Monday, August 31, 2009

Mr Bean Finds His Voice!

Oh NO! This is JUST the sort of thing that gives Tefl a bad name...

Go take a look at this guy. The appalling glasses, the naff hairstyle, the weird expressions and gestures, ... and such an extreme lack of dress-sense! Aaaargh!!

Do you sincerely want to be part of an 'industry' that promotes itself like this? Words fail me ... only my tears stop me from crying out "ENOUGH!!"

Fuggin' 'bird-brain' indeed!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Keeping it up at 60

Just when I was getting a perverse feeling of dread about having to face new students next week, I fell upon this little piece from a few years back. It's just what I needed to put me in a positive frame of mind about venturing out onto fresh turf and facing an unknown away side for the very first time.


I came across a wonderful little article in the online Torygraph the other day. It wasn’t specific to EFL, but teaching’s teaching, innit, and I thought some of you would appreciate its conclusions regarding knowledge, humour, presentation, and involvement – not to mention the lack of the prescriptive approach.

Anyway, I’ve lifted large chunks of the article (lazy sod, I am!) to present to you here, but I do recommend you read the whole piece for yourself.

So, to start off with, the author asked his class of youngsters what their “Ideal School” would be like...

"We want more lessons like Mr Orme's." they said. This provoked a collective gasp of approval. I was not surprised; our pupils have long revered Mr Orme, who has taught history at the school for nearly 40 years.

Nevertheless, curiosity and mild envy provoked me to ask why they so enjoyed his lessons. "We learn so much", "They're fun!" and "I don't know - they're just good" were some of the answers.

A few days later, I sat at the back of one of Mr Orme's lessons. He places a lot of value on the use of the visual image and had a slide of a painting projected on a screen as his pupils entered the room.

The whirr of the projector, the dim light and the sight of a wide-eyed teacher perched on his desk, greeting his pupils as they entered, all combined to create a special atmosphere.

He was successful, I think, for three main reasons.

First, almost everything he said was a question. It was clear that all the pupils felt confident that sensible answers would be warmly received with a nod and a smile.

This, combined with the fact that all the questions were demanding but answerable, meant there were always hands up. The children wanted to be involved and recognised, so they listened to each other's answers and their teacher's embellishment of them. This all generated a gradual build up of knowledge and confidence.

Second, the content of the lesson was demanding and stimulating. Even at a selective, academic school like mine, it can be difficult to pitch work at the right level.

The topic these 12-year-olds were studying - the difference between medieval and Renaissance attitudes towards mankind - and the level of thinking required of them, were impressive.

But Mr Orme's energy and obvious enthusiasm were perhaps the main reason why the pupils concentrated so well. They were engaged by his lively and humorous tone, by his depth of knowledge and by the way he made eye contact.

Afterwards, I told him that I hoped to be as energetic as him at his age (60). What, I asked, had sustained his enthusiasm for all these years?

There were, of course, many things about the job he loved, but he was especially emphatic when he said: "I get to teach what I am interested in. My head of department doesn't prescribe what I have to cover in my lessons, and he encourages intellectual debate."

At a time when teachers so often complain that their job is overly prescriptive and burdensome, it is an approach that seems especially wise.


Now, I know my approach to teaching on this blog is usually a corrosive cocktail of cynicism and despair, but I really enjoyed reading the Torygraph article, as it restored my faith in my ability to possibly get something right in the classroom. The key-words are all there - student involvement, recognition of their efforts and contributions, humour, etc - yet there seems to be something more, some sort of hidden factor.

Can anybody tell me just what it is ... before I go all moisty-eyed?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Karenne Kalinago answers six questions...

Actually, the irrepressible Karenne Sylvester (of Kalinago fame) has, being the control-freak of a woman she is, done a sneaky one and added another question. Such cheek! Even worse, she has changed some of the questions and added bits on to others. Hey - who's the bloody boss round here, eh?!

I also requested a few spicy pictures of her armpits, or any other interesting part of her naturally unbounded anatomy, and here's what I got...! Phwoah! Classy and freaky, eh? Now, I do like an independent-minded woman ... as well as one with nice plumpy jugs.


1. How long have you been in TEFL and how did you make this unfortunate choice?
I started teaching in Hong Kong after being robbed in Thailand in 1995. I'd been back-packing and working my way through Australia and was now exploring Asia. A friend I knew well took just about all of my last funds, leaving me behind on a beach in Koh Phan Gan.

Desperate, I flipped a coin between Korea and Hong Kong.

I was both too proud and too embarrassed to ask my parents to bail me out (they were not impressed with my resignation from a normal life) and I ended up in a horrid job teaching English for pennies.

For a while, I lived in the infamous ChungKing Mansions on Mainland Hong Kong, a destitute and demoralizing place, before moving over to the very bohemian Lamma Island.

From the very first moment of failing to answer a question on the Present Perfect - what the heck was that - I fell in love with the teaching English profession. It combined everything I loved doing: traveling, story-telling, drawing pictures, explaining stuff and learning.

