The limits of Humanistic Practice

HLT Magazine (July 2001) – Major Article

Exploring the British Council’s SearchEnglish site, I happened on this article, an interview by Mario Rinvolucri of Pilgrim’s Language School in Canterbury, UK, with Katie Plumb, who was lived in Mexico before coming to Britain. In 2000, Katie switched from UK private sector EFL teaching to working in a UK State Secondary School teaching Spanish. The interview focuses on her experiences in the state school, teaching Spanish.

The title of the interview, “The limits of Humanistic Practice” suggest that Katie’s experience would repudiate much humanistic pedagogy, but what caught my attention were the aspects of a humanistic approach that Katie used that worked. In particular, the following:

I’ve also got to know the kids individually, and they’ve got to know me, and that makes a big difference, I mean in the lessons and outside…. just before Christmas I got them doing things like Christmas cards, and practical drawing and cutting out, and that helped bond with the kids a lot because I could go round and talk to individual groups and um, I think that I’ve learnt that I’ve got to stop worrying about following this silly curriculum, and doing more of what I think will work with these kids.

Katie found the discipline problems and the noise levels the most difficult things to deal with. She sums it up thusly:

it is tremendously difficult to be humanistic in the way that I used to be in teaching, um…… you have to control things so much more, it’s so much more teacher-centred, than I’m ever used to. So, in that sense it’s like learning completely new skills, in the classroom. All around classroom management, and, I don’t…. I don’t feel it’s teaching.

Mario: So you feel it’s what?

Katie: Crowd control.

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