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Teachers and students.

Last night, an ex-student and friend of mine and I got together for a pint and a chat about our summer holidays and the three-week language course he did in Dublin. As he was feeling rather nostalgic about his Irish experience, we drank, yes, you guessed: Guinness.

Between sips, it was very interesting to hear his reactions to the course and he has agreed to write something on this for my other website. However, what struck me was his response to a question asked by one of his summer course tutors. The question was ‘What is more important, a highly motivated student or a highly motivated teacher?’. The teacher was expecting an answer that indicated motivation levels to be about 50:50, whereas my friend said 40% student, 60% teacher. This apparently left the teacher a little flummoxed, although I don’t really know why. As my friend pointed out, well motivated teachers can motivate their students, but well motivated students cannot really motivate a teacher (and should not be expected to). Hence, in part, the 60% weighting towards the teacher. The other part of the 60% reflects the students’ perception of a teacher. A teacher, especially when dealing with adult learners, needs to be able to, almost, give off an aura of confidence and competence, otherwise the students’ will question whether they can really learn something from this person. In street terms, it is this ‘respect’ thing and it is understandable. And this is why my friend wants to be taught by someone who appears to be worth learning from. This sounds perfectly logical to me.

Good teachers who are obviously interested in their subjects, come across as being well-motivated and motivating. I know this from my own learning experiences. But there is also a collateral effect, if you like, in that well motivated teachers can create well motivated students. Well motivated students may even develop a greater level of interest in subjects being taught and go off and read up on these things. Bingo, job done. The students are teaching themselves, or at the very least learning how to learn.

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Generating enthusiasm and interest is something I attempt to do in my own teaching. This is the teacher as a facilitator thing. It does seem to work and attention levels in-class are higher as a result and I continue to be asked for advice on how to develop language skills outside the classroom. This is encouraging.

Alas in the majority of the real world, teachers are not valued highly enough by society – which translates into them being poorly paid and thus possibly poorly motivated. Then there is the fact that poorly paid professions do not good people attract. And you have a big problem. Mix this with disciplinary problems at secondary school level and the problems are magnified considerably. Not good. Our youth are our future. They are an investment. Invest well and positive yields are more likely. Do not invest and you get no return on equity.

The point of all my blathering? Good teachers are worth their weight in Platinum. Good students know this. Our leaders, in general, do not, or do not want to know. After all, there is no profit in teaching, is there? Er, well, ever heard of something known as ‘research and development’, Mr Politician, sir? Or would you rather just add a nice new set of missiles to your country’s armoury?

Short termism ain’t good.

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