Yesterday I had a phone interview with an English school for a teaching position. After some thought I have turned them down because the head English teacher who I was speaking with told me that the school's philosophy was that learning English was very much 'a step by step process', and thus the curriculum was completely fixed and no additional materials were to be introduced into the classroom.
In my opinion this is a stupid misinterpretation of the language learning process. Anyone who espouses this view is confusing language improvement with the learning process itself. While one will improve incrementally as they learn a language (step by step so to speak) the learning process is chaotic and cannot be predicted. For example when I was learning French, there were times when I was very comfortable with a conversation or a text, and other times when I was completely lost (group conversations in particular), sometimes I studied stuff that was way too advanced and other times very simple stuff. My improvement was linear but my learning process was all over the place.
I think having a fixed curriculum for learning a language is wrong because it constricts the extent to which variety, enjoyment and interest can be exploited. For example if I find that a class is particularly interested in learning about American food culture and singing catchy pop songs, then I'm going to want to incorporate more of that (and related areas) into my lessons. But a step by step curriculum is boring and predictable. It forces the students to follow the teacher, when it should be the teacher responding to the students and reacting to how they react to the language. You can't have a 'one size fits all' English curriculum which treats students like cakes on an assembly line, slowly moving along toward the 'finished product' because it ignores the fact that language aquisition is an unpredicatble and personal experience which needs to take place within a real world context.
In sum I found the school's philosophy badly out of date. What are your thoughts on this?
I can understand that they want to provide a sound base and - if it is like in Britain - they may have to follow a strict curriculum themselves. Nevertheless, it seems to me that unless they already provide a wide - and a mean wide - range of material, their approach seems to stifle the teacher's enthusiasm perhaps even more than the pupils' (and that cannot be good for the students).
I fully agree with you. I don't find language learning to be a step by step process, where we nail down the basics first. It is very much a fuzzy process where the greatest engine of success is our motivation and curiosity. If these can be turned on, success is ensured. Many school programs don't understand this. They are often resigned to the fact that most students won't learn much, so they set up their own goals for what they want to teach, rather than goals about what each individual student might learn.
I think it is true that innate motivation is the best way to learn a language.
However as a (former) teacher I feel stongly that there are some people who will never be innately motivated. I have failed to motivate them as a teacher, and other perhaps better teachers than I have failed. Yet there is much money flowing from these students or their parents for the goal of learning. This is perhaps what the school is targeting.
"For example[,] if I find that a class is particularly interested in learning about American food culture and singing catchy pop songs, then I'm going to want to incorporate more of that (and related areas) into my lessons. "
If I play devil's advocate, I will [To play devil's advocate, let me] point out that the students who constitute the class never have the same interest in the same thing. If the majority of the students in the class are interested in American food culture, it is probable that some students will show little enthusiasm for it. For these students, the extra material can be just as boring as the 'step-by-step' curriculum. I think that the step-by-step approach, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad.
I strongly believe like a teacher with 25 years of experience that 'step-by-step' way of language studying is good, effective and reasonable. This way let you reach the first level and then go to the second level and so on and not to jump like a goat below the surface of difficult for your current level texts, never coming close to the heart of the matter. But of course the 'step-by-step' method doesn't mean that you have to use only the facilated and a bit artificial texts for beginners, but just using the texts that you can understand, not the texts with 70% of unknown words which you never could remember.