Teaching methods are sometimes a contentious – or should I say passionate – topic. How and why we teach the way we do can become very personal, in this profession where we have to give so much of ourselves to others. When our students are successful, we want to share our successes and how we got there with our colleagues. Most of the time this sharing leads to a friendly, positive interaction; some of the time, it doesn’t. While the majority of non-positive discussions tend to just end in a stalemate where both parties go their separate ways, there exists the rare occasion when sharing your successes incites a profoundly negative reaction which that person then feels compelled to share.
It’s that passion again, I know – that enthusiasm for wanting to share what works in one’s own classroom, but coupled with a complete disregard for the other person’s feelings, experience, and motivation, this passionate response becomes a tear-down. I’ve learned not to take it personally when I share an idea that works well in my classroom and receive a response that details the reasons that I am not only wrong, but potentially harming my students and inhibiting their language acquisition with my teaching methods, it’s hard not to bristle. It’s even worse for teachers looking for new ideas or support through what they feel is a method that isn’t working for them the way it works for others. I’ve been on all sides of this coin:
- If I teach grammar, I’m doing it wrong because “the research” says it’s a waste of time – all students need is input and good language teachers who want their students to be able to communicate never bother teaching grammar (nevermind the fact that I can also cite research that challenges “that comprehensible input alone is enough [to foster second language acquisition]” [Lightbown & Spada 165]).
- If I’m dissatisfied with a TPRS-only approach, because while it’s fun and my students responded well to it at first, the routine has become boring, the stories feel superficial, and my students don’t seem to be making any meaningful long-term gains – well, I’m doing it wrong because when you do TPRS right, all students are engaged every day, and if only you, the teacher, were doing it “right” the students would reach Intermediate Mid at the end of year two.
- If I design a thematic curriculum, I’m doing it wrong because themes aren’t realistic, take away from input, and rely too much on trying to control things you can’t control, like giving vocabulary lists and the like.
All of this criticism can get exhausting and after a while, it starts to feel like you just can’t seem to do anything right. But at the end the day this simple fact remains – the critics are not in your classroom every day, so how can they know if what you’re doing is “wrong”? They do not know your students. They do not know the kind of atmosphere you’ve created, or the relationships you’ve fostered with your kids. You do. If there’s a particular method that works well in your classroom and fosters true learning and/or language acquisition – do that thing.
If what you do in your classroom – whatever that may be – results in measurable progress in students’ language proficiency, intercultural competence, reading comprehension, citizenship, or heck, even their accuracy (yes, I said it), then guess what? You’re doing it right.