The Rinvoludicrous interview

Humanistic teachers faced with a problem in class like to ask themselves, “What would Mario do?” They are, of course, referring to the venerable conscience of the language teaching profession, Mario Rinvoludicrous.

The publicity-shy Mario seldom gives interviews. For that reason, Englishdroid is especially privileged that the sage granted us a few minutes of his time.

Mario was born on a ley-line and spent his formative years in a hedge. He writes loads of books and, when he can remember where it is, wanders into class at Hermits, the world-famous EFL school in Crawley.

Englishdroid: Mario, sum up your teaching philosophy in a nutshell.

Rinvoludicrous: You are what you teach. You teach what you are. Be.

Englishdroid: Right—

Rinvoludicrous: Caleb Gattegno, terrific man, pathetic frisbee-thrower, once said to me: “Mario, only the students can.”

Englishdroid: Er, can what, exactly?

Rinvoludicrous: Learn. [Silence.] The teacher can’t learn for them.

Englishdroid: No.

Only they can. Brilliant.

Englishdroid: So how does this work out in practice? What do you do in a typical lesson at Hermits?

Rinvoludicrous: Often I’m a tree. Sometimes a stone. Or a pool. A swamp. I am just there.

Englishdroid: And when the students come in and see you’re a tree...?

Rinvoludicrous: They smile. They know. They learn.

Englishdroid: So they just get on with the lesson themselves.

Rinvoludicrous: Yes.

Englishdroid: And do you say anything?

Rinvoludicrous: Sometimes. But learning is much more effective if the teacher doesn’t dominate. Doesn’t repress the students’ natural potential to absorb. Doesn’t overteach.

Englishdroid: So you just sit there—

Rinvoludicrous: On the floor, yes. Or under the desk. But often I think it’s best for the teacher not to be there at all. Sometimes I just stay at home. Then the students feel really free. A lot of the best learning experiences happen when the teacher’s at home, or down the pub.

Englishdroid: Quite. And when you’re actually in the classroom, what do you do?

Rinvoludicrous: Well, a good teacher draws on all the mental stuff that students bring with them to class. For instance, if a student of mine likes collecting airline sick bags, I get them to write on the bags and then stick them up on the classroom wall.

Englishdroid: Astonishing. And how do the students respond to this?

Rinvoludicrous: Oh, they love it.

Englishdroid: And does it actually improve their English?

Rinvoludicrous: Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, that’s up to them, isn’t it? Only they can.

Englishdroid: Right. Now, apart from Gattegno, who has influenced your teaching most?

Rinvoludicrous: Oh, it would have to be Frank.

Englishdroid: Christine Frank, your co-author on Grammar in Action?

Rinvoludicrous: No, Frank Sinatra. [Sings] “And now, the end is near, And so I face the final curtain. My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.”

Englishdroid: Very good, yes.

Rinvoludicrous: “I’ve lived a life that’s full. I’ve travelled each and every highway, But more, much more than this, I did it my way.”

Englishdroid : Moving on now—

Rinvoludicrous: “Regrets, I’ve had a few—”

Englishdroid: Moving on to your own background: why did you become a teacher?

Rinvoludicrous: I love the English language. I just love it. It’s, like, you know, really awesome. Do you know English has the biggest vocabulary of all languages? I mean, that’s really awesome.

Englishdroid: And do you have any hints for a nervous new teacher?

Rinvoludicrous: Yes. Go into class a few minutes early. Face the whiteboard. Then—once you’ve heard the students arrive—begin, softly at first, then louder, to sing.

Englishdroid: My Way?

Rinvoludicrous: Blowing in the Wind, by Bob Dylan. When you’ve finished, turn round slowly. Sometimes the students are so moved, the classroom will be empty. Sometimes you’ll find other people wanting to learn too, like your Director of Studies and a couple of security guards. It’s a powerful technique.

Englishdroid: Mario Rinvoludicrous, thank you very much.