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.

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Real Alternatives Need Alacrity

It’s that old Corporate ELT is killing me slowly trope. Hang on to your hats, comrades, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So, the coursebooks palaver came up again on Geoff Jordan’s blog. I have written on this before. The main change in my ideas is that instead of Dogme or Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) being the utopia we should all aim for, what is needed to get teachers to go with something better than a textbook is an alternative.

In the aforementioned post, Steve Brown said that what is needed is not any other kind of alternative but for teachers to take agency: choose what the materials are, or choose to choose with the learners, or whatnot. He is right, but I think there needs to be a bit of handholding to get there.

I’ve seen comments saying that it takes bloody ages to plan a TBLT lesson, and it does when you first start. Similarly CELTA-type lessons take bloody ages when you first start. No qualifications? Think to your first week on the job. Lesson plans took forever. Anything takes ages when you first start.You need to think about whether the initial time investment will pay off or not. You are reading a blog about teacher development, so ostensibly you are open to this seeing as you are reading this instead of playing video games or trolling Trump supporters.

So, let the handholding begin. Or the push to start.

What can I use instead of a coursebook?

Have a think (always a good idea) about what your learners need. Asking them is often a good idea, though teenagers might tell you they need about 3 hours in bed and that they need to do gap-fills of A1 vocab. They don’t. Assess. What can they do? What can’t they do? What aren’t you sure they can do? The answers to this should rarely be “They can’t do the past tense with regular verbs” or something. Maybe “They can’t answer questions about the weekend” is better. Cool. That is something we can chuck into the syllabus, if we think that our learners need this. If they don’t, don’t put it in. But why did you bother assessing it otherwise?

With all this information, you can create a syllabus/course. Sequencing it is a bit of a bugger because you want to think about complexity, what is likely needed toward the start and middle to get to the end, recycling language and such. However, you and your learners have control. This is not the kind of thing to put on a granite tablet. If it seems to need a bit of something else, do that.

But what do I do?

Teach the skills you need to teach. Potentially this is all four skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. There are books about ways to teach these. You might want to browse Wayzgoose press. Also The Round minis range has some very interesting stuff, as does 52. If you get a copy of Teaching Unplugged, I find it useful.

You and your learners can then source texts from the internet (which a lot of textbooks do anyway so you are cutting out the middleman), edit for length (nice authentic language) or elaborate and spend longer with (that is, put in a gloss at the side or add clauses explaining the language). You can create your own, too, which sounds time consuming but might not be the pain in the arse you think it is. You can also put in some stuff that is rarely covered in textbooks like pronunciation and how to build listening skills, microlistening, and more (a bugbear of mine).

There are also lots of lesson plans on blogs (including here). If you have some good lessons that have worked for you, they might work for others, who can then adapt them. With a book, there are sunk costs and learners will want to plough through the lot if they have bought it. If you have a lesson plan to manipulate, without having sunken money into it bar some printer paper, you and your learners get more control and hopefully smething more suited to them than something chosen by an anonymous somebody in London or New York.

If I’m going to use texts, I might as well use a textbook!

You could, but think of all the pages of nonsense you have to skip. Think of the time spent with learners focussing on pointless vocabulary like ‘sextant’ (thanks Total English pre-intermediate). You have an idea. You know your learners, or at least the context. There is also a ton of stuff on the internet. May I point you to the Google Drive folder at the top of this blog. All the stuff in there is Creative Commons Licensed so you can change it if it isn’t perfect, copy it for your learners, and because I already made it and was going to anyway, it’s free. There is also Paul Walsh’s brill Decentralised Teaching and Learning. There are also ideas to use from Flashmob ELT.

So

You have these ideas to use, modify, whatever and put into timeslots. You can move them around. You have the means, now, if you decide it’s worth a go, stick with it for a few weeks at least, so you can get into the swing of it. If you like it, leave a comment. If you hate it and I’ve ruined your life (and be warned that not all supervisors, managers and even learners are open to this at first. Check, or at least be aware of this. If your learners say they want a book they might just mean they want materials provided and a plan from week to week) leave a comment.

If you think I’m talking nonsense, I’d seriously love you to leave a comment. Tell me why.

If you want help with this, I’m thinking of using Slack for a free (yes, really, at least initially) course type thing, say an experimental three weeks, where I help you sort out how to go about things (together; top-down isn’t how I do things), help with any teething troubles and so on. If you’re interested, contact me.

Well, Sunday night, eleven o’clock and 1000 words. I’m going to bed. Let’s sleep on it.