Each time I get this question I feel like I’m caught in a deja vu loop. How do I answer this question honestly?
I think a lot of parents out there have a lot of presumptions about school and learning which simply just ain’t so. I came across this quote yesterday and it sums up some of the ideas I had in mind about how I’m actually going to answer this persistent question about what I teach, how I teach, etc.
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
~John F. Kennedy
Please don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I don’t understand parents’ side of the story and why this question was asked in the first place. I have a lot of sympathy for parents who are being sold propaganda and false advertising from the time their child was in the womb.
Parents (that includes me) have been brainwashed by propaganda for decades making the secondary tide of brainwashing by “private educational providers” even more persuasive.
Here’s what parents have been brainwashed to believe :
– the qualifications, years of experience and overall quality of a teacher matters
– the curriculum matters
– the brand matters
– a good teacher will make my child better, smarter, learn more
– the ways to measure progress and learning (assessments) make all the difference between learning and not learning
– learning is measured by content, hours and money
– a learning curve can be plotted on a graph corresponding with time, methodology, resources needed
– methodology and approach matters.
By all means the above list is not comprehensive but it’s enough to throw most assumptions about learning out the window. Can I just say, whatever your kids will be learning in my classes could not possibly be worse than what they’re being taught in school (public, private, international, same difference). And how about me being compared to well-marketed brands out there providing solutions for English language learning? We’re at least about the same or better. The standards out there are not that high to make it possible for my teachers and I to do a poorer job! I’m not being arrogant but teaching ESL, like what one of my partners keeps telling me, is a stroll in the park. It’s not that we’re that good but that the quality around Asia in the field of ESL is not that high in the first place! We have to be able to see the forest from the trees.
Sometimes it’s not even necessary to have an intellectually astute, creative, high-energy, teacher with a wide repertoire of skills. They just have to be Caucasian or pass off looking Caucasian! This isn’t meant as a personal insult to anyone but I think most of us, Asians and Caucasians alike, are well aware of this problem within the ESL industry. The standards out there aren’t that high to begin with – at least not for me; the problem is that the standards of learners are too low to be able to discern otherwise.
So, back to that list above (you can scroll up now) :
Just because one of those aspects above work in some ways in some areas some of the time does not mean that it WORKS in all ways, in all areas, all the time. Think about it : Is it necessarily true that a retired teacher with 30-40 years of experience is necessarily better than a teacher who is 3 months in the job? I can only speak from personal experience and the answer is no, no and again, a big, fat NO.
I will digress and ask you to bear with me while I take you on a little questioning-the-myth exercise. Long, long, ago, the world moved very slowly. People did not typically work outside a 50km radius from where they grew up. The printing press was not yet invented, electricity was not available, neither was the Internet. Given that small pool of a population to interact with those with a natural ability to read and write and memorize things (scribes, teachers) were prized for their ability to be a repository of knowledge. A class-based society also prevented much social mobility. In such a society, experience in collecting and collating data mattered.
By the time I was born, trade experience no longer mattered. In fact, I think with the accelerated ascension of collective consciousness, personal experience has now been divorced from the marker it’s always been measured with – age, the passing of years. If you listen to your children they seem a lot wiser than most adults you meet out there. Would we be missing out if we stuck to being stubborn about holding on to the “I have eaten more salt than you” card?
You’ll have to do a bit of a mental exercise to then take each and every one of the other points I’ve listed above and do a reverse-qualification of it. Ask yourself in what ways you have found that it is NOT TRUE that curriculum works, brand matters, a good teacher (first, define “good”) makes your child’s IQ/EQ/SQ jump up a few notches, etc.
OK, let me do that one for you : about the good teacher. I swear, my students will insist, that being in my classes have made all the difference in their life. But it is also true that all the other teachers they have had (formally teaching them) have made all the difference in their life as well! We are all creatures of programming and conditioning. Who we are today is a result of those programs running us on autopilot. The only reason why I stood out in some way is because those other teachers have done an excellent job unearthing the wisdom in these children to the point where they became thirsty for knowledge, became frustrated from a sense of “something is not right”, became hungry for their soul and spirits to emerge.
For every person who thinks highly of me you can find someone who will speak ill of me and my teaching philosophy. But because I am so good at articulating myself and my thoughts (and generally pretty amiable) those who will speak ill of me often have the wisdom to not attack what they cannot defend in public. The reason people think highly of me and my opinions is because I am simply rain to a desert. The desert has to first exist, parched and scorched, for the rain to be a welcome relief; thus to say my virtue as a teacher lies simply in the fact that others have paved the way for me, living their mission, in order for me to live mine.
I know what you mean by a good teacher : dedicated, committed, passionate. But those are not values money can buy. You can’t buy passion, you can’t buy dedication and you can’t buy commitment. And by saying this I’m telling you that you cannot judge a teacher you pay by values that are not for sale in the first place. Some students like teachers who are funny, high-energy and lenient. Is that fair? Are teachers being paid extra as comedians and entertainers? And high-energy sometimes has nothing to do with passion – some people are just born with infectious energy. (I know one personally. She heats up any room she walks into.)
What I’m trying to say is by the time you do a reverse-qualification of the persistent, persuasive and unrealistic myths related to education and learning you will start to see that what matters is your CHILD, or, the learner, not any externalities. We need to turn our ideas of learning, those perpetuated myths, on their heads.
What we need to do is focus on the learner, the child. Don’t ask me what I teach; let your child discover what they want to learn.
