TESOL Thoughts

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Noticing and Naming

Disclaimer: This post represents my views and not those of my employer. If you’ve read my blog posts before, you’ll notice that this is not my usual tone. However, I’ve been letting many thoughts accumulate in my head over the past few months and this rant was born out of those bottled up reflections. Posting in hopes of engaging in a constructive dialogue for change.

Lately, I have been noticing a strange reoccurrence in my everyday life. About a month ago, a friend was driving behind me, and I noticed that one of her headlights was out. Since then, every day I notice at least a couple cars driving around with a broken headlight. I swear I had never noticed this before. What’s happening then? It can’t possibly be that all of the sudden there are more drivers out there with broken headlights. Can it? Most likely what’s happening is that all of the sudden, a personal experience has made a common occurrence more salient in my every day life. You might be wondering how this relates to teaching, so let me explain in what will be my first rant on this blog, which is also turning 2 years old this month.

Image from blog.unum.co.uk

Image from blog.unum.co.uk

I’m fed-up with teachers of ESOL who teach as a last resort and despise their job or do the minimum amount possible, photocopying old worksheets and reenacting the same lesson plans for the past X amount of years. These are the same folks that are usually complaining about everything the administration does and everything students don’t do. I wish these teachers would finally write their great novel and leave teaching for those who actually enjoy doing it. At the very least, I wish I didn’t encounter coworkers with this mentality as often as I have.

I’m fed-up with the lack of recognition and low wages most ELT teachers make around the world. I’ve heard colleagues say before, “I’m just an ESL teacher” to colleagues in other fields. Why do we belittle our work? It sure doesn’t help create a better work environment, recognition, and pay when many jobs around the world only require teachers to be “native-speakers” and/or white. But what we do matters and we’re the ones in charge of making it so. We don’t “just” teach ESOL. And if we’re in this field because we care about what we do, perhaps it’s time to start standing up for ourselves.

I’m fed-up with comments by fellow “experienced” teachers who seem to think that wanting to try something different is just a naive attitude by a less seasoned teacher. Last October, I remember mentioning to someone that I would love to implement project-based learning in my classroom to deal with what I thought was a very demotivating context in which we use different textbooks for everything we do in class. Her response was, “I remember feeling that way when I started teaching. Things change.” Can’t think of a more condescending way of talking to a colleague. I might have had a bit of an indigestion that day because I’ve been chewing on those words for a while. Experience or age is not what drives our desire to change the world around us, and I believe we start doing that by implementing small changes to our immediate environment. This fellow teacher’s comment has reinforced my desire to flow and be in a constant state of exploration. I will not let years of teaching experience make me turn into a predictable teacher, delivering worksheets and exercises from a book in lieu of spontaneous conversations and lessons based around topics which are relevant to the lives of those in my classroom.

I’m also fed-up with professors in the academia who write or speak from their “radical” pedestal and tell us all how superficial most ELT blogs are, how “the man” is exploiting us by selling us textbooks and training courses for teachers, and how we should just ditch everything, and start a name-calling contest on all the famous ELT professionals out there. How about embracing doable and small ways in which we can make big changes to the way we develop as professionals? How about focusing on ways in which we can subvert the publishing industry and use what they’ve put out there for our advantage? As much as I’d like to see this happen, not all of us can run and create teaching cooperatives and ditch our textbooks tomorrow. How can we work on a less alienating alternative?

I’m fed up with administrators and marketers not listening to teachers or conducting the necessary research before selling courses that will not deliver what has been promised.  If we all know it’s highly unlikely that students can go from knowing zero English to being ready for academic classes in 4 semesters, how did marketing get its way to sell these expectations to students and their parents? We’ve set ourselves to failure by having unrealistic goals from the get go, and then we wonder why our students and teachers are demotivated.

And finally, I’m fed-up with the lack of collaboration and collegiality in my ELT world. I know this sounds judgmental, but honestly, if you are resistant to learning and to change, perhaps teaching is not the place to be for you. How can we motivate our students to learn if we are not motivated to learn from them and make changes to our teaching approach? In my utopic world, teachers would always have a built in space to reflect and discuss what’s happening with their students, share their insights, and grow together professionally. Unfortunately, this is hard to get in face-to-face interactions at workplaces. But why? Is it just me who feels this way?

As I keep noticing all these metaphorical broken headlights each day, I want to now move to action and do something about it. Perhaps some of the drivers I see going around with broken headlights don’t know their light needs to be replaced. Maybe they know it and don’t care. Regardless, I can’t stop each one to tell them. Fortunately, in teaching, I can try a small daily action to help myself and those around me have bright lights and drive along roads that encourage learning. To be precise, in my world this means I commit to speaking my truth, to following my words, and to putting myself in uncomfortable new situations if this means my students, colleagues, and I can grow and  be part of the change and learning environment we wish to see. Sometimes noticing patterns and feeling fed-up is the first step to change. What are you fed-up with?

May 2015 be a great year of change for all of you!

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