Disconnect between teachers and learners - The New Indian Express

Disconnect between teachers and learners

Published: 26th July 2013 01:32 PM

Last Updated: 26th July 2013 01:32 PM

I am writing this column on the eve of the Eighth International and 44th Annual ELTAI (English Language Teachers’ Association of India) Conference at SRM University, Chennai from 18 to 20 July. The theme of the conference is ‘21st Century Learner: Learning Styles and Strategies’. I have been invited to take part in a panel discussion on the topic ‘The disconnect between teachers and learners in the English classroom’. 

The term ‘disconnect’ in the English language teaching (ELT) context can be defined as an instance in which a teacher of English fails to connect with learners and hampers learners from learning the English language effectively. In simpler terms, ‘disconnect’ is an instance in which the teacher distances himself/herself from learners. The topic implies that teachers of English are expected to connect with their learners. 

The answer to the question of whether there is a disconnect between teachers and learners in the English classroom is YES and NO. In most cases the answer is YES and in a few cases NO. ‘Disconnect’ in this context is not an alien concept in India. Even after 14 years of learning English (from LKG to Class 12) and having English-medium education for over a decade most students who begin their tertiary education are not able to converse in English or write without grammatical errors. Many students who lack proficiency in English are scared of making presentations in front of an audience, taking part in group discussions or appearing for a mock interview. It affects not only their academic performance but also their career. Such students with poor English language skills or communication skills face rejection in campus recruitment. Most educational institutions have failed to enhance their students’ English language skills. Who should be blamed for this? The education system? English language teachers? English language learners?

This tragic reality or situation is a clear indication that there is a huge disconnect between teachers and learners in the English classroom. Twenty-first century English language learners are different from learners of the previous century. Their learning styles are different. Their language needs are different. Are teachers ready to accept these differences? Do they treat these differences as challenges or opportunities? Are the teachers ready to match teaching styles with learners’ learning styles? Are they ready to undergo a paradigm shift? 

We have five categories of English language teachers:

1. Teachers who have language proficiency, pedagogical skills and professional skills

2. Teachers who have language proficiency and pedagogical skills but lack professional skills

3. Teachers who have language proficiency but lack pedagogical skills and professional skills

4. Teachers who lack  language proficiency but have pedagogical and professional skills

5. Teachers who lack language proficiency, pedagogical skills and professional skills

Only the first category of teachers — teachers who have proficiency in all three — can connect with students and enable them to become effective learners. They are reflective teachers. They reflect on lessons they are going to teach, lessons they have taught, the target learners and their learning styles, their interactions with learners, learners’ feedback, etc. Professional ethics here means teachers are morally bound to connect with students. 

Passion for teaching and a desire to connect with their students are two important characteristics of successful teachers.

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