Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Red Flag Rant

“Why, oh, why do teachers compete against one another?” -- that’s a question I find myself grappling with time and again.

You know what I am talking about, as you’ve probably seen these behaviors before: 
  • people who chose teaching as a career keeping their knowledge to themselves when it comes to helping their colleagues; 
  • lifelong learners acting arrogantly as if they knew it all; 
  • language professionals offending colleagues as if that could be a valid argument in a debate; 
  • linguistics majors judging others based on a typo, a slip of the tongue or the dialect used.

To be honest, I don’t see much to compete for. Even for those who see education as a business, it is hardly cut-throat: there is room for everybody. And if it’s a special promotion or a different opportunity people are going for, I don’t see how viciously attacking peers would get them what they want.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

The fellow teachers I have seen be promoted were good teachers, of course, but they were also so passionate about work and sharing that they inspired others. It’s only logical: who would you select to be a teacher trainer or mentor in your institution? Who would you hire to publish material and then speak on behalf of your publishing house to try and sell it to other teachers?

With the exception of the reluctance to share, honestly I don’t see how those behaviors could be compatible with an English language teaching career. And even then the only reason I understand one’s keeping to oneself is because some teacher lounges are so hostile that a sharer can be seen as a nuisance. Also, sharing may require time, which is a resource many (can I say most?) teachers lack. Still, most of the bullet points I listed could even be grounds for dismissal. Why would a school want to be associated with a professional who shows complete disregard for colleagues?

Of course everybody slips here and there, and I’m far from saying I’m beyond that sort of petty behavior. We must keep a watchful eye on ourselves to prevent such slips. However, when the exception becomes the rule and the educator can’t communicate his or her opinions without offending others, red flags should be raised. And waved. And maybe that red flag should turn into a red penalty card. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Things you shouldn't do in a TEFL interview... if you're the interviewer!

If you're a teacher looking for a job, check out these great tips by the Online TEFL Training blog. I wholeheartedly agree with the author.

But what about the other side of the coin? There are things we should ban as interviewers, too, as hiring companies even. Here are a few suggestions based on my (admittedly very limited Brazilian) experience.

Language schools, please stop...


1. Refusing to say how much you pay.

There are language schools that have a standard hourly rate, but make the prospective teachers jump through all sorts of hoops before they are let in on that little secret. We're all busy people, so no reason to make professionals waste time (yours and theirs!) on your company's sometimes long and winding hiring process only to find out they can't accept your non-negotiable terms.

2. While we're at it, treating every new hire the same way. 

I was once interviewed by a school with different pay grades for teachers with classroom experience, CPE, CELTA or Trinity, B.A. in English, and so on, so forth. In short, they had a pay rise for whatever you could come up with to prove you were a dedicated professional! That would have been anybody's dream job, right? Except whatever I'd done before crossing their threshold wouldn't count....

So if you were a new hire, regardless of your professional experience and qualification, you were going to earn as much as that 18-year-old who had just come back from a year in London and thought she could earn a little extra to help put herself through law school. That makes some sense perhaps for a limited trial period, while the school is checking the new teacher out. But after a 3-month interval, you'd better pay what that teacher deserves. As Ms Doolittle would say in My Fair Lady, "If you're in love, show me!"

(In case you're curious, the initial hourly rate was US$8.5. To add insult to injury, the school charged more than US$400 per student per month. Of course I fled the premises and never looked back.)

But it's not all about money. Do experienced teachers with all those CV bells and whistles really need to undergo extensive training about the basics of language teaching? Really? And if you're nodding enthusiastically, are you sure you're not hiring the wrong kind of people?

3. Demanding that new hires attend unpaid pre-service training.

Need I say more?

Ok, I will. I'm all for pre-service training. From the outside, nobody knows how your school really works. Seize the opportunity to instill your company's values in the new hires and show them how you want things done. That'll save both company and employees a lot of problems in the future, so yay! 

But to make a Big Brother-like selection process for a whole month and not compensate people for their time, even if they are admitted in the end? That should be outlawed!

4. Interviewing teachers in poor English.

Please don't make basic English mistakes in the job ad or in the interview. Granted, as teachers, we're trained not to correct every single mistake, but it's your corporate image we're talking about here! You don't want new hires to think their future bosses know less than they should, do you? 

5. Silencing about what the job entails.

Is it just classroom and planning time? Do teachers have mandatory meetings to attend? Are there other duties teachers have to perform, such as admin or marketing tasks? State it outright. After you've made clear what you expect of them, if they sign that job contract, you'll never have to hear "not in my job description" complaints! Isn't that a dream come true?

