Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Rods of Destiny

Look, I know I've been keeping very quiet about this for several years now, but I feel the time is ripe for an outing - and I don't mean a day-trip to Margate. You see, it happened quite by chance, after I dropped a few of them on the floor when I was working at the London School of English many years back, and since then I've been hooked on it. I mean, I made a prediction at the time, and it came true!

So what am I on ... about? Why, the rods, of course, the rods! I've been predicting the future with the aid of my trusty cuisenaire rods for a good ten years now, and I have to 'fess up that I'm a convinced (but perhaps not convincing) Cuisenairomancer. And that's nothing to do with shagging in the kitchen, by the way.

In fact, although the noble art of Cuisenairomancy is not recognised by the NHS (or anybody else), I firmly believe that every teacher who has a few of these magic rods in his/her box of tricks possesses the ability to divine the future. Let me give you an example or two, and see if you're with me or not, eh?

Firstly, it's important to use just seven long rods, and take them out of the bag one by one, as you softly intone a Nepalese mantra. The pale colours should emerge first - yellow, light green - leading up to the darker ones, such as dark red, blue, and black. Place them gently and randomly on the desk in front of you, then stand up and turn round twice.

Are all the rods in the same place? They should be! Have you fallen over? If so, you're probably pissed or still hung over, and the whole exercise will be futile. Go back to bed and try again tomorrow.

Now, take all of the rods in your left hand and throw them gently into the air. Remember to stop singing the mantra and keep your mouth closed as you do this, otherwise the consequences could be fatal. As the rods lie resting on the floor, recite the names of Liverpool's greatest goalscorers. Close your eyes and inhale deeply for one minute exactly.

Now, the position the rods have assumed upon landing on the floor is the most important thing in the art of Cuisenairomancy, so pay careful attention to the following details. Get this wrong and you might be assigning yourself a place in hell, or end up committing yourself to a British Council contract in North Korea for two years.

Closely study the patterns that the rods have made on the floor. Two dark rods pointing away from you mean that you will have to work hard for anything useful in your life - but as an EFL teacher you probably know that already. If you can decipher the shape of the number four made by any of the rods, that means trouble at the workplace - so you might want to go and pick a fight with the DoS, just to gain the advantage of surprise.

However, the most important sign is an unbroken circle or square (OK, perhaps even a triangle). If the rods make such a shape or pattern on the floor, you can make a prediction - which will definitely come true! This is what happened to me that fateful day at the LSE back in 1999, and I correctly predicted that I would get the sack by the end of the week. Amazing!

To date I have also predicted England beating Germany 5-1 away, the winners of the past three Grand Nationals, and Alex Case getting married. Of course, there have been a few 'near-misses', too, notably my prediction that I would be chosen to represent the Science Fiction Loony Party in the last UK elections. Unfortunately, I was arrested for thieving a couple of Robert Rankin books instead, and was doing a small spot of porridge at the time the rest of the nation were choosing their political masters. But the odd bum prediction should be seen as casting no shadow over the entire science of Cuisenairomancy, I believe.

Of course, it takes a good while to understand every secret message behind the manifold permutations of the seven magic rods, but have no fear; my book "Cuisenairomancy for Teflers" will be appearing soon, and the discerning EFL teacher can add these rare and exotic skills to his/her ever-expanding range of off-the-wall teaching techniques and quirky classroom tricks.

As for my forthcoming predictions, let me see ... Yes, Scott Thornbury will marry Pete Sharma, and Brighton and Hove Albion will avoid relegation. There will also be a severe earthquake in Harrogate during next month's IATEFL conference, and every Tefl guru you can name will be swept out to sea in the ensuing tsunami.

Don't believe me? Just come back here in a year's time, and we'll see who's got it right or not, mate!

PS: If you don't have any rods at hand, frozen chipolatas might just do the trick instead.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Marching On Empty...

