I still remember…

It’s always nice to reminisce, isn’t it? I’ve recently had the chance to meet lots of my high school friends. Our class had been together from second grade on, and, obviously, there are always good laughs as we remember what we went through during our school years. We eventually get to talk about things we did in class, parties, teachers, and all that involves the lives of any teenager. Those were good days, for sure. We speak fondly of some teachers; we speak ill of others. We remember what they did in class and how they used to behave, things they’d say (some teachers say the same thing year after year), and all that is involved in any of these talks.

That also makes me think about how we used to be. We enjoyed it when teachers valued our opinions. We had a blast when sometimes a teacher of ours decided to come to one of the parties we’d throw. We loved listening to their stories and we’d revel in their listening to some our own. However, we also valued our privacy a lot. There were things we didn’t want our teachers to hear, just like there were things we didn’t want our parents to hear. Certain things belong to us only – we shared our secret stories on the phone. We spent a long time locked up in our bedrooms and we’d hate it if mum and dad (rightfully) said that our bedroom wasn’t really our own and that we’d only have our own bedroom when we had our own house.

This week, there was a piece of news on TV exactly about that. Some teenagers in Brazil want to spend more and more time alone in their bedrooms. Family life is pretty much nonexistent. A psychologist was invited to analyse the situation and noticed that teens are not the only ones to blame – some parents make sure they have their own computer in their bedroom, a TV set, their stereo system, their phone, a bathroom… apart from a microwave oven and a mini-bar, most well-off teens have all in their bedrooms. A parent was complaining that his daughter would spend about 7 hours straight locked up in her bedroom.

But then again, if we, as teenagers, had as many things in our bedrooms, if it were just as easy for us to connect with those who are part of our groups, perhaps we’d do exactly the same thing. Teens have a need to belong, they succumb to peer pressure, and have an innate will to rebel. We can blame it on hormones and all that comes with this shift from childhood to adulthood. But truth be told, most teens value the opinion of their friends more than that of their parents and teachers. Teachers do inspire, parents are respected, but there is a certain period of our lives in which we believe parents and teachers know nothing. And this isn’t something new. My parents have an old French poster with sayings from someone at different ages of his or her life. At the age of 6, “dad knows it all,” at the age of 15, “we know as much as dad,” at the age of 60, “oh, if we still could ask dad…” It’s cyclical, and it’s always been like that.

What do children think of their parents?

What’s the point I’m trying to make? Well, the thing that’s got me thinking is, when push come to shove, how far can or should we go? Having a learner-centred lesson is important and I believe it truly makes a difference. Breaking into these safety circles in which teens share their lives with their friends might be just a little too much. Aren’t we trying a bit too hard to do something we ourselves wouldn’t like our teachers to have done to us? Yesterday’s phone calls are today’s facebook and MSN. As teenagers, my friends and I always enjoyed it when teachers valued our our opinions in class. However, there was a fine line between listening to us and paying heed to what we said and being intrusive and trying to get too personal. Aren’t some teachers just trying a bit too hard and treading on dangerous ground?

16 thoughts on “I still remember…

  1. That last question got me thinking, actually. Aren’t we trying to a bit too much?

    Maybe, and some teachers are certainly doing too much. I have found myself ensnared in that web of infinite connections students build. And they’re kinda eager to have you there, too. Even though I have never given my Orkut profile in class (not even mentioned I had one, actually), A LOT of them seem to find their way in, and here comes one thing that some teachers fail to do.

    They fail to tell sts (and even to acknowledge it themselves) that the line between the teacher and the private person is not supposed to be a fine one. I have often had to remind my students that I’m human, and that there are sides of me they’re not supposed to see (just like the other way around), not because I’m ashamed of it, but because it just doesn’t fit.

    The challenge is, of course, to find the balance between the dangerous ground you mentioned and the absolutely safe (and yet in many, many ways sterile) ground of complete separation of what a teacher is and what the human being does.

    No simple answer comes out of the how-far-we-should-go issue, that’s certain. It is necessarily a matter of feeling, a matter of understanding your sts, and more importantly, understanding yourself. What I have learned from experience is that being honest about things is usually the best path. Once again, honest with your sts and honest with yourself.

