Underneath the pavement, the beach

This is the follow-up to my previous post, ‘Find someone who‘ which detailed several problems with the TESOL sphere. The title for this post comes from the Situationists, and is a reference to the sand found underneath the paving stones torn up in the Paris 1968 revolutionary clashes.

There is little to be achieved by only complaining about one’s problems. Certainly, it is relieving to vent. After the venting, however, we have inaction, a restored status quo. There needs to be some sort of action, no matter whether it is a tactical advancement or sabotage.

A lot of us work outside our contracted hours. For those of us creating material to be used in classes and where we retain copyright, I would absolutely advise you to sell this on. Could you sell it as an ebook? As a zip file of materials? If you don’t retain copyright, could you subvert laws and means by only using Creative Commons Share Alike media in your materials? This means that anything created must be shared with the same license. It would also mean that your organisation doesn’t benefit at the expense of everyone else, even if they do stop you from selling it on yourself. If not, totally ensure that you provide only a paper copy to your organisation so that they cannot make a digital version without some effort. Mostly PDF scans look like PDF scans. Remember to add your name under the title or at least somewhere that is a pain to cut it from. If your materials are good and you get acknowledgement without any kind of benefit other than kudos, you might as well be paid in social media likes.

Working to rule is still a thing that feels a bit mean to some of us. I disagree, though I believe I ought to do it more. It’s doing what you are contracted to do. Essentially, anything else is a freebie. If you are freelance, you probably think that freebies are horrible. If you work for an institution, these are often disguised as ‘Everybody normally comes in early to prep and leaves late after marking’. I bet everyone did it because everyone else did it before. Do you know whether everyone else has the same contract? Have you considered that working those extra bits normalises working for free? If you can afford to work for free, lucky you! Just don’t help bring about a culture where everyone else does.

For some of us, we do a phenomenal amount of CPD, including paying for our own qualifications which our organisations benefit from through bragging rights to students. If it isn’t recognised, don’t do it, or if you want to do it, don’t declare it. If your employer wants to parade your CV around, they ought to damn well pay for what’s gone onto it since you’ve been with them. This is one of the reasons I stopped working for one agency: they wanted an updated CV, but there was no extra to be paid as a DipTESOL holder. It doesn’t have to be a diploma or degree, though. Courses, conferences and even webinars take time away from our families friends and chances of getting a nutritious meal instead of being too tired to cook.

If employers are trying to deskill the profession, we need to fight back, and perhaps even fight dirty. Abandon new syllabi and teach better, knowing its better for students to not get the advertised ‘product’. Or transform the materials in such a way that only the highly skilled can use the supplementary materials. Make lesson plans unintelligible except to the initiated. You might get a stern talking to, even a warning. I might advise you, however, that the writing is already on the wall in this case and that you should probably be seeking alternative employment.

The social side of things is a different beast. Staff rooms not being safe, well, I have no idea beyond hoping others will call out bullshit if you can’t. Sometimes, even this doesn’t work. If you can keep a diary of anything, get it down on paper, or even have sympathetic witnesses who can vouch for you it might help (but equally might not). If you really can’t take it, you could consult your union if you have one if your employer is unwilling to act. If you don’t have one or get no joy, and you don’t mind burning your bridges consult the department of employment or similar. You might not have a job to go to for that employer and there would be no good reference, but there would be some kind of record of complaint at least. A declaration that there are problems. I don’t have any easy solutions here.

Similar to the invisibility of LGBTQ+ identities because it can be risky. Does one out oneself to make a point of visibility or look after oneself? I think it’s a personal decision, and you might have to go the union/department-of-employment route here, too.

I started with the Situationists and I will end with them. “Be reasonable, demand the impossible.” What is ‘impossible’ for employers and the industry at large is frequently not; it is only ‘reasonable’ and therefore right.

Demotivations in Language Teaching

Uber cynical post warning. Consider this warning a warning and your last warning.

So, I’m back after the holidays at one of my places of employment and freelance me has already been out on the road and in cyberspace. This post is mainly looking at the institutional side of language teaching and the demotivations from my point of view as a serial part-timer.

“CPD? Computerized Personal Data? I don’t know.”

