Teachers as Tour Guides?

After a longish break for the summer (mostly spent relocating to Slovenia rather than sitting on a beach somewhere) I am now resuming my monthly reflections on various aspects of English language teaching. My blogs are normally inspired by a recent professional experience and this month the event was last weekend’s INGED conference in Izmir (I talked about learner autonomy – my slides and references are here). Interestingly, though, it is not one of the talks at the conference I draw on here (although there were several interesting presentations) but an excursion to Ephesus we went on at the end of the event. I’ve toured ancient sites before but the scale of Ephesus is really impressive and it was definitely worth the visit. We had a very pleasant and highly experienced tour guide with us, and as he took us around the site over a period of some three hours it struck me that tour guides and teachers have much in common. Here are some aspects of the tour guide’s ‘context’ which I noticed – do you see the parallels in teaching?

1. The guide starts the tour with a clear plan.
2. They have to guide groups through a journey without losing anyone along the way.
3. The individuals in the group will move at different speeds.
4. Levels of interest and motivation will also vary within the group.
5. Some ‘management’ is necessary to keep the group orderly.
6. The guide needs to speak up in order to be heard.
7. Tour guides have extensive knowledge of their subject.
8. Individuals may want to engage in activities (e.g. shopping) other than those prescribed by the tour guide.
9. Environmental factors (e.g. climate) will impact on how individuals feel during a tour.
10. The tour must reach its final destination by a specified time.

Any other similarities you can think of here?

There were also various aspects of the guide’s behaviour which I thought have parallels in teaching. Once again, as you read this list think about how they apply to teaching (you may also find it interesting to consider whether your teaching (sometimes) reflects any of these characteristics):

11. Guides provide information at the outset about the length and purpose of the tour.
12. Tour guides are keen to share their knowledge by explaining matters at length and in detail (even if individuals would prefer a briefer explanation).
13. Tour guides mostly ask questions they know the answer to (e.g. how many people can this auditorium hold?)
14. Incorrect answers to their questions are met with firm explicit correction (e.g. Guide: What is that building? Participant: The temple of Artemis. Guide: It’s the library).
15. The guide assumes that the information they provide is clearly understood.
16. Participants are not given opportunities to ask questions.
17. The tour guide does not receive feedback on how the group are feeling during the tour.
18. The guide does not receive feedback on their performance after the trip.~
19. The guide is firmly in control of the itinerary – ‘autonomy’ is not encouraged.~
20. The guide allows free time for refreshments and shopping at the end of the tour.

I am sure that tour guides vary in their approach, just as teachers do, and I certainly am not suggesting at all that the kind man in charge of our tour was not good at his job (it was a very enjoyable trip). The comparison is, though, I think, instructive in helping us to think about our work as teachers (many of items 11-20 might be seen as less desirable features of teaching).

We can link this analysis to the use of metaphors in teacher education (see http://tinyurl.com/o5es9tb for a presentation about the 2011 paper ‘From students’ and teachers’ perspectives: Metaphor analysis of beliefs about EFL teachers’ roles published in System, 39/3). In a teacher training session on ‘the role of the teacher’ or ‘teacher talk’ a useful lead-in activity might be to ask the teachers or trainees to brainstorm a list of ways in which teachers are similar or different to professions such as tour guides. Other examples would also make for interesting comparisons with teachers – e.g. orchestra conductor, doctor, and gardener (see http://tinyurl.com/o2adevq and http://tinyurl.com/o3txo26 for more examples). If you have used these kinds of comparisons in language teacher training then it would be interesting to hear about what you do and your rationale. http://tinyurl.com/opq9flw provides a further useful discussion of metaphors in teacher education.

The general point here, from a teacher education point of view, is that our metaphors for teaching will, consciously or otherwise, impact on our behaviours; examining our metaphors (and realizing, for example, that we tend to teach in ‘tour guide’ mode) can therefore be a valuable reflective activity.

I thank our hosts at INGED for an enjoyable event and for a great excursion.

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