The Ventriloquist

Written by: Peter Medgyes

[The following is the verbatim copy of a plenary speech delivered in Budapest, Edinburgh, Mexico City, Caracas, Athens, Opatija and Plovdiv. During his talk, Peter Medgyes conducts a dialogue with a dummy.]

Motto: “I regard truth as a divine ventriloquist.”

Coleridge

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Behind the mask

I don’t know how it is with you, but I love ELT coursebooks. I’m hooked on them. During the day, I always carry a sample in my briefcase. At night, coursebooks lie on my bedside table. Physically, they’re just beautiful. Slick and tender, a pleasure to touch. Spiritually, they give me a feeling of security; I trust them more than the best of my friends. And intellectually, well, they give me all the information about the world that needs to be known. Below the glittering surface, there’s depth.

There’s New Concept English, for example, by L.G. Alexander. It’s an oldie. Only the village elders remember it, because it was first published in the late 60s. Four levels in four colours. Orange, green, blue and yellow. Drill by drill. Story after story. If I say: “The Double Life of Alfred Bloggs”, does it ring a bell?… Nothing? Well, Alfred Bloggs worked as a dustman for the Ellesmere Corporation. Here’s an extract from the story:

“When he got married, Alf was too embarrassed to say anything to his wife about his job. He simply told her that he worked for the Corporation. Every morning, he left home dressed in a fine black suit. He then changed into overalls and spent the next eight hours as a dustman. Before returning home at night, he took a shower and changed back into his suit. Alf did this for over two years and his fellow dustmen kept his secret. Alf’s wife has never discovered that she married a dustman and she never will, for Alf has just found another job. He will soon be working in an office as a junior clerk. He will be earning only half as much as he used to, but he feels that his rise in status is well worth the loss of money. From now on, he will wear a suit all day and others will call him ‘Mr Bloggs’, not ‘Alf’.”

End of story. I first indulged in “The Double Life of Alfred Bloggs” as a 23-year-old novice teacher and found it funny. However, I wasn’t mature enough yet to get its underlying message.

Here’s another eye-opener. My first class in the secondary school graduated in the early 70s. A couple of years later, I bumped into Zsuzsi, one of the girls from that class. I greeted her cheerfully and asked how she was doing. “There’s no point in playing that game any more,” she said icily. “What d’you mean?” I stammered. “You never liked me, did you?” she said and walked on. She was right. I didn’t like her. Mind you, I’d always given her the best grade and made sure to hide my real feelings behind a reassuring smile. “Good teachers love their students,” training manuals warn us. Yes, but what if I don’t like some of them? Pretend affection perhaps? The trouble is that students, like Zsuzsi, can see through us. And they won’t forgive us, either.

For God’s sake, stop moralising, Peter.

Hey, who are you?

I’m your dummy self, and I won’t let you waffle. So what is it you’re getting at?

All I’m saying is that teachers lead a double life.

Especially you, Peter. You’re the biggest cheat.

Buzz off, dummy. I’m giving a lecture if you haven’t noticed. Let me get on with it, OK?

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The world is complicated

Of course it’s not only teachers who pretend. Everybody does. We play all sorts of roles, as long as we live. The child and the adult. The friend and the enemy. The worker and the boss. The happy and the sad. The awake and the sleeping. The living and the dead. We’re ventriloquists.

All of us?

Yes, all of us. There’s little Jamie, for example. He bursts out crying, then switches to laughing, then cries again, and so on, until you get muddled up. Now, is he laughing or crying? Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? Permeable borders, conflicting roles. There’re no black and white situations.

Not a particularly genuine discovery, is it?

This reminds me of an old tale (Mer?, 1996). The emperor orders his wise men to summarise all the knowledge of the world in one single book. As a result of long years of debate, the scholars produce a thick book. By this time, however, the emperor has grown old, aware that he won’t have enough time to read such a thick book. So he orders his scholars to condense their thoughts into one thin book. By the time it’s completed, the emperor is very old. He realises that even this thin book is too long. So he orders the wisest scholar to synthesize all the wisdom of the world in just one sentence. After long deliberation, the sage is ready to report. “What is it?” the emperor demands. And the wise man says: “The world is complicated.”

