I thought that maybe we’d get some sense of community to work through problems we face in society, it looks like the status quo is still very much alive and well. Instead, so many people crave normality. Normality was unfair and rubbish.
The tools are there to be had in our little corner of English language teaching. We’ve got pay-what-you-want services, open source software, and even beyond that, we have exchange of services and knowledge. We should be more open to this if we truly believe that teachers can learn from students and that it isn’t just one-way transmission of knowledge. Yes, I know I have a Patreon; am I not allowed to be paid for things I write?
Anyway, talk costs nothing. Deeds matter. I am going to try a low-stakes experiment. I think that starting in September or October, I have time to mentor about two people, probably a mixture of email and video chat, or even Discord, for about four months. Let’s leave it open at the minute to see what happens. It costs nothing. All I want is permission to blog about what I learn from the experience over that time. You get my 17 years of experience working in education, and I get what you bring.
Who doesn’t like a holiday? I am supposed to be on mine but I can’t help be sort of not on holiday. I still have a bit of grading to do (deadline far enough away to not feel guilty), some other bits of projects to do, and job searching.
I am still looking for a full-time job, and am constantly looking and the jobs keep coming up, albeit some of the most interesting ones outside Kanto.
I remember there was quite a to do on Twitter among UK academics defending the summer teaching break in universities because this is when they actually get research done. Well, among serial part-timers, basically people working more teaching hours than most full-time university teaching staff, this is when we finally have time to cut and paste our CVs into bespoke bloody forms for every university job we apply to (either part or full time, tenured or contract), with ill-judged formatting choices that mean the file renders stupidly on a Windows computer but fine on a Mac or vice versa. One university that I am still thinking about applying for, and it’s just a thought because of what follows, wants publications (Check! Although maybe not high-flying enough.) and also evidence of excellence in teaching based on the dubious evidence provided in student questionnaires. I predict some humming and aahing (and aarghing) about this, if only about being bothered to find logins for the different university questionnaire websites. It makes the 500 words in L2 about my aims for a general-ESP-EAP hybrid course for a more prestigious university seem doable.
Anyway, less blog moaning. I’ll only be moaning on social media between now and the last week of August. Probably.
So, yes, my summer holiday for the next week or so will be spent with early mornings grumbling about Excel, my crappy English-to-Japanese translation skills, my dreadful keigo, and general work related faff before housework and parenting. At least it’s just a week, then it’s countdown to an actual trip!
This weekend was the TESOL Summit in Athens, and like many an ill-advised corporate venture, it was hashtagged to encourage (token) engagement from stakeholders to give (the illusion that) teachers have a say.
The problem is, the last time I looked Pearson isn’t a teacher, nor is Cengage: they are materials developers who make money from coursebooks and so have an interest in keeping teachers deskilled so that language-teaching organisations can implement a Fordist-Taylorist employment structure where any worker is immediately replaceable. If you will, it’s taking the skilled craftsperson and putting them at the same level as someone trained to tighten four bolts with a ratchet 75 times a minute. The British Council, a corporate entity masquerading as a quasi-governmental body (or the other way around) is one of the sponsors. The same British Council who implements observations of various language centres across Britain but also competes with other language centres overseas. (I’m not anti-BC teacher, by the way. There are great people work for the organisation. I’m anti-BC corporate operations. Why are they corporate when they are a branch of the British government?)
There’s a lot going for the TESOL organisation: they do come out and try not to sit on the fence about matters that concern teachers. To what extent are they hamstrung by their need to rely on sponsorship to gather large numbers of people together? That’s not for me to judge for you but for me to judge for myself.
An alternative to the talking shop?
So what can we do apart from have big groups like IATEFL and TESOL pretend to advocate for us teachers but actually advocate for people working for corporate interests that sponsor their grand events?
Direct action, as much as you can muster. I’m not saying drive a manure truck into the lobby of Pearson but there is a lot that can be done on a teacher-to-teacher level.
Subvert the notion of top-down training by organising your own CPD sessions. This can be meetings carried out the next time you have a free lesson, it could be a meeting over a coffee or beer. I’d go for the taking down time at work – it might be the only paid CPD you have the chance for. Pool skills. What are you good at and what are your colleagues good at? What do you need to help yourself as opposed to helping your bosses (not that bosses are always bad but their interests are not always the same).
Ask uncomfortable questions about the rationale of the materials that Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan, Pearson, Cengage and other reps try to sell you in your own workplace. Can they talk about the psycholinguistic benefits of the way the lesson is designed to flow? Can you show that you have greater knowledge of the principles behind their products? Can they give any rationale at all? Can it be backed up by theory? Has the salesperson ever taught? Just because someone works for a company that is seen as an arbiter of what English is, doesn’t mean they talk sense. Question them as much as you would question me or any other ranting voice on the internet.
Talk about wages. Talk about how crap wages are and how they are being driven to the floor. Talk about your wage and your colleagues wages. Talk about how qualifications don’t always result in higher wages. Talk about how the grass is greener elsewhere. If you can find something better, go and tell your colleagues to accept better. Demand High of institutions, as it were.
When bullshitted to, don’t take it. If you need to like it or lump it, perhaps you grit your teeth and work to rule. Maybe you look for things you can do yourself or with a group of like-minded colleagues. It’s often a last resort but do you want to teach how you want to teach or teach how somebody in an office 300 miles away who did a degree in business studies and looks at footfall by metro stations as the primary factor in their operations wants you to teach?
Talk is cheap. Talking among teachers, is cheap. If we all talk to each other we can make the grassroots louder than the astroturfing of corporate ELT. Don’t let corporate interests treat you as a replaceable part. You and I, we are not cogs. I’m pledging to not just talk but to make simple actions to help reduce the bollocks in ELT. Who’s in? (And if you are, there’s also TaWSIG).