A big question raised by Jeremy Harmer’s IATEFL interview

I just watched a recording of Jeremy Harmer being interviewed at IATEFL Glasgow by the ubiquitous, Andi White and tech-head, Nik Peachey.

Firstly, is there anyone in the TEFL game that doesn’t love Jezza? Sometimes, I’ve heard it being said that Scott Thornbury polarises opinion {I personally like watching his stuff, just for the record…although he does go on about food quite a bit 🙂 } as do some other TEFL big names, but I’ve never heard a bad word about J-town Harmer. Have you?

Anyway, in the short interview, Jeremy plugged his new foundation level teacher training book. Actually, is that where all the goodwill comes from – that fact that most trainees encounter Jeremy’s legendary book during a stressful time and it’s like a godsend?

The topic of ‘English teachers who are also musicians/performers’ is raised. Jeremy confesses to being a failed singer-songwriter and Nik says that he is a failed jazz musician. They go on to mention others who have starred in Conference Open mic nights, including TESOL Fr legend, Bethany Cagnol, Russell Stannard…and Adrian Underhill opened and closed his Glasgow plenary by performing music. SGI’s very own Willy Cardoso is a bit of a player and surely, David Crystal would love to tread the boards as a Shakespearean actor, just like SGI DoS, Josh Round. I am also an amateur musician that spent a good deal of time trying to ‘make it’, as do a lot of teachers that I have come across (although not every teacher is a muso, actor or magician, of course). This is an interesting point and for me it raises a big question…

Should we let our students know that we have tried (unsuccessfully) to become famous performers?

Now, being a performer of whatever sorts obviously assists in the ‘pantomime’ of the TEFL classroom, but is it a good idea to let the students cotton on to the fact that..
a) Your real (or first) passion lies (or lay) elsewhere, other than in teaching
b) You are an ELT teacher because you failed at something else (that’s simplifying it a bit, but I’m sure that it is interpreted by many students as just that)

On occasions, I have let my students in on the secret that I’m a gunslinger guitarist…that was giving into egotistical temptation. However, when that happened I always felt that my respect as their professional teacher (not a traveller, who speaks English) had deteriorated somewhat. What was the point of doing all that CPD, getting more qualifications and trying to be the best teacher I could be in every, single lesson, if the learners suddenly thought, “Oh, he’s just a shitty musician, and NOT really into teaching, or us”.

Of course, teachers are allowed to have lives too and I think that they should bring their interests and anecdotes into the class: it’s only fair, isn’t it? Teachers ask students about their personal and professional lives constantly! But does this “I wanted to be something else” admission, cross a barrier that shouldn’t be broken for the sake of maintaining “We’ve got a good teacher that cares about our learning” status from the class members? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that teachers should be put up on a pedestal as “all-knowing-knowledge-givers”, but in my experience, when my classes have thought of me as a “fully-committed-to-the-teaching-profession” teacher (as I am), then it just felt like the classes, learner motivation and all the good shit just worked better…somehow.

Am I completely barking up the wrong tree? Is there any truth in what I’m saying? Let me know if you’ve had any similar experience.

Anyway, here’s Jeremy Harmer’s interview at IATEFL in full…

If you’re interested, here are all the other interviews from IATEFL Glasgow 2012. And here is the live IATEFL video channel.


Bren Brennan

About Bren Brennan

Bren initially trained here at SGI and then joined the staff in 2005. Since 2006, he has taught abroad in Budapest, Berlin and now at Mondragon University in Spain. He returns to teach at SGI London every summer and completed the SGI Trinity DipTESOL in 2011. He also regularly writes posts for students here.
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3 Responses to A big question raised by Jeremy Harmer’s IATEFL interview

  1. White coat says:

    The truth is I haven’t had a similar experience, but I just wonder, would you really tell your Ss that you wanted to be something else instead of being a teacher? The students would feel totally let down. It is as if (a metaphor again!) you told your new girlfriend that you were with her because you couldn’t be with the one you really love. Again, the way things are said is very often what matters: Ss hearing their fully-committed teacher say matter-of-factly that once he tried to be an artist will add up to the respect/admiration they have for their teacher, you know, not only is s/he a wonderful teacher but also an artist!. At least, this is what I would feel as a student.
    Good night!

  2. I suppose it all depends how you frame it. If you tell them that all you ever wanted to be was an actor, singer, musician, writer… and that you are a teacher because you failed and couldn’t find anything else to do, then yeah, your students won’t feel too great.

    If, however, you tell them that you had a dream to be an actor or whatver and to help pay for it you taught English, but after a while you realised that you weren’t going to fulfill your dream and also realised that you loved teaching. After these realisations you decided to put all your energy and time into the being the best teacher you could be, then most people will accept this.

    Does anybody believe that there are many people in the world who grow up actually wanting to be an English teacher?

  3. Pingback: Is empathy the no1 characteristic of a great English teacher?

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