Last week I was chilling out, just watching some telly and suddenly I remembered that a TV program called Cámbiame (highly recommended for the topic of fashion) was just about to get started. It is quite popular and entertaining but that day… it made me feel really depressed.
The show is about people who ask for a makeover because they want to change their style and for various reasons they have struggled but this post is not about fashion. It is about something that really shocked me and that sadly I had the misfortune to see on other occasions. English teachers that do not seem to have a solid basic level of the subject they teach.
What do I mean? Please, take a look at the following video. The girl is Rocio, an English high school teacher from Spain who has to translate sentences about herself (into English) to random people who passes by.
My first reaction always used to be trying to justify that it was an occasional mistake or that the teacher felt nervous for whatever reason or maybe she/he was not having a great day but… in cases like this one… for instance the difference between during and for is something you have to explain in secondary education year after year!
Probably Pelayo, the stylist who appears in the video with her, has a better level of conversational English since he studied fashion at Central Saint Martins in London. Also, I noticed that he pulled a face when she made basic mistakes but it must be just me overthinking it. Who knows?
I am an English teacher and I surely do make mistakes but if I ever make mistakes that basic and someone is kind enough to point them out nicely I feel like I HAVE TO learn from them since I do not think it is fair that I get to teach something I do not quite understand. As a student, I would feel cheated.
And let’s ignore her pronunciation. Even though there are plenty of grants and infinite cheap ways (even free ones) to improve that pronunciation, I think that in Spain, at least a considerable amount of teachers have given up on phonetics. One can often hear: “You will never achieve that level of perfection anyway” or “Very few people can actually speak like a native, to be honest“. I am always waiting to hear something like: “…only those with pure hearts will find the way, the chosen ones“.
Often teachers blame their own previous teachers. One can easily see that many universities in Spain do not prepare the future English teachers well enough. I will never forget a couple of my own teachers that understood how bad the situation was. They were doing everything they could within their own power but of course, they were not responsible for what other teachers did in their classes which it is very true but again the blaming cue keeps on expanding.
Why kids have such a bad level of English in Spain? Because plenty of teachers are not well prepared during their time in high school and/or uni. Why many teachers do not acquire a decent level of English at uni? They are not taught (in most cases) in the best way (given to timing, bad teachers, content…). What did the government do then to solve the problem???
Hey, let’s make education bilingual!!!
Yep! Not a… let’s ask lots of teachers, parents and students about this matter. Let’s make some deep and detailed research about the problem based on several key factors like roots of the problem, other educational systems, let’s… Nope!
Not even English teachers have a decent level of English so… why don’t we make every teacher speak in a language they do not master? That will improve the situation!
Imagine that because of Brexit, the government decided that to increase children’s future opportunities they would have to learn Chinese as soon as next year. And every teacher would have to speak Chinese by next year in order to teach their subjects in that language. And that there would be a shiny plaque outside of the schools certifying that that school is ready for that bilingual change. It sounds like something taking out of Black Mirror, right?
Just look for “bilingüismo” on twitter. You’ll get (mostly) lots of negative opinions such as:
Please, do not get me wrong. I am all in favour of bilingualism and I think it would be a great idea IF teachers and students were previously prepared for such change. There must be thousands of articles on this matter and it is still a bit of a controversial topic.
Now, if I could travel through time I would go back in time to see how the pyramids were built, Rome at its best, who killed JFK… BUT as a teacher, before all that, I would love to see the exact legendary moment when this brilliant idea was taken and the person who came up with it.
See what I just did there? I just kept on expanding the blaming cue (teachers, universities, politicians…) so… what to do with this infinite vortex of incompetence? Bare with me.
Whenever I bump into a frustrating situation such as this one I always try to think of the good part of things and work on that.
I will always remember the day I went to talk to my English teacher at uni about this topic since she taught me a powerful lesson I will always treasure.
I wanted to let her know how frustrated I felt about the fact that it didn’t make much sense to me that being in our 3rd year (out of four) we were still learning things like the parts of a lion (mane, tail…) when I was actually taking a degree as a philologist and not as a primary education teacher. All I kept thinking was that my class was going to be so not prepared to be proper teachers.
Of course, I was not expecting to become Noam Chomsky by the end of that year but the way things were going I felt like the following week I was going to hear something like: “Right, keep up because we will be soon moving on to Head, shoulders, knees and toes folks!“.
Thank God that didn’t happen and thank God she was an amazing teacher. She agreed with me but she patiently explained amongst other things that, unfortunately, most people came from high school with a poor level of English and it was not easy to teach a group of students with such different levels of the language. I mean… fair enough!
What she did during the following class is what taught me a valuable lesson.
We were about to finish our lesson on the topic of animals but she started by handing in (to every single one of us) a copy of this handout with tons of different words related to the topic of animals in English.
Suddenly, something just clicked in my brain. I understood that if we don’t like something like this we have to try to change it and not just moan about it. That is not mindblowing but what it is for me is the fact that I didn’t think about it until that point. Most students don’t. Why are we going to be bothered if it is someone else’s fault?
We got so used to follow orders from our teachers that we just accept everything as it comes. We falsely believe that if they make a mistake is their fault and that’s it but we are making the biggest mistake in here if we decide to not get involved in the matter.
We should speak up so we make sure people knows how we feel about it (especially talk to the people who you think can make change happen) but also we must be well aware that even before all of that we have to think first if we could personally do something to improve the situation.
What I mean with this is that we take too much for granted. Unfortunately, having an English degree does not grant you a decent level of English these days. We can carry on blaming teachers, universities, politicians… but you are also responsible for not being up to the job.
I was lucky enough to have such a caring teacher but we are not supposed to just rely on them. Speak up and keep up!
Full Cámbiame episode: http://www.telecinco.es/cambiame/programa-completo_2_2353605111.html