Connect, Grow, Thrive

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 30 No. 1 Winter 2012

Teaching in pursuit of WOW!

Tim Murphey

Tokyo, Japan: ABAX ELT Publishers (2012)
98 pages
ISBN 978-1-896942-34-6

This slim volume is a collection of short papers – to call them anecdotes would do disservice to the immense knowledge and philosophy underlying them – focusing on Tim’s humanistic approach to teaching that places the learner rather than any teaching method at the centre of attention. Many of them deal with Tim’s personal experience teaching and interacting with learners, often backed up by more general theoretical considerations and historical references. The latter especially are particularly interesting, as they frequently draw on the work of eastern philosophers such as Confucius (well over 2,000 years old) and show how relevant those ideas still are today.

Tim was one of the founder members of ETAS and was a major force in developing ETAS during the early years. He left Switzerland over 20 years ago and moved to Japan. His experience in the Far East gives another perspective which many of us in the West may not be too familiar with. Despite the many positive reports of learning success in his EFL classroom, he is not totally uncritical of educational policy in Japan, especially the entrance exam system.

Another major thread running through this collection is the notion that learning, including language learning, is a social phenomenon. Learning together with others can improve progress to an extent not deemed possible for an individual at the outset. A central task of the teacher is to provide the conditions for learning, and promoting an effective social ambiance is one very important factor. Hearing and seeing other learners, realising that they sometimes have similar problems to oneself, yet in some cases have managed to overcome them, can motivate and inspire one’s own efforts. To quote Brendan Graham’s lyrics, “You raise me up to more than I can be.”

This is a thought-provoking collection that is not only well worth reading, but is also not difficult to read and understand (despite the occasional printing or proof-reading error). The papers are short but contain many points worthy of reflection, as well as concrete ideas for classroom teaching and activities. It is a volume I can recommend without hesitation.

Steve Lander