Chapter 10 An English Teacher ?!

The ability to express themselves in English

with correctness, clarity and even elegance” School Goals

After teaching forty years, it can now be revealed. I am not a qualified teacher! In 1956, I graduated from the National University of Ireland with a B.Sc.( Pass) in Botany, Zoology and Geology! Then I graduated in 1959 in Scholastic Philosophy from St. Stanislaus College, Tullabeg. Following that, I taught French and Biology for a year at Mungret College. If I had stayed in Ireland, I would have earned a Diploma in Education after some courses, and two more years of teaching. However I went to study Cantonese in Cheung Chau. Soon after, I graduated in 1966 with a Master’s Degree in Theology from Bellarmine College, Baguio. During all these years of study, I never wanted to be a school classroom teacher!

I returned to Hong Kong in September 1967 on the understanding that I would teach for a year to understand Wah Yan College. I suggested that since I did not want to be a teacher, I could be a priest full time with the past students. There were a dozen Jesuits then teaching full time in both Wah Yan Colleges, so my proposal was warmly accepted.

To equip me to be with past students I needed to know the two Colleges and teach there for at least a year. Fr. Reid, the Principal who had known me for over ten years, assigned me to Form Three, to teach English, Biology and Religious Knowledge. Forty years later, I am doing pretty much the same, and only barely in touch with past students, who increase in number every year by about 400! And Wah Yan has a past history of over 85 years! Past students of Wah Yan could be in the thousands, with some who have passed on, and some who are abroad.

I have been known as an English Teacher, so what have I done? Classes were assigned, textbooks were designated, examinations were set and corrected. I just followed what the other teachers did. Twenty-six periods a week leaves much time for other activities. Perhaps other teachers do the same, having a family to look after, or engaged in further studies, or in other work. You become a very boring teacher if your only attention is on teaching classes, without other passionate interests, be it studies, sport or voluntary work. My interests were church pastoral work and activities to improve society.

As for teaching English, I concentrated on the spoken language. Only English is used in my classes. Students must be drilled in speaking English loudly, to get confidence in the language. I emphasized spoken English, even though my grammar was faulty. I tried to get them to read English books. I made them write. I enjoyed the talented and eager students I had, and even wanted to visit each of their families.

In the light of my experience, have the students changed over these forty years? In many ways they have. They are from smaller families and so are not so disciplined. Their accommodation has improved with the passing of the years, and they have become more self-centered, as they mostly have their own rooms. Since the last decade, they have computers and mobile phones. They have more money in their pockets, and they have travelled to many places in China and the rest of the world. They are not eager to speak English. But in other ways they are changeless in their changing ways. Half come from good Catholic primary schools, where they were well drilled in English. Their parents are very solicitous about their studies and examination results. And many think of studies abroad.

Giving high marks is what I have found the best in teaching them, for they constantly say to themselves that their English is not good. You tend to become what you say to yourself! Students must feel that it possible to learn and do well in English. The higher the marks they get in English, the more interested they are in learning English! And all the while I am conscious of my lack of linguistic skills!

But how to give high marks? Students must be given work, which they can do very well, but it must also stretch their abilities! For example, when I say that they are to write a thousand words every week, it seems impossible. The correction alone of so much writing would make it impractical for the teacher. But when you eventually get them to write many pages without mistakes, their confidence in being able to deal with English is enhanced. There is nothing that succeeds better than success.

The secret of writing English without making mistakes is to get them to speak about what they write and give them the tools for the work! The topic must be clear and the same for all, and all the while, giving them scope for creativity and individual efforts. This is to make it easier to correct. Complete sentences are given along with incomplete sentences and other guidelines. But what are they going to write about!

I could never write at school, as I had nothing to write about. To deal with this, I organize outings for the students, which give them much to write about. Every week an activity is planned to give them an experience, which they share in English with each other and then write about. With the cooperation of the school authorities, I have been privileged to have three consecutive periods in the afternoon every week. Lucky me! And the outings must be close by, cost little

and be well prepared! How to do this must remain my unique ways.

