Maybe we became teachers because we like to be in control. But there is a problem with that. Real conversation between people, the good stuff, cannot be controlled. In a good discussion, no one voice dominates. Good talk is a dance among equals.
That is where the 50% rule applies. I think that that 50% rule is not followed in a lot of classrooms. The 50% rule means that we have to listen to our kids and they have to listen to us. It’s a two way street. We often think that this “two way” rule means that the onus of listening is on our students. But the onus of listening is on us, too. What does that mean?
To me, it means that we can’t let fear of losing control of the discussion rule our class. It means trusting in the majestic ability of language to unfold itself and enfold us in its arms. Language is so beautiful. It comes from something far greater than just the human need to communicate. It comes from something divine, and it expresses something divine.
Therefore, let us not fail to hear and be with our kids 100%, to listen to everything that they offer us in our L2 discussions. Just like when we are with our friends, sharing a wonderful meal, perhaps, we delight in the company and conversation of our friends. They are so beautiful.
So also, we personalize the discussion in every class. We make it all about them. Just as in discussions with our friends, we do our best to follow rules of decorum, and that’s what our classroom rules are. Rules are necessary in social setting.
Moreover, the quality of our program depends entirely on our preventing some set of words somewhere from driving our curriculum. When lesson plans rule, learning suffers, because spontaneity, the source of real learning, dies. An added benefit of this courageous teaching act of putting the students first and the course content second, is that we gain allies. Our students become our allies.
When that first happened to me, when I first realized in a class that my kids wanted to help me learn this weird way of teaching (I had asked them for their help), at some point around 2003, after a few years of struggling with it, I began to be myself in the classroom. Wow.
It took a lot to let go of that control guy that schools had molded me into, but it was worth it. When it first happens to you – when they suddenly look cherubic and not all gremliny and uglified, you will know what I am saying here. It is like, “You mean I can trust these kids to help me? Whoa!!”
And when I became myself, the kids naturally became themselves, and an entirely new perspective opened up to me in teaching. It was really cool, and I owe all of it to Susan Gross, who over many years trained me into what I describe above. Building honest relationships based on thrust with students is no game for the fainthearted. But it can be done. And, once done, most of the battle is over.