There is no continuous professional development on offer; a DIY approach is essential, there are no books available except my own personal collection and that of one of my coworkers. There are limited discussions about teaching, pedagogy or learning of languages, just firefighting conversations about students who do things they ought not to do or teachers who basically can’t teach.

Contrast this with one of my universities that has a fantastic library just for the teachers and a decent library with English books about language teaching and learning in it for the English majors and another university that cries a bit hard up but has kept subscriptions to TESOL Quarterly and a few other journals. Something always beats nothing.

“Align the tests with… the tests.”

I make the tests. This is in my contract. I make the tests and then show them to the head of English for the year group and he (or she depending on the year, but mainly he) approves it. Or not. There was one year that my coworker and I decided to be idealistic and actually attempt to assess the students by assessing what we teach. This is, clearly, madness. What is the most logical idea is to give an essay topic one week prior to the test periods for a speaking course and have students write a page on one of the topics. The week after that they will answer questions or formulate questions based on a list of questions the teacher/assessor will ask and a list of answers from which to formulate a question, provided with the essay topic. After that, there will be a paired conversation based on an everyday situation except that all students will have half-arsedly memorized a script instead of reacting to questions, leading to such gems as:

S1: What are you going to do tomorrow?

S2: I am going to Disneyland?

S1: Where are you going to go?

S2: I am going to go with my friend.

This is purely because language is expected to be taught as a content-subject, not a skills subject. Recalling facts about morphology and syntax, but we are employed to teach “natural English” and “help the students communicate naturally”.

“Oh, can you proofread this?”

This is in the contract. I don’t mind doing this, actually, because it is interesting, English teachers essentially having a fetish for odd points of grammar, pragmatics and semantics. Except I don’t like the one person who gives something in the break between second and third lesson and expects it to be done by lunchtime. So in ten minutes. Or 8 if I am teaching far from the teachers’ room. The same person, who is usually considerate except for this time. I do not wish to become overly curt, I bite my tongue, but there is a veritable cesspool of swearwords waiting to be expelled on the walk between the school gates and the convenience store.

There are lovely things about the job, mainly the time off and the bonus (kerching – except actually it could just go on the monthly pay, couldn’t it?) but I would love a bit more of a free rein. Perhaps the worst thing is knowing I have free rein at university and then back at school.

At university there are only a couple of demotivators:

“How many times have I been absent?”

Too many for B but you’re probably OK for a C if you’ve made it and found me.

“I left my homework in El Segundo. I got to get it back. Can you come to university tomorrow to get it?”

No, but there was this amazing invention in the 20th Century called email. Use it!

 

The Personal Side of Evidence-Based Practice

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My classroom after laying Post-Its to track where I went and who I monitored.

“Evidence based”. It’s so trendy, it’s science-tastic, you the forensic teacher in CSI (Classroom Sciencey Instruction). How many research papers we have found Open Access, through Sci Hub or requests hashtagging #ICanHazPDF!

It’s not all about reading research. Sometimes it’s more about doing very small-scale research to see what happens. Sometimes using recording media, sometimes just paper and pens.

 

A lot has been written about Action Research by much better brains than me. Anyway, this is a guide to what I might do in a personal action research project.

Gather thoughts

Research for the sake of it is just making work for yourself. What might be better is having a think about what you’d like to understand more about in your classroom(s). Write it down, and keep asking yourself probing questions, for example:

What about this could be a problem?

Is there simply a difference in personal values?

What would do I think is happening? Is this ideal? Is it definitely true?

This is likely to make your findings more compelling to you because they’ll be less superficial and you will understand already what the connections may be to other aspects of your practice.

Design your evidence capture

How you gather your evidence depends upon your classroom and the people in it. You might ask learners to help, or not. You might track your movement, or not. You can use post-it notes to stick in places, on items, etc. You can tally things on paper. You can record yourself on video, audio, or even log your steps taken with a pedometer. What and how you capture it is an important thing and you want accuracy but also ease of use if you don’t have a team (or peer) to help.

Check it before you forget it

You need the time to check your gathered data. Can it be interpreted in more than one way? Which way has most significance for you? It’s likely to suggest further action/intervention or continuing the action you were already doing. If it’s something different, you might need time to prepare and read up on how to do this, or get advice from someone who already does it. Also, keep your information somewhere you can find it. If your new action gets challenged, you want to be able to say why you’re doing it.