As for corrections, let me state that they are a burden for a teacher. I make a rule that I do not spend more than two minutes correcting each composition. Often there is not one mistake in the thousand words; frequently there are many. Seeing mistakes we make is discouraging. The teacher often wastes time by making corrections. Do we really learn from correcting our mistakes! If one can correct three mistakes each time, then we are doing well - and the teacher is saving time! In fact, I do not correct much! But if you do not correct, the students will not write!

I get the students to read and correct the homework of their classmates using a pencil, and even giving a mark. I then look at the homework. I delete any incorrect corrections in ink and give my mark in ink. This way I am making students more conscious of making mistakes. It is easy to find mistakes in what others write rather than detect incorrect sentences one writes. By detecting mistakes of others, I hope they will be more accurate themselves. In this way, their confidence in English grows, and I have less work correcting. The dividends are less work for the teacher, and the students have more confidence in English Writing and consequently thinking in English increases with each class!

I also teach them Ethics. The outings are somewhat related to the environment, social issues and situations which require reflection. Ethics then is felt as part of life. Values must be integrated into their thinking and so personal formation is developed. Lucky me to have such a school to teach in, and such talented students who can rise to such challenges.

As I take the class to different places, I often feel that their parents would also have liked to take them there. Parents do not have the time or the connections to do so. Besides, the students prefer to be with their friends than with their family, as they can talk more freely and happily. So the outings are very important in my teaching.

Students want to learn more words to increase their vocabulary. Here we come to the kernel of English teaching. Few words in English have an exact Chinese equivalent. A dictionary only gives a clue to the meaning of a word. I stress- Do Not Learn New English Words! Learn SENTENCES, and by so doing learn to think and feel in English. The majority do not succeed in making English such an interior part of themselves as to be able to think in English. But mastery of English cannot come without being able to think and feel in English. Without this, there is the constant effort to translate, which is difficult and also produces bad English. Then, how to lead them to think in English? It is a long process, which should have begun in kindergarten. Students have been taught badly. They have been taught, “A for Apple”. That is wrong, as there are many sound values to the letter “A”. Instead they should have been taught, “This is an green apple”, and then developed into: ”This is the green apple, which my mother gave me”. Now that is a good step forward and can be imagined and thought of in English. Let sentences be learned, not words or phrases. The word has its meaning in a context and eventually in a statement of a sentence. And there is more!

In a school like Wah Yan, there is a good library. There are also many public libraries rich in different kinds of books. There are also special books for each class to read. This has been so in the school since the 1970s. The English panel has bought many books suitable for students to read. By reading fast in English, the student is gradually thinking in English and the way is open to exponential growth.

For many years now, at the beginning of the year, I give each student a rather suitable book to read. The following week, he hands it on to the next student and receives one read by the student in front of him. But will the student read the book! There is need of proof, and that proof is a “book report”. I require a book report every week, and it need not be long- perhaps 250 words. What often happens is that the student copies what is at the back of the book and adds some sentences - but still the book has been in his hands, and he can say that he has “read” it. Also as the year goes on, the book report is some times copied from another student. I pretend not to notice but encourage them to read on. Recently, I have been amazed at the depth and accuracy of some book reports, which makes me suspect that it was down loaded from the Internet. So what? The student is involved in reading, feels he is making progress, and notices what the others have written.

To expect a book report every week from every student is almost asking too much, but I do. In fact, I make it clear that I only ask that they read the book for an hour and then spend less than an hour writing the report. This is not that much. Some students really spend many hours reading. That is their business. Each student must learn to manage his time of study. Then they have the option of not reading the book they receive, but of choosing another book from the library, or from their shelf, or even one that they read in junior classes! But the habit of reading a book every week grows and is good - and conducive to thinking in English. They are exposed to good written English, rather than read disparate sentences in a textbook. And I can say that a good minority really read what is suitable and dear to them. This is desirable for really learning English.

