P is for Power

26 04 2015
the_english_man

What about ‘The English Woman’? Or ‘The Non-English Man’? (Language school in Barcelona)

The recent IATEFL Conference at Manchester has been generating quite a bit of heat on the social networks on issues that, to my way of thinking, relate to questions of power: specifically, who has it? who ought to have it? and who has earned it?

For example, in their presentation on the alleged invisibility of women in ELT, Nicola Prentis and Russell Mayne suggested that the predominance of a clique of (not quite) dead white males in ELT (all named and shamed!) has effectively blocked access to opportunities for aspiring writers and presenters, especially women. (I wasn’t there so I’m simply inferring the gist from what I’ve been reading on Facebook – I’m prepared to be corrected). Their concern echoes that of the Fair List, an initiative to encourage a higher profile for women speakers at ELT events, which had hosted an awards ceremony the evening before.

Where are the women in ELT? Well, while it may be true that women are underrepresented in the power structures of ELT (ignoring, for the moment, that the incoming and outgoing presidents of both IATEFL and TESOL are all women), the situation is probably healthier than in many professions. A quick check of a website where speakers from a whole range of disciplines (sciences, the arts, media, sports etc) advertise their wares shows that roughly nine out of ten speakers in all categories (Keynote, Celebrities, Motivational, Leadership etc) are men. By comparison, the ELT conference circuit seems relatively inclusive.  There is certainly room for improvement, but it does make me wonder if the gender debate isn’t distracting us from power issues that are much more pervasive and equally, if not more, pernicious.

Such as? Well, not one of the alpha males (in the list that Prentis and Mayne’s research identified) is a non-native speaker. Yet non-native speaker teachers comprise the vast majority of the teaching population worldwide – upwards of 95% by some estimates. This – more than the gender disparity – seems a much more serious indictment of the present state of ELT, and suggests that the ‘discourses of colonialism’ (Pennycook 1998) still permeate the profession, a situation in which, as Holliday (2005: 2) puts it, ‘a well-resourced, politically and economically aggressive, colonizing, Western ‘Centre’’ imposes its values, standards and beliefs on ‘an under-sourced, colonized ‘Periphery’.’ in class 1950

Ironically, these colonizing forces are particularly conspicuous at conferences in the so-called periphery itself, where the alpha (NS) males – myself included – really dominate. Is this a case of what Kumaravadivelu (2006: 22) calls ‘self-marginalization’? I.e.:

The TESOL profession is replete with instances where, in certain periphery communities, program administrators “require” or at least “prefer” native speakers to carry out teaching and consultancy, and teachers and teacher educators look up to native speakers for inspiration thinking that they have ready-made answers to all the recurrent problems of classroom teaching … By their uncritical acceptance of the native speaker dominance, non-native professionals legitimize their own marginalization.

As I’ve found, it’s very hard to persuade the head of a teachers’ organization in, say, Bangladesh or Armenia, that I have nothing of value to add to what the locals already know. TaW SIG

Meanwhile, a group calling itself TAW (Teachers as Workers) is lobbying IATEFL for Special Interest Group (SIG) status, on the grounds that it represents the interests of working teachers (‘pushing for the rights of ELT teachers in an era of precarity [sic]’), but, so far, with little success. It is a little odd, let’s face it, that a teachers’ organization (which is what IATEFL purports to be) can’t make room for a group that provides a forum for chalkface teachers. Teacher professional development, after all, is professional development, which surely includes issues of job security, working conditions, access to training, and so on. As Bill Johnston (2003: 137) writes:

I believe that all our talk of teacher professional development is seriously compromised if we ignore the marginalisation of ELT that is staring us in the face, that is, if we treat the professional growth of teachers as something that can be both conceived and carried out without reference to the sociopolitical realities of teachers’ lives. To devalue this central feature of work for huge numbers of teachers is to fail to grasp the significance of the drive for professional development. I believe that the ELT professional organisations have unwittingly colluded in this artificial separation of the professional and political. For many years, for example, the TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Convention, the annual meeting of the TESOL organisation, was almost exclusively devoted to matters of classroom techniques and materials. These things are of course important and useful to teachers. What was lacking, however, was any sense of the sociopolitical contexts in which ELT is conducted, or of its role in those contexts.

teacher ny 1920So, don’t be put off by the somewhat hectoring rhetoric of the TaW collective. Even if it is unlikely to prosper, their cause is a worthy one.

