Saturday, 19 October 2013



“Oh, um John, could you step into my office for a moment?”
“Sure. Wassup?”
“We’ve had a student complaint about your teaching from Class J27.”
“Really! I thought J27 was going quite well.”
“Well, they say you aren’t giving them enough opportunities to talk.”
“Oh God! They get spoken pairwork, group work, unison drilling, and question and answer sessions. As far as open discussions or free conversation is concerned, no, they aren’t talking. They can’t. They only have a total of about twenty English words between them. They don’t have the vocabulary, the grammar, the sentence patterns or the confidence to do any unprompted talking. I’ve tried it, and they dry up after thirty seconds.”
“Yes. Well, in future, please give them more opportunities to talk.”

Aaargh! Student complaints! Bosses give knee-jerk reactions whenever they hear a complaint, no matter how small, how unsubstantiated or how unjustified it is. The customer is always right; thus consequently the teacher is always wrong. And student complaints are elicited, welcomed almost, by the use of Student Feedback Questionnaires. Examine one of these closely and you’ll see it resembles a loaded gun aimed at the teacher’s head. “Does the teacher explain grammar points clearly?” Five ‘yes’ answers; five ‘not so clearly’ answers. “Um, John. Could you step in here…?” “Is your English improving as much as you’d like?” Five ‘yes’, three ‘perhaps’, three ‘no’. “Um, John….” The questionnaire never includes questions like “Is the school managed well?” or “Is your classroom too damn hot?” No, no, no, that could lead to loss of face.

So what does the teacher do when confronted by what he or she feels is an unjustified complaint? Argue? Hotly defend yourself? Say “OK, I’ll try and do better”? None of these is very successful or satisfying. My policy is:
1.       Go home.
2.       Have a beer.
3.       Forget it.

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