Well, I can't even begin to tell you how busy I've been this week, what with one thing and another, but it's not been good news for this blog. I've had no time to think about my usual TeflTradesman activities, such as finding shameless shysters or ridiculous teaching ideas to expose. BUT, I can promise something substantial soon, as I do have a couple of crackers in the pipeline, if you'll forgive the awful mash of metaphors there.

In fact, the only event of real note has been the reappearance on the UK Tefl scene of that well-loathed slimeball and all-round pariah, Paul Lowe. Apparently he's up to his old tricks again, trying to shaft innocent punters by posing as a 'bona fide' language school owner, when he's clearly not. Take a look here for the latest on the Windsor Swindler and his typically shyster antics.

So I'll leave you all, if you don't mind, with another archive McAnus, a true 'blast from the past' - in this case from exactly five years ago, when my original TeflTrade blog was little more than a mere howling newborn at just two months old. Although the posting itself was no great shakes - a certain, erm ... 'culling' from Dave's ESL Cafe - it did attract no small amount of informed (and quite uninformed!) comment at the time. And have things changed? It's over to you...

*******
A good deal of complainants on this forum [Dave’s ESL Café] are right to point out the lack of financial reward in the domestic EFL market, and the scant professional esteem traditionally given to them. However, I do feel that the focus of their anger has been misapplied to some extent.

Firstly, let’s look at the comparative aspect. Teaching in an EFL school is very different from teaching in a state school. Having done both, I would say that state school teaching is far removed from most EFL classrooms. Stress levels are quite certainly lower in TEFL, as students tend to be more motivated, assessment requirements are usually lower (or even non-existent), and, in my experience, aggression and violence are entirely absent. As a result of all the above, salaries in TEFL tend to be lower. In short, it’s an easier job – much easier.

For example, a colleague of mine went back into mainstream secondary school supply teaching after having worked several years teaching English in the Gulf States. On his first Monday back at a London chalkface he found himself subject to verbal abuse from his pupils, and had to separate two brawling teenagers in the playground, receiving several kicks in the shins for his troubles. The following day he saw an advert in the Guardian for EFL teachers in Kazakhstan. He immediately applied, and has been there ever since. Obviously, if you can’t stand the heat, it’s very nice to be able to step outside of the kitchen and warm your toes elsewhere.

What the above really means is that many teachers who are not prepared to endure the tough physical conditions of the public sector, and who do not want to live abroad, are prepared to put up with the demeaning financial incentives offered at EFL schools. However, although that might be fine if you're young and single (or gay), most married people find themselves obliged to turn their backs on either their country or their profession, as many on this forum have already stated.

Quite simply, EFL teachers earn so little in the UK because there are so many of them, especially in London. In fact, this state of affairs is even promoted by some of the larger language schools, who are now prepared to offer TEFL training to people without degrees. This is due in no small part to the fact that most students currently graduate with debts of around £10,000, and therefore few are in a position to afford to spend another grand doing a TEFL course, and then spend several years working for peanuts in some exotic far-eastern location. Moreover, the fact that EFL schools have started training up older people with plenty of work experience but no formal academic qualifications is undoubtedly causing a creeping de-professionalisation of the job.

What’s important here is the fact that it is possible to become a teacher after just one month of intensive training, which does not enhance the profession's image one bit. HGV drivers typically put in more hours to get their licence, and they earn more money for their efforts. It's the same with nurses, who feel more respected after their years of training and preparation. I mean, let’s face it, there is a fundamental difference between a bod with a First Aid certificate and a properly trained nurse; equally so between a TEFLer with his Mickey Mouse cert and a properly trained teacher.

So, what can be done? Well, for starters the British Council needs to insist that ALL EFL teachers working at accredited schools in the UK are Diploma or PGCE qualified and hold valid degrees. A TEFL cert might be OK for abroad, but not for the homeland. And for seconds, TEFL teachers need to get themselves properly organised: getting rid of the travelling TEFL cert brigade will certainly help to establish the profession at home, and make it easier for proper teachers to organise some sort of Union or Association to protect their interests.
Any volunteers?

