Playing it safe

In the first few classes, I’ve developed a habit of writing down a few key words, or new words (or what I think might be new words) on the blackboard as the class progresses, and as vocab items come up. Yesterday, I had a bad case of hay fever, and I went in with my mask on. As the week before, I’d taught them “How do you …. in English/Japanese?”, I wrote on the board “hay fever” and “handout” and asked “How do you say “kafun-sho” in English?” No-one volunteered to answer so I picked on a few students. No-one answered. A few down by the front whispered urgently to each other and pointed at the board, but didn’t give me the answer. “How do you say ‘purinto’ in English?” Same routine. One after they other, they shook their heads and said “I don’t know.” The first students I asked had been the ones near the front, and they hesitated long, but after that lot, each student I asked said “I don’t know” sooner and sooner after I called on them. It was like they had found the “right” answer and were all repeating each other rather than actually answering the question. It was like the time when we asked them, “Why are you here?” After the first few had answered “To study English”, all the others repeated it, unthinkingly it seemed to me.
I guess the “school” lesson to be learned here is, “Don’t answer a teacher’s question if you’re not sure. Better to say you don’t know than make a fool of yourself, or look like a showoff.” And the lesson for me is, “Don’t ask questions, the answers to which you don’t know if they really care about.”
I didn’t give them the answers, by the way, or give any hint that what I’d written on the board had anything to do with my questions. Was I right not to? Was I wrong to ask them those questions? Next time they get the lecture about “This isn’t high school: I’m not going to force you to learn. This is an opportunity (who knows what that is?).” Perhaps I’ll mention what I learned from practising Aikido: that the (Japanese martial arts) teacher doesn’t divulge the secrets of his art: the students have to steal them from him.

3 thoughts on “Playing it safe”

  1. Thanks for dropping by, Ventolin. And, Lesley, thanks for the lovely St Exupery quote. It gave me lots to think about.

  2. “I didn’t give them the answers, by the way, or give any hint that what I’d written on the board had anything to do with my questions. Was I right not to?”

    – Well, as student I think it depents of the interest of the student to learn what you are teaching. If they’re in love with what you are teaching they will run to learn the right answer.

    Mediocre students use to think “I will learn this on the fly”. The students in love with what they’re studing take note and concentrates in correct those “bad steps” before the next class.

    By the way I’m not an english student so please don’t check up my english… LOL. I accepted to live with the english I learned from public education and cable TV. 😛

  3. For some reson your post makes me think of this quote from St Exupery which I read somewhere this week (can’t remember where) :” If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the workers to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

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