You’re talking… but is it teaching?

​Words: 1446

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Hey y’all, I’m back and this morning as I sat on the swing drinking coffee, after devouring cinnamon French toast, I was trying to focus on my curriculum writing; however, something kept popping up in my head and now I have found myself at my computer typing. Funny how things work in my brain. I figured I might need to write it down or I will lose it….my memory, is not as good as it once was.

So, what was in my head at this early hour of 5:30am? This thought:

Are my kids learning or just regurgitating sentences and information?

Too many times, I have heard…

“oh, but they already learned that….”

Really? Did they actually learn it, or did you talk to air about this topic? Did you ask a lot of questions and teach it, or did you say a sentence and they repeated it like parrots?

Are you teaching topics or following a mandated time calendar that says: “Unit 1…be finished in two classes and then move on?” If you are following the time calendar and clock, then I can almost guarantee, they didn’t learn anything.

Teaching and speaking, are not the same thing.

Picture this with me:

You go into the classroom of 12 kids, all sitting nicely in chairs. How are you? All the kids say, “I’m fine. Thank you, and you?” Wonderful. Then you answer, “I’m good, are you good?” And they look at you like you grew two heads. Ugh! This is not learning, this is regurgitation of what they been taught to say after they hear the words, “how are you.”

Then you ask, how’s the weather? And they say, It’s sunny. …wonderful… hooray, they know weather. So, you say how is the weather today? And they look at you, once again, like you grew two heads. You might say, look outside, is it sunny or cloudy? They don’t turn their heads, they say, it’s sunny. Really? Are you sure? Let’s go to the window, come on, get up, walk to the window. They have no idea what you want them to do. They don’t have a memorized sentence for this and they don’t understand, outside or window or get up. They know stand up and sit down, but “get up”? They might know “point to the window, point to the door”, but walk to the window, walk to the door, go to the window, go to the door?

They haven’t learned. They’ve repeated and memorized and they can mimic. This is the beginnings of language development, not learning. You haven’t taught, you’ve introduced. It’s not time to move on to a new unit. It’s time to reinforce and teach what was introduced.

You can’t teach English without teaching them all of the various ways one question can be asked and answered. You can’t teach and expect them to learn without spending time on one area. If you want to move on to the next unit before foundations are built, then you are doing the next teacher a great disservice because then, the next teacher, has to go back and teach what they should have already learned from you.

Have you heard this before? How long will this book take to teach? It has 9 units.

I absolutely hate this question. How am I supposed to know how long it will take to teach it? I have no idea the level of the students or if they have any foundational learning skills. I don’t know how long it will take for them to understand and comprehend the information. I tell my parents up front, that I don’t know because different students learn in different ways and I have no idea how their student will learn or how much time it will take. They may learn the information in a month, maybe two months or even longer. I’m a teacher, I don’t accept that children are learning just because they can repeat.

Mmmm, reguritated. 

Or what about parents saying this: My daughter has learned English for 3 years, she should have higher level classes.

Oh, I just love this one, about as much as I love seeing that my dinner is still looking at me after it’s been cooked and put on a plate in front of me. Yeah, that much. Anyway, wonderful, great, let’s see what she knows.

My first class with a student is always a “get to know you” class. I quietly assess what they already know and what they don’t know through a series of conversations, readings, games, etc. That student that has had 3 years of English teaching doesn’t know much. She can regurgitate the basic answers to basic questions (I know this because I’ve been in so many schools in China that I know what is “taught”), but when I ask in a different way, I get the “look” of panic like she must have forgotten something.

I might give a picture of a yellow duck on a blue pond and as her to tell me about this picture. It’s a duck…ok, yeah. Where’s the duck at? There’s the look. Ok, move on…what kind of duck? Again, the look. What’s the duck doing? Again, nothing. I give her a sentence…” the yellow duck is swimming on the blue pond”. She reads it perfectly. Again, I ask the same questions…. again, the “look”. 

Nope, this child has wasted 3 years of her life she will never get back because she didn’t have a teacher. She had a jumping monkey with flash cards who followed the educational regurgitation method and moved on following a calendar and time clock of hours.

Having to explain this to parents, is the hardest part of being a teacher. How to explain that they spent bookoos of money at some high-priced language school, yet their child doesn’t know English any more than they do?

bookoos = southern slang for “buttloads” means “a lot, to the point of excess/waste”

I have been in education for over 30 years. I have taught ESL students, I have visited schools in other countries and I have been an English Teacher in another country. In all my years of experience, I have never seen anything like what they call “teaching” here in China.

