To run for running…


I’d like to begin with a story.

Once upon a time the Russian sportsmen found out that in Tibet there was a monastery where during one religious festival the monks used to run about 80 km. Sportsmen became interested in this achievement and sent their people to learn from the experience. The monks were asked to demonstrate their art. At first, Tibetans did not understand what the Russians wanted from them. Why run when there´s no festival? As a matter of fact, they used to run to the exact place where the holiday was held. But the guests were insisting. The monks had to agree to fulfill this useless deal. And they started running.

Here came one monk: he had not run a kilometer, but sat on the roadside, breathing hard, sweated, then another monk, then another… The Russians came up and asked: “Why are you sitting? You’ve not even run a kilometer…”. The monk replied: “I’m tired”. A typical oriental guy. A typical oriental reply. If you are tired – sit and have a rest. He does not understand that it´s fine for somebody to run aimlessly, just for counting time and distance, to run for running…

In other word, no one could run even a kilometer, everybody withdrew from a race. The Russians left the monastery empty-handed. And when there again was this Buddhist festival, the monks again ran to the festival place, and they easily ran those 80 km. The point is they did not count kilometers, they did not count time. They were thinking about other things. Running to the festival place for them was a part of a festival ritual, they did not think about running, they were thinking about the festival. Running for them was just only a method, and the festival was the aim.

To begin with, the idea of this blogpost came up to me tomorrow just after the lesson with Intermediate students. They are currently studying key expressions for getting information and managing appointments as well. After many communicative tasks the students admitted it was not at all easy to be imaginative and create artificial situations. I always thought I have already been aware of how to incorporate personalization into the tasks, but presumably I was mistaken. The tasks did not provide students with the opportunity to think about the real situation in which to try these expressions will be a pleasure.

Reflecting on the lesson just after it, I recalled this story in the beginning of the post. It was narrated by a very famous Russian linguist Ilya Frank, and the point was the talk about the lack of personalization. Or even better about the lack of teacher’s awareness of how to incorporate the personalization in the classroom. And what I heard from the students proves my guesses: sometimes tasks are methods of teaching, but they do no stand for the aim. Does the teacher show her students the beauty of the language by suggesting talking about the working day (using Present Simple) or about memorable events from their life (using Past Simple of Present Perfect), etc.? What about students? Do they only mechanically fulfill tasks without looking wider at what they are doing?

So, these questions are left without answers. And sometimes I feel like I’ve never been taught to be a teacher. But I try, I really try to be on a bright side, and my blogpost today is a kind of a personal insight into my teaching practice. Let’s admit that personalization is one of the key elements in the classroom and let’s admit that I sometimes struggle with personalization, especially when my students have very specific and relevant topics. So, in my case, what I do is I make them run for running. Aimlessly. Counting time and distance.

… Currently I’m working on a personal project which is supposed to reveal my teaching plans and insights by means of writing articles and assignments on particular topics. In one of them I admitted myself that it is a very necessary thing not to escape from – to find the inner courage to admit negative moments of the lesson (and of the practice itself, like in my case). And the idea of the blogpost was to reflect on this particular thing and be ready to do something to change it.

Thanks for reading!