So there I was, having lunch with another teacher of English here in Japan. He was someone who had been more than generous in sharing his knowledge and the benefit of his experience (largely via the ETJ email lists), someone from whom I had learned a great deal, someone to whom to this day I feel greatly indebted.
That day I was visiting his classroom to observe him in action, to see how he made his classes fly. Or purr. Or chug along. You get the idea. We had been chatting about this and that between classes, when out of the blue he surprised me with a question: “Tell me, Alan, what is your philosophy of teaching?” Instantly, my mind went blank and my face went slack at this deep and totally unexpected question. You could have knocked me off my chair with a dead fish. Or a live one. Really, any good-sized fish would have done the job.
“Yes,” I thought to myself. “My philosophy of teaching. Right. I have one of those. I know I do. What is it again?” I began to rummage chaotically through my mind for the misplaced teaching philosophy. (If one must rummage in a place where chaos reigns, chaotic rummaging is the way to go.) “Where is it?!” I silently hissed to myself. “I’m sure it was here just a minute ago! Hmmmm. Let’s see now—If I were a pedagogical philosophy*, where would I be?”
This was all internal, you understand. All my companion saw was my slack face. Possibly drooling slightly. After a long, uncomfortable silence he eventually took pity on me and changed the subject.
But here we are today, and I can tell you confidently that I do indeed have a teaching philosophy. An over-arching view that underlies all my teaching. (Yes, that’s right: It both over-arches and underlies. You got a problem with that?) And here it is:
Language is a puzzle.
In language, there are pieces (words and phrases) that fit together in certain patterns (grammar and syntax). Like a tangram, the pieces can fit together in a variety of ways, but not all ways work. Language learning is about—or at least should be about, in my opinion—learning the pieces and developing skill at recognizing and emulating the patterns.
So now you know why this blog is called “The Language Puzzle.”
But wait. I’ve actually only given you half an answer to the question of what my pedagogical philosophy is. I have explained what I think language learning is about, but I have not said anything about how I think one should go about teaching language.
That will be in my next blog entry. I will discuss my basic approach to teaching English—the how and the why.
In the meanwhile I invite you to sum up your own teaching philosophy and share it in the comments section below.
* note: Yes, I know that I replaced ‘teaching philosophy’ with ‘pedagogical philosophy.’ It seems to me that the word ‘pedagogical’ doesn’t get used nearly as much as the word ‘teaching’, and I’m afraid it might get to feeling unwanted. Poor thing. Besides, I don’t know a lot of big words, so I try to use the few I do know now and then just to show off a bit. Impressed?