Finally, while some are banging on the doors of IATEFL trying to get in, there are others who view IATEFL and similar organizations, not as the solution, but as the problem. From his bunker somewhere in Catalonia, Geoff Jordan lambasts IATEFL and all it stands for: “The IATEFL conference is about self-promotion, it’s held to justify IATEFL’s existence and to give the huge commercial concerns that run the ELT industry a chance to flog their shoddy goods.”

Whether you agree or not, this – like the other issues I have touched on – is clearly an issue of power: whose interests does IATEFL really serve? Does it kowtow to the publishers? What discourses does it privilege, e.g. those of professional development, or of social justice or of big business?

And, taking the wider view, is ELT still tainted with its colonial past? Does the centre still hold? Is it really all about ‘the English Man’? In short, how cognizant are we (to borrow Johnston’s phrase) “of the sociopolitical contexts in which ELT is conducted”?  How is power distributed in these contexts? How could it be distributed more equitably?

References

Holliday, A. (2005) The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Johnston, B. (2003) Values in English Language Teaching. Mahwah, NJ.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006) ‘Dangerous liaison: globalization, empire and TESOL’, in Edge, J. (ed.) (Re)locating TESOL in an Age of Empire. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pennycook, A. (1998) English and the Discourses of Colonialism. London: Routledge.


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215 responses

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

Hi Scott,

A very big thanks from all at TaWSIG Towers for spreading the word – and you’re spot on – the issue is about Power. Is power distributed equally between men and women, NESTs and NNESTS?

We also extend the issue of power to knowledge; who has the right to make knowledge? Can teachers make their own knowledge through Action Research and sociological enquiry?

One further question for us is How? How can teachers find time to empower themselves, create knowledge and professionalize in a era of increasing precarity – and with institutions like IATEFL that resist change?

(sometimes we hector yes – but we don’t bite…)

Cheers,

TaWSIG

26 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, TaWSIG (doyou have a name?) for being the first to comment, and thereby proving that teachers ARE workers and not Sunday morning lie-abeds! You’ve also taught me a new word (‘precarity’) but I won’t remove the [sic] appellation since it’s good to be reminded that even bloggers need to check their facts!

26 04 2015
jane purrier

I LOVED this post, thank you very much. As ever my comment is anecdotal but, I hope, illustrative. I abandoned DELTA a couple of years back because of one requirement. I was to ask the parents of my pupils what they expected from the English classes I was giving their children. Small scale farmers, a bee keeper, a baker, a postman, jacks and jills of all trades looked at me in complete bewilderment and dismay. Knowing what to teach their children was my job; any questioning of my (as they saw it) absolute power in this area fell outside the natural order of things. In the same way, they would not ask me for advice on how to do their jobs. Power is an issue in any classroom, but the edges are particularly sharp in a primary classroom with a native speaker teacher. To be wielded with care.

26 04 2015
Tom Wogan

Morning Scott. Interesting post. But is it wise to reference the King Beyond the Wall? He does not kneel.

26 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

But he does not rule for ever …

26 04 2015
Tom Wogan

Valar morghulis

26 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

Valar dohaeris

26 04 2015
Bill Templer

It is not just between men and women, native/non-native speakers, of course. The whole issue of discrimination in hiring encompasses discrimination against people of color in TEFL in a no. of countries (classic racism), against gays, discrimination on religious grounds, political activism, ageism, ableism. It needs discussion and empirical research.

There are a whole range of countries were Black teachers from the U.S., Caribbean, South Africa UK and elsewhere are not wanted, whatever their qualifications. A slew of countries (and universities there) where Jewish applicants in particular, born and raised in UK, Australia, the states, France, Russia, need not apply, the door is tightly closed and ‘backgrounds’ are carefully monitored. Plenty of openings where candidates over 40 need not apply. On & on. TawSIG will also try to generate discussion on this, and encourage research (really sorely lacking).

26 04 2015
Noam David Wright

@Bill I’d be interested to know which countries your are referring to. Could you please elaborate on this? Thanks

26 04 2015
Bill Templer

Hi Noam, racism remains a complex and sensitive topic in TEFL. I hesitate to begin discussing here. In Asia, South Korea,China, Thailand are countries where Black and non-local Asian background can be a definite obstacle to getting hired in various corners where ‘whiteness is trump’. Here some articles, discussions: http://goo.gl/1X478q
In Eastern Europe, a topography relatively recently opened to the global EFL onslaught, very under-researched.
Important for this kind of inquiry are teachers’ narratives based on their real experience and perception. Ageism plays a big role in Thailand. The Arab world and a number of Muslim countries avoid hiring Jewish teachers from anywhere, for political reasons.Colleagues inside TESOL Arabia and the BC know that quite well. I hope some people under the MaWSIG canopy can become more interested in this.

