My Thanks To …
My thanks go to Maggie Leber (twitter: MaggieL) for prompting this post, and to Michael Fawcett (twitter: teachernz) and Michael Jozefowicz (twitter: ToughLoveforX) for previously providing me with a lot of background that has gone into this post.
Regular readers will already know that I teach students with levels ranging from diploma level to the intellectually challenged. (Readers who find the last two words of the previous sentence to be offensive are invited to replace them with a non-offensive equivalent.) A recent exchange of tweets with Maggie Leber prompted me to ponder the different ways in which my students use language.
I should add that in the two cases detailed below, both students were native English speakers, and that their names have been changed to protect their anonymity.
Let me introduce “Betty”. She has only borderline intellectual disability (you wouldn’t know it if you met her in the street), and suffered much abuse at the hands of her stepfather when she was a child. One day in class she said to me “I want a word with you!”. Needless to say, my heart skipped a beat, but I kept an appearance of calmness. We left the classroom, and sat down together on a wall outside, at which point she poured her heart out to me. What then became immediately apparent was that she was using English in the best way that she knew how to communicate something to me that was very important to her.
Now for “Christine”. Christine was doing a Diploma level course in network engineering. One day, she took me quietly aside from the class and confided to me that she was entering a bout of mental illness (which she knew she would be able to manage) but she was worried about how it might impact on her academic progress. We agreed a course of action, and she went on to pass the course.
If anybody from the diploma course had said the same thing as Betty, it would have had a completely different meaning from the one Betty intended.
I had been aware of, but had not put into words, that different people use the same words to mean sometimes completely different things, and that context can be crucial in eliminating the ambiguity. It has been Maggie’s promptings that have allowed me to externalise that understanding. (As an aside, I have not found this to be made explicit in the teacher training courses or the CELTA course which I have attended.)
By way of a da capo, I would like to thank Maggie for helping to move from unconscious-competent to conscious competent in that area. This will allow me to be a more effective teacher in future.