    1. Hi Bobbe,

      Students love finding out about their teachers lives and love it when teachers share. However, the point I was trying to make is: do they all like it when teachers actually get to know too much about their lives? I agree with you when you say that there are things that should be kept private. It is yet another thing teachers need to juggle with and find balance: how to be friendly to the point of helping my students learn and be able to make lessons personal and meaningful without becoming (or trying to become) their friends. Many of our students (I say ‘our’ because I know this is true of you too) have become our friends, but this is not the norm, and it’s definitely not what we or they are there for.

      Your last sentence also says a lot: honesty and authenticity are key!

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify the limits of such personal “circles”, with all the positive enthusiasm over social networking and their use in education. Still, I’ve also felt the need to keep the interaction with students on or off-line limited to a clearly defined professional purpose.

    I feel the best thing we can do as a teacher is try to be authentic and friendly, while retaining a professional attitude in what we do. I think we can give much more when we don’t try to adopt the sort of “friend-to-all, always available” attitude that tries to “invade” the learners’ inner circles, even if they are more than willing to invite us there.

    After all, a certain level of privacy is still necessary, even with the wonderful democratising and connecting potential of the Internet.

    We should try and remain effective as professionals. This is why I think each teacher should try and retain a friendly and approachable, but constructive attitude to how we learn.

    A great post, Henrick.

    1. Hi Marian,

      Being authentic and friendly are essential in any learning environment, as you said so well. Being friendly, however, doesn’t mean being friends with. Teachers and students have their personal lives and do not need to share every little thing that happens to them as if the other party were interested in learning about that. Professionalism, then, plays a major role – teachers have to remember they’re there to teach, and teaching is not a popularity contest. When we think back, most teachers we remember aren’t the nice, laid-back ones, but the ones who put us to the test and pushed us to our limits. The ones we know we truly learned from. Of course you can be friendly and understanding and still be remembered, but you can never be just a friend when you’re supposed to be a teacher.

      Thanks for the comment! A great comment! 🙂


  3. I agree with Marian – it’s so important to have a good balance of openness and privacy. I have a tuenti account (the Spanish version of facebook) which I use with students, but it’s what I would call a “professional” account and I only have it to encourage my students to write messages in English.
    I agree with you, Henrick, that teens really appreciate being listened to, about anything and everything – whether it be a bad day at school, or a new song they’ve heard on the radio. And as long as we maintain a professional approach, we shouldn’t be afraid to listen.

    1. Hi Teresa,

      The idea of having a professional tuenti or Orkut (the Brazilian version of Facebook) account seems to be a nice one. We can then choose how much we want to share with our learners and how much we want them to know. It’s also a way to let them practice English outside the classroom, and still keep it on professional grounds.
      And, yes, we should never be afraid to listen. I just think we shouldn’t try too hard to get them to speak. Let them do the talk, show interest, but there’s no need to go beyond what they’re telling you. It’s not like we’re the ones they should be talking about their relationship problems and expecting advice from. It might even happen as students do tend to build a relationship of trust with their teachers, but that’s definitely not what we’re there for.

      Thanks for the comment!! 🙂

  4. I agree with Teresa, having two personae on the internet is a vital way to protect your identity… with the ease that images and stories can get published about you online you have to be careful about what you allow the students to see. Trouble is, with only just a little sniffing around they can find al the information they want… as can anybody who desires.
    But, in contrast to your post Henrick I don’t agree that we are doing too much trying to be their friends. In fact it is quite difficult to get out of the classroom in China without someone asking for your mobile number, email address, msn, qq. Alongside that teachers are often asked to accompany students for meals or after class drinks. I’m talking, of course, about students from private English schools who want to be your friend so they can milk you of all the English they can.