More data

As you take your new action/intervention, you may want to write down what happens when you do it, both positive and negative. It may be that any information is not strongly suggestive of anything: rather than stop, give it time or tweak it according to your intuition but write down what you did differently. You might find that the first way was the best way (or not). You might find that this intervention is not as good as what happened before. This is fine, because at least you know that this does not work for me/this class/this situation.

Decide what happens next

This could be a repetition of the same cycle, it could be that you feel you’ve finished it, it could be a return to the status quo. Keep your findings, though. It might be grist for the mill if you or a colleague have a similar train of thought in the future.

A sum up and an invitation

A picture of books

It’s been a good long while since I started this blog and in the meantime I have finished a Trinity DipTESOL and am close to finishing a MA Applied Linguistics & TESOL with Portsmouth University. My Dip was great for the phonology stuff I picked up, and OK for teaching practice (Trinity don’t let you use strong CLT approaches like Dogme or Task-Based Language Teaching with a Focus on Form. You are supposed to teach discrete language points). My MA has been great for access to ideas I might never have come across and, well, library access.

But next steps, Marc? Isn’t the title of this blog Freelance Teacher Self Development? It is. And there will be self-driven development. There are irons in fires and action research projects to fire up.

I have some bits and bobs to send to journals, but I think it would be kind of interesting and perhaps useful for the field of language teaching to have a bit of teacher-based research for teachers, on the internet, gates open, widely participated in. I know peer-review is all the rage, but I think that if we make our mistakes in the open, people can see the limitations of what gets done as well as any merits, and so it’s less a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes but more that jumper that was under some others at the back of the drawer. It’s not something everyone would necessarily be all ‘Wow! Amazing!’ about but perhaps ‘I don’t know if this would work in my setting but nobody would die if anything ended up disappointing me.’ I am a born salesman, I know.

So, here’s the bit I am kind of thinking about: after logging five random lessons starting in October 2017 with the same class, did you teach intonation? Why (not)? If so, how (explanation of method, explicit, differentiated or whole class, etc.) Blog your stuff and we can make it big.

Marc, why intonation?

I like phonology a lot and I’m just finishing something that I needed to think about lot of segmental phonology so suprasegmental is almost a break.

Marc, I want to do something about something else.

That would be fantastic. Let me know because I would be super interested in reading about it.

This is such a stupid idea. People don’t have time.

Maybe. How about people who have the time and want to do it, do it?

Anyway, hit me up in the comments.

The Benefits of Being a Guinea Pig

Recently it feels like I have been taking part in a lot of research projects. I don’t think I have, not when I sit and count, but it feels like it. It could be a massive pain in the bum but I actually like it. 
For one thing, other people’s research about teachers and/or teaching is unlikely to align exactly with one’s current wondering about teaching. This is likely to cause one to consider one’s classroom practice, beliefs or CPD process more deeply than before. Another thing is that when you are stating practices or beliefs, you’re making it coherent because you don’t want to be “Well, I don’t know why.” Although I am sure that I have screwed up my face on Skype while searching for answers in the back of my mind. 

Next time you see a survey circulating on social media, why not have a go. Help build our body of knowledge. And help find the figurative lost bit of jigsaw puzzle of your mind from under the sofa. 

Hyperreality: The failure in the park didn’t happen

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The title of this post harks back to my BA Film & Media Studies days at Sunderland, when we were assigned a reading by Jean Baudrillard about how the media portrays (or just doesn’t report) events has ramifications upon the perception of them.

What the hell are you talking about, Marc?

Bear with me, because hopefully it will be worth it. I organised the ELT freefor(u)m Tokyo on Saturday thinking I might bring about a little bit of knowledge sharing and a little bit of solidarity to language teaching. Of course it was a bit daft to think that some people would turn up to the park on either a day they are working or a day when they are off work with families or friends. It seemed to have a lot of support on Twitter. Elsewhere. Not in Tokyo.

