The Exchange

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.

If you’re interested, contact me.

Holidays, the time taken for application forms

(Photo of me in front of a poster with elephants in Osaka. ©2018)

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!

What's changed? Let's do stuff!

Three years of writing this bloody blog and what’s changed, really? I have, but that’s not what I’m talking about. How has the profession changed? It hasn’t. Not a bloody single thing as far as I can tell. Glacial. Maybe a few people have cottoned on to the learning styles myth. That’s it.
So, am I going to just continue glowering at the internet or do something about it? Well, there has to be a balance between working for nothing for a worthy project or cause and getting compensated fairly. So what can I (we?) do?
We can complain about how shit things are (like in Jeremy Slagowski’s great post about a listening syllabus here) and/or put forward an alternative.
We can moan about stuff that doesn’t work and/or see about fixing it. Now, my name is not Answer Man. It’s not even my alter ego. Sometimes, when you find something doesn’t do what you think it’s supposed to do, you ask an expert. Sometimes it’s somebody who works in a shop. Sometimes it’s a book. Sometimes it’s your friends. By talking about stuff, we surely get closer to an answer, at least one more step forward on the path to enlightenment.
Doing stuff, though. This is what I think I need to do. It doesn’t always come off right, but it’s going to be, usually, only as bad as inaction, especially if you think hard about potential risks before acting.

Battle the Status Quo in Your Classroom

This is not a ‘smash the system’ post but more to do with dissatisfaction at work. I’m sure everybody has had the feeling of dread that comes of another work day rolling around. For me it was having to repeat the same rubbish based on rubbish books upon which rubbish syllabi were based and imposed on me and my learners (by people with no experience of teaching language). You might not have this problem. For you it might be behavioural issues in the classroom, an incompetent or unsupportive boss, lack of support, or something else entirely.

What can you do?

I think the first step is analysis. What exactly is the problem? Probe this until you get to the root. For me, the books were awful because half the topics were stupid and irrelevant to my life and my students’ lives yet to use the book without the carrier topics often made no sense.
Next you need to brainstorm solutions. Don’t worry about practicalities at this stage, just generate ideas. Once you have enough, shortlist them and try them out (more than just a couple of times if it’s feasible). Document it and be systematic because it might be useful for other teachers (if so blog it, present it or see if your local teachers’ association will publish it). Even small-scale research is research. Try your other ideas, too. I thought about how I could use the books as little as possible. I’d heard about Dogme but it wasn’t until I started my DipTESOL that I came to Task Based Language Teaching, which gave me the option of a different framework within which to use ‘the book’ and ideas about how language might be assessed formatively, that is for planning further learning instead of to put a number on somebody. I still need to pay lip service to some pointless grammar syllabi my students have covered in previous school settings but I don’t do it for the whole lesson in those situations. Anyway, you need to try things to see what works for you, why it works, and even if it works whether it’s the best solution.
If you can’t get around your problem and you can’t solve it you might want to start looking for a new job. First, think about whether your problem is a gripe or a big deal, though. I parted company with s couple of places because I realised they weren’t right for me. Sometimes you can’t do it immediately. Grit your teeth, learn something new and let people know you’re looking for something new. You might also be open to teaching in new settings.
If you have other ideas for fighting the rot, leave them in the comments, please.