26 04 2015
mhiggs101

Hi Bill (and Angga),
I prefer to think of it as discrimination (be it age, race, religion, sex, etc.) is a global issue. TEFL is just another context in which these issues manifest themselves. Eventually I’d like to think there will be more equality and understanding among us, but that will only come with through actively working towards equality, discussion and time.

One good thing is that in TEFL it helps bring the conversation to the table (like we’re doing now).

26 04 2015
Angga Kramadibrata

Hi Noam, here’s something else to add to what Bill’s saying.

Ruecker and Ives (2014) found that in Southeast Asia:
1. The discourse within job posts seem to give the impression that requirements for teaching English include neither experience nor linguistic/pedagogic mastery,
2. The layout of recruitment websites seemed to focus not on the actual job of teaching, but on travel, adventure and “escaping the grind of a ‘normal’ job” (p.13),
3. There exists a disquieting amount of racial bias, emphasising white privilege. Motha (2006, in Ruecker and Ives, 2014) claims that due to historical factors, “English and Whiteness are thornily intertwined” (p. 496). They detail several examples of ad’s that basically say “non-whites need not apply.”

So not only is there a bias for white native speakers, but it seems that it does “trump” everything else. I’ve been teaching English in Indonesia for the better part of a decade and I’ve seen the hurdles non-white native speakers have to jump over to be given the same trust (by students, other teachers, managers, and schools) that a white teacher is given without question.

This is especially problematic because what a non-white native speaker has to deal with is not even close to what non-native speakers have to deal with. Some of the best qualified, most experienced, most knowledgeable teachers I know are being paid much, much less than a newly minted Celtoid just because the latter has blonde hair and blue eyes.

Now not all schools are like this, but that is definitely the overarching theme in most schools in Indonesia.

Ruecker, T., & Ives, L. (2014). White Native English Speakers Needed: The Rhetorical Construction of Privilege in Online Teacher Recruitment Spaces. TESOL Quarterly.

26 04 2015
Anthony Gaughan

Thanks for posing sensible questions in a reasonable manner, Scott – something that I think has been lacking in the conversations around the three points you mention.

Russ and Nicola’s talk was – I was there – even handed, querying and, beyond some mild comedy, respectful. I thought ultimately their point regarding the “Alpha Males” was rather similar to that made by Malcolm Gladwell in the Tipping Point: you were all fortunate in retrospect to have come into the profession when and where you did; conditions subsequently changed to pull the ladder up behind you all. The question for the young does and bucks now is: where do they find another ladder?

As for TaWSIG, you ask a fair question but if anyone wants to use IATEFL’s clout to influence local teacher conditions on a global scale, there is already a long established instrument for doing so: it’s called the associates network. By working with and strengthening this wing of IATEFL’s influence, I suspect those behind TaWSIG would achieve much more, much faster, than they possibly could via a SIG. Power, after all, is a function of leverage as well as sheer effort.

Congratulations on coming #1, by the way😉

26 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Anthony, for being reasonable yourself! And thanks for providing an eye-witness account of Russ and Nicola’s talk, and for correcting my perception of it. Yes, I think ‘we’ (i.e. the ‘named and shamed’) were lucky – there is always an element of ‘being in the right place at the right time’, perhaps, in any success story – but I would dispute your point that ‘the ladder was pulled up’, and that the careers of the susbequent generation of movers and shakers were thereby frustrated. Take your own case, or that of Dale’s (below) – OK, both males, but I can name plenty of women who, like yourselves, have made a mark or are making their mark, even if they are not yet plenary speakers (and the ‘plenary speaker’ test really is a crude measure of success, don’t you think?).

Thanks, too, for your point about the associate network: yes, it’s all about leverage, as you say.

26 04 2015
Anthony Gaughan

Thanks for the reply, Scott. Yes, the plenary test is a blunt instrument, as Russ and Nicola also were clear about, but like other blunt instruments, it makes a strong impression. As a measure of parity/equality, it’s simple and – to steal a phrase – suggestive.

But speaking of suggestions, I didn’t mean to suggest any particular deliberation with that image – though I thought you’d rightly critique it! I agree that there are avenues open, and that many people – women and men – have followed in the trail you and others broke before us. But you left. If footprints to fill, and they have gotten bigger over time. That’s no ones fault, but it is someone’s fault if they let that discourage them from either trying to break trail themselves or if they don’t invite others to take point once in a while (and I am grateful to the women and men who have given me the breaks I’ve had along the way, including you.)