First Published: Sunday, 6 March 2005

Comments

'A visitor' left this comment on 6 Mar 05

I skipped the Dip and went straight on to doing a Master's, and I'm glad I did so: I'm very much in disagreement with the whole RSA/UCLES methodology, which I see as being nothing more than one of many methods. They're pretty good at practical stuff like classroom management and techniques for teaching pronunciation, though; I'll give them that, at least. From what I know of the Dip, it continues with its PPP (or 'Test-Teach-Test') methodology, while glancing at other methodologies and at bits of linguistics that fall their way. That isn't good enough. I certainly don't think that it should be insisted that EFL teachers in the UK have the Dip, as that is certainly no guarantee of someone being a good teacher.

An example: last autumn I remember talking to a Dip-qualified RSA teacher trainer from Birmingham, who used to teach language courses at Manchester Uni. She said she used to have one year to bring Arabic speakers up in level so that they could research and write their PhDs. She said it was impossible, especially as their native language isn't even Indo-European. Well, I disagreed with her. I think language learning is very much about affect, and as such it makes no difference what your mother tongue is. Secondly, of course it's possible to reach the required level in twelve months of living in the country. But typical RSA classes aren't the solution for most people - only for the students whose individual learner styles they suit. Instead, there's more of a need to focus on motivation and self-esteem, encouraging learner autonomy, and so on. RSA/UCLES only really pay lip-service to these issues - in reality, their methodology is still very much about the teacher being the font of all knowledge.

In fact, what I'd say about TEFL teacher training is this: it doesn't train people in grammar, vocabulary development, or any aspect of human psychology. These are the core areas that are needed. Instead, it concentrates on one single method (PPP/TTT), and it obsesses about stages and aims and concept questions - and all sorts of other ways by which the teacher can (supposedly) control what the students learn. RSA/UGLIES is a control freak that isn't suited for training teachers at all.

'Alistair' left this comment on 6 Mar 05

What David said. Though after my experience in London, after several years of only teaching abroad, I found a lot of EFL teachers wanting. Perhaps that was just my luck with the schools I taught at. I found that the levels of professionalism of my Brazilian colleagues far higher than their British counterparts, and the salaries corresponded comparatively. I really don't know what the answer to this is, whether EFL teachers should take themselves more seriously so that they are taken more seriously in general. Or there should be some kind of drive to get recognition, coming from the industry and the teachers as a whole.

'john williams' left this comment on 9 Mar 05

What should be added is teflers in the UK are often not paid much or regarded as professional as many of them aren't. They are very scruffy. Secondly it is very simply a case of supply and demand. Not many jobs, many teflers = low wages. Simple really

'Alistair' left this comment on 10 Mar 05

hmmmm...Mr. Williams your tone sounds familiar. But I have to agree with you to some extent, based on my own experiences. And for many years those that came out here seemed to treat it as a joke. Which made it hard for those of us that live here. Instances of native speakers suddenly picking up sticks and moving on in the middle of the semester are still (unfortunately) not unusual.

''Sandy' left this comment on 12 Mar 05

I agree with David – and disagree, too. For example, I didn’t do the RSA Diploma, but the Trinity College one, as it was the only Diploma that could be done by distance learning back then, in those days before e-mail and the internet made learning at a distance so easy. I can’t therefore comment on the modern RSA Diploma syllabus, but if it is as narrow and prescriptive as David suggests, then he’s entirely right – it would be no measure of an efficient teacher. After all, the only thing that the average Tefl certificate does is enable you to be an efficient deliverer of coursebook materials, and modern teaching is much more than that. If the RSA Diploma merely takes that perspective and intensifies it, then maybe it’s not the benchmark that I imagined it to be.

