Over the past month, I've been teaching a woman who will soon head off to a European country for an extended period of time to work in the head office of her company. To prepare for this time, she is taking a series of 5 intensive lessons with me. We spend two hours on Sundays practicing possible real life conversations.
When I say "real life conversations", I don't mean small talk or actually having a chat, I mean short exchanges at the drug store, train station, office, etc. If you've ever taught from the plethora of textbooks on the market for learners of English as a second language, you know that these are the least popular lessons in the books. In fact, when I used to work at Nova conversation school 18 years ago, teachers would repeat the same lessons 6 times over with students before teaching the lessons centering around pragmatic exchanges at the market, a hotel, etc. While the content was useful, it was often a teaching cul-de-sac for the teachers and repetitive and uninteresting for the students. Even doing the dialog once where you're essentially saying, "Hello, I've got a headache. Could you recommend some medicine?" and getting a response and thanking the other person isn't all that interesting. Doing it enough so the student gets it down and can say it correctly is a slog through deep mud.
My particular student is advanced in level, but imperfect in her speech patterns. That is, she's too high level to need a textbook to tell her what to say in a particular context, but her grammar is sloppy enough that she needs to practice. That means we really couldn't use a book. The lessons have been just me using all the power of my brain to continuously come up with new scenarios to practice until she grew weary of that one and wants to move on to another. Imagine if you will how many one to two minute exchanges I have to take part in to fill up 120 minutes of time. Add into that that she wasn't even interested in any preamble to the lesson with chat. She just wants to dive in.
I'm sure from the student's viewpoint that I seem to be effortlessly tossing out scenarios and taking part in practice, but I only make it look easy. I was really exhausted by this as it's been a lot of improvisation. I had a fairly long list of real life situations and she had 4 that she had come up with, but I still was almost out of steam by the end. There just aren't that many things you need to do and she rejected some of the scenarios I had written down (like going to the bank).
People think teaching is easy because all you do is follow a book or just make small talk. It's not in the least like that. Books offer frameworks which you have to expand upon. Smalltalk only gets you so far, and it takes you a shorter distance the better you know someone. Students have goals and you have to be able to make a plan to meet them. It's not throwing things at a wall and hoping they stick or flying by the seat of your pants. You have to be able to think on your feet and make sure you're smoothly traveling down the right roads. You also have to make it look like you had the route perfectly mapped out all along or the students lose confidence in you or don't respect you. If you stumble, pause too long or lose your focus, the students know you don't know what you're doing at that moment.
Anyone who thinks that teaching is easy should have to sit through the same sort of grueling 2-hour sessions of short, pragmatic conversations I've been going through. Their opinion would change less than halfway through the lesson. I guarantee it.