very bad move

Don’t teach the book, teach the students!

How can any sane teacher argue against that? It’s not about the book, it’s about how the book can complement the learning, how it helps the teacher plan the programme. The book is a sort of skeleton around and over which teacher and students add meaningful layers. And that’s why, even though I use the same textbook in many different classes, the lessons are never the same.

Yet having said that, not every book makes a good skeleton.  Skeletons should be strong, healthy and resistant. They should keep the whole standing. They should provide the springboard to successful learning.

When I started in my current job five years ago, I had nobody to tell me what materials to use, how to plan my lessons or where exactly I should take my students. I started off, tried and tested, stumbled, fell, had a cry or two, got up again, refused to give up until one day I felt it wasn’t bad at all. I tried various textbooks and finally, by the end of the second year, made up my mind about which course books to use and I was really happy with the material. So were my students! When I asked them at the end of book 1, if we should continue with the same series, the answer was an overwhelming yes. So why change, right?!

However, this summer, a nagging thought started bothering me. The dialogue between the nagging thing and me went something like that,

“So, same old, same old…”

“Well, yeah, I love the book. And so do the students.”

“Comfortable choice! Starting to rest on our laurels, are we?”

“Not at all! But why change when it works so well?”

“Of course, of course, that’s what they all say! Why change when you’re SO comfortable? Why try something new? Why invent? Why be original? Why bother?”

“No! I just don’t see the point in changing it right now. And what’s more, the book’s fun, it’s easy to use, it’s incredibly well structured, it’s logical!”

” … till moss starts to grow … Soon you’ll be like some rusty and tired teacher simply opening the book and giving a yawn or two.”


And I changed. I changed the book. I asked for several sample copies from various publishers. I browsed, I studied them, I looked at the images, at the layout, at the summary. After, what I thought was a thorough analysis, I ordered the books and started teaching my new classes with the new books.

And I am extremely unhappy! I have now used these books for a whole semester and my verdict is – they make my life hell. When I was browsing them, they seemed to make perfect sense to me. They seemed to be interesting and well structured enough. Yet working with them in real classroom is a pain in the neck. So I guess it is almost impossible to know if a book is great or not unless we have given it a good try.

So here I am with my two classes and 36 brand new books. I don’t dare to change them as students have paid for their material. I simply look forward to the moment most of the book has been covered and I can order a new set of good old course books.

When I told this story to one of my colleagues, her instant reaction was, “That’s why I don’t use course books!”  I almost stuttered when I answered because that was not the point of my story at all! I like course books! And a good course book makes everybody’s life easier! A good course book is a help for students and for the teacher!

What about you? Do you use course books? Who chooses them? Are you happy with your (their?) choice?


10 thoughts on “very bad move

  1. I completely agree with you that it’s very hard to tell what a book will be like in practice until you’ve tried teaching with it. And I’m also pretty sure that even if you were using the same books time and again, you’d be coming up with new ways of using them to suit your particular group.which is, of course, the very best way to use them.

  2. I agree with Rachael. It is very hard to find the right course book. If you have found one, don’t feel guilty about sticking with it. Change and innovation work best on a reliable background. You can be really creative but its good to have some continuity.
    You are becoming a veteran teacher! There are no shortcuts – now you know! You can add a feather to your cap!
    Naomi (@naomishema)

  3. I think you are absolutely right to move on from the ‘comfortable’ with regard to teaching. By trying something new, you are forcing yourself to think slightly differently as a teacher and this is never a bad thing. My experience is that I learn much more from these kinds of challenges than sticking with the ‘same old, same old’, even if it’s a bit painful at the time 😦
    Good for you.

    • Hi Fiona,
      and thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!
      Yes, absolutely. I am very much a look-for-challenges type of person and like you, I believe that struggles make us grow.
      However, sometimes a change is not necessarily for the better. Maybe the good it does is give something older the credit it deserves 😉

  4. I can’t agree more on the points you make. It is always about the teacher, not the book. If there were a book, the best among the others, there would be no need for teachers. Thank you for sharing.

  5. You know what I had never noticed the implied statement in the phrase “don’t teach the book, teach the students.” there is the assumption that they are mutually exclusive and that if you teach the book the students don’t learn anything.

    Do you think that the coursebook you did use was terrible as well but you just knew what parts to change and avoid in that particular book? I know I got that way with New English File, The activities that seemed to always fail I knew to drop. I also seemed to do different activities, sap things out, add in new things as I used it more and more.

    I haven’t used it this year but I still think back to what I used and liked and didn’t like. I guess I am a bit nostalgic for it.

    • Hello Chris,
      lovely to hear your voice here!
      Well, I never use textbooks 100 % the way they come. They are a kind of soil I and the students start treading on creating something new. I would leave exercices out, I would adapt, rearrange etc. But some soils are almost impossible to tread on 😉

      • I often find myself saying ‘Don’t teach the lesson, teach the students’, so I wouldn’t say it’s particularly about books or not, but about responding to the needs of those students, there, in the room, not carrying out a set of pre-determined procedures willy-nilly.

  6. Pingback: Weekly round up in ELT 08/03/2013 -

  7. Pingback: very bad move | Celebrating Urban Education |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s