Vocab and behaviour issues

My students have been handing in their research proposals. Whereas last year we saw a lot of ‘motivation’ and the year before that ‘reading strategies’, this year seems to be full of ‘vocab’. Some aim at vocabulary learning strategies and others at what vocab for whom but for all I have recommended reading through the wonderful book written by Nation and certainly through an amount of Jim Cummins’ research on BICS and CALP. For some reason, this latter doesn’t seem to play a large (enough) role in our education system. As an avid follower of Cummins I’ve decided it’s time I tried to incorporate some more of his ideas into my classes. I think it’s essential that our trainees learn not just about the didactics of English but also the ‘why’ behind it. And although my students tend to teach at slightly more provincial, less coloured schools, I still think it’s essential they learn about how to deal with L3 learners in the class for example. For anyone interested, I recommend this book: 1-85359-475-x.

Many of the schools here use set vocabulary books – you know, the old-fashioned ones with lists of idioms, not always up to date and certainly not always relevant. Sometimes the words are offered in context, often they are tested out of context. Generally the tests are for productive vocabulary – receptive seems to be unimportant. Frustrating!

Another of the things many of my students have issues with is classroom management. Here in the Netherlands there are two types of teachers: the so-called ‘second degree’ teachers and the ‘first-degree’ teachers. To native speakers one would presume the former to be better than the latter but the terms do not refer to ‘a’ second degree and ‘a’ first degree but rather to levels whereby first is ‘better’ than second. The second degree teachers study content (in this case English) and education at a so-called university of applied sciences (similar to the British polytechnics of yore) over the course of four years in which they also do placements at school. Upon graduation they have a wealth of experience, therefore, and much less of a problem with classroom management. My students are first  degree teachers which means they have studied the content (English in this case) at a traditional ‘research’ university, have then completed a masters degree and then come to train to be a teacher for one year. That means they have three years less experience than their colleagues when it comes to dealing with teenagers. The entire layout of the Dutch education system is not something I’ll delve into any further here (but is part of an article in preparation…..). For my students I like to recommend they read Bill Rogers’ wonderful book on classroom behavior (978-1-4129-2863-2) before they even start with us. We have a different, Dutch, book which is compulsory so Rogers is just an option I like to propose. Funny thing is: those who have read Rogers show remarkably fewer classroom management issues than the rest…..But they have to read it before the course starts because he really does start from the first day you walk down the corridor at school! And no, I don’t get any royalties by recommending these books (wish I did though!).

The thing is – if the teacher can’t control the class he can’t get the content across. If the content is brought across appropriately then he won’t be able to control the class. Catch 22. Teachers need to be multitaskers, they need an excellent command of their subject, they need an excellent data base stuffed full of didactic ideas, they need excellent classroom management skills and, to top it all they need to be intelligent enough to look for the ‘why’ behind things in order to remain critical of everything they do and how they do it. Still want to be a teacher? Of course you do – it’s the best job in the world! 😉

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