Friday, November 29, 2013

A helpful link for ESP teachers

It goes without saying that, if you're teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes), you'll see the need to understand your students' profession, especially the job skills that involve oral and written communication. 

And that is where this wondrous website comes in: 

From what I gather, the Canadian government listed the essential skills for a myriad of careers. Granted, this resource won't be all you need to fully apprehend your students' needs and aims, but it seems to be a great springboard for a needs analysis.

For instance, if you are teaching hairdressers, you'll see there that their main focus regarding language should be oral communication, so they can talk to their clients. However, there's also a need for reading manuals and labels. And the website doesn't stop there. It'll even list you the subskills and some of the typical tasks! 

Sweet as maple syrup, right?


(Update: It seems I'm not the only ESP practitioner to like this resource! Take a look at this and other tips by Kristin Ekken.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On the brink

We teachers never rest our minds, do we? Just seen one of those "pics you can't miss" articles on Facebook, and here I am, thinking of classrooms applications. Granted, this would fit better in a more traditional PPP sort of lesson, but heck if it may help students in some way, who's judging?

So here it is: if you're teaching "going to" and "might/may" for predictions (based on evidence or speculation), these pics might help you illustrate/elicit/practice it. They were all taken from this article called "The 50 pictures in perfect timing." A general "What do you think is going to happen next?" should suffice, but I've added a couple of questions in case more guidance is needed. 

Photo Jörn Kessels

What is the man going to do? 
What is going to happen to the bird?

Photo RedditorJoker

What is going to happen to the lady in white?
What is the blond man going to do?

Photo Sindri Skúlason

What is going to happen to the bird?
Is its stomach big enough for that fruit?

Photo Frode Sandbech

What is going to happen to that man in the picture?
What about the photographer?

Photo Bored Panda

What is going to happen to the soldier who yawned?
What about the other soldiers?

Photo Kathy Keatley Garvey

What is going to happen to the man? How about the bee?


Photo Bored Panda

What is going to happen to the cyclist?
What is the man in jeans going to do? 
How about the photographer?

Photo Michael Swaine @

Speaking of the devil, I have a bee in my bonnet about how ESOL textbooks usually explain the future, that neat tripartite view I am partly reproducing here. But that's a topic for another post, when I have mulled over this a little bit more. For now, I'll leave you with this: could it be that this is one more of those language myths we teachers are helping to perpetuate?

Friday, November 15, 2013

ESP: English through, English for, or English with?

What's your take on ESP: are you teaching English through, for or with your students' field of work?
Cambridge English teacher, one of the communities for ESOL teachers, has recently uploaded quite a few free resources on ESP. I was especially drawn to a document called "Approaches to ESP" by Jeremy Day.

To me, ESP is an approach, but let's not quibble over terminology. In this very interesting piece, the author lists 3 views of ESP, which he cleverly labels "English through", "English for" and "English with". 

Put simply, "English through" is teaching your regular General English syllabus, which Day reminds us is often a grammatical syllabus, with the specialized field acting as nothing more than a context. As a colleague of mine once said, you change the infamous "The book is on the table" into "The plane is on the apron" and voilá you have an ESP lesson (or so you think).

"English for" targets students' present and future professional needs, and by doing so may turn the traditional curriculum on its head or more commonly get rid of it completely.

"English with" is often called content-based instruction. You teach content, and English tags along as the medium. That is to say your main aim will be that students learn something in their field such as "fixing XYZ equipment" or "using ABC software". You may spare a few moments for language work, or perhaps you won't, and (modified) input alone will be all you do regarding language.

The author doesn't pass judgment on those views, but this is a personal blog, and it'd make very little sense if I were to keep my opinion to myself. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of the "English through" view. Mutatis mutanti, changing the terms whilst keeping the backbone of a General English course, is no approach to ESP course design. But it's a very pervasive view, ubiquitous even, as I've come to realize

And I'm not saying it won't be effective. It probably won't be an efficient use of resources, yet for some professions it might well do the trick (in the long run... with a motivated student... on a clear day...). Nonetheless, it's not ESP but for a lot of marketing spin. ESP has to stem from the professional needs of the students. It's English FOR Specific Purposes, is it not?

It may be harder to see it when you think of Business English, because that's where a lot of the big bucks of marketing lie. Several textbooks in this field seem to be in fact General English in disguise. But no amount of sales pitches will convince me that the linguistic needs of a nurse, an air traffic controller or a mechanic are nearly identical to the point that I can refer all three to the same "English".