26 04 2015
Bill Templer

The Associates network, as Anthony mentions, is very important for any grassroots change. But the great majority of teachers in most countries are not members of their national organization. In some countries even less than 1-2%. How can that be changed? — a question that needs addressing everywhere.

26 04 2015
Anna Conway

A fair point, Bill. But the problem is not the teachers themselves not willing to join. The problem is the organizations.
In Armenia, for example, it is virtually impossible to become a member of our national organization. It is some kind of club for a group of people. I would think that’s the case in many countries where only very few teachers become members. There is a factor of not wanting to pay the money to join, of course, but not being able to join is a major stumbling block.

26 04 2015
Bill Templer

here in Bulgaria very easy to join BETA and low annual membership fee. Nonetheless, teachers may not see the value of being part of the association, for a range of reasons.
I personally have begun to think such membership should be strongly encouraged by the MoE as part of teacher development. Interesting what you say about a closed club, building a mini-power base that they control.. People may perceive those who devote their time to building the organization as a kind of insider coterie.
AELTA in Armenia is not an Associate of IATEFL. Its website is not functional. http://www.aelta.am Maybe it has to reinvent itself.

26 04 2015
Evan

I note TaWSIG now seems to have a logo and a name – see first comment above. Have I missed something? Does it actually exist as a SIG within IATEFL? Or is this part of the “hectoring rhetoric” you refer to in your post?

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

We have a logo and a name – but we were refused permission to be a IATEFL SIG. So we’re exploring different options.

26 04 2015
Evan

So you’re not a SIG but you call yourself a SIG. Interesting.

I guess as an ex SIG coordinator and ex IATEFL secretary I get a little annoyed at the implication that these things are not thought about carefully within IATEFL. IATEFL receives a lot of SIG proposals, and these are all discussed and debated thoroughly by a group of people who have been elected by members. Often the discussions are quite fierce. In this case their collective opinion was different to yours. It happens.

This is why I think Scott is spot on by talking about “hectoring rhetoric”. I agree that TaW’s ideas are fine and worth exploring, but I also think that IATEFL and the people in it deserve a little respect. And calling TaW a SIG when it clearly isn’t is misleading and disingenuous, to say the least.

Work with them, not at them.

26 04 2015
Willy Cardoso

Sorry, but TaWSIG *is* a Special Interest Group – self-explanatory really as there are 150 people or so interested in being part of a group with a special interest in teachers as workers.

It is not an IATEFL SIG, but so what?
IATEFL doesn’t hold any rights on the term SIG.

And if you think about it, TaW could be the “SIGest” of them all, by definition:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/special%20interest
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/290136/interest-group

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

It is not our wish to disrespect the people in IATEFL. We also wish to be respected too – and sometimes online threads have fallen far short of this in their criticism of us, with a fair share of “hectoring rhetoric” coming from the other side of the fence.

TaW is a SIG in the way that other SIGs exist outside of IATEFL – TESOL also has SIGs.

We don’t claim to be an IATEFL SIG.

26 04 2015
natibrandi

But SIG means special i terest group, which is what TAW is, it doesn’t say IATEFL SIG!

28 04 2015
Thomas Ewens

Hi TaW SIG

In one of your posts below you talk about the people ‘on the other side of the fence’.

Forgive me, but that is divisive rhetoric. I am actually one of the 150 who signed up to your newsletter and I support your cause. But I also understand the point that Gavin Dudeney and others make that forming an IATEFL SIG might not be the best way to go about it.

I think most people in ELT would agree with you that change needs to happen, and people will support you and jump on the bandwagon provided it’s the right vehicle. But if you frame your ideas as ‘us against them’, which you have been doing, then TaW SIG will get nowhere.

26 04 2015
russmayne

hi Scott,

Interesting post as always. I just wanted to add a few points.

Firstly, it’s shame that quite a few people commenting didn’t see the talk and are thus having to go on interpretations. Obviously the room was quite small but we are working to get an audio version out as soon as we can.

Secondly, I don’t think we ‘shamed’ anyone. The list of ‘top 10’ were chosen by teachers in a poll. They just happened to be ones that were considered ‘most well-known’. I’m not really sure where the ‘shame’ comes in. In fact we explicitly said in our interview that we’re sure all the people deserved to be there. https://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2015/interview/interview-nicola-prentis-and-russel-mayne

I’m pretty sure we didn’t say that men were ‘blocking’ women. that was absolutely not our point. I’ve heard this interpretation from couple of people and it’s a shame that’s what they got out of it. Actually the point Nicola was making is that the traditional route to ‘fame’ may be blocked, -not because someone is blocking it, but because publishers are no longer commissioning methodology books (she actually quoted you here).

