The English Teacher: Where Is The Shoe Pinching?
Dinesh Thapa, Lecturer of English
Kitini College, Godawary
(Taukhel) Lalitpur Nepal
NELTA Life Member
Asst. Secretary, NELTA Lalitpur
The English Class
(Good Morning Sir). Morning. Sit down. Hello, why are you talking? Listen to the attendance. Roll number One. (Yes sir). Two. (Yes sir)……..Sixteen. (Absent sir). Don’t talk. I said…..Don’t talk. Seventeen. (Yes sir)…fifty six. (Yes sir). Give me your book, please. (one student gives the English textbook to the teacher). Ok. Students, take your book on. Today we are going to read on page no. 47. (Students turn the page there.) Turned- Found? (Pointing to another student) Hello, don’t you have the book? (No Sir, I’ve forgotten). That’s it! You always have to say the same. Share it from your friend, then. Now look there. Listen. Then the teacher reads aloud some lines from the textbook and translates the meaning into Nepali. S/he writes some unfamiliar words on the board and gives the meaning, possibly in Nepali. Students copy them onto the exercise book. There is a short comprehension- check- in through oral questioning. Often, it is the teacher who supplies the responses as it takes longer to get one from the students. By then the time gets over. The teacher leaves the class asking the students to write answers to the questions from page no. 48. The following day the teacher writes an essay on the board and the students copy it and recite for examination.
Where Is the Shoe Pinching?
The Nepalese classroom, especially in the secondary level, displays some unique features which are quite challenging from the viewpoint of teaching English. There are a considerable number of students in one class, possibly over fifty seated in the immovable iron-made furniture. The classroom is highly heterogeneous- in terms of age, ability and culture of the students. Mostly, the class is a teacher dominated one. S/he exhausts almost ninety percent of the hour, but there is talk in English hardly the half of the period. Presentation of the lesson is generally unaided with visuals and student practise by making written exercises. Although, the students respond to the teacher sparingly, they do not talk in English among themselves. Again, they do not reply in English; they simply understand the prompts…… like facts of biology…..understand them, but they cannot produce English. The response happens in Nepali itself. Also the motivational topics, like jokes, anecdotes, news sharing, and so on are told in Nepali, for the students cannot grasp of what is said to them. There is hardly a speaking class, except the teacher’s questions answered by the students. Teaching for speaking and listening skills does not have a scheduled class; most of the students experience listening to the cassette at exams only.
The teacher- talk during deliberation is directed to make the things clear to the students; so students do understand the matter but rarely can produce it in speech or writing. Similarly, the teacher gives answers to almost all questions, and students copy and rewrite them. Some few students recite the answers, only a few try on their own, whereas many simply do nothing. Although the teacher asks students to complete an assignment (generally in writing) at home, s/he can hardly compel them to do so. Only a small number of students have the habit of self-study at home, but the majority of them do not have even a dictionary and other support materials with them. The texts put in the book are simply unintelligible for them as they have never attempted so yet. For many of them, the grades scored earlier than in grade ten are simply promoted ones. If looked through, English and Mathematics happen to be the- never- passed subjects in all the previous grades. That’s why home study for English is almost impossible for the students. Even if some students do their home tasks, the teacher rarely provides feedback after correction. Correction is generally done teacher-privately, sitting in the teacher- room, in the absence of the concerned students, and the students rarely go over it back. The notes and exercises completed earlier in the session start getting lost over time. Once the course becomes over and revision starts, again the texts and exercises become anew, and are started afresh. All the previous teaching seems to have become a great waste.
There is the structural factor as well in play for the lower proficiency of the students. There are eight subjects for the students to learn in a day; among them seven are delivered fully in Nepali medium, even to such an extent that the terms like ‘ecology’ in environment, ‘evolution’ in biology, ‘rectangle’ in mathematics, etc. are also translated into Nepali. Teaching of English thus becomes the absolute business of the English teacher only. Also the single teacher teaches in classes at over four grades vertically. As the same teacher is taking charge of English, students are devoid of variety in the exposure of English. On the other hand, as there are only a few teachers with the ability to speak English in the whole, the English teacher barely gets a chance to use his/ her English with people other than the students. His/ her English thus erodes gradually. The problem is compounded by the reality that there are not any English medium newspapers, journals, magazines, videos and other reference materials available in school. The library contains books never- used and unsuitable- to be- used by the students. For the students, library seems to be available to see occasionally from the outside only.
The other residue of the problem lies with our culture. Absenteeism on the part of the students is still high. Only when the term-exams approach, attendances become more regular. Both girl and boy students have strong cliques to share about private matters; group dynamism is simply directed towards non-academic matters. Similarly, the role of the parents seems very nominal for making learning environment of their wards. They appear in the school only to get their wards admitted and to get the results. Other times, there is hardly only communication with the parents.
I raised some pinching issues that might be our practical realities going on in the English classrooms. I want to share with you our present reality and our possible corrective measures for the improvement of our overall teaching scenario, so that the practicing teachers also have a say in the discourse of teacher professionals; so that they could restore the dignity schools possessed in the past. Whether we realize it or not, we are heading towards a challenging future. Our valued bases of faith and dignity are eroding day by day, leaving none of us untouched. Only our sincere efforts and visionary deeds can help us rescue from this ongoing quicksand of the eroding quality of our education. In such a situation, improvement in English teaching practices can work as a rescue rod.
Now I’d like to share with you a simple strategy that works for the improvement of learning English in our school, i.e., student motivation and teacher’s continued reflection over what went well or not. Student motivation is the drive that clears itself from all the barriers impending in the learning environment. We have the history that our former generations, and probably ourselves, learnt sitting under the direct sun. The buildings, sofas, chairs, videos, computers and lifts are not the causative factors for learning to happen. Rather it is the strong willpower on the part of the learner that works to crumble all the barriers. The English teacher should create such an environment that boosts up a feeling of ‘English Thrust’ in our learners. We need to make our classes pleasant, using simple English- in- English method, supplementing the class with tasks that arrest the interest of the learners (like jokes, tales, poems, puzzles, magazines, debates and presentations). The important factor here is that the students themselves should build up the feeling that ENGLISH IS IMPORTANT, NOT FOR OTHERS, BUT FOR THEMSELVES. Unless such a feeling germinates in the learners, all our efforts go in vain. We may get thinner day- by- day, but at the end of grade ten examinations, our students still remain unable to compose even a small paragraph, unable to speak general ideas, unable to comprehend moderate reading texts and to decipher normal spoken English. In order to check this, we need to make sure:
– that we teaching English as a means of communication, or as a subject like Sciences or Social Education;
– that our students are genuinely motivated to learn being involved in the learning environment
– that our students feel (not only think) that ability in speaking and writing English is really important in this modern time;
– that we exposing our learners to English as a language, not to the tit-bits of English;
– that we do create situations in which our students feel a necessary requirement to communicate in English in the lively communicational settings;
– that we have arranged the class in a scheduled form for the exposure of all skills and aspects of language;
– that we have sufficient language generating materials other than textbooks to assist to our duties, and
– that we are dedicated, reflective and change oriented all the time.
Once we consider changing the way we teach bit- by- bit, the challenges will turn into opportunities. The students will be proficient and communicative. The teacher will find his/her own face smiling in the beaming lights of the students’ achievement. Then the responsibility of the boatman will be successfully discharged when the passengers go across the river undisturbed and safely.