Repetition, Variation

One of my students this week is back at the school for the fourth time in as many years.

Repetition, Variation – decorative tilework, Alhambra, Granada

Repetition, Variation – decorative tilework, Alhambra, Granada

There are often some returnees mingled in with the new faces (my student is not the only one this week, for example), and it is usually pleasant but also mildly worrying to see them: the danger of long-range repetition of materials is always a risk. We keep records, of course, and records can be consulted; but it is not simply a question of repetition of materials. There is also the danger of repetition of anecdote, of advice, of conversational position.

And there is a danger also for the student, that they will, for example, uncover the same fossilised errors, or the same limitations, which arose last time round. Teachers light on different things, allow some things to go, prioritise other things; the same teacher and the same student together after one year might be a recipe for a sort of instructional Groundhog Day.

But it never happens, not at least in my experience. A year will make for subtle shifts on both sides, shifts that are hard to perceive, day to day. Fresh subject matter replaces old, new goals come into focus, and life looks a little different on both sides. And what repetition there is can very well be felicitous: old problems seen in new lights, old matters reconsidered.

My student this week is now starting to think about an exam (IELTS), and is looking for ways not to slip back after returning to his country. That is something new to think about. And I have picked him up on a couple of old habits. All in all, it should be a familiar, but fresh, experience.

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