You suggest we said ‘especially women’ are blocked, when actually nicola clearly said ‘the path is blocked for both women and men’.

Your concerns about power and NNS are of course valid and were voiced by members of the audience, Philip Kerr for example.

also, you suggest above the TEFL is ‘the situation is probably healthier than in many professions.’ but how many of the professions have a majority of women? This was another point made in the talk. Im STEM, business and other male dominated fields it is not surprising to find a surfeit of men in positions of power.

I’m glad Anthony commented here as I would tend to agree with his assessment of things. somehow the talk has been characterised as ‘slamming’ or ‘shaming’ by some which is quite far from the tentative exploration we had intended. Perhaps this is our faults, I can’t say.

26 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Hi Russ,

Thanks for coming on board. Without wanting to litter my original psot with emoticons, I was hoping that the element of ‘tongue in cheek-ness’ might come through (you should have seen some of the earlier drafts!). The ‘naming and shaming’ comment was perhaps gratuitous, I admit – because I know that was not your intent (although perhaps a memory trace of your 2014 talk might have nudged me in that direction!). I was also being a little flippant, perhaps, out of sheer embarrassment: I wonder if you could have made your point without actually naming anyone? Moreover, I think that any list of names that throws together such unlikely bedfellows as Michael Swan and Raymond Murphy has to be treated with, if not derision, then at least a good deal of scepticism. Murphy wrote one book (or flagship book, to be more correct) and hardly ever gives talks. Swan, on the other hand…. So how can you really bundle them together? Were you really asking the right questions?

Nevertheless, I totally take your points that (a) both women and men are equally affected – although with a title like ‘Where are the women in ELT?? I think I can be forgiven for assuming that it was the cause of women that you were mainly defending; and (b) that ELT is different from many professions in that its workforce is mainly female, hence any gender imbalance at the top is of greater signficance, than, say, it would be in banking or rocket science.

Whatever the cause of this imbalance (and there may be many), I doubt whether publishers can be blamed. I edit a series of methodology textbooks, and we publish two or three new titles a year (still!). Of the 15 authors I have worked with 7 have been women – OK, that’s not necessarily representative of the profession as a whole, but it’s hardly indicative of a ‘blockage’. And it goes without saying that ALL the editorial staff I have worked with, at every stage of publication, have been women.

26 04 2015
nicolaprentis2012

Hi Scott,
I think we do see the tongue in cheek-ness but, as I have seen in some of the fallout after the talk, humour doesn’t always come across to everyone and at this point Russ and I just need to make sure that a talk seen by only 40 people isn’t lost in translation as its talked about prior to us getting that talk online.

I’m going to link to the ELTjam post which is where the discussion about methodology books came from (and has been backed up by informal observation from people in the industry). It seems like methodology books no longer have the clout they had, even where they might still be commissioned by smaller publishers or which perhaps remain underpromoted by bigger ones, and the new ones are certainly not making it onto CELTA books lists etc so are not getting the chance at the moment to become established authorities.

http://eltjam.com/why-dont-teachers-use-ebooks-for-professional-development/

I think the rest of your comments will be answered by listening to the talk when it goes online as that explains how those names got into that list and why it seemed necessary to list them (if not just because people would have asked us who was on it. During the talk people guessed aloud who the woman in position 6 was). I made the exact same observation about Murphy that you have above actually …🙂

26 04 2015
26 04 2015
geoffjordan

Hi Scott,

You prove again that, despite being an establishment figure, your heart – and mind – are in the right place. Thanks for supporting TaW.

Stylistically, “from his bunker somewhere in Catalonia” works very well of course, but actually, as you know, I live in a house in the country, a few kms. from Girona, I cherish the hope that on a Sunday such as this, you’ll pop in and see us, our your way back from lunch at Can Roca.🙂

26 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, Geoff, for taking the ‘bunker’ comment in the spirit it was intended (but it was irresistable!) and your kind invite. I might even take you up on it!

26 04 2015
EBEFL

I loved the image of the bunker…perhaps you should change the blog title from callofparrot to ‘notes from the bunker’

26 04 2015
Jessica Mackay

I love ‘Call of parrot’ but it is somewhat different from ‘Ca Lloparot’ (Something like ‘Home of the big wolf’ in Catalan – some might say rather appropriately)🙂

26 04 2015
russmayne

ah! Excuse my ignorance..I’ve always misread that! I assumed it had something to do with Martin Parrott.

26 04 2015
Jessica Mackay

I have this vision of Geoff on his country estate, sitting in a Chesterfield armchair, dogs at his feet, sipping a good red wine and grumbling at his computer screen!