But what about speaking! Here I give much importance to speaking English in class, as it is the only time for most of them to speak English. The class is divided into Mr. A and Mr. B- dyads! This means that the students in the first, third and fifth row turn around as Mr. A. The others are Mr. B. Mr. A speaks for three minutes and Mr. B listens, then Mr. A listens as Mr. B speaks for three minutes. I use this very often in class. It takes much time. Speaking to a partner about what you yourself know is not that difficult. This can be the composition of another student, or the book report, but it is what they are conversant with. I am lenient when they speak in Cantonese! We just work ahead and hope that they will eventually follow to speak only English.

But where is the course book? Some time is spent on it. I try to stop

them buying new books. I have tried to arrange that they buy the previous year’s textbook for half of what it costs. And how is the course book used? Here I show how old fashioned I am! I make each student stand in front of the class and read a passage or sentences from the textbook. This must be spoken in a very loud voice with good intonation. The class then repeats. Speaking loudly is important to give the feel of confidence in speaking. Constant drilling is important. The textbook is usually good. I follow most of the passages and exercises. The students do not like this. They want activities; they want new ways; they want new things; they want to talk. I sympathize with them, as I am pretty much the same. But there is still some drudgery in learning, so all must to it together. The best students must also repeat what was said to develop a natural way of speaking: the ordinary must practice to develop mastery: the weak must learn new sentences. Such is my teaching of English.

And what is more, there must be order in class, and in this respect I am guilty of having noise and often disorder in the class. In former years, there was always silence and respect, which I suspected suppressed much and discouraged creativity and spontaneity. Now I feel the opposite! Students now need to listen and concentrate on what is being done. The teacher is responsible to moderate and lead. The noise in my class gives some people the impression of my lack of class control and of bad teaching. But such is life! One has to face comments and criticism. Be that as it may, the teacher needs courage to try different ways of teaching. The teacher must continually learn how to teach, and consider new ways suitable for the students. Such is the teacher I have been.

One of the wonderful aspects of teaching in Wah Yan is the freedom given to each teacher. I teach, often getting angry and showing my feelings. I use my ways according to my personality and experience. The students are also different and must develop their own ways- within limits. Each teacher must find his own way, and adapt it to his moods and the needs he sees. (2517)

eaching English to Form Three for four decades

第十章 一位英文老師?


我教了四十年書之後,現在可以道出一個秘密: 我不是一個合資格的教師! 於一九五六年,我在愛爾蘭國家大學,科學學士畢業,主修植物學、動物學和地質學,我在Tullabeg 的聖斯坦學院(St. Stanislaus College)讀了三年經院哲學,於一九五九年畢業,接著我在麥烈書院教了一年法文、和生物學,如果我留在愛爾蘭,教書多兩年和補修一些課程,我便可以取得教育文憑。 在長洲讀了兩年廣東話之後,我去了碧遙的貝拉爾曼學院讀神學,於一九六六年取得碩士學位,多年的學習中,我從未想過在一間學校課室媟磽悎v。



究竟我做過些甚麼令大家都認識我是一個英文老師呢? 我要分派班別,訂定教科書,製定考試試題和改考試卷,我跟隨其他教師所做,一星期教二十六節,有很多時間可做其他活動,其他教師可以大致同樣,要照顧一個大家庭,或者要進修,或做其他工作,如果你衹是專心上課教書,沒有其他熱愛的興趣,如運動或是做義工,你會變成一個很沉悶的老師,我的興趣是在教會做傳道工作和活動以改善社會。

在教英文方面,我集中在會話,上堂衹准用英文,操練學生大聲講英文,令自己對語言有信心。 我注重英文會話雖然我的文法不好,我嘗試要學生閱讀英文書,我要求他們寫作,我欣賞我學生的天資和熱情,我甚至想訪問他們每一個家庭。


我在學校不會寫作,因為沒有甚麼可以寫,為了解決這困難,我安排學生「出外」,這樣他們會有很多可以寫了,於是我計劃每個星期讓他們有一個經歷,令他們可以用英文與其他同學分享,然後寫下來。 得到學校行政的合作特許,我一星期有一個下午有連續三堂,我很幸運! 要「出外」一定是去附近的地方,花費要少,準備要妥當。 如何做到一定要用我獨一無二的方法。