ARE TEACHERS THERAPISTS? By Joe Busuttil
Yes, they are, or they have become so. This is the view I have formulated, based on my previous life – many years as an occupational therapist working in the mental health field, and my present life – a few years in EFL teaching.
My original training as a therapist took place in the UK in the early 1970s, when psychology and psychiatry were agog with anti establishment ideas, and a more humanistic approach in the clinical field. People like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, among others, were beginning to instill a more client centred approach. The pyramid style started being replaced by a more democratic milieu, where the clients became the focus of therapy. The clients’ views now counted, for concepts like empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard ruled the day.
My post graduate studies in the early 1980s, again in the UK, confirmed that many of these ideas had taken root and flourished extensively. However, in the clinical field, the stress was always made that we were therapists not teachers, and that our goal was to be a gatekeeper, providing options to help clients make their own choices and decisions.
When some time ago I gradually switched to EFL teaching, the change was not as drastic as I had feared. For Rogers1 had described the educational established as the most traditional, conservative, rigid, bureaucratic institution of our time. He had advocated self directed change in teachers and students. For teachers, he proposed a greater ability to listen to students; a greater acceptance of different ideas from students instead of insisting on conformity; and giving more importance to relationships with students as to course content. Rogers contended that teachers should be facilitators of knowledge, and that responsible freedom enhanced learning as well as personal growth and development.
In my EFL training and practice, I have found that these proposals now form an integral and accepted part of this specific educational field. Teachers are no longer totalitarian totem poles; their talking time has been substituted by more student participation and interaction. Rigidity and conformity have been replaced by context setting, eliciting, pre teaching, a global grasp prior to a deeper understanding of a theme, a communication activity where students can speak about personal experiences – large is the list of learner friendly techniques.
The EFL student is not just a learner of knowledge, but a person with other needs which also require addressing. In such a holistic approach, where there is a supportive, trusting and positive rapport between the teacher and the learners, as well as among the learners themselves, useful and meaningful interaction is enhanced in no small way. Last year, at the annual general meeting of MATEFL – the association of EFL teachers in Malta – the hottest issue on the agenda was not an English language skills or systems point, but the after school supervision of foreign students who come to the island to study English. Definitely not a typical case of tunnel vision! Yes, in my considered opinion, EFL teachers have also evolved into therapists.
1 Rogers Carl, Freedom to Learn for the 80s, Ohio: Merrill, 1983.
This article appeared in IATEFL’s publication, ‘Voices’.