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

Hi Anthony,

What you say is very interesting. When IATEFL refused to give permission for the SIG – this was not given as a possible alternative. Are you speaking on behalf of IATEFL or as an individual here?

Also, some teacher associations will be as unwilling to have conversations about power and working conditions as IATEFL.

The major issue for us having the issue of working conditions widely acknowledged – so far we seem to have faced a wall of resistance.

Perhaps this is changing.

26 04 2015
dalecoulter

“Also, some teacher associations will be as unwilling to have conversations about power and working conditions as IATEFL” – is this a substantiated claim? To what extent have those behind the MaWsig already tried to use the existing grass-roots channels available? It is relatively easy to get involved in them. My experience was that you speak to someone or simply turn up and say you want to get involved – that’s how easy it is, which any current or former volunteer will attest to.

26 04 2015
nicolaprentis2012

TaWSIG — MaWSIG is the materials writing SIG!

26 04 2015
Dale

Yikes. Thanks for point that out. I DID mean Tawsig.

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

Point taken Dale. It is an unsubstantiated claim and withdrawn! Berlin ELTABB and yourself have been open to conversation and cooperation throughout.

Which is greatly appreciated by all concerned.

26 04 2015
paulwalsh

Great post Scott!

There is an popular argument in ELT that all talk of politics should be avoided. But surely what should be avoided is sectarianism – which is politics minus any critical or reflective core. There’s nothing wrong with ‘being political’ – this does not mean being doctrinaire. And we, and the institutions we belong to, are political whether we like it or not.

In Paulo Freire’s terms, education is about turning people from objects (with no rights, or critical awareness) into subjects (with rights they are able to assert, a critical awareness). And sometimes I feel like an object in ELT – there to buy product and clap.

To paraphrase Rebecca West: “I myself have never been able to find out what being political is; I only know that people call me political whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

26 04 2015
Nick Bedford

Hi Scott, yesterday I signed up for the FutureLearn course “Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching.” run by a team from Lancaster University and was gratified to see that not only were all the ten members of the course women but also that the vast majority of them were non-native speakers. So refreshing to see that!

Your post today and your previous ones on Mother Tongue and Non-native speakers I find fascinating and timely in the way you question the hectoring role of the vocal minority in our profession. One of my non-native colleagues told me last week that after reading your posts she finally felt that someone had opened the door that she’s been knocking on for years.

26 04 2015
Thomas Ewens

Thanks for an important contribution to the debate, Scott.

I’d like to point out that while ELT is a global activity, each area of the world has its own very different version. Importantly, most English teachers around the world are probably only vaguely aware of communicative methodologies and probably have never even heard of IATEFL or the TESOL Association.

In a majority of cases local institutions (e.g. education ministries and trade unions) probably have a far greater say in what English teachers teach and in working conditions etc than global organizations (e.g IATEFL, CUP, etc).

I agree with Russ’ point about blocking, and I’d add that I’m very uncomfortable with the sycophantic way in which male, native speaker ‘big names’ are sometimes treated in our profession. But it’s mostly in the very narrow world of IATEFL/ The British Council / CUP etc etc that this happens.

26 04 2015
Andy Hockley

“I’d add that I’m very uncomfortable with the sycophantic way in which male, native speaker ‘big names’ are sometimes treated in our profession. But it’s mostly in the very narrow world of IATEFL/ The British Council / CUP etc etc that this happens.”

IATEFL goes to great lengths to ensure diversity in its plenary speakers (seriously look at the names of all those who spoke over that last few years and you’ll see I’m not making this up). The talks that are not plenaries are decided upon “blind” (ie the committee makes decisions on the content of the talks (or the abstracts at least) without knowing who submitted them. I’m not sure how things could be improved from IATEFL’s part in this regard.

It’s obviously fair to point the finger at the power structures and the imbalances, but I feel like a lot of mud is being flung at IATEFL in this whole debate without any foundation (apologies for the mixed metaphor).

26 04 2015
Thomas Ewens

Fair enough, Andy.

I appreciate that I seemed to be implying criticism of IATEFL as an organization. I was actually thinking more of the delegates at the IATEFL conference (and other conferences) who only attend sessions given by ‘big names’ and who seemingly think that meeting ‘big names’ is a reason for actually attending. These people give the ‘big names’ far more attention than they deserve (or that they themselves probably even want).

In terms of promoting superstar names over content, I think the British Council have got more to answer for, personally.

26 04 2015
Andy Hockley

Thanks for the clarification Thomas

29 04 2015
Russ Mayne

“I agree with Russ’ point about blocking”

for clarification that wasn’t a point I made nor one I believe.🙂

2 05 2015
Thomas Ewens

Ouch, I’m not doing very well here.