2. What's your background prior to TEFL - any stories to tell?
I'm a wine-taster.

That and marketing.
Plenty of stories but basically I simply hated the plastic life I had in London. I left to see what else the world had to offer.

One of the best jobs I ever had was as cook, deckhand and hostess on board a yacht in the Whitsunday islands.

3. Compare and contrast - your worst EFL boss.
Actually, he was the worst boss ever. His nickname was Buzz Lightyear. A total and complete idiot: treated me and paid me like crap because I was married to an Ecuadorian.

Got him back though, took his best EFL teachers and we set up our own school (which later failed).

The thing is, I'm quite philosophical and each time I have had a 'bad' boss I have used that person as a sort of benchmark of the kind of person I never want to be like. I analyze everything they do and the reactions other people have to their presence and then do my best to be the opposite.

It's a Tao thing.

On the flip-side I have had some fantastic bosses. Annie and Sonia at the Experiment in Ecuador taught me so much about finance, managing budgets and responsibility, William of the Summerbridge Hong Kong board and Andrina, Tom and Fred here in Germany have been great.

4. Why did you set up your own website and blogs?
I blog for a number of reasons. Mostly because I'm in love with the independence of sitting in front of the computer, jotting down my own development as a teacher and teacher trainer and sharing that with the world.

That some people enjoy some of what I write is very rewarding.

You know what I mean, Sandy. Those private pat-on-the-back smiles you get when someone adds to the conversation and a dialogue opens up.

I also blog for students and often leave things for my students to review or re-watch, learn more about.

I've heard some rather disparaging comments about bloggers by a handful of ELT authors and I think it's silly. Bloggers aren't here, in my opinion, to replace books - we're doing something entirely different. They're welcome to join in the fun.

In many respects, it reminds me, romantically, of the ancient steps of the pantheon and of the philosophical debates tossed back and forth between the thinkers of the 17th - 18th centuries in letters. Except it's on an instant time stream and it's public. Read it now, not in a subjective history book in fifty years.

I'll just state, right up front, because this has been asked in a few emails and in sly side bar comments:

I have no intention of writing textbooks or becoming a big wig in the TEFL world. I'm not even remotely interested in that. I don't mind doing odd little side projects here and there (am currently) but I do not want my name on a book cover (although it's been offered).

Regarding my website, I wrote SimplyConversations, a simple speaking skills material a few years ago and then sent it off to several publishers. Two met with me and both came back with the same response independently of each other: it's not commercial.

The UK publishers told me that if I could figure out a way to make it profitable (photocopiable material sells one copy per institution, textbooks times as many people in a class: do the math) then they'd be interested in taking it on.

I didn't write the SimplyConversations sets to make loads of cash (I sell them starting at 79c a set). I wrote them because my students insisted on me bringing "my game" into class.

Their fluency and vocabulary dramatically improved and they loved the spontaneity involved. I later did a lot of research into why it works - all that information's on the website.

Selling them gives me a minor income, no great shakes and the ELT publishers were right, most people like photocopiable materials to be free. However, I enjoy the work and at the end of the month when there's a plus instead of a minus after paying my maintenance and production costs, I smile and am proud.

The best thing about both the website and the blogs is that they are mine and I can do whatever I want with them. I can stretch, I can shout, I can cry and I can laugh the entire way through my own work.

It's powerfully addictive.

The worst thing about both the website and the blogs is that they are mine and if I do whatever I want with them, I can also make a big fool of myself.

It's a risk I'm willing to take.

5. If you could do anything else, what would it be?
Write movies.

I will do this, of course, once I have made a million bucks from selling my materials piece by piece, download by download.

Perhaps by the time I'm 60. LOL.

6. What's wrong with the TEFL industry?
The current rates of pay in most countries around the world mean that teachers suffer and thus, students suffer because they simply do not get the quality they deserve.

I can't bear these chain-schools run by people who have yachts, islands and football teams but yet if you go into the language institute's staff room, the computer's from 2000 and it crashes three times a day.

Beautiful paintings on the wall, shiny folders with logos and teachers living on tuna fish and pasta.

Or worse, fantastic teachers leaving the profession because they simply have to earn enough to feed their families.

Translation: all that talent goes into some meaningless, uncreative, office job.

The issue of the non-competitive market salary has brought about an unacceptable atmosphere of incompetence - a small percentage of teachers believe that because they're not earning well, it's an excuse not to prepare, improve their skills or work hard and it's this group of housewives, filling-in-time-til-a-real-job-comes and general time-wasters who drag down the spirits of good teachers.

Basically creating the spinning hamster on a wheel scenario we're in nowadays, as the language institutes are then able to use this lack of professionalism in the field as an excuse not to pay the good teachers appropriately.

In an ideal world we need to raise the bar, understand that this is a profession not a hobby, get paid properly and introduce regulatory pay scales like in any other service industry.

