All Talk & No Action in ELT?


Hamstrung by Money

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).


24 thoughts on “All Talk & No Action in ELT?

  1. I’ve been told time and time again that TESOL are the good guys to IATEFL’s bad guys i.e. they advocate for teachers as part of their mission, formulate concrete policies, encourage union membership and so on. Fair enough, that’s all to be commended.

    But the livestreamed videos I saw from Athens were just full of buzzwords, framed in business rationality – and considering Betsy DeVos intends to wield a sledgehammer to US education, wildly out of touch. (Is Betsy a ‘change agent’?)

    Therefore, unless there’s some drastic change, I see no alternative but for teachers to self-organize because the teacher organisations just drink the same capitalist, a-critical, Kool-Aid. The CELTA to Pauper pipeline is not only being extended, it’s being reinforced.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Paul.

      It does smack of wanting to dress us teachers up nicely before being sacrificed at the temple altar.

      Smaller groups are better? Avoid massive transnational organisations? I’m wondering where we go. I’m not full of answers but I am ready to agentify changism in my own life.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Marc

    I think I am already doing some of the things you mention…

    I don’t know if you have heard of these

    1 Heart ELT

    – Producing crowdsourced materials to support teacher with little or no resources.

    Providing free CPD to teachers who work in low resource or disruptive environment

    ELT for Social Change

    2 Academic Study Kit – an indie publishing platform

    ethical – innovative -empowering teachers

    Up next: organising CPD to create a new tribe of social entrepreneurs
    CPD events that are not run on a top down hierarchy

    It’s quite lonely out here.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wow! Thanks for taking the time to stop by. I’ve heard of Heart ELT and it sounded great. Could you leave links to your projects for people who might be interested (me!), please?

      I hope that in the next few weeks or months that I can make it less lonely out there!

      Once again, thanks so much!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t mind the centres but I do mind the centres being put into competition with other companies and bidding for dispatch contracts. Teachers have no say in this and few decent job options.


      1. Our teaching centre doesn’t have charity status or anything, that stopped years ago. Its just another private language school so I guess we have to compete with others. It doesn’t irk me that much in my current context to be honest. Job options at council are good I think, best of any place I’ve worked. But then I haven’t worked for other big schools like IH so can’t really compare…


      2. Doesn’t the centre get British government funding? I wonder how this gets reconciled with the soft diplomacy.

        Thanks for not thinking I’m getting at teachers.


      3. No teaching centre gets no funding, it’s not a charity. BC operations are, I thought that’s why you mentioned them separately in the post. That’s all the arts and culture stuff. They get funding plus a share of teaching centre profits I think. Teaching centres (at least in Asia from what I know but I think everywhere) are just self sustaining private lang schools, I think the status change happened for most in around 2012


    1. Hi Olya
      Yes the EVO is fantastic but then again it is moderated by an amazing group of individuals who place free CPD at the top of their (volunteer agenda) Nellie Deutsch is one of them (if Nellie puts her name to something, you can be sure it’s going to be amazing.)
      A few more names to watch out Nives Torresi, Charles Goodyear. All very humble, supportive, highly knowledgeable and KIND people. I moderated the Zero Resource Classroom – I am still new to a lot of the online tools, but I am learning. And the level of engagement of participants was really inspiring.
      We certainly need more selfless people like these to lead the way. Bravo!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. EVO is great. I am almost always busy when it is on (and would have loved to have been in your session). I am hoping to be less busy when it’s on next time. Thanks Olya!


  3. Reblogged this on Victorhugor ELT and commented:
    “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.” (M. Jones, 2017)

    That is called Lifelong learning, Teachers learning from each other (PETsNet’s motto), For teachers, by teachers (iTDi’s motto), Building our PLN.


  4. Great article Marc, I think the trend for widening what we think of as CPD is an admirable one. I do get concerned that we just replace the “talking shop” with an “alt-talking shop” that just ushers in a new orthodoxy. I suppose the key, as ever, is greater and wider engagement and encouraging more participation and motivation to develop within the profession.


    1. Thanks a lot, David. It’s also a big fear of mine. Alternative things often turn out to be malformed and just as pointless as what preceded them. I guess I’m lucky to have a connection to really cool, knowledgeable people.


  5. Hi Marc. Interesting read. Please could you clarify: ‘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’. I’m not sure I fully grasp this. Thanks.


    1. Certainly, James. Ford Motors hired Frederick Taylor to do scientific management analysis of their production process. Taylor found it to be more productive to have people trained in one particular job, such as fitting front axles, than having a general or holistic knowledge of the car or car-assembly process. This deskilled the workers and the industry and makes it possible to bring in unskilled labour. The large publishing companies seek to create courses that can be implemented globally and with the reduced need to provide lesson planning or assessment time to teachers because lesson plans are explicit in the teacher’s book and by the flow on the page. Writers try to do things differently but the pace of change is glacial.


  6. Hi Marc,

    I’ve been meaning to reply to your blog post earlier but I was busy with our own grassroots CPD last week. We had our 2nd annual IEP Camp with sessions by and for teachers (and a few administrative staff). Although we were partially funded by publishers, they were not present at the camp and had no terms concerning the content of the sessions.

    Additionally, I wrote a similar reaction to the TESOL Summit in regards to the EdCamp-version of CPD at I’d recommended it to anyone interested in grassroots CPD.


    1. Hi Jeremy. Thanks for the comment. I like the idea of your IEP Camp. I think you’re lucky to have publishers sponsor the event but not dictate or veto session content. My concern is that if publishers sponsor events that are critical and then choose not to sponsor future events, does this hobble that event long-term and show that critical narratives will be silenced? On the other hand, does sponsoring critical events render them safer to the dominant parties who get to manage the discourse?


      1. We’ve had 2 IEP camps so far and no publisher has threatened to pull sponsorship. We also had non-publishers sponsor our camps. The education technology sector usually sponsors the edcamps for K-12. Dominant parties shouldn’t be able to manage the discourse for too long by design. I think venues like these are prime opportunities for sharing critical narratives, but the ones I have attended were a bit tame compared. However, I’m admin so my very presence could be limiting criticism.

        Liked by 1 person

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