Max Weber 101

Max Weber 101

Another perspective on the qualified versus unqualified teachers debate might be to say the following. What prevails is not the truth, but instead the viewpoint of the majority. Or, the viewpoint of those in power. Any foreigner living in Thailand should gladly recognise that by now.

For example, in times where the majority of Western teachers were monocultural and monolingual – able to speak but English, and unfamiliar with other cultures in all but the most shallow of senses – native languages were thought to have no place in the second language classroom. Which, unless you have a terminal case of having your head stuck in the sand, or have not opened a book on teaching in the last 20 years, is a philosophy that in the present day has well and truly been debunked. More to the point, if you can actually speak another language, you can easily see how advantageous a prudent use of the native language in the classroom might be – for example, to clarify instructions regarding the steps to follow in very complex language activities, wherein it is the target use of the language that is important, and not the three hours it would take to get the students to properly understand what they should be doing by miming and shouting. Or, to explain a complex concept, where it is the concept that is important and not the language that describes it, again for the purposes of saving time and sticking to the curriculum. Only someone who cannot speak the native language, that is, would be able to overlook these advantages, and say that in fact there are none.

Yet, this idea possessed a lot of currency, and is still dogmatically adhered to by some. Part of the momentum for this ‘religion’, it would be distinctly uncritical not to note, must surely derive from the facts that (1) if being able to speak the native language, all other things being equal, is advantageous, then it reflects badly on one not to be able to speak it, which does not ride well with the cultural profile of your typical monolingual, monocultural person; and (2) the fact that the majority of its supporters (the upholders of this faith) were in the same boat, and that they were thus able to manufacture ‘truth’ collectively.

To put it simply, if you take a hundred people, ten of whom can speak another language, and ask them what the role of native languages are in the classroom, the chances are that the ultimate consensus is going to be that there is very little good about it. Reason has nothing to do with it, this is a very convenient truth for most of these people to cling to.

Another good example is the issue of qualifications versus experience. In the past, people could get a teacher’s license in a couple of years, by studying a pre-information age diploma. Now, teachers have to do a four or five year degree in order to become qualified. In the Middle East, for example, where older teachers dominate, experience is upheld as the signifying quality of a sound teacher. In South Korea, where younger teachers prevail, it is characteristics like education, place of education, second language ability, number of publications and familiarity with new technologies that are held in the highest esteem.

As to where the truth lies in this debate, I am not going to stick my toe in – other, that is, than to observe that when I used to teach at university in Thailand, the most unmanageable students were the older Thai teachers, they had far less academic integrity than the younger generations. They cheated rampantly in their exams; they were the most prone to have a sleep in the class and not do their homework; and they used to force the younger teachers to give them their completed homework, so they could pass it off as their own. 'No bull', as the Australians say, they were the people I would be least inclined to look up to as an example.

So then we get to the issue of qualifications in general. If we want to know what ideas prevail in Thailand, we could have a look at the teacher demography. Wow, there are a lot of unqualified teachers practising…the prime movers in Thai schools, who do not have any concept of what constitutes a decent education, like unqualified teachers because they are cheap, and because their views around teaching correspond…in this context, we might expect to find the view that unqualified teachers are good teachers. Or, that teaching is not a proper profession in the respect that one does not have to possess any specialist knowledge or skills.

Do such views prevail? Where might they prevail? I will leave it to the reader to ponder these things themselves...

Chris


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