Now, if I had dressed this up as a rampant success, would this have made the next one (and there probably will be another one after I have a really long hard look at myself in the mirror and listen to Denzel Washington’s “it takes a wolf” speech from Training Day or something) be even more successful and less of an outlandish prospect? I don’t know. I do know that Anna’s Reflective Practice group gets more than zero people going to it, but that’s after work. My after work is usually ludicrously late, and my not at work is the start or middle of other English teachers’ days.

Anyway, what I did do was be honest: it was not even a one-man-and-his-dog audience (actually, audience is a misnomer because this was supposed to be a crowd thing, in person, and grassroots and other hippie-centric words). It was the flipside of every cool, loner fantasy. Sitting in a park, with a sign, hoping that people would come. I gave it an hour and then buggered off to get coffee and read without needing to wear a jacket. It was less successful than a freeform jazz odyssey. I licked my wounds and sulked.

So, the point, Marc?

The point is that if you have harebrained ideas that involve people you need to get actual commitment from them, and you know, you could dress it up and not have a failed project in your results when people Google you, or you could try and learn from it even though you get massive bruises on your ego and feel like an arse for wasting your time and energy.

I got loads of feedback from my lovely Twitter network, including some awesome, detailed feedback from TaWSIGgers – and maybe this idea has legs, maybe elsewhere, maybe another day or time. If it doesn’t, well, even though the first Gulf War never happened, everyone is quite aware that the second one did, aren’t they?

So, what’s next?

Keep on with this, I think. I’ve been told not to give up, so I figure, if there’s still absolutely nobody by the third try, it’s not going to be me doing it. I need help; help might even be on the way. So although I deleted the ELT freefor(u)m blog in a tantrum, it’s not quite as moribund as it might seem.

 

 

Positive Steps (Vanguards Wanted) 

I’ve been, and still am, disillusioned with the industrial side (as opposed to the professional side) of English Language Teaching. This includes lack of professional development, overbearing influence of coursebooks and the massive global ELT publishers, deskilling by publishers and large chain schools and precarious working conditions. I’ve always tried to avoid being a naysayer in that when I’ve said ‘nay’, I hope that there’s at least one alternative proposed. Being that I believe action is necessary, I am going to propose action that sympathetic parties may wish to follow up on. 

Work in loose, broad-church, accessible Special Interest Groups (SIGs) 

IATEFL and TESOL International do not have the monopoly on operating SIGs. There is TaWSIG but other than that there are others that are SIGs by nature if not by name. The Dogme in ELT forum was such a thing. TEFL Equity Advocates is another. There is also ELT Advocacy Ireland, the Women in ELT group on FacebookThe C Group, and I suppose what we at #TBLTChat have been trying to do and what TLEAP are doing. 

Realise it’s a broad church and many people do a range of things with varied experiences and dialogue can help us grow through shared practices, ideas, stories and knowledge. This then creates a culture. What do you care about? What are the itches you’re not getting scratched? Are there people who’ll do this with you? You don’t have to have a lot of people to start with; summoning shared energy shouldn’t be a problem. 

Don’t Like Something? Make Something Else! 

Don’t like textbooks? Try materials light teaching or making your own materials. Tell others. 

Are listening materials rubbish? Could you make your own website? Tell others. 

Do you hate this blog or feel it neglects things things? Make your own. Tell others. 

We can, and I am reluctant to dictate but we should try to make the world how we would like it to be rather than settling for how it is. This change will not come easily but nor will it fall in our laps automatically without any kind of effort being applied. 

We are all polymaths. We all have other skills and interests that can be brought together to build a better environment.


Commit but See Other People

You have your ideas and interests and you are what you are because of them. With other people’s knowledge and skills you can build further and better than you might otherwise do alone. Your loose, broad-church SIG can only benefit from outside knowledge and expertise. 

Some of this, at least initially, may involve working for free

However, the beneficiary of this free work is you and your community, so you aren’t slaving away for someone else. You may even be able to make money from it later because people don’t mind paying for things with value, they just mind being ripped off. You then have a model, with this work, of how things could be. This might take reiteration. Keep looking, even if there are faults. Someone, somewhere might benefit. 

Hopefully this is good for thought for some of us about our place in the world and gives us a more positive idea of where we might go next. 

I’d love comments here, especially if you use the comments to build your own SIGs.