation went on, the assessor shared his ideas about the importance of trainee teachers teaching grammar, and then back to the good things. Let's all feel positive as we wrap up the discussion.

The correct answer to his question, had I only had the presence of mind, came to me hours later over a beer. And the correct answer was: "We're from Europe. In the future, ESL teachers don't teach grammar."