The teacher as guru or coach

Educators like learners vary greatly in their attitudes towards learning and teaching. Most often, we see the teacher as the guru who holds all the knowledge. The guru’s sole task is to explain this knowledge to his students and once the students pick up this information, the guru’s job is done. This type of teaching is found in many classrooms from high schools to university lectures and may indeed be the best model for certain subjects. When it comes to language learning classes, while you do have to take on the role of the guru, there are serious consequences to relying too heavily on this model.

First, establishing yourself as the final authority figure can lead to awkward situations when your students surprise you with a question about the English language. This situation arises particularly when you are discussing English grammar. Let’s face it, language is not logical or perfect. There are many irregularities that we as native speakers may take for granted. Even though we are master speakers of our language, we are not masters of intricate grammatical points. Not only will these types of questions arise from innocent curiosity, but in some cases your students may purposely try to come up with complicated questions to test your knowledge as a way of showing off their own knowledge.

As language is a living thing that changes with time and with speakers, there are also may nuances that just cannot be explained away with facts and rules. This leaves the guru stuck and unable to help his students. Instead, the teacher should take on the role of a coach who encourages his students to learn and experiment with the language while under his guidance. This type of teaching forces the focus of learning away from the instructor onto the student and the advantage of this is that much of the active learning takes place under the students’ own conditions and time. The coach will still provide feedback and encouragement, but will guide the learner towards answers rather than try to explain away their problems.

Lesson Plan Challenges

One of the greatest difficulties in coming up with lesson plans and class activities is accommodating all the different styles of language learners.  I’m sure we’re all familiar with the sensory preferences that every learner has:

  1. visual
  2. sensory
  3. kinesthetic
  4. auditory

However, when you combine these variances with that of personality types plus cultural differences, it can be overwhelming just trying to get your students to understand what you’re trying to do.  Personality differences such as extroverted and introverted students, analytical and affective students, and results oriented versus open ended students are found in differing proportions depending on the host countries’ culture and style of education.  As TESOLs it is important to be sensitive to these differences and try to structure your lesson plans around these elements rather than forcing your own system upon your students. It is good to suss out what kind of learners you have in your class when you first start.  Use a broad range of teaching techniques, activities, and presentation styles.  Get their feedback and evaluate their understanding to see what you should keep and what to get rid of.  Another thing to consider is that some cultures encourage memorization rather than learning and synthesis as most of us are familiar with which goes against the western educational ideals familiar to most EFL/ESL teachers.  Trying to go against this style will only cause you and your students grief.  I’ve noticed this especially in Chinese classrooms, instead, work with this style of learning to your advantage and you will find that your are not plagiarizers but skilled grammarians and technicians who excel in learning how the English language functions.