Monday, 5 December 2016

What's my (student's) motivation?

I know two actors. One is my former Italian flatmate who once starred alongside Charles Dance in something so obscure that neither he nor Wikipedia remembers the name. The other is my sister-in-law who recently won a best actress award for her portrayal of Jane Eyre. Around these artistic types, desperate to find some common ground, I find myself dribbling on about the parallels between teaching and the stage. I'm not a grey, drab teacher - I'm just like you; I'm an artist!

Like most people, I love a good metaphor* and to be fair (and not too cynical), I do like the actor/teacher/performer parallels, especially when elucidated in terms of positively affecting student learning as opposed to look-at-me-ism. However, my problem with the teacher metaphor is that it rarely goes far enough. Here, I go too far.

Take from
Parallel Number 1: The matinee

I don't remember who it was (maybe Patrick Stewart), but I heard a story a while back about an actor wandering through a fish market on a Saturday morning and upon seeing the vacant, lifeless eyes of rows and rows of fish, realised with a fright that he had a matinee that afternoon. Like performers in noisy pubs, we often find ourselves teaching people who don't really want to be there. In those cases, we take a deep breath, brace ourselves and whisper the mantra of (show)business.

Parallel Number 2: Stanislavski

Just like us, those actors love their methods. Apparently Robert De Niro was a big fan of drilling. Daniel Day Lewis swears by Task Based Learning. And Meryl Streep is all about audio-lingualism. And similarly, when we get too carried away with our method du jour, there'll likely be a Laurence Olivier type to arch an eyebrow and ask why we don't just try teaching.

Parallel Number 3: Remuneration

Apart from those at the very top of the pile (your Tom Cruises, your Carlos Martins), we're  not on great money, in many cases only paid for the performance/class itself and not all the work going into it (rehearsals/cutting up bits of paper). This exploitation can dampen enthusiasm somewhat but every so often a lucrative gig comes along (flogging nespressos/one year tax free teaching, flights included) to save us from going under.

Parallel Number 4: Selfies

Students regularly ask if they can take a picture with me (it's not just me, all my colleagues get the same request). It happens so frequently that I have a fixed facial expression and body stance that I default to; in every photo it is only the students (and my hairline) that changes. The parallel with actors is so obvious that I barely need to spell it out...but I will anyway. Like actors, we're all bloody gorgeous.

Acting is a good thing to do with your life. Teaching is too.

*Thanks to Michael Griffin of ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections for sharing via Twitter.

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