I apologize, Russ.

26 04 2015
Anthony Gaughan

Hi @taw_sig (not knowing who is behind the comment, I’ll make do with that as a salutation.)

To avoid hijacking Scott’s post comments, which would be a shame, I am not going to reply any further after this comment. If you wish to, you know where to find me.

I’m not speaking on anyone else’s behalf, least of all IATEFL’s.

I’m a member, I have familiarised myself with what the organisation does. The Associates Scheme is a large and obvious part of IATEFL’s work, and it doesn’t, in my view, take much for anyone interested in working for and within IATEFL to make positive change locally on a global scale to see the potential in that.

Contrary to what I think you are implying (and even if you aren’t implying it, I’d say it anyway for the avoidance of doubt), I don’t think it’s IATEFL’s job to point out alternatives to those proposing SIGS as to how they could otherwise volunteer, as a) they already do this regularly whenever an opportunity arises within the organisation, and b) I personally think the onus is on those proposing SIGs or any other new initiative to have done their own due diligence; we may differ on this point and that’s ok.

Further, I don’t think a SIG within IATEFL is an appropriate vehicle for the work I think you all want to do. That’s not a criticism of either IATEFL or you as organisations for change.

I do, however, criticise your positioning of IATEFL as being “unwilling to have conversations about power and working conditions”. This is a move that you really shouldn’t make, as it is disingenuous.

IATEFL rejected a SIG proposal, that’s all that has happened here.

The more you make this move to position yourselves as a representative of voices silenced by IATEFL, the more you will lose the support of those who want to support you but increasingly can’t as a result of your strategy.

Naturally, you can choose to deflect this criticism strategically if you like, and maintain your current approach; that’s your decision. As long as you do so, I cannot support you as an organisation.

Best wishes,

Anthony

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

Anthony, as has been said on other fora – this ‘campaign’ and ‘strategy’ has been run on two things: a wing and a prayer. It’s not some dark art.

Point taken on TAs – and in motion. Thanks.

If we disagree, then let’s agree to disagree – that’s healthy debate. And to be welcomed.

But before you withdraw support – check out our aims and vision (feel free to PM on Twitter).

26 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

Who is speaking for taw_sig here? I prefer an open forum where people do not hide behind avatars or logos and sign with their name. Your choice, but don’t you think it looks better if readers can put a name and face to an opinion?

26 04 2015
Anthony Ash

How can readers put a name/face to an organisation representing a group of people? Stop scaremongering. You know as well as I do if I ask you to “show the face of the people behind the management of IATEFL” you’d have to populate a list of people – waste of time and energy. It’s more interesting what that group has to say than the individuals behind it.

If you really want to know who is behind TaW SIG I’m sure you’ll manage to find them – ask TaW SIG to write a list, though I think it’s a waste of time and energy.

If ELTChat was commenting would you demand the same from them? Would you want photographic evidence of the moderators behind ELTChat? Of course you wouldn’t – you’re just trying to be awkward.

26 04 2015
Mike Harrison

@Anthony

But ELTchat doesn’t comment on blog posts making spurious claims (“Also, some teacher associations will be as unwilling to have conversations about power and working conditions as IATEFL.”) which they then climb down from, knowing them to be in the wrong or at very best uncertain.

Also there is a problem of transparency. Any group that wants to do what ‘TaWSIG’ appear to want to do needs organisation. At the very least there should be a point of contact. OK, Paul Walsh and Nicola Prentis have self-identified, but it’s not immediately clear to the casual observer. Someone who comes across the ‘TaWSIG’ Twitter account can only find links to an anonymous newsletter sign up sheet and LOLcat videos. I don’t think this is the right way to go about rallying people to a cause or idea.

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

People who want to know more about TaWSIG can sign up to our mailing list: https://tinyletter.com/TeachersasWorkers

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

In answer to your post Anthony, we were never actually invited by IATEFL to submit a formal proposal.

Check out what Nicola Prentis says on Decentralised Teaching blog (final comment): http://decentralisedteachingandlearning.com/iatefl-calling/

Summary: “Next thing we knew it was being dismissed at the SIG co-ordinator’s meeting without us ever having the chance to put in a more considered proposal which would have maybe answered the concerns that got it rejected. since we were never given the opportunity to be part of the conversation, that couldn’t happen.”

26 04 2015
teachers_as_workers (@taw_sig)

Also Anthony, “I don’t think a SIG within IATEFL is an appropriate vehicle for the work I think you all want to do.”

