Much ado about Hangman?

The audit I wrote about in one of my previous posts went incredibly well, and the administrators were over the moon when filling us in on the excellent results at the latest staff meeting, where we teachers were awarded with words of praise, gratitude and appreciation of our hard work and discipline. 

As most of us are still in the post-inspection mode (read: more alert and working harder than usual), we keep coming up with various ideas for improvement of our professional endeavours. Even when sitting at a café on a Friday afternoon, we never cease to stop talking shop. As I was one of those 'lucky' fellows whose lesson the inspectors had chosen to observe, my name, among many others, has since been mentioned several times in a very positive context. I guess this must be the main reason why two of my colleagues (STEM teachers) expressed a desire to come and see a lesson of mine at some point in the future. To paraphrase them, they'd like to get inspired by all those amazing activities we English teachers use in our everyday teaching. 

I shouldn't forget to mention that we're normally required to observe two lessons per term, and quite logically and naturally we tend to choose classes related to the subject we teach. So English teachers usually observe other English teachers or teachers of foreign languages, and math teachers concentrate on math classes. 

As I had written about the benefits of observing teachers of subjects totally unrelated to the field one specializes in (here), I was not surprised when those two STEM colleagues mentioned that they'd like to see something new and fresh this term, mainly because they were fed up with seeing the same people and methods over and over again. What startled me a little though was the fact that they took it for granted that they'd see lots of examples of games and fun activities which they could later make use of in their own teaching. They pointed out in passing that they still remembered a lesson of mine they had once observed (I used to teach their kids privately and once a term we would invite the parents to come and see what we did) and that they still used some of those inspiring activities in their own lessons.

So why all the worries on my part? The thing is that my teaching is not the same as it used to be back then when I taught small kids in a private course. As it was an afternoon course and the kids came after their regular lessons, they were usually tired and sometimes even reluctant to spend more time in the classroom while their friends were home playing computer games or doing stuff they enjoyed. Thus my lessons had to be different and lighter in content if I wanted them to stay (and pay) for the whole year and more. Oftentimes the class was literally a continuous string of games aimed at practising some language points (which turned out to be successful to a certain extent). In other words, we did some speaking, little listening, very little writing, next to no reading, but an enormous amount of game-like activities.

This was obviously a double-edged sword. The kids were happy as long as we played something, but once I wanted them to do real language work, their hearts sank. Once the game element was missing, they suddenly looked bored to death. Language work was what they did all day at school after all. Needless to say, I later had to adjust my approach a great deal and since I started teaching in the state sector, I have changed it completely. Not that I never use games like Hangman and Bingo, but I definitely use them with caution. Obviously, the less I use them the more precious they become to my students. But more importantly, I believe I don't really need them anymore to make my lessons fun. To be more precise, I don't think my primary goal is to make my lessons fun; first of all, I want them to be interesting and meaningful. I should mention that this was one of the positives the inspector mentioned after she had observed me in action; she highly appreciated the fact that I had taught the way she finds appropriate for secondary school students and avoided the throw-and-catch-the-ball activities which she personally isn't really into. Oh, lucky me. :-)

So when my STEM colleagues announced that they'd like to get inspired by my ideas, I hoped they didn't mean that they expected an assembly of brilliant and glamorous fun activities. This is something I no more specialize in and to be honest, I've had enough of this type of teaching. However, I’m not implying that various games and fun activities can’t spice up biology or math classes, for example. To the contrary, I can't help feeling that such activities actually make more sense in STEM subjects than they do in English lessons. But maybe I’m only sated with the way I used to teach in the past and I just want to get down to something more serious?