Banishing the myth

Published on 26th August, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

The most shocking realisation in my teaching career was being forced to acknowledge that teaching does not equate with learning.

As a teacher, you may focus in on a language structure – either in a single lesson or over a series of several – only to then hear your students misusing it or avoiding it only moments later, outside a controlled practice activity. Students use it correctly when you are hovering near them in practice, but when use of the language is required in real-time, it is as if they have never been taught the form!

This was a defining moment, when I acknowledged to myself that my input was consequently only of limited value, and that students are likely to need to encounter a structure, pattern or more complex item several times, possibly in different contexts, for it to become part of their active repertoire. This then begs the rather pessimistic question: is it worth teaching it in the first place?

The truth is that not only do most students need to encounter a structure on many occasions, it also needs to strike a chord with them and their needs at the time: they need to be ripe and ready for it; they need to be at a certain point in their development. So, my tip this week is to accept your limitations as a teacher with humility, but at the same time, don’t interpret students’ mistakes or misuse of newly learnt language (necessarily!) as evidence of poor teaching. At the same time, bear in mind that although students might not be absorbing the main focal point of the lesson, they may very well be taking in other, more ‘peripheral’ language.


  • A very true tip and encouragement for me!! A great reminder that we don’t have to be ‘the ideal teacher’.

    Alisson Ong on 26 August, 2010
  • What a relief! I’m not the only one who goes through the pains of “What has gone wrong? So many exercies, examples, passed tests and then the structure evaporates from my students’ minds? What a horrible teacher I am!”

    Anna Low on 21 September, 2010