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The Reasons That EFL Teachers Hate Teaching One-to-one

The reasons that EFL teachers hate teaching one-to-one

Post Series: Teaching practice

Throughout my teaching career I have noticed how generally unpopular one-to-one teaching is amongst my colleagues. By one-to-one teaching I primarily mean the face to face variety rather than online. Possibly hate is too strong a word; we could say that at worst it’s a case of hate and at best it’s some kind of vague general antipathy or dislike. It’s a rare thing to find someone who actively seems to enjoy it or even love it. Put it this way, it’s not something that many people cherish. Why would this be?

Don’t “sit” so close to me

The one-to-one teaching experience is uncomfortable for many classroom teachers because they aren’t used to having sustained contact with just one other learner. What they are used to is having a diluted interpersonal experience in the classroom in which they share themselves out more or less equally amongst what can be a large number of other people. Such a situations mean that the nature of a teacher’s interactions with individual learners in the classroom is often based on artifice and superficiality rather than depth and sincerity. So to sit and sternly face an audience of just one other person is a tough gig for most classroom teachers. There’s nowhere to run and nothing to hide behind; one’s role as a teacher is divested of its usual power – how can one “be” a teacher when one isn’t surrounded by people who all agree to regard you as one? Having nowhere to run means a teacher has to rely on personal resources that they aren’t used to using in teaching situations. Such as being oneself.

The personality thing

One of the most common complaints you hear from one-to-one teachers seem to relate to not “getting on” with a learner or finding them “difficult”.  Of course, EFL teachers love complaining about the personalities of learners in the classroom generally because they don’t fit the mould of what is expected of student behaviour. But with one-to-one teaching it is very common to hear teachers complain about how “draining” or “demanding” someone is. My theory about this situation is that the teacher is usually draining themselves by approaching the teaching in the wrong way. Rather than letting the teaching and learning be generated in the context of communicating with the learner, they instead attempt to “teach” someone in the negative sense of that word. Yet individuals who might be expecting the one-to-one lesson to be a rare opportunity to engage (for once) in meaningful language exchange with a native speaker instead find themselves forced to go through the charade of learning routines that really only work in the group and classroom context. If you approach something in the wrong spirit it will be draining and people will be resistant to your teaching charms.

Conclusions

I have little time for ELT orthodoxy and the intellectual vacuum within it.  Language tourism ELT is an industry which regards people as nothing more than a revenue stream and it’s unlikely that an an ethical relationship can be formed with anyone that you despise. EFL teachers are trained to form a partial and superficial conception of language learners not as people but as depersonalised learning blobs that one shunts around a classroom and engages with only on the most superficial of levels. So if your teaching practice is predicated on shallowness and superficiality it shouldn’t surprise anyone that working in one-to-one – a context when demands sincerity and genuine connection – is one which many teachers hate.

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