I have first hand experience of this as in a previous, non-ELT life, I was a music buyer for a central London music store. One day I was told that he was downstairs having a browse in our DVD section. I immediately rushed to find my friend, one of the believers in the church of Morrissey, who, standing about 15 metres away from him, staring with bloodshot eyes and with the tears slowly forming, asked me “Should I go and speak to him?” Weighing up the facts at hand and the very likely prospect of Morrissey being slightly disturbed by the sight of my blubbing incoherent friend, I thought of that sage maxim that I live by to this day: “Never meet your heroes.” It was probably for the best, I think.
This led him into a distant love affair with not only the singer and writer of the song, but also the land of their origin and the language that they were written in. These brilliant lyrics, dripping with wit, beautiful wordplay and culture, were analysed and deciphered. My friend described how he was desperate to visit England, a country far from his own that was hardly portrayed in the most positive way:
“Trudging slowly over wet sand
Back to the bench where your clothes were stolen
This is the coastal town
That they forgot to close down
Armageddon – come Armageddon!
Come, Armageddon! Come!
Everyday is like Sunday
Everyday is silent and grey.”
“I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does.
There’s a club, if you’d like to go
You could meet someone who really loves you
So you go, and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home
And you cry
And you want to die “
It is normal, maybe even human, for us to enter the classroom with our own pre-assigned set of tastes and values which we cannot help but be influenced by. I know I do this, because more often than not I end up directing learners towards the Guardian because I think it’s a great newspaper. The positive side of this is that our students can interact with a teacher who is passionate and cares about a subject or source of material. It gives them the chance to become involved with an authentic element of the culture in an enriching way.
The flipside is that it is prescriptive, and an imposition of taste upon the learner. I’m wondering if I had a student who loved Celine Dion and, god forbid The Daily Mail (no links to them, you may notice), would I be able to set aside my prejudices and cash in on their passions, even though it would make my job less pleasant? I don’t know, because as far as I know, it’s never happened, and that’s the problem, I never gave them the chance to tell me.
So these thoughts lead me to the conclusion that when I’m doing needs analysis with a new student(s), I need to give them the chance to tell me about their current and past relationship with English language culture, and any passions they may have. It is entirely possible that there is nothing that they care about strongly, but I at least have to give them the chance to tell me, so I can cast my own prejudices aside and make the learning experience as rich as I can for the student.
And if I was teaching my friend now, I would fill his classes with the poetry of Morrissey and the taste of Marmite, which is, appropriately enough, his other great British obsession.