In fact, the distance-learning course I did involved a whole year of Postgraduate-level modules, on heavy stuff such as Phonetics and Psycho-Linguistics, as well as a study of comparative teaching methodologies, not to mention a full-blown project on ... ooh-err, something or other! I should also point out that I did a PGCE to become a teacher of MFL (Modern Foreign Languages) before I did the CELTA, and the contrast in approaches was startling. Whereas the PGCE had a strong focus on the ‘peripheral’ factors that David mentions, such as affect/motivation and language psychology, it was only the CELTA that was obsessed with method. In fact, at the time I thought the PGCE was negligent in its scant treatment of teaching methods and classroom management, and maybe it was. But if so, then the CELTA was/is equally guilty of being remiss, by refusing to acknowledge the importance of the other factors. But there again, you can only squeeze so much into a four-week course, can’t you?

Which brings me back to my original point: that a lemon with a CELTA is just that – a lemon with a CELTA. If he or she wants to develop into a proper teacher, they need to make a much greater effort. And, with perfect timing, this will be the subject of my next blog (watch out for 'Eddie Yates'!).

'A visitor' left this comment on 17 Mar 05

Teaching is a nobel profession, so don't expect financial rewards and there are great language schools around where staff love working and return year after year...Pilgrims/Bell/KLAC
Paul H

Sandy' left this comment on 17 Mar 05

Paul, your sentiments might be easier to stomach if you could actually spell - 'nobel'?. And where is the link between being a noble profession and getting paid shite? I don't see it. There are plenty of other 'noble' professions out there - doctors, judges, for example - but they don't put up with crap salaries and conditions, do they? I hate to revert to an old cliche, but tossers like you are definitely 'part of the problem, and not part of the solution'.

As for staff returning year after year, you're obviously on about summer schools. And yes, staff do return - I was one such member of Bell's staff many years ago. But it is only seasonal work(and one in which mugs like me were working 12- or 14-hour days, six days a week). My main gripe is with the permanent tefl school shysters and the need for the simple punter to make a proper living, 365 days a year.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Century and NOT OUT!

So, here I am with my 100th blog posting on The TEFL Tradesman, and it's bloody late! What's more, it's almost empty, too, as I've been extremely busy these past few days, preparing for my upcoming conference presentation at "IATEFL 2010 - the Harrogate Experience".

My presentation title - "Why is the UK TEFL Scene a Pile of Wank? Six Things You Didn't Want to Hear" - has attracted a good deal of early interest already, and I'm looking forward to defending my position with an ever-increasing armoury of carefully-selected items of personal abuse and threats of professional embarassment. Perhaps even a kick in the bollocks.

I might even take my brother's Rottweiler along, just in case things get a little too heated. After all, I have managed to insult a large number of apparently highly esteemed Tefl twerps over the years, and they might well seize the chance to exact a little revenge on the turd-baiting Tefl Tradesman.

But what do I care? A craven attitude has never been one of the underlying features of this blog, has it? So, I'll happily leave you with a fellow traveller - a fellow TEFL Tradesperson, in fact - who has managed to write a juicily forthright and critical piece entitled Tefl Slapheads. The characterisation of one 'Methodology Maggie' is quite sharp and accurate, I feel - almost as good as a back-handed complement from Sandy McAnus!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Tefl Interview - a Supplicant Writes...

Well, they do say it's grim down south - trying to get a job in EFL, that is. Despite the fact that probably half of the country's EFL schools are in London, finding a decent teaching job there is like hoping to find a gold wedding ring in your mother's stool.

Agent D, hereafter known as TTS - for Tired Tefl Sucker - relates a recent attempt to find gainful employment at one of London's best-known and highly-respected private EFL outfits. Out of deference to Agent D, I won't be giving the school's name - probably the first time I've held back from nominating a wanky EFL school ever!

*******
Friday 6th February.

The mobile rings as I enter Starbucks to get out of the rain.

It’s Richard Stanley-Waite from the Leather Imperial School of English in London. He’s course-director at LISE, on of Britain’s most venerated EFL schools.

‘Would you have a few Moments?’ he asks.

TTS ‘Of course let me just sit down…. OK, fire away’

RSW: ‘Thanks for sending in your CV. So you’ve been teaching for a number of years?

Ah, this is the place which writes on their website that the majority of their teachers have 25 years of teaching experience….

