There was an intense exchange on the TESL-L listserv recently
regarding how teachers can respond to a situation in which
their own sense of what their students need seems to clash
with the curriculum and policies at the place where they teach.
Here is my brief contribution to this important discussion.
There have been some very interesting and closely
related queries on the list yesterday and today
regarding the dilemma a teacher faces when his/her
assessment of the needs of the students conflicts
with the school's curriculum and materials.
In the ideal ESL/EFL program, such a conflict would
result in the school making changes in its curriculum
to more closely match what the teachers say the
students need. In that same ideal school, teachers
would encourage and train their students to express
their needs and interests, as the starting point for
changes in the curriculum. Christopher Candlin has
written and spoken about this ideal very eloquently.
In reality, however, we know that there are about
as many different dynamics as there are distinct
programs and schools. I've been in programs where
there was no written curriculum and teachers were
completely free to develop their own syllabuses; I've
also been in programs which forced teachers to follow
a tightly-controlled textbook plan. And I've supervised
teachers, trying to toe a fine line between encouraging
creativity and requiring a certain standard.
Early in my ESL career, I was fortunate enough to spend
a few months working with Keith Pharis, then the director
at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale's Nakajo campus
in Japan. He told me that as teachers it is important to
recognize the difference between rules and policies
which "impede" our teaching and others which simply
"impinge" on what we do in the classroom. It serves
not only the institution but our students best when we
try to be less selfish and look for ways to work within
the curriculum, ways to make it work for them.
By Robb Scott
Editor, ESL MiniConference Online
2002 ESL MiniConference Online