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Language is no less complicated

Mind you, language is no less complicated. Michael Bakhtin was a great Russian literary scholar and thinker from the first half of the 20th century. He used three key terms: heteroglossia, dialogism and ventriloquism (Bakhtin, 1981; Bakhtin, 1986). None of them is easy to understand.

So prick up your ears, folks.

Heteroglossia assumes the linguistic ability to select the most appropriate form to convey a communicative intention in a specific role. At the same time, it also implies that a word uttered in a particular situation at a particular time has a meaning different than it would have under any other conditions. In other words, heteroglossia refers to the coexistence and conflict between language and situation, text and context, the word and the world.

So far, so good. Now, what is dialogism?

A dialogue takes place to ease the tension which exists between the speaker and the listener. Or rather between the intended message and the interpretation of that message. How many partners are there in a dialogue?

Two or more.

Wrong. In the majority of dialogues, there’s only one participant, myself, carrying on an inaudible dialogue with my other self.

But that’s called a monologue!

Monologue is a misleading term, because it ignores the dialogic nature of any kind of interaction. Instead of the dialogue/monologue distinction, therefore, I suggest the terms, internal dialogue versus external dialogue. While in an internal dialogue I talk to myself in two or more voices, an external dialogue implies conversation between two or more individuals.

A friend of mine drew my attention to another interesting difference. The internal dialogue begins the moment I’m born (perhaps even in the womb) and ends when I pass away. It’s a non-stop process – I don’t switch off for a second. The external dialogue, on the other hand, is discontinuous, induced by situations which call for interlocutors. On such occasions, I pull the curtains apart, reveal my mind-screen, as it were, and turn on the sound.

Finally, whenever we say something, we speak through other voices. These voices are borrowed from past, present and future dialogues. Every word in language always half belongs to someone else, and thus the notion of sole ownership is a bogus one. A word becomes our own only when we populate it with our own intended messages. Bakhtin calls this ventriloquism.

Here comes me, the dummy, eh?

No, here comes the summary of this chapter. Today we live in a world of cognitive pluralism. We always have. In any culture and in any individual there exists not one, homogeneous mode of thinking, but many divergent modes. Hence the richness of linguistic expression. We speak in a poliphony of voices. Or in a cacophony. Nothing is stable in language and so there’s no clear window into the inner life of a person, for any window is always filtered through the glaze of language (Denzin, 1989). Words are elusive, and so are the people who use those words. All of us are… How shall I put it?

Hey, stop hurting us! What you’ve said so far is anything but uplifting.

Be patient, Dummy. Wait.

Anyway, when will you get down to us, teachers?

Right now. The title of the next chapter is “Teaching is messy.”

Oh, no! Not another put-down…

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Teaching is messy

Teaching is a hopelessly messy business. Perhaps more so than any other human endeavour. It’s a molecular activity, and yet it’s often trivialised and its complexities are ignored (Shulman, 1987). Why is it messy? First of all, because of its intricate structure. It involves a number of institutions and a number of participants: politicians, ministry officials, inspectors, syllabus designers, teacher trainers, school principals, and so on.

And teachers and students…

Obviously. There’re just too many agents involved. The second problem is that, while the main purpose of teaching is to bring about learning, people are capable of learning even without the teacher.

And often despite the teacher.

Exactly. On the whole, we haven’t a clue what kind of teaching induces learning.

Down with teachers! Is that what you’re getting at?

Not at all. Good teachers do exist. The trouble is that the practical wisdom of competent teachers remains a largely untapped source of insights (Feiman-Nemser & Floden, 1986). As John Dewey (1929) said, their successes tend to be born and die with them… Anyhow, instruction is just one duty of the teacher.

What other duties does she have?

Pastoral care. She also acts as a motivator, comforter, ego supporter and a surrogate parent. To use Maslow’s word, the teacher is an unlicensed therapist. In this role, she moves close to the students. Simultaneously, however, she wears the hat of the policeman. In her role as a policeman…

Sexism!

