The Magic Button

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Jeremy Harmer’s workshop held in Jakarta. For you guys who are not in the ELT world, Jeremy Harmer is like the David Foster in English Language Teaching. I cited his words and read (and re-read) his books for my CELTA last year and even without knowing him in person or without even googling him, you can spot a genius just by their writings. Not only that, I kind of had a feeling that he is a nice person *don’t ask how, but that’s just the kind of feeling when you read someone’s writing, somehow there’s a part of them in it.

So, when the day came (I got into the workshop for free because I won a draw in my office. Can you believe that? It’s like God knew that I needed this and He understood my financial problem) I was excited and hungry for something. I wanted to get something, learned something, I wanted to be motivated. I needed fuel for my motor. And just like Gandalf saved the hobbits from orcs, Jeremy gave it all to me. (Okay, I might have exaggerated it a bit, but you’d understand)

The orcs in my case was this long hour of teaching, exhausted mentally and physically having to put together a lesson plan and then perform it in front of people hungry for education (or in a teenager class, hungry for education/entertainment). But does it stop there? No. Before the lesson-planning shit I have to do my research. How do you think a teacher looks so confident in front of a class explaining the different between object relative clause and subject relative clause? Wait, to add more spice, how do you think a teacher explains that to a bunch of 11 years old that, truth to be told, give no shit about which is which unless there’s a picture of people making out on the board.

Jeremy understands all of these (d’uh, of course he does). He, then, like a magician cast a spell, told us a story about a magic button. He told us about a lesson one of his fellow music teacher that he had observed. There were four old ladies who were in a quartet played (or at least tried to) a Mozart piece. Needless to say, it was horrible. It was so bad that he wondered what would his friend said after they had finished? “That’s great” ? Even those ladies knew it was a lie. But what his friend did was surprising him. He said to one of the ladies that played the Cello. “Play it with more power”. Then just like a magic, their music got better like, 100% better. They played with more power and more confidence, and when they were confident their playing got better and better.

Mr. Jeremy Harmer

Mr. Jeremy Harmer

After the class, Jeremy asked his friend how did he know which player needed more power (because it seemed for him all of them were equally bad), his friend shrugged. “I don’t know, I just know.” Jeremy than realized, his friend had just pushed the magic button, and the magic happened in front of their very eyes. The students were improving significantly.

He said to us, all the teachers in that room, all we need was to find the magic button. Then it would transform your students and before you knew it, it also transformed you. It made the learning experience wonderful, it made you think that maybe, in this tiresome line of work, miracle does happen.

But the big question still lingered in the air that day:

How did we find the magic button?

It’s like asking Shakespeare how did you write Hamlet? There were no formulas. Sure there were guides and principles and books and loads of methodologies you could learn. There were endless papers and journals had been written about teaching. And of course, there were countless workshops and courses you could always take. Then there were certificates to validate yourself as a teacher from world-known universities. People have spent their entire life to solve this mystery so it would be a nice handbook telling new teachers a How-to in bullet points.

But still, every human being is unique – our DNA has proven that, and how is it possible for every classes to be similar?

Do we have to follow every guidelines available? Is passing CELTA or TESOL enough reassurance that you are – stamped, signed- a good teacher? And what if you failed? Does that mean you are not a good-enough teacher by Cambridge standard?

After the workshop, I felt : Oh Shit, there are no infinite answers. Just when we thought we almost nailed it, with all those ICQs, CCQs, language lesson or skill lesson, how to drill and how to write “three” in phonemic scripts, how to do a barely-manageable class management and how to do a precise to second lesson plan, we were just being told that it wasn’t enough.

Shit with capital S.

But strangely, it didn’t put me down. It was almost like a quest and I was a newbie magician trying to.. I don’t know, protect the ring from Sauron or to find the door to Narnia. How?

No fucking clue.

But maybe – just maybe – bits of clues are there, in the classroom. When you tried to explain the difference between subject relative clause and object relative clause and then just out of the blue, your student shouted : “miss, do you want to see my video kissing my girlfriend?”


ps : what I did was this, I wrote 2 sentences on the board and told them to discuss which was which:

” The boy who likes Maroon 5, had just kissed a girl.”

“The boy that I have in my class, told me he had just kissed a girl.”

completely got their attentions.


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