7. Anything else?
The teaching associations need a good overhaul.

There is way too much kow-towing to the big wigs and not enough paying attention to unbelievably crucial - ney, vital - issues like the one I mentioned above.

I'm sort of cautiously watching the recent changes in a couple of the international ones here on this side of the pond - I've noticed that a few younger guys are becoming vocal parts of the scene - we'll see if they bring about change or it's just more of the same.

I also know that a few entrepreneurial people like Kenny Christian of The English Profi are working on creating a network of language freelancers - it is my sincere hope that he, and people like him, shake things up.

That's it.

Anyway, many thanks to Karenne for her extremely idiosyncratic and interesting take on the six-questions routine. Meanwhile, here's a picture of those, erm, armpits, but in their more contemporary guise!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Goodbye to All That; Hello to All This...

Well, it's certainly a well-deserved 'goodbye' to my seasonal repose at the Costa Clonakilty, where I managed to survive another month of summer shenanigans with the relatives and their assortment of wives, girlfriends, and wild dogs. Thank f*ck all that business is over for another year or two!

So here I am now, snugly ensconced in our terraced residence in Skidrow-on-Sea, waiting for the next chapter in my glorious Tefl career to take shape. Or perhaps 'hoping' would be a more appropriate choice of word, eh? But what was that proverb - 'he who lives on hope, dies of hunger'?

Anyway, meanwhile, and before things really kick off for another season on The TEFL Tradesman, here's another 'blast from the past', as I'm too knackered to consider writing anything new for a while yet. There is also a thematic link here, as I'm considering undertaking a bit of educational research, into 'classroom motivation' no less. That's 'classroom motivation' for the teacher by the way - the fuggin' students have had things too much their own way for far too long, I reckon. Student centred teaching - my arse!!


How to Demotivate Your Teachers for just Ten Quid

We all got an e-mail at work the other day, from The Really Big Boss, telling us that next year there'll be some sort of 'Teacher of the Year' competition, and we all have to participate. Whether that means we'll all be ‘Teachers of the Year’ is doubtful, though. Here, decisions are usually more like decrees, made at the top of the pyramid and rolled down to the labouring plebs at the bottom, who have to make the most of them.

I’m telling you this because, in a previous life when I made the big mistake of taking a job at Aspect in the UK, there was a similar scheme going there. Every three months or so they chose a ‘Teacher of the Term’, and this was done by totting up all the marks from the students’ feedback. Whoever got top marks was the winner (are you with me so far?).

And what was the prize? A weekend for two in Paris? Nope. Two tickets for the Bolshoi Ballet? Uh-uh. A year’s subscription to ET Professional? Not even that. The miserly buggers gave Mr (or Miss) Whiteboard Winner … a bottle of red wine and a box of chocolates! Worse still, it was done with no small degree of grimace-inducing ceremony at the weekly Teachers’ meeting (compulsory, but unpaid, of course).

So what did the company really achieve with their outrageously generous ten-quid expenditure on the Tesco’s plonk and the Quality Street? Well, the net result was 23 slightly demotivated teachers, and one highly embarrassed one. I mean, what was the incentive in offering a quarterly ‘bonus’ worth all of a tenner? None at all, of course. It just got other teachers’ backs up. Was their teaching any worse? Probably not. And would the carrot of vino and choccy make them pull their metaphorical socks up? Of course not.

Fact is, it was always a new teacher that won the coveted prize, which led to rumblings of contempt amongst the more experienced inmates. Clearly, it was perceived as a management ploy to encourage new teachers to stay. The effect was, of course, the opposite. It was seen (through) as a cheap management trick, sort of aping the real world where bonuses are worth their weight in discarded Headway books, and was implemented by dull senior management types who had no real understanding or appreciation of teaching and teachers at all.

Let’s face it – if you really want someone to perform at their peak, it’s probably a good idea to (a) pay them properly in the first place, (b) give them the right tools to do the job, and (c) offer them succulent prizes – not the mere equivalent of an hour’s extra pay! And then there’s the whole question of whether this sort of remuneration technique is appropriate to an educational environment.

But of course, I’m forgetting that EFL schools in the UK do not offer a normal ‘educational environment’ - certainly where the teachers are concerned!

I wonder what sort of prize our Sheikh is putting up for grabs – a weekend at an exclusive desert oasis? Or a night with one of his wives? Hang on, shouldn’t that be the booby prize!?

First Published: Wednesday, 31 May 2006


'A visitor' left this comment on 1 Jun 06
wine and chocolates is pretty good compared to the cheap plastic watch I got at one job.

'A visitor' left this comment on 1 Jun 06
I'd be happy with a blowjob and a half-corona. But then I'm easily pleased.


Any further comments, please have a mind to leave them below. An upgrade in the general tone of The TEFL Tradesman is anticipated this coming year, so no more mention of 'blowjobs', and definitely NO swearing, you c*nts, OK!?