OK. In her role as a policewoman, she distances herself from her pupils. Every teacher is bound to oscillate between these two roles. Our work has an ambivalent streak to it. We’re chameleons.

In addition, there’s an array of other roles we play outside the classroom. The teacher in the staffroom, in the corridor, on a school trip, at home, in the street – carrying two big bags, one stuffed with exercise-books, the other one with all the shopping for the family. And all these roles demand verbal interaction. Teachers talk their heads off, as a rule.

But what about teacher talking time?

Rubbish! A day in our lives consists of a never-ending series of interactions as we play our diverse roles. All tangled up in a mess. Herculean efforts are needed to tidy up this mess.

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Conflicts

To make matters worse, the teaching operation is riven with conflicts. Conflicts lurk everywhere, in and outside the classroom. They feature in many guises, but most of them are caused by mixed responsibilities, demands and expectations, imposed by the groups and individuals who have a stake in education. And there we are, teachers…

Hopelessly struggling on – I hear you say.

I’m afraid so, yes. Let’s revisit the image of the good teacher. What’s she like? Well, it depends. Many people argue that the good teacher should be sober and morally impeccable. Others assert that, above all, she should be a strong person, a source of stability. Yet others claim that good teachers should be charismatic. And there’s a host of other qualities attached as reference points. Often in clear contradiction with one another. There’s no way we can reconcile these opposing views.

However, the real battle is waged not so much between the teacher and the other participants as between the two selves of the teacher. Pogo must be right in saying: “We met the enemy and he is us” (cited in Pajares, 1992: 319).

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Below the surface

Hm. The internal dialogue comes back with a vengeance, doesn’t it?

Exactly. By the way, these internal conflicts are far more fascinating, partly because they’re invisible. What is visible is just the tip of the iceberg, and the lower you dive, the wider and thicker the iceberg becomes. Soon enough, you find yourself in complete darkness. Scared, you push yourself up to the surface again.

Would you be a bit less metaphorical and more specific, please?

OK. You’re in the classroom and you do this and that and the other. For example, you engage in communicative tasks. What’s behind your decision?

A good deal of professionalism. Knowledge, skills and experience.

Fair enough. But why do you do communicative tasks rather than drills?

Because drills don’t develop communicative abilities.

How do you know?

Come on, this is obvious!

Are you sure?

I’m positive.

What d’you think of teachers who refuse to do communicative tasks?

That they shouldn’t be allowed into the classroom.

Thank you, dummy. You’ve done an excellent job. Now, look at the different layers of the iceberg. Visible behaviour above the surface. Below that: knowledge and skills ? thoughts and ideas ? beliefs and attitudes ? emotions and value systems.  All invisible and hence relevant, to paraphrase Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. And the deeper a component resides, the more it can predict overt behaviour (Pajares, 1992).

Several caveats are due here. Firstly, please don’t ask me to define any of these components, because we don’t have enough time.

And because you couldn’t explain them anyway.

That’s true; let’s leave the job of clarification to philosophers. Secondly, there’re no clear-cut division lines between these layers: interdependence is stronger than independence. Thirdly, and most importantly, our professional life is not self-contained – it’s largely determined by our personal life. Under the disguise of a school subject, we’re teaching ourselves: who we are, what we believe in, what we stand for, both as individuals and as employees of the education system (Claxton, 1990).

And there isn’t a moment of stability anywhere. Surface and deep levels on the one hand, and professional and non-professional domains on the other are in a constant state of movement. They often clash with one another, creating mismatches between teaching behaviour and the components underneath (Kennedy, 1996). In psychology, this phenomenon is called cognitive dissonance - an intriguing area for educational research, I should think.

But how can you investigate all this?

There’s only one way, I’m afraid. We have to get into the black box.

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In the black box

By using a hammer?

Or by asking teachers to talk about themselves. Don’t forget: people are essentially story-telling animals. They love talking about both their personal and professional lives. About their background and their life-style. About both happy and sad moments (Goodson, 1992).

