Making Work For Yourself

Well, first a famine and then a feast, that is, if self-indulgent nonsense is at all a signifier of a festival atmosphere. 3 posts in 36 hours!

Sometimes I think of expertise in teaching as the intuition that being time served gives to you. It’s not the sleepwalking through a class but that you can do everything through habit and stay alert to the novelties of the day. Other times I think of it as the way that you can get through a lesson without needing to plan a rationale with a 3000-word literature review and a methodology section. You already have the skills to pay the bills, as it were.

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However, comfort zones are made to be broken out of. This year I am teaching a listening module (yay!) with endless amounts of faff for the resources (no way!) but which I chose to do myself (ey?) in the name of pedagogical thoroughness (hmmm!). Where do we draw the line between martyring oneself to The Absolutely Correct Way Based on Proper Scientists of Learning and being a heretic to the cult of Maybe This Is Good Enough and The Students Will Never Bloody Notice?

“It’s why they pay us the big bucks,” said a person (this very week) that would be unlikely to read this blog. Except, I feel that part of me in the standardised parts of my job feels very frustrated that some of what I do is not The Absolute Correct Way but is definitely only Maybe Good Enough. The bits of my job where I have designed the syllabus and where I have lots of independence make me really happy, although for a few of those there were some marathon reading sessions on good practice for reading and writing pedagogy.

“That book basically teaches itself,” said someone in a staff room this week. I didn’t even have a small aneurysm. I sat on my hands and did nothing; no arguing, not even a grumble. I just disagreed, felt that I understood the time pressures but wondered why they even had a Master’s degree if they enjoyed being deskilled so much.

Anyway, there’s assessment as well. Not being much of one for exams, them being a single event that might not be representative of learning development, I sort of eschewed them as much as possible until this year going with portfolios and ongoing assessment. Unfortunately, I don’t think portfolio assessment is the way to go unless you are teaching a light load and have plenty of time for painstaking assessment necessary. My portfolio assessments make up a much smaller proportion of grades this year, but I do have exams to give but they are smaller, less stressful affairs. I would much rather be able to conduct task-based tests more often, but 30 in some classes and I teach 30 hours a week at different places and with different systems. The Absolute Correct Way is toast again.

Am I a bit sorry? Well, I have the flail out, yes. Is there any way around it? Well, probably not until I start a Patreon or something (joke).

So, what can be done? Well, at best, I can probably plan my time a bit better, which should be easier now I cancelled Netflix. I could do a bit more assessment in down time and use time at home as down time instead. I also have a lot of repeating classes next semester, so that is a small mercy and I won’t need to mess about with video editing software on a crappy Linux computer with insufficient RAM at midnight next autumn or winter.

 

A totally unqualified riff on #Alt-Ac and me in Applied Linguistics/Language Teaching

Radio silence! I have syllabi to write and such. It is the very short break between the end of one Japanese academic year and the start of another. It is my first year that I will be mainly a part-time university teacher at three universities with marginal face-to-face freelancing.

One of my sweet distractions lately has been that, should my pipe dream of being a tenured lecturer not actually materialise, it might not be a bad thing because the working conditions for tenured staff can be absolute crap anyway. No, I haven’t been listening to The Auteurs again. I’ve been reading about alternative academia, or #Alt-Ac.

I don’t get grants to do research because I am part-time and I am – without doubt – not even registered as a blip to the people in charge anywhere that would fund anything as someone who would be doing anything remotely worth money to research and take time out and have a weekend at a conference and blah, blah, blah. The research I do is because either:

  1. it would be useful once and I might be able to use it again;
  2. it might be something I can show in a portfolio to get a better job;
  3. I might be able to sell something like materials based off the research and thus be a provider of children’s shoes to my household.

Would I be a better or a worse researcher if I were actually forced to be in an office dealing with millions of emails and several meetings and whatnot? I don’t know, but it would be rather nice to learn about research methods from media other than books and podcasts. A bit unlikely for a serial part-timer, mind but I do have an embryonic duoethnography probably underway once I actually get my arse in gear.

I keep entertaining doing a PhD (and will probably do a MRes so I can get academic credit for a biggish project I have on my mind). The only problem with a PhD is thinking about recouping the cost if I did one part-time or even recouping the cost of a wage cut if I did one full time. I know money isn’t everything but it’s very difficult to support a family on scholarly knowledge alone.

But Marc, you are getting ahead of yourself. Aren’t you a mere part-time instructor? Yes, I am. I also know that I have publications coming out, the probability of more, and might even have more publications than existing full-time instructors. I am pretty sure that my corpus work, if it actually ever sees the light of day when it is reviewed will be decent, and it’s not like there are a ton of ESP corpus linguists in Japan at the minute, unless I am woefully ignorant (and I kind of hope I am, in this case). There is a shortage of people obsessively interested in teaching listening and/or pronunciation (again, prove me wrong. Please!). There is no shortage of Task-Based Language Teachers in Japan, and my new job may mean that I get a bit more input there but I don’t know, so I’m not looking to carve a path there exactly though I have a book idea I am trying to work on because I have one more day off per week this year!

So, the new academic year: I am really looking forward to it, I have some cool courses to teach, some old and some new. I will have international students for the first time in about five years as well, which is nice because it keeps me on my toes pedagogically. And I can probably get at least a few blog posts and maybe a paper out of some stuff.

Anyhow, unfocused ruffian seeks tons of cash to research listening or make corpora. Hit me up in the comments if you want to give me money (joke [perhaps]).

You may also want to avail yourself of the not dry at all Research in Action podcast by Dr. Katie Linder.

 

 

 

 

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.