Just like in novels where one moment encapsulates a wider context, I said goodbye to some students on Friday and it suddenly illuminated a very big problem. These moments are called system insights: moments were as a teacher involved in a language school you suddenly see a means to improve the school’s efficiency or ESL curriculum.
This particular insight came as a result of an unusual set up at a major corporation: 4 students who only had the right to 8 hours of English every 3 months. As I said goodbye to these students we resolved that I be their teacher next trimestra. While shaking hands, however, I knew that it was unlikely (because I would then have regular hours at another company); even worse… I suspected that the next teacher who came along would use the same ESL materials that I’d just used.
Why? Because this particular school had no record of what its students were studying class by class; a good example of bad ESL logistics in a language school.
This group was at particular risk because they always requested classes in a specific area of business: shipping. Because this area is usually quite limited I knew that the next teacher would come along and do what I’d just done.
And just in case you doubt this, I’m certain of this point because it had happened to me. In the first class, they told me they had done exactly the same last trimestra; luckily, I managed to breathe some life into the theme and they were happy. Next trimestra, however, the teacher would have to have a totally new approach if the class wasn’t going to be a total waste of time.
In the ESL context, keeping records of what every student’s done is solid logistical practice. Personally, I find it a real pain in the arse and if I can get away without doing it – that’s good by me, but it’s clear that schools should keep records. And not only should they keep records, but teachers and directors of studies must have easy access to those records. It’s not just helpful for the teacher it’s vital to measure the progress of students. If you know the student opposite you has already done the present continuous 8 times and still hasn’t got it, then you know it’s time to start asking questions – either of the student’s commitment or modus operandi, or the manner in which he is being taught.
However, I’m also aware of another strand in this position. Students themselves should become more empowered and aware of their curriculum. Too many students just sit back and let the teacher run the show and when a new teacher comes – run a different show (and then later they complain). Students should be aware of what they’ve studied and be sure, when contacting the school to make clear where they want to go.