Are you sure they’ll open up and tell you the truth?

There’s no guarantee for that. The trouble is that we can’t view ourselves accurately and objectively. Our lenses are inevitably distorted.

Then what’s the point of interviewing them?

I think the picture you get on the basis of teacher narratives is still a lot more reliable and complex than what you can obtain through mere lesson observation. Which is not to say that observation is useless.

Be that as it may, once we’ve gained insight into teachers’ heads, we’re more likely to understand what makes them tick. And to understand why they feel threatened by change (Claxton, 1989).

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The threat of change

Threatened? “Challenged” would be a more positive word, wouldn’t it?

Perhaps. In any case, it’s a platitude to say that everything in the universe is in a state of constant change. Education is no exception. We’re on the faultline, for ever sensing the scary tickle of tectonic movements. Changing theories, changing demands, changing students.

Becoming poetic again, eh?

Education is often said to be a conservative undertaking, and indeed teachers show a remarkable resistance to attempts to change them. This isn’t a birthmark, though. We’re conservative, because we need to have safe ground under our feet. Existing routines in the classroom provide a source of relative security, and any innovative idea is a threat to that stability (Prabhu, 1992).

But why this longing for security?

Why? Let me give you an example. Do you know how many interpersonal exchanges an ordinary teacher engages in in each lesson?

Not a clue.

Between two and three hundred (Jackson, 1968). Multiply this by six lessons per day…

Hatszor kett?, tizenkett?. Hatszor harom, tizennyolc. Annyit tesz, mint…

The sheer number, pace and variability of events call for quick fixes and established routines. Teaching is too complex and dynamic to allow for long deliberation and reflection. In fact, many of us run screaming in the opposite direction whenever we perceive the first whiff of change. I mean, teachers who have been on the job long enough.

Aren’t you going a bit too far, Peter?

I remember an in-service methodology seminar some twenty years ago. I’d been extolling the virtues of the Communicative Approach when an elderly colleague interrupted me. He said that the Communicative Approach might well work for some teachers and learners, but he’d continue to stick to Shakespeare. He said he’d been teaching English on nothing else but Shakespeare’s plays, and it had worked: most of his students had passed the state language examination, he claimed. I didn’t believe him then. I do now.

Because you’ve become more cynical, perhaps?

Cautious, not cynical. I no longer accept new concepts on trust. But I’m particularly suspicious of imported ideas.

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Tissue rejection and lamination

Another critic of globalisation…

Let me give you an example. Martin Lamb (1995) reports on an Indonesian experience. A few years ago, he ran an in-service training course for teachers of English. At the end of the course, he received wonderful feedback. A year later, he revisited the same group of teachers and interviewed them about the results of the course. Do you know what he found?

No, but I’m ready for the worst.

He found that none of the ideas the participants had received so warmly a year before left any mark on their daily practices. A typical case of tissue rejection.

What?

Tissue rejection. It’s a term borrowed from the medical sciences, where it’s used to describe failure in organ transplant, because the body’s immune system responds negatively (Holliday, 1994). A more subtle form of refusal is lamination (Claxton, 1984).

And what on earth is that?

Lamination refers to the attempt to lay new knowledge over old ideas, in the hope that it will lead to a transformation of beliefs. However, the results are only skin-deep. For all their goodwill, jet-in, jet-out experts seldom achieve more than lamination. Warmly welcome and then quickly forgotten. Therefore, you’d better take the success stories of short-term projects with a pinch of salt.

The point is that permanent and fundamental change can only be sparked off if we’re genuinely motivated to change. It’s an inevitable, but slow process. Especially changing our professional mindsets. So please don’t rush us.

Did you hear? Leave Peter alone! And let him drink a glass of water.

Thank you.

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The stressed teacher

Now comes the saddest part of my talk. Teacher stress. Under the veneer of self-confidence, teachers are shy people, and many of us suffer from an inferiority complex.

Poor Peter! You really need an ego-boost, don’t you?

