By Ian Perry
Nicola Meldrum, course director of Oxford TEFL’s Diploma TESOL course in Barcelona, gave a presentation addressing the importance of the teacher’s presence in the English language classroom. This “pedagogy of presence” focuses on the way teachers engage with their learners and encourage them to engage with each other.
Nicola took as her starting point a recent article by James M. Lang in which he argues that teachers can be more present with their learners by becoming more conscious of, and thinking more deliberately about, the ways in which learning happens and the role teachers play in this this. Are we in the classroom to explain, to entertain, to motivate, to inspire?
Nicola used the example of her daughter’s enthusiasm for a new teacher who talked to the children about her own life to illustrate how personal content in a lesson can help build connections between teacher and students, and how content and context can introduce, reinforce and consolidate language. Each teacher has an interesting and valid voice, and bringing this into the classroom can be motivating for students, as the classroom then becomes about human relationships as well as language.
Scott Thornbury has suggested that we spend too much time on the managing and mechanical aspects of teaching, and argues there should be more focus on the value of the teacher as both a source of input and an interactional partner. Nicola suggested this means teachers shouldn’t change their persona in mid-lesson, switching from friendly and interactional during the warm-up to distant and formal for the “teaching” part of the class. Rather, during the whole lesson teachers must be prepared to go “off-script”, as when teaching is unscripted it’s often at its most engaging. The teacher should relax and let the students initiate conversations.
This approach brings a number of benefits to students. “Personalised” classes have a closer connection to real life English, and the focus on conversation provides learners with what they most want and need. More teacher interaction engenders more student motivation and offers the potential for more fun and interesting lessons, with learners experiencing the learning process more deeply and developing their own methods of growing their language knowledge.