More Challenging?… I am not quite Sure about this One!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

There is this French teacher in Michigan, Diane, I really do admire… we pay visits to each others’ blogs regularly… Hers and mine, although both about teaching and learning French, are quite different… She teaches pre-schoolers and teenagers while I teach adults in the workforce. Although each of us has experience with opposite “clientele”, there are a couple of things we share: creativity, enthusiasm and genuine passion for what we do… Earlier this week I had left a comment on one of her posts, telling her how impressed I was with her multi-task abilities… Personally, I do believe teaching kids is much more challenging than teaching adults! Her reply was interesting… she wrote she was more at ease with 3-12 year old kids than with teens because she thinks teaching young children who are at a natural stage of language development is easier than teaching teenagers and adults who can be much more challenging…

Obviously we view the universe of teaching from different perspectives due to our personal experience… Actually I am scared of kids!… Their candid way of asking questions (questions that often leave me open-mouth) is so disarming sometimes! And by the way they look at me, I do know I cannot get away with some evasive answer… and they just will not let go until I give them an answer that totally satisfies them! In other words, no bullshit… only honest answers… And God! This can be really intimidating!…

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my niece, Alex, during one of her visit in Ottawa… at the time, she was 5 or 6 years old at the most and quite “mature” for her age… but messy like only kids can be! Therefore I had kindly asked her to put away the toys she had spreaded all over the basement before going out to the park… I remembered I had also offered to help her so it would take less time (Alex tends to visit Dreamland while doing stuff she does not like to do and it slows her down dramatically!)…

While cleaning her mess, she bluntly said “It shows you are a teacher and not a mom!” Of course I was not sure what she was trying to tell me, so I asked why… She then provided me with a sensible thorough explanation (I admit her answer was quite clever for such a young kid and I actually had no arguments to present in counterattack!) “Well… you never tell me what to do, you simply ask me… and you never raise your voice like moms do all the time… it is like you are giving me choices except that I know, by the tone of your voice and the look in your eyes, there will be consequences (bad of course) if I happen to make the wrong choice… and with you, there are no threats… only promises!… and I only know teachers who treat children that way!” Hmmm

I did not quite know what to think of that statement… was it a compliment or a reproach? I had to confirm either one, so I could sleep that night! “Is it a good or a bad thing?” She gave me that charming smile that always had the power to have me melt in a second “Don’t worry! It is good… because you treat me like a grown-up and not like a brainless kid! I am little but not intellectually challenged!” Children are amazingly smart and, if I had to teach them, I would be consistently monitoring my answers so that I would not sound too stupid! Kids are very judgmental and consequently they can serve you daily with real heartbreaks! It is much safer to deal with adults… even if they think you are a moron, they will not tell you!

Viewed from that angle, it is without a doubt less challenging to work with adults! On the other hand, when I consider the pedagogical aspect of teaching adults vs young children I do agree with Diane. Adults are fully developed (well… we hope!) and learning a second language does not come naturally… it requires much more effort and work… unlike children, they are far from being sponges and their abilities for absorbing are almost non existing. They need to be structured and able to make connections with their mother tongue… consequently, I have to provide them with exhaustive explanations and show them the inherent differences between English and French syntax… it is necessary to break down each sentence so it makes sense for them… Since it is important they think in French and lose the habit of translating literally from English, when it is obvious they do not understand one of my questions, I will repeat it replacing the French words with English ones but making sure to keep the same structure… For instance: “Y aura-t-il une réunion des employés à San Francisco d’ici trois semaines?”… if I ever had to repeat this question in English, it would sound like this: “There will have it a meeting of the employees at San Francisco from here three weeks?”… Although I am using English, I am still keeping my students in the French thinking mode…

Most teachers dread beginners and they will do anything to avoid teaching beginners’ class… since most of the time it is impossible to avoid them all, they really suck when they are compelled to do it! If the conversational approach works with learners who take French for mere recreational purpose, it certainly does NOT with the ones who need French for work. And, unfortunately, not many second language teachers are equipped to face such challenge…

More than once I have been accused of using English in class… as if explaining grammar rules and abstract concepts in French to people who can hardly say bonjour were not a big waste of time!!! Let’s use some basic common sense here pleaaaaaaase! Indeed I do not have any casual conversations in French with my students, unless those are occurring in a controlled environment using only what they learned and know well, until they have covered everything they need to know… And when finally we can do it, they sound like they have been speaking French all their lives!… and, most important, I do not have to interrupt them every two words to correct their mistakes! Why? Because they do not make any!!! They learned the correct way to express themselves, therefore they are not carrying on bad habits… Perhaps some would argue my method takes more time. It looks that way at the beginning because it takes some time to teach basics by layers… BUT! when my students jump in the water, they know how to swim like Olympic swimmers!!! They go for GOLD and nothing else!

If both my method and program take all of my students by surprise at the beginning, it does not take long for them to realize their efficiency… because they can actually see their progress… they do not need me to assess them…

Back to my first question… what is more challenging? Teaching children of teaching adults? I do believe both bring equal challenge… Teaching has never been recognized for its true value… Yet it is the most difficult job (also the most important)… If you think being a doctor is more difficult, think twice… behind each great doctor, there was an even greater teacher!…

“Ne vous souciez pas de n’être pas remarqué. Cherchez plutôt à faire quelque chose de remarquable.”




  1. foreignlanguageteacher said,

    August 16, 2008 at 3:11 am

    Well, I still maintain that what you do is harder. Some of my teenage students simply will not take the risks to speak in another language. Feels like pulling teeth some days. Meanwhile, my younger students need to be reined in! (A good problem, IMO.) And I much prefer to teach beginners. It might be an ego thing . . . to take a student who knew nothing in a foreign language then take the credit for everything they can do. Yup–I’m an egomaniac in that regard! Thanks so much for mentioning me in your post. Right back at ‘ya as far as admiration 🙂 Not only can I tell you are a magnificent and passionate teacher, your blog posts are extremely thought-provoking.

  2. August 16, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Indeed teenagers may be difficult sometimes, they have so many issues in their lives… and it probably reflects in class. A friend of mine, who’s son just turned 18, says that adolescents’ lives sound like perpetual melodramas (every little thing takes gigantic proportions in their eyes), yet viewed from the outside, it looks pretty ordinary!

    As for the ego thing… I got it too, but I try and hide it! 😉

    You’re more than welcome… I mentioned you in this post because YOU inspired me for writing it. Your comments had given me something to chew on!

    BTW, according to a personality test I took years ago, I am 87% “thinking”!…

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