There’re countless reasons for our anxiety. First of all, in the vast majority of countries teachers are underpaid and, as a consequence, held in low esteem. At best, respect is mixed with contempt. Secondly, teaching is a job which offers few opportunities of promotion. You start out as a teacher in your twenties and retire as a teacher in your sixties. Thirdly, teaching is a lonely occupation. I’ve read somewhere that we have peers but no colleagues (Feiman-Nemser & Floden, 1986). In the staffroom, we like to chat about all sorts of things – except our immediate professional concerns. Isn’t it typical that teachers hardly ever visit each other’s classes? Finally, the classroom is full of booby traps: one clumsy step and we suffer yet another loss of face before our students.

As a safeguard against such hazards, we resort to various strategies. For example, I know teachers who are always ready to strike unprincipled compromises (Prabhu, 1992).

Such as?

Suppose you have a class of seventeen-year-olds and there’s a disruptive boy, who keeps bubbling gum. At each explosion of the gum, the class breaks into laughter. Now, instead of telling him to stop it, you pretend not to notice. In order to avoid confrontation.

This is a rather desperate strategy, isn’t it?

And counter-effective too; a sure recipe for losing the students’ trust. Nothing can be more embittering than a situation where the students pity the teacher, and then pity themselves for being saddled with such a pitiable teacher (Dry, 1977).

Another strategy to ward off anxiety is escaping into compulsive work (Jersild, 1955). The trouble is that workaholism, like drugs, fails to bring sustained relief. Then there’re teachers who shower attention on students, only to get disappointed when gratitude is not forthcoming. This is a strategy particularly characteristic of those who are frustrated in their private lives (Salzberger et al., 1983). Yet others get bored, burnt out and apathetic – symptoms of what Charles Curran called “the sickness to teach” (in Stevick, 1980: 108)…

Let me finish this chapter with the candid words of a teacher, quoted by Guy Claxton (1989: 33):

“As the years passed I discovered that I had developed a special school ‘personality’ which was a distortion of myself. I had built it up, at first quite unconsciously, but later it became a deliberately assumed mask. The ‘personality’ had to conceal my natural impatience, my moods, my fatigue and make me appear endlessly dynamic and reassuring. With it I wooed the children to learn by setting out to entertain them. It became increasingly difficult to switch off, without my crumbling into a disintegrated heap. I discovered that I had become a ‘character’ and was fast becoming a caricature of myself.”

There’s no escape, folks. Where’s the hook I can hang myself on?

Not so fast, Dummy! There’re at least two escape routes. One is escape escape. That is, quitting. Have you heard this one?

It was Monday morning and Mum was having a tough time preparing her son for another week at school.

“I’m not going to school today,” the boy said.

“What’s up this time?” Mum asked.

“Nobody likes me. The teachers don’t like me. The kids don’t like me. I just don’t want to go anymore,” he complained.

“Pull yourself together,” said his mother. “You’ve just got to go. You’re 40 years old and the headmaster of the school.”

But seriously, if you’re really fed up, throw in the towel. Better for you, better for your students. Alan Maley (1992) says that teaching is a permeable job: easy to enter, easy to leave. Indeed, thousands of teachers drop out year after year. We all know why. On the other hand…

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On the other hand

For Christ’s sake, I’m sick and tired of your “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”. Why are you hedging your bets all the time?

I’m not. All I’m saying is that life offers no easy solutions. Have you seen the film “Fiddler on the roof”?

Yes, I have.

Do you remember Tevje, the milkman’s dialogues with God? He’s getting more and more desperate as his daughters, one after the other, decide to marry non-kosher guys. He demands an answer from God. However, as he realises that God doesn’t give a damn, he begins to look on the bright side. Those bridegrooms, on the one hand, are poor tailors, hot-headed revolutionaries or non-Jews, but on the other hand, quite nice chaps…

A Hungarian-born philosopher, Lakatos Imre (1978) said that blind commitment to any theory is not an intellectual virtue: it is an intellectual crime. So I am skeptical and ambivalent about everything under the sun… Here’s a story about a sage.

