GUEST POST: The Breakfast Club’s Guide to ELT

This is the first guest post ever on LivingLearning and I am delighted to welcome my best friend David Mansell (@HebrewH) as its writer. David blogs at Standards and Practising about his life in Korea. David’s been in Korea a number of years and has a lot of insight into the classroom and a creative way of expressing it. 

David bravely and creatively took up Michael Griffin’s blog challenge in his post Major League ELT with this brilliant Guide to ELT from The Breakfast Club. From here on out, I will let him speak for himself. 


So this is a bit of a departure for me. I don’t normally do Blogs on TEFL teaching, at least not in a serious way. In fact, not even semi seriously. So,maybe I should preface this by saying the writing will only be semi serious at best. Also, I am sure people in the TESOL community will be tearing their hair out at both my improper use of ELT language, and at the conclusions I have reached in my classroom.


Cool beans.
So Anne, my very best friend and an absolute beast of ELT, linked a post to my FB wall, in lieu of having a proper chat because , well, 21st Century. It was an excellent blog post on learning new TEFL philosophy from our favorite movie moments. The blogger in question has done the Big Lebowski and Major League so clearly he is a film connosieur of the Fourth Order. Anne wanted me to do something similar.


My problem here of course is that me choosing a movie is next to impossible. I love movies. I love them like a fat person likes pizza. One slice is never enough and the idea of a single favorite topping is rikonkolous. Top Five movies always switch around, so i have chosen a movie that stayed in the Top Five for the longest time.

The Breakfast Club.

Man, I love the Breakfast Club. I love that it is utterly unlike any school experience I ever had, in my single sex British middle class life. I love that five children would be left alone for an entire day in a school building, to smoke weed and dance. I love that Emilio Estevez pretends to be 17, when he looks like he was born in his thirties. I love that Judd Nelson is bad ass guy from the wrong side of the tracks. HA! Delightful.
And so many lessons….

We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.

This opening salvo starts off the movie and it is so true. Students often get identified by their teacher by their first meaningful interaction. A kid acts grumpy on his first day of the academy semester, the teacher will mark him down as a problem child. All other interactions will be colored unfavorably from that moment on. If a kid is shy, a teacher sighs and ‘accepts’ they are essentially a lump of meat in the classroom. If a student is a model of virtue, you will trust them with the books forever and a day. Well, hold on Sparky. Are you the same person, the same character every damn day of your life? I think it is fair to say, no, and neither are your students. Little Miss Priss will be cool another day, that perfect student will act out on occasion. Be fluid, roll with the changes.

See, you’re afraid that they won’t take you, you don’t belong, so you have to just dump all over it.

Said by Claire to Bender. Often, when a teacher works with young kids, the kids are into the stupidest things. What the hell is the deal with the plastic toys they lay on the ground then slap with yet more shapeless plastic lumps? I have no idea. But my kids are into them. Perhaps instead of dumping on them, I can learn more about them. Then I can make a lesson using them, or the mythos surrounding them. Some of my middle schoolers were really into weird japanese stories, examples of Otaku culture. We did almost an entire semester on insider/outsider culture. My previous recalcitrant girls were pushing themselves to express their emotions when talking about a Japanese dude marrying his computer girlfriend. If I had just dumped on their thing, that semester and their english development would have suffered.

You ask me one more question and I’m beating the shit out of you.

Man, I feel like my kids give me the stink eye Juguleh almost all the time. And it’s totally fair. I am constantly asking questions. I am always interfering. WHAT THE HELL, TEACH? BACK OFF ALREADY. Well, yeah, that’s one great reason why limiting the level of teaching talking time works. Instead of me being the Great Inquisitor, the other students can ask each other. Now they are having a conversation and they can be silly with it. They can check each other’s pronunciation and they are not wilting under the gaze of me and their peers as they struggle to remember an answer.

Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.

Man, lesson plans are great ideas but sometimes, they just fall flat on their face. You can either try to bring it back online, cry in a corner or switch it up. Really, this is similar to my first lesson but the first lesson is soooooo good. Be flexible. Kids like structure in their classroom, but don’t be afraid to read the room. If they are bored, if they are not understanding, if there is not active learning occurring, find a way to keep the lesson going. Do not Corpse and play possum. Your kids will thank you for not freaking them out.

Andrew Clark: What do they do to you?

Allison Reynolds: They ignore me.

Andrew Clark: Yeah… yeah.

Earlier in this article, I played a nasty experiment on you. I referred to some of my students as Lumps Of Meat. If you didn’t rage and raise your fist at the page and swear vengeance, you failed a little. That’s okay, I still love you. And besides, I also have done it. problem kids get all the negative attention and we clock their hours versus the hours spent on the rest of the class with also a ghoulish fascination. We never notice how much more time we spend on the ‘good’ students, the ones we know will have the correct answer, will put their hands up, the ones we can have a actual conversation with. But how does that make the others feel? you know, the others. The ones you never really learned the names of. You certainly don’t know what they like to do, or what grinds their gears. They can’t be having too much fun in your classroom. I mean all they do is wait for the bell to go. In the classroom, you probably think you are splitting the time equally amongst your students. fact is,you’re probably not and you should probably think it over. Also, outside the classroom, maybe say hello to them. They may love that. They may love any attention. They may respond by working harder, more interactively within the classroom confines. Well done, you just made your own life easier.



My great thanks go to David for allowing me to post this as a guest post here. 

Readers’ comments are welcome.

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