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!


Neal Chambers said...

This was a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing your ideas Karenne. I agree that it is a shame language teachers around the world simply can't earn a good wage. I hope there is a major breakthrough that can lead us to more efficient ways of teaching and thus better wages.
It seems like English teachers are the most entrepreneurial and adventurous group of people I've ever met. We should be able to think of something.

Thanks for the great post!

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Nice to hear from you again, Neal. What are you up to these days - any tales to tell?

Alex Case said...

Sandy never asked me for a photo of me in a bikini

The TEFL Tradesman said...

I know, Alex - I've got one already!

JimmyT said...

Seems to me the recurring issue of teachers pay is linked to students ability to pay. The only way this will eventually get evened out is if the internet enables students and teachers to bridge the gaps of time and space so that they can eliminate the middle men (School owners). In the meantime anyone who wants to can start their own school...

Tradesmen said...

Pay the teachers what they deserve - its our future they have entrusted to them