Inspiring Quotations

You cannot teach anyone anything…

In 1988, while I was training to be an EFL teacher, I came across a quotation from Galileo Galilei:

You cannot teach anyone anything;
you can only help them to find it within themselves.

Galileo Galilei

As a motivational quote it’s easy to dismiss as being either platitudinous, or (if one chooses to be pedantic) quite simply wrong. But despite (or perhaps because of) these objections the essence of the quotation stuck in my mind, and for many years I trotted it out from time to time, although I have to confess I often mangled it to say more precisely what I understood (or wanted) it to mean:

We cannot teach anyone anything; we can only create the conditions in which things are learned.

George Dillon

Of course, the Galileo quotation came up during my training as a stimulus to trainee teachers to think about a student-centred approach to teaching and, in the EFL world at least, this remains the predominant philosophy. Given the pressure of a packed timetable, however, the reality is that teachers will often be thinking “what am I doing next” rather than “what will the students be doing”.

Perhaps because I was, and am, primarily a performer I approach the classroom in a similar way to performance – that first and foremost I want my students/audience to be engaged, stimulated, moved and inspired. I’m not too concerned with what message they actually take from my work, as long as they are interested and touched, and go away wanting to come back for more.

Whether I am working with adults who have already been studying English for many years and can quickly become bored with book-based grammar lessons, or GCSE students who have opted for drama because they thought it was a soft option (!!!) I have always tried to make the experience both fun and challenging, trusting that the students WILL learn. And while I sometimes have the feeling that I’m not really ‘doing it right’ – that I should be planning more precisely for more specific teaching aims – I am greatly reassured by the feedback I get from students and teachers, that my work works!