We’ve already heard that one!

No, this is a different story… Once upon a time, an old sage was asked by his disciples about the meaning of life. Unable to answer the question, he asked them to place him in a cave, give him enough food and drink, and then wall him for ten years. He said he’d ponder and meditate during his solitary confinement. So it happened. Exactly ten years later, surrounded by his disciples, the sage stepped out of the cave, tottering blindly, his beard long and mouldy. And he said: “Life is like a bottomless well.” The disciples stared at him in utter incomprehension. Finally, one of them broke the silence: “But why is life like a bottomless well?” To which the sage replied: “OK, then it isn’t like a bottomless well.”

Oh, you’re hopeless, Peter… Is this the end of your talk?

Wait! I haven’t explained the second route yet.

Why, is there a second one?

There’s always a second one, dummy! After I’ve messed up everything, it’s only fair to clean up the mess, isn’t it? Anyway, a good lecture should always end on a high note.

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Stay put

So, as I’ve said, there’re at least two escape routes for teachers. One is to leave the profession. The other one, paradoxically, is to stay. And stay as happy teachers. However, to achieve this goal, we have to bear a few things in mind.

Such as?

First of all, we have to accept the fact that teaching is a complex business. Instead of complaining about it, we should regard it as a privilege. Let’s not forget that most people waste their lives doing the most primitive jobs.

Secondly, as I said earlier, teaching is a messy occupation. This reminds me of a story. As a school-teacher I used to take my pupils to the country in the summer. We would choose the most backward villages and live there for a couple of weeks. A real eye-opener for my city-kids! Our stay would always include work in a farmers’ cooperative. One morning, we were told to clean up a stable. As we entered, we saw that it was covered with dung. Picture my kids’ faces!

Or yours…

First we pinched our noses because of the smell, but we soon realised that we needed both hands for the shovelling job. Then we tried to avoid physical contact with the dung – in two minutes we were covered with shit from head to toe. And then, believe it or not, we burst into laughter. It was fun to be turned into pigs. And we couldn’t stop laughing until the stable had become so clean that we could see our reflection on the floor…

Are you suggesting that the classroom is a kind of stable?

Worse than that. It simply cannot be cleaned up. So we’d better enjoy it as it is…

Thirdly, we should also consider that complexity implies unpredictability. If someone gives you advice on what should be done in a given situation, smile at them politely, and do the opposite.

In an interview, Hungarian Nobel-prize winner Szent-Gyorgyi Albert was asked how he would choose a new topic for research. He said he’d always start out from his hunches. After a period of incubation, he’d confide his rough idea to a couple of fellow-researchers. If they liked the idea, he’d chuck it. However, if they believed that he was on the wrong track, he’d give it serious consideration.

Strange logic, isn’t it?

In his view, only shocking or absurd ideas can hope to be genuinely innovative. All the rest can do no more than confirm the ruling dogma. Well-trodden paths didn’t whet his curiosity, you see.

Time to return to the classroom, don’t you think?

In the classroom, nobody is in a better position to resolve dilemmas than the teacher. Kibitzers know much less. Since groping in the dark is our default mode, a high level of ambiguity tolerance is a hallmark of good teachers.

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Act on impulse

But what if we don’t have the answer, either?

Then we should act on impulse. I say impulse, and not conviction, because convictions narrow down our focus. Legend has it that the 19th century American thinker and writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was once rebuked for saying something that was in sharp contradiction with what he’d said a year before. To which Emerson replied: “This only shows how much I’ve developed in one year.”

If impulse is the right form of response, we don’t need to plan our lessons. Is that what you’re saying?

Not exactly. We do need a lesson plan, if only to have something to throw away after the lesson has got going. Let’s act on the spur of the moment. Let’s keep up with the flow. Good teachers unfold the class in sync with their students’ responses, always ready to negotiate with them. Bad teachers, on the other hand, relentlessly stick to their agenda. In order to complete what they’ve planned to complete. They’re unable to switch from internal into external dialogue mode.