    1. Hi Tim,

      That’s one of the problems with the Internet, isn’t it? I mean, whatever it is that you’ve chosen to make public online is available to whoever wants to find it. Hence the need for teachers, as public figures, to be careful about what they post online – especially if this teacher teaches children.
      I see your point when you say we aren’t doing too much to be our students’ friends. And it’s interesting to learn that the behaviour in China is like that. However, what I could grasp from your comment is that students only want the teacher around for their own interests – they’d like to have an English teacher around 24/7. This doesn’t mean they’d like you to find out about their personal lives, does it? It’s like friendship with a vested interest. I can even relate to that when we speak of adults, but not when we think about teenage students. In my view, teens love knowing as much as they can about their teachers’ lives – they love talking about it to their classmates – but they’re not very keen to the idea of teachers finding out too much about their personal lives. That was what I was trying to say with the post. Sometimes teachers take the first step to befriend their learners on online communities, but this might be seen as something rather intrusive instead of an attempt at being friendly and building rapport.
      Oh, and you’re right. It’s much more common for students from private English schools to get closer to their teachers than for students from regula schools to do so.

      Thanks for your comments and thought! Really appreciate them! 🙂

  5. “Grab a chair, have a seat, and post a comment if you’d like to.” I liked that line from your introduction. So here I am.
    You visited my blog now I’m visiting yours. Nice read. Tell me how did you find out about my blog?
    Take care

    1. Hi Agata,

      I first found out about you on Ken Wilson’s blog on his guest authors series. But then I found out about your blog on Twitter. Someone had retweeted your post, and I liked the title – so there I went! 🙂
      And I’m glad I did. Nice read as well.
      Thanks for telling me about that blog post of yours. I’ll have a look at it asap!

      1. Thanks to Ken I’m getting famous 😛
        I met him at ACINE in 2008 and admire him since then. Speaking of ACINE – there is going to be another congress in Salvador in July. Are you going? There will also be BRAZ-TESOL and ABCI. Do you participate in these kind of events?

      2. He’s just introduced you to his readership, but you became famous for your own merit! 😀

        I have never heard of ACINE (feeling a bit stupid now…) so I’ll have to look into that. Going to Salvador is always a nice idea. BRAZ-TESOL and ABCI I’m acquainted with (yay me! :D), and I actually used to be present (and to present) on BRAZ-TESOL events. I’ve also had a chance to participate in an ABCI conference in Brasília when I still worked at the Cultura Inglesa here. However, the last BRAZ-TESOL I attended, if I’m not mistaken, was the national conference in Brasília – as a matter of fact, I was one of the MCs of the event (that didn’t really make me famous as being on Ken’s blog would, though… lol). As I opened a language institute in the end of 2005, it’s been pretty hard for me to attend such conferences, but I’m seriously thinking about going to the BRAZ-TESOL. I’ll now have to look into the ACINE thing you said, and there’s also another conference in Brasília (CTJ TEFL Seminar). Gee… so many places I want to be at, so little time!!!

        Have you got any leads on accommodation for any of these events?

  6. P.S There is a post in my blog “A code of conduct for teachers”, that mentions student-teacher relationship as well… Have a look at tell me what you think 🙂

  7. Don’t worry about not knowing about ACINE. ACINE (Associação das Culturas Inglesas do Nordeste) as the name says, is an event created for Cultura Inglesa but it’s a great conference with many famous in ELT world people (including Ken Wilson, Jeff Strands etc.) so participating in it would be a very good experience for you. Unfortunately I have no idea about the date yet. For sure it will happen in July and I’m afraid I’ll have to choose among ACINE, ABCI and BRAZ-TESOL.
    BRAZ-TESOL will take place in São Paulo, 19-22 July, at Escola Beit Yaacov. They suggest places to stay on their site: http://www.braztesol.org.br/convencao/
    ABCI – will be in Rio, in Windsor Barra Hotel, 15-17 July. The fee is more expensive (R$ 429, while BRAZ-TESOl is R$ 319 depending on the date of payment)) but it includes lunch and coffee breaks. I really hope accomodation would also be in that hotel.
    I’m very curious about BRAZ-TESOL, as I’ve never been to any, but I imagine it’s similar to ACINE, just much bigger.
    What about CTJ TEFL Seminar? Can you tell me something about it?

    1. Hi Agata,

      Thank you very much for the information you’ve given me! That sure is helpful! I’m going to move the conversation to emails, is that OK? In case the email you use is not the one you’ve provided when writing your comments, let me know. 🙂

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