Never once have I encountered such a group enamored by flash cards and fly swatters. Never once have I heard of the crazy amounts of money being exchanged for something so basic! And then hear “teachers” say, “I’m not paid enough”

REALLY?!?  What exactly are you doing to earn that much money? Lessons plans are done for you, flash cards are pre-made, and songs are provided TO you. All you do is show up, jump around and have the kids “hit” the flash card.

Pro Teacher Tip: 

Don’t give students swatters or hammers and turn your back.

That is a recipe for danger.

It’s plain crazy and makes no sense to me at all!  There’s no educational value in these rooms. There’s no teaching going on and there’s no work being done by the people making bookoos of money. But, then again, I really don’t understand how someone straight out of high school with a white face can be deemed a teacher and someone who worked for their education without a white face and has more experience, can be deemed unemployable. The only explanation I have found is that too many people in this country don’t understand the concept of teaching. 

From my observations, it’s all about doing what you’re told, saying what you know to say and following rules. The problem is that English is a multifaceted language without rules. I say this because for every rule in the English language there is an exception. When I get asked, what is the rule for such and such…. I just laugh. The rule is such and such except when such and such happens then there is no rule, rhyme or reason. It just is.

Are you ready to learn… How do I “teach” and not just speak?

That’s easy, throw the book, the flash cards, the flyswatter and that time clock calendar in the trash (unless you have flies in the room, then keep the flyswatter). No, not physically, but yes, figuratively. No, I’m not against flash cards, they have their uses, but they need to be used properly. Pictures walls and word walls are great. Use those pictures for visual references and match the words to the pictures. A literacy rich environment is the best environment, but really? Slapping flash cards for 40 minutes a week, isn’t teaching anything. It’s a waste of your time and their time and parent’s money. 

How much would you spend on hiring this jumping white monkey?

Parents in China seem to like to have a “book”. Seems to be an unspoken rule that to learn English you must have a book. Think of the book as a skeleton. It’s a great guide, but not always appropriate. Create your skeleton, but don’t forget to add in all the necessary things to it through supplemental activities.

Some books are just bad. They have lots of cartoon issues.

But those pictures of pink elephants in tutus are so cute! you might think. Yeah, but really? When have you seen a pink elephant in a tutu in real life besides at the circus? When introducing concepts, use real items or at least real pictures (I’m not suggesting bringing a real elephant into the classroom, but….). 

Those cute pictures can come in later, AFTER they already know what an elephant is. For example, when teaching colors and animals together. Find the pink elephant, find the blue one, ok, now where’s the giraffe, is there a purple giraffe somewhere? Which is real, the pink elephant or the grey elephant? Bring me the real elephant, now bring me the fake elephant. Create your own elephant. If you could have any color elephant as a pet, what would it look like?

Ask questions in different ways. Ask questions in a formal way, ask them informally. Greetings are never the same for everyone, teach them to greet formally and informally. There’s differences between how you are feeling and how are you. There’s differences between how you have been and how are you today. Teach those things.

Ask, analyze, change. Review, review, review. Get them up and moving, get rid of that line of chairs sitting in front of you. Have them stand, move to different places in the room. Play action games that involve gross motor and fine motor development. Keep their brains sharp, move quickly and come back to the concept. Stay too long waiting for an answer from one child and the others are dreaming of chocolate candy and have no idea what is going on. Kids get bored. Keep them on their toes.

English only environments should be English rich…. spoken and written.

Spelling is good, but comprehending is better. Read the word, find the matching picture, give a sentence using the word. Tell me about the picture using the words we just introduced.

Folks, I could go on and on. I know, I’m an education junkie here to the T. But this is rather lengthy, and I need to get busy with lessons, so I’ll bid you a good day. Go forth and TEACH English…. let’s knock out the educational regurgitation together.

Go Warriors, Go Pirates…. you can do it!

As Always,

Be Kind,

With Love,


Other articles by Christy:

Order & Chaos: Classroom Management

Open Letter of Support

E for Enthusiasm! (How to Be a Pirate Teacher Series Part 5)

Who is Christy? I’m just a simple country girl who wanted to make a difference in children’s lives by becoming the best teacher/model I could. I want to promote teachers to be more than just a person in a room. I want to help them to love and guide all children to become the best person they can be. I truly believe all children deserve a chance, but those who are less likely to achieve greatness, need the most, loving, kindest teacher they can possibly have because they probably do not get this from anywhere else. We have the ability to shape and guide these children and lead on to greatness and life they deserve.

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