All I want to point out is that teaching contains a good deal of irrational element and creative intuition. Adrian Underhill (2000) is right in saying that “intuition is a human faculty ideally designed for working with complexity.” There’s no logical path to good teaching results.

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Is teaching an art?

Is teaching an art then?

Not in the strict sense of the word. It’s not in the same category as painting, music or dance. However, if art is something which can’t be carried out successfully by following a set of rules of thumb, then teaching is a form of art (Corder, 1973). It’s a highly individualised activity. Eric Hoyle said that a teacher is “like all other teachers, like some other teachers, like no other teachers” (1969: 40). I’d like to stress our uniqueness. In agreement with Lortie (1975) I believe that teachers are largely self-made. Although teacher education may provide various forms of assistance, the role of experience is far more crucial.

So you’re a better teacher today than you were 25 years ago. Is that what you mean?

Hmmm. I’m not so sure. Trouble is that while we’re getting more and more experienced, we’re getting more and more tired too. It’s a sad paradox…

But let me return to the relationship of teaching and art. Which form of art would you say teaching is closest to?

The theatre, isn’t it?

I couldn’t agree more. The teacher is a performing artist (Rives, 1979). A stand-up comedian at her best. Bad teachers are bad comedians, who must be pushed onto the stage, only to be dragged down after they’ve stammered their text to the last line. Good teachers, on the other hand, leap onto the stage and lose themselves in the act. At the same time, they know how to involve the audience, how to ad-lib and when to move on.

What you’re suggesting is that teachers are clowns. How embarrassing!

Only incompetent teachers feel embarrassed. It’s precisely this embarrassment that makes them unfit for their role.

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All that pretention

But isn’t there a good deal of pretention in playing this role?

No more than playing other roles. Just think of the physicians doing their rounds in the hospital. The professor strutting at the head, with his two assistants one step behind him, followed by the asssistants’ assistants and the nurses bringing up the rear. In the proper pecking order, everybody looking terribly grand. No winking to the audience, no asides. I find the choreography perfect, yet irresistibly funny…

It’s easy to poke fun at doctors. Don’t you think that teachers look just as ridiculous?

Oh, there’s no doubt about it! Nothing can be more ridiculous than a teacher who tries to behave like a teacher… This reminds me of an anecdote by the philosopher Johan Huizinga. On entering the children’s room, Father sees his four-year-old son playing with his electric train. As he bends down to kiss him, the boy says: “Don’t kiss the engine, Dad, because the carriages won’t believe that he’s real.”… Anyway, I no longer take myself so bloody seriously. And it’s much easier this way.

And what’s the students’ role in this set-up? The audience?

More than that. They’re involved in the show as partners, from beginning to end. There’s two-way communication between teachers and students. I believe that we can derive a great deal of satisfaction from this bond. And relief from our anxieties, too. Students are there to provide us with a constant source of success.

I thought they are there to learn…

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Don’t worry – be happy!

Anyway, we’ve run out of time, Peter. Time for the punch-line.

The punch-line? Let me make a confession instead. Throughout my career, I’ve done my best to enjoy myself. To squeeze as much pleasure out of my job as I possibly could. Sweat? Tears? Worries? No, thank you.. Humour? Laughter? Fun? Yes, please. I remember, when 20 lessons was the compulsory teaching load per week at school, I fought tooth and nail not to teach more than 20 – and less if possible. I didn’t want to become a teaching automaton. Against all odds, I wanted to remain a happy teacher.

Me, me, me! Always yourself. Do you ever consider what your students want?

I come first, they come second. Mind you, it’s not sheer egoism. There’s some logic in it, too.

I wonder what.

It’s as simple as this. If I’m unhappy, my students will be unhappy too. However, if I’m happy…

Then your students will be happy too.

Not necessarily. But at least they stand a chance.

Did you get it, folks? Don’t worry! Be happy!

[While the song "Don't worry, be happy!" is being played from the tape, this quote comes up on the OHP:

"People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that that's what we are really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical place will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive" (Campbell in Edge, 1996: 26).]

[↑]

References

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