Giving Advice is Not Always the Best Way to Go

Giving Advice is Not Always the Best Way to Go

In the 1990's, I taught English to Adults. On one particular course, we had come to the stage where we were comparing the several different past tenses in English. As part of the lesson we had started an activity where the students were to write a short report on what they did, had done, have done, have been doing, were doing, etc.

In order to give the students an interesting context, I told them a story in the role of policeman, and asked them to write an alibi. I stood at the front of the room and in a knees-bend, hands behind my back, and theatrical policeman voice, I told them a story. You get what I was doing, don’t you? I included a sense of silliness and seriousness in the story-telling and the students engaged with the scenario of writing an alibi, and were rising to the challenge of the different past tenses. They were discussing the difference between “At 6pm, I was working at my office” or “At 6pm, I worked at my office”. Very productive and useful conversations about the English language.

A colleague had walked past the open door of my classroom and noticed the deep engagement of my students and, at the coffee break, asked me how I had achieved it. She had been struggling to get and hold the attention of her students and felt the need for some advice.

Young as I was, I gave some advice and told my colleague exactly what I had done, and left out the important details. I simply said, “Oh, I just arrested them and told them to write an alibi for yesterday evening”.

After the coffee break, my colleague went into her class and arrested her students, saying that some books had been stolen from the school and that everyone should write an alibi for yesterday evening. The students responded loudly, some left her course.

I don’t give advice any more, but I do guide teachers in making their own choices about how to become better teachers. I trained as a professional coach with the Coaches Training Institute, and I work as a Teacher-Coach, coaching teachers.

Martin Richards


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