The truth is teachers, systems, curricula, and parents’ projections all get in the way of a child’s unfolding. I KNOW what your Little Voice is telling you right now : How can a child learn without structures, objectives, discipline, benchmarks, etc? I’m going to turn that around and ask you if you have evidence that the opposite cannot be true : that people have achieved great things without going through a structured, disciplined, learning. Think Edison. Think Einstein. Think all those others who never made their name into pop-culture but who exhibited that the opposite can also be true. Ask yourself : is it possible that you could have achieved more had you had a completely opposite schooling experience than what you actually experienced?
All this being said some parents will think, hey, I’m paying you premium fees to deliberately NOT teach my child anything? What my teachers and I do might sound awfully easy because I don’t have to walk into class with a lesson plan. Teaching is based on creativity, sensitivity to learners’ needs and spontaneous calling of a wide repertoire of skills. It’s so easy it’s not even work. It’s so easy you’re invited to try this at home yourself so you can understand the value of it when immersed in an environment for second-language learning. ( Later I will post an article on why it’s futile and counter-productive to treat our children as empty vessels we need to fill.) To answer your question, Yes, we’re asking to be paid for our time for us to have fun knowing your child and helping them dissolve all affective filters / barriers towards second-language learning. Rather than pour language into their heads we’re helping them shed the barriers that prevent them from becoming a powerful magnet, a powerful self-driven model of second-language learning.
Let me end this post with simple, generalized answers :
(1) What will my kids learn in your class?
Answer : Nothing
I am a firm believer that all the knowledge and wisdom to dissolve any problems your child will ever encounter is already within them. How do I know this? Because this is how I’ve lived my life so far. Why is it that they are not able to learn “no-thing” at home, in school, in the outside world?
It’s because everywhere else they go they are met with expectations. How does a child’s Inner Intelligence Awaken when all around them are systems and ideas that are making them conform to set beliefs? How does a child’s goodness flower when they are being moralized by parents, teachers, society?
OK, now that I’ve been so tough on you, I’m going to give something sweet to suck on.
I consider learning this way. It happens in generally, 3 parts. A literacy based learning, a higher-cognitive thinking and the final part, an Awakening or Flowering of Creativity, Resilience and Intelligence.
With literacy based learning, your kids will go through whatever processes I have in store for them (you would have to take a teacher training course with me to learn the pedagogy of that) or whatever it takes for them to be a lover of books and literature and all the fine things that shape a Mind into a Fine one as opposed to a crude one. If you are a highly-educated parent you should be able to already do this at home without going to any paid-programs.
Alongside with developing literacy or classical V-L skills (these parts happen simultaneously, not consecutively) higher-cognitive thinking is when they develop the ability to ask questions and answer intelligently with reasoning, evidence, articulating experiences, etc. This nurtures the flowering of their creativity and begins the process of Awakening Inner Intelligence.
The third part comes about when we can see the child as he is, not as we are. – Again, bear in mind, all three happen simultaneously. The reason why it’s often better for a third party to lead this kind of education is because few parents can remove their personal attachments and projections when teaching their child. The parent is keen to mold the child according to his/her own image and thus denies the potential of the child to be more than the parent ever could.
No offence intended. I don’t teach my own child either.
(2) What will you teach?
Answer : Anything.
Our teachers will develop a relationship with your child to learn together with them. We will ask your child what they want to learn not oblige them to obey what we want to teach. This nurtures deep confidence and joy in the learning process and is the foundation for a life-long learner. If learning is meaningful, in an environment of trust and co-operation, is rewarding – why would anyone want to stop being a learner?
(3) How will I know if my child is going to learn more in your class than other programs out there?
Answer : You can’t.
Simply because you do not have complete and absolute knowledge of the systems and required repository of knowledge in a relevant field to make a discerning, intelligent judgment of all the programs out there in order to make a valid comparison with mine. Some parents do have some knowledge and the required repository to make judgments of a few leading programs out there and they usually immediately get the value of what I am trying to impart.
It appears to me that there is an increasing number of parents around Penang who have become savvy about what’s on offer out there and are beginning to be able to separate the fluff from what they’re really looking for. I am ecstatic about being the solutions provider to those who suspect they’re really not getting what they’re looking for in other places no matter how hard they’ve tried and how much money they’ve spent.
(4) How can I trust you?
Answer : You don’t have to.
I mean it. Call it reverse-psychology but I’m a business. You vote with your money.
OK, I’ll stop being so difficult. Well, some parents have ended up taking personal coaching lessons from me in their free time. This ensures them that the person they are checking out is worthy of teaching their children.
I’m going to be very realistic about this because in today’s world sometimes we even find it hard to trust the person we’re married to, the partners we go into business with that decide our rice bowl, the governments we voted in to run our country. Taken in a wider, more realistic context, I’m not selling or buying your Trust. I need you to trust yourself. Because as long as you don’t trust yourself as a person, as a parent, as a citizen, you will find it difficult to trust anything else externally from yourself.
(5) How can I explain to others what you teach?
Answer : You don’t have to.
That’s my job.
If it’s any consolation, the definition of INSANITY is to do the same things over and over again hoping to get different results. It’s true what I’m doing and what I’m saying is counter-intuitive and goes against every programming parents out there have ever conceived about English language learning. But it remains that we are at precipice of change, we need to try something different because the same old things just aren’t working anymore. It is always only in retrospect can we ever define anything in absolutes – if such a thing were even possible.
Don’t listen to me. Listen to this :