Whenever I feel I should do something in terms of improving my skills as a teacher, I present myself at an English teaching conference. At these events lots of fellow teachers gather to listen to presentations, network, meet publishers’ reps and try and snaffle some free samples of new textbooks. I admit that my wife and I go primarily for the last of these reasons. At previous conferences I have attended a few presentations and these have been quite informative and educational, but the problem is that the presenters always seem to want a bit of audience participation to show how their book or materials work in the classroom. I don’t blame them – it makes things more interesting – but I just wish they would sort of pretend I wasn’t in the room. You know, pick on other people.
A few years ago, I recall that in one crowded presentation we had to turn to the person next to us and read a paragraph in the manner described by the presenter. Hence he would say, ‘Softly’ and we had to read it softly, ‘Angrily!’ and we would change mid-sentence to read it in that manner. I was ever so grateful that I had my wife next to me as it was somewhat discomfiting to see pairs of grown men, who had only just met, reading passages ‘romantically’ to each other.
Recently, I was considering going to a presentation about some children’s readers I was thinking of buying, but when I spoke with the rep about them she said, ‘And I know you will just love the songs!’ revealing just how much she had misjudged me. I know songs have their place in the child’s classroom and, if it serves a purpose and if nobody is looking, I even sing a few myself. I rarely, however, enjoy them. Few things make me cringe more than catching the sight of myself, a grown man, singing, ‘Where’s Mr Thumb?’ It’s embarrassing enough performing only in front of five-year-olds, but to join in at a conference full of adults, well, I blush just thinking about it.
In the next few weeks several English teaching conferences are coming up in Japan . Some of the presentations look interesting, but I shall choose very carefully. Through traumatic experience, you see, I have discovered that it is necessary to avoid like the plague any presentation which claims to help you, ‘Liven up your kids’ classes’ or ‘Energize your lessons with songs and chants’. Disregard this advice at your peril, for it is spirit-crushing to discover that your professional development involves participating in the hokey cokey with a group of bald-headed, middle-aged strangers.