“Here’s the coursebook we are using. You can divide each chapter into 3 and the book should be enough to cover Term 1 and 2.” This pretty much summarises one of my first teaching jobs. Once the job interview is over and you are deemed worthy of being given a class to teach the hard part begins: being provided with a coursebook to stick to. Having started my career as a language teacher at the height of the communicative approach I must say that watching my EFL colleagues walk into class with a designated coursebook that had all the EFL bible elements under the sun integrated into each lesson made me both inspired and resentful. Inspiration and resentment turned me into a language teaching material writer and for that I am eternally grateful. However when I started my career as a teacher trainer I had to explain why the (very few) French course books available were so ill-suited to the needs of novice teachers. As in a way they still are. EFL publications had lead the way but somehow other languages were lagging behind and French as a Foreign Language publications, at the time, just made you want to weep.
Teaching a language outside the country where it is spoken is challenging enough. But being forced to use lessons that progress at the speed of light and are designed in a “one fits all” approach is downright disheartening. As often (for me at least), despair breeds problem-solving skills and it was not long before I started creating my own lessons as a teacher and helping trainees to do the same as a teacher trainer. “This must take forever” colleagues would muse. And yes, it did initially take time and effort. On the bright side, once you get the hang of writing your own lessons from start to finish you end up being able to do it in your sleep. Painful as it may seem it is a far less excruciating exercise than that of having to use materials that need constant adjustment. For all the lessons in the coursebook that you liked and which worked well in class there always seemed to be an awfully long list of lessons you had come to hate and dreaded to teach. I would stare at some of those while muttering to myself “ceci n’est pas une leçon”.
Writing you own lessons is both liberating and fulfilling. It taps into the creative mind and helps to put aside the constraints of a syllabus while catering directly for the students as individuals with their specific needs, abilities, desires and cultural backgrounds in mind.
Although initially pushed in at the deep end of material development I do not regret for a second having had no other choice but to become a material writer for I have found that after 24 years of teaching with some of them spent teaching the same students several years in a row, coursebooks might have been the death of me if I’d had to use them.