Musings on the Power of Choice – Language Schools VS. The School System

half                                                                                                          Photo by Gil Epshtein

A guest speaker at our school said that he believes that teaching is the only profession in which the “client” isn’t interested in receiving the service rendered.


Since motivation is a powerful factor, it would follow that classroom dynamics are different at a  language school where students are supposedly highly motivated because they are paying for their lessons. This is in comparison to  language classes in a national school system.


Only adults pay for their lessons. And dynamics in an adult classroom is different from a class full of children. One shouldn’t compare things that are in different categories!

But wait a minute!

Many members of my PLN teach children in a language school. Obviously, these children aren’t paying for the classes themselves. I would imagine that a large percent of them didn’t ask to be sent to a language school – it was their parents’ decision. So perhaps there is no external motivator here influencing the classroom dynamics and they are pretty much the same as in any national school.


Perhaps the additional motivating factor for adults, that of choosing to study at the school and investing money in the process, introduces a negative factor that teachers in the national school system see less of – a sense of entitlement. Hey teacher – YOU work for ME! I would imagine that has an effect on classroom dynamics!

But how about this:

I’ve seen and heard many times, that often teachers, who made a substantial investment of both time and money to attend university / college, behave just like teenagers the moment the school year begins.

Which leads me to think that the guest speaker was probably right. Whether one is teaching people who paid to be there or not, children and adults behave like students when lessons begin, for better or for worse. It seems to me that regardless of the population the teacher first has to convince the students that a partnership with her/him is the way to achieve those goals. If we think of Shel Silverstein’s wonderful poem This Bridge, on the one hand students have to climb on to the bridge being offered to them. Yet the bridge will take them only halfway there – they can’t just be passive and have the teacher work for them and expect language skills to be magically transferred. They have to take some steps alone too!

So who said being a teacher was easy?

8 thoughts on “Musings on the Power of Choice – Language Schools VS. The School System”

  1. Hi Naomi,
    Another thought-provoking post 🙂
    Your idea about creating a partnership between the students and teacher is one of the most important parts of teaching as far as I am concerned. It’s why it’s so important to try to develop a rapport with the students, which is the first step towards a real partnership, where you are working together to reach the students’ goals. I’ve often wondered how easy this is to do in a non-language school environment.
    It’s often the students who resist learning partnerships, both with the teacher and with other students, who seem to be the ‘slowest’ or ‘most difficult’ students in any class.

  2. Sandy!
    I find your comment SO interesting because you DO teach in language schools and you STILL have encountered students who resist learning partnerships!
    I guess we’re all in the same boat…

  3. totally enjoyed your train of thought here, Naomi.

    I can’t know how many, but I might’ve thought hundreds of adults by now, and I can say that amongst the ones who had the training paid for by employers, very, very few had much intrinsic motivation. It was pretty much like a child who’s told to be there. Also, many companies subsidized language training but asked employees to do overtime or arranged meetings at the time the lessons were scheduled. Pretty dumb, isn’t it?
    Anyway, all that was in Brazil. Now in the UK, I feel students are much more motivated, is it because they only have a couple of weeks to be there and take the most of it? Is it also because many of them are using holidays time to be there? It can be.

  4. That is fascinating!
    Interesting how time becomes a motivating factor. I see it with exam time. Some students suddenly run after me to explain something or other because they feel time is running out before the finals arrive. Yet some students respond so badly to being pressed timewise!
    But that’s another topic.
    Next time!

  5. Hi!
    Motivations! This is the word.
    Last time I attended a language class it was my teacher’s first question. Because we take decisions to learn something new. When you want to learn something you need to feel interest. And I think that some people are interested in more things than other. And this gives the attitude in the classroom : distracted or eager to learn more and more.
    So, and this is not always easy to do I know, the teacher has to find the interesting topics for the students. In language teaching it may be quite possible because you can talk about anything in the class.
    Motivating people is actually the job! And for this we also have to be very motivated ourselves (teachers).

    Thanks for your motivating reflexions!!
    Johanna, Hong Kong

  6. Thank you for stopping by, Johanna!
    Since motivation is SOOO important it really is a topic that I can’t think about enough – how to get each student motivated in every type of learning framework, that’s no easy task! Especially in Special Ed.!

  7. Hi Naomi,

    What a great, thought provoking post!

    I have had the experience of grown men behaving like children in class (the “too cool for school” routine”), and one even said to me, when I asked him to put his phone away “I pay your wages!”. I told him that indeed, he does, and that he was paying them (albeit a very small percentage of them) in order for me to teach him English, and that by being on his phone in class, he was wasting the money he had spent, and so obviously cared about because I was unable to use the time with him effectively.
    That told him…

    HOwever, I also have so many great students who are incredibly motivated, whoever pays for the lessons, be it employer, parent, government or out of their own pocket.

    It’s hard to assess motivation in this financial way, because everyone is different, and just because someone else is paying for your course, doesn’t mean you don’t want to be there, does it?


  8. Jemma!
    What a great response to that man’s behavior!
    It sounds like a teacher in a language school will encounter the same spectrum of the level of student motivation as a teacher in a national school system. All of us have to address the motivation issue!

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