‘Well I, um, should point out that I have had a total of around three years teaching experience, although much of this was obtained prior to my certificate, which I did at the beginning of last year. I’ve since taught at Dove UK, teaching a mixture of ESOL and TEFL, Santoor University ELT department – that was a pre -sessional, and I also did a summer school for Yardley International’

RSW: ‘Hmmm… and why did it take you so long to get your certificate?:

I mention something about money and other commitments making it difficult in the past, neglecting to mention any other career pursuits and how I should have done it fifteen years ago, at the same time thinking 'if I had then, Jesus, I’d really know all this grammar shit inside out by now, and might even have made my way up to become a ... Senior Teacher!'

There are a few questions more before RSW winds up by saying:

‘Well, it Miiighhht be worth you dropping by for a Chaaaattt. Are you free next week….?’

Arrangements are made. There will be a short ‘language task’. ‘Will that include phonology’ asks this Tefl footsoldier?

- No, No, No it’s a LANGUAGE task. I take it that phonology is not your strong point…

- I was just erm asking, as I’m looking to brush up on my IPA table. I think phonology is a very important part of…... ‘

- Hah…Ok…. Look forward to seeing you next Wednesday….

Wednesday

Sitting in the café, inside the very plush Leather Imperial School, in leafy West London, I’m handed a series of sentences, which all include the word ‘have’. ‘Notice the words arrrrround the verb, says’ Richard Stanley Waite.

This place really contrasts with some of the other places I’ve visited in the last two weeks are. Going from the Pears School in Piccadilly to this place is like upgrading to a Bang & Olufsen audio system after using a 1985 Tandy combo, that is if both these were accredited by the British Council and all their engineers were paid less than their office juniors.

The more I peer at the ‘have’ sentences, the less like English they look. In the interview room, Richard Stanley Waite and his poker faced assistant grill me.

- Well the first one, ‘she has a new bar of Camay’, that’s the use of “have” to show possession in a simple present tense structure.

- …and how else could you say it?

- erm, ‘she’s got a new bar of Camay’

-And what’s that?

What does he mean, 'what’s that?' It’s another way of saying the same thing.

- What Strucccctttturrre is it ?

- Um, Present perfect

- Is it?

- Well it could be. ‘Got’ could be a past participle rather than an irregular past form.

- What would you say if a student demanded to know what structure it was?

- I’d say, ‘he’s got to get a new life’….. I’d consult Swan.

- What if Swan was missing from the teacher’s room?

- Erm, I’ll go for present simple.

- You don’t sound too sure. How about the next…. Item?

- ‘She’s had her back scrubbed’… well it seems to me this is um, a passive of sorts… she arranged for someone to scrub her back, she didn’t scrub her back herself…

- Now you say this is a passive. But what normally happens with a passive?

- The object becomes the main feature of the clause.

- But that’s not happening here is it?

- No, erm,……………….

Twenty long minutes later

They ask me whether I found teaching IELTS interesting. I say that I did. The assistant wants to know WHAT was interesting about it.

My mind goes utterly blank, seconds last for minutes, the more I try to think the less I can. What was interesting about teaching IELTS? What was interesting about teaching IELTS? Graphs ... dry language ... formulaic use of language for essay writing ... the annual quota of glycerine produced by countries – a predictive and intensive reading task ... Shit, I don’t know; what IS interesting about teaching IELTS……….?

Thursday

I find a message from RSW on the mobile. ‘Could you give us a ring, to… catttccch up?’

Having just been for a wisdom tooth extraction, I don’t feel like talking too much, but I give him a call.

‘So how did YOU feel the interview went?’ he asks. I’m searching for the right dishonest word rather that doesn’t sound too much like Kevin Costner in ‘In Bed with Madonna. After the preamble he cuts to the chase:

- to be frank we felt your grasp of some of the language in the task to be, well ... shaky to say the least.

- OK

- We won’t be able to offer you anything

- OK

- Sorry to disappoint you

- That’s OK.

The post surgery dental pain overrides. His words are having no effect whatsoever.