The Schizophrenic Teacher by Peter Medyges

Posted: April 1, 2014 by ozgurefl in Uncategorized

The first thing that caught my attention in this article was the author’s choice of title: The Schizophrenic Teacher. According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, a schizophrenic issomeone suffering from a major mental disorder of unknown cause typically characterized by a separation between the thought processes and the emotions, a distortion of reality accompanied by delusions and hallucinations. And in the same dictionary, a teacher is defined as “a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects”. How come did these two words come together and what was the author trying to communicate? These were the two questions that intrigued my mind while reading the article.

In the article, the author shares some of his own experiences as a Non-native speaking English teacher (NNSET) and states that most NNSETs feel unsafe about using the language they have to teach and therefore they might tend to have either a deeply pessimistic or an aggressive attitude to ELT. The author states that by being both teacher and learner simultaneously, NNSETs are driven into “schizophrenia”. He also points out that sooner or later NNSETs might tend to regret having chosen this career because there are not many options apart from having a nervous breakdown. One of the options is total resignation, and another is restricting the language to those rules which he or she has learned or mislearned. He argues that NNSETs should admit that they are students of English too. This would be the best way to take a more confident stance in the classroom.

He also claims that NNSETs are more commonly grammar centered teachers believing the language to be equal to knowing its grammar. However, sometimes they might ignore a rule or might have learned it incorrectly when they were students and then they might make errors which could be afterwards transmitted to their students.

In the article, NNSETs are said to be indifferent to pronunciation or vocabulary. He points out that NNSETs avoid using alternative teaching sources to teach pronunciation such as radio, video, cassette recorder, etc. The reason might be that they try to hide their inadequacies, such as their foreign accent, from their students. Pronunciation is not their only Achilles’ heel: their lexicon is another burden. According to the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014, the number of words in the English Language is 1,025,109.8 and there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day. This is of course something neither NSETs nor NNSETs could fully master; nevertheless, this is one of the areas where NNSETs feel uncomfortable when it comes to teaching vocabulary as NSETs have an intrinsic tool called “Language Feeling” that can often help them to know if a word used by a student is right or not.

Overall, though Medyges is a NNSET himself, he accepts the psychological defeat of being an NNSET.

Reviewed Article:

Medgyes, P. (1983). The schizophrenic teacher. ELT Journal, 37(1), 2-6

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