What could be more weird than a language teacher who almost never speaks in class? Maybe a dancing teacher who can’t dance.
That’s what I did many years ago. The lesson was recorded and a kind person transcribed it but I’ve only now translated it into English and put it on line here: A Dance Lesson. The lesson couldn’t have taken place if my student (and friend) Christiane Rozet hadn’t trusted me and I hadn’t trusted her. It also helped that we both adhered to the same conception of how people learn and what the teacher’s role is.
Most of my professional life was spent quite otherwise: teaching a skill I do master myself. I’m a native-speaker of English who is lucky enough to both speak with a variant of RP and to write Standard English with very few hesitations. I also know quite a lot about the language: grammar, phonology, history, etc. Over the years, I’ve picked up hundreds of pedagogical techniques for “getting across” various aspects of the language. But all that can be a hindrance to being simply present to a particular student and responding to their needs “here and now”. Choosing to “teach” a subject about which I know next to nothing freed me from all that irrelevant baggage. It was scary but also exhilarating.
It was scary because I was taking a big risk in front of my peers: it could have not worked. I mean, the student could have learned nothing and I’d have looked foolish. (This did happen another time with a different student: she didn’t really trust me and so I couldn’t get her to work on her problems.)
It was exhilarating because I had only my student to guide me as to what I should say next. I couldn’t lead her because I didn’t know where she needed to go. I had to rely on her to express her problems with clarity so that I had a basis for suggesting something new. Christiane reread the article recently and commented: “What precision you forced me to have!” But from my point of view, it was she who was forcing me to be precise.
I dream of having more opportunities of teaching subjects I know next to nothing about, especially the ones that really terrify me, say physics or maths. Any takers?