Korean teachers of English, ready for the first day of teaching on their teacher training course. The board welcoming is ready, there are balloons, the class agenda is on the board, they have practiced their activities, and emotions are running high. The elementary students will be arriving shortly. They wait.
For the past two days they have been asking questions and making predictions, and decisions based on those predictions, and second guessing: what will the students be like, how good is their English, do they want to be here, will they understand my instructions in English, can they do what I am asking of them, will this be fun, should we have name cards already made or have them make them, do you think they will participate, and on and on.
Many of the teachers will, for the first time, be considering the students in their class from a learner-centered point of view, and they are nervous. Many of the teachers haven’t had the direction or support to consider the students in the class, having always been at the mercy of the content coverage and the non-student stakeholders’ expectations. In fact, some of them tell me, in their “real class” they don’t even know their students’ names. Is it possible, they are wondering, to actually take the student into consideration.
As we wait, I remember a book chapter from Earl Stevick’s Teaching and Learning Languages entitled, “Before you Begin, Between the People in the Classroom”. He proposes a deeper look at the standard first interactions we have as teachers with our students: Good morning, class! Welcome to English 3! I’m (name). First, I’ll call the roll. And while the teachers are very prepared, I wonder what they are thinking about the nature of the relationship between themselves and their students in terms of the language they will use?
Will they see this group of students as unique, consider their reasons for being in the class. Are they truly welcoming them beyond saying the words, making them feel comfortable in the new situation or are they too focused on quelling their own anxiety? Many times the Korean teachers will use their English name when telling the students who they are. I wonder how this might change the nature of the teacher-student relationship. Who is this Korean teacher with an English name? Is he or she different from when they use their Korean name? And finally, calling roll, or as so often happens, putting stickers on the student chart. I find the putting of stickers prior to class efficient from a time perspective, but feel it eliminates a moment of personal connection when a student hears the teacher call their name, that moment when all else in the room fades away. Is a chance for rapport lost to efficiency?
And then the students spill into the classroom and I tuck my thoughts away.