Why are you basing your conclusions on what you ‘think’ we all want to do. Isn’t this more about your prejudices than ours? Why not talk to us and actually ask us what we want to do?

We’re only two weeks old too – give us a chance.

26 04 2015
Graham Stanley

Lots of food for thought here, as usual Scott.

Dear @taw_sig, as a former IATEFL ex-SIG member, I would like to echo what Anthony says and just underline that any proposal for a new SIG will be treated fairly and debated as Anthony mentions above. I also think that rather than be ‘invited…to submit a formal proposal’ by IATEFL, the onus is on you to prove to IATEFL there is a demand from the organisation’s members for the SIG. How to do this? As Anthony says, work with IATEFL and not against the organisation, reveal yourself as real people (i.e. don’t hide behind a blanket @taw_sig moniker when commenting on blog posts); show you have grass roots support by collecting signatures from at least 50 IATEFL members who would join such a SIG (this is an IATEFL requirement for any proposed new SIG); volunteer and get to know how the IATEFL SIG structure (and the organisation as a whole) works; lobby and enlist the support and backing of existing committee members of IATEFL SIGs. Then present a formal proposal to IATEFL to open your new SIG.

I also suggest talking to those involved in the MaWSIG for ideas too, as they successfully lobbied IATEFL to set up a new SIG a few years ago.

26 04 2015
Anthony Gaughan

OK, as you have framed your response here in a way that cannot be left unqualified as it would otherwise give a biased and in my view misleading account of things, I’m back… briefly.

I am expressing my opinion here based on what I have read in relation to your attempt to form a sig right from the starting point for this whole thing a good year ago – not two weeks ago, as you say here.

I am basing this opinion on what Paul Walsh, Nicola Prentis and all others who have contributed to the discussion in this time have said, and while I will not claim to have read everything on the topic, I think I can safely say that I have done my due diligence.

Now, I happen to think that tawsig could do some more transparancy work of its own. You say “why not talk to us and actually ask us what we want to do?” – this is precisely the problem: you should be telling us more clearly, we should not have to ASK.

And we should especially not have to run through website after website of zero content to do it. For example, follow that link you posted to signup to a tiny letter feed, and as far as I can see there is zero information about what it is that you are being asked to sign up to. The only content is a link to your twitter feed, which hardly qualifies as a clear statement of ends, means or even rough ideas and intentions.

This is asking for support without stating what the support is for. And yes, it is support, not simply providing information, as you have been touting numbers (“let’s get to 200!”, for example.) This is canvassing, and doing that is ok, but then present a manifesto (substitute a less overtly political word there if you prefer.)

This is, when it comes down to it, my real problem with how you as an organisation are going about your work. You come up with an idea good in principle and one for which I had instinctive sympathy, you gather some initial support off the back of a vague question and poll (you take early and unproductive exception to early warning shots from Gavin Dudeney about the lack of clarity and detail at this point, which marked how you would respond to similar comments later), you present an underdeveloped proposal to an organisation, which rejects it based on what you presented, then you claim that the other party is at fault because they rejected what they took to be a proposal even if you didn’t think it was a “proper” one,, or rather you insinuate it, and then, when people call you on this, you claim never to have said such a thing. You or your co-founders take offence at people reasonably calling your or their motives and means political, then your co-founder himself pleads for everything being political and for being political not to be deemed unsemly in a comment under his own name in this very thread.

I think I have been following you, your content, your strategy and your public comments quite carefully, and it is your strategy and public dealing, not your basic endeavour, to which I take exception, and it is as a direct result that I will not align myself with you. That is, until you either become more self-aware or more honest as an organisation in your public relations and policy. I live in hope.

Reply here if you like; you’ll have the last word in this forum. Thank you for your invitation for me to reach out to you, but If you want a real conversation after this, you can PM me, as I said in my original comment.

Apologies Scott, but I had to get that off my chest.

26 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Anthony says, “You say “why not talk to us and actually ask us what we want to do?” – this is precisely the problem: you should be telling us more clearly, we should not have to ASK.”

I think that this is a fair position to take. I would like to see more transparency in terms of the aims of TaW – I don’t think this is too much to ask – although I’m nervous about ceding yet more space on this blog for said transparency!

26 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

Great post, Scott, and well summarised. Let me add my two pesos here.

As I remember (and my memory is not what it was, if it ever was, but I was involved in putting together an earlier version of the SIG Handbook) the first step for any member of IATEFL who wants to start a new SIG is to contact the IATEFL President and SIG Rep and inform them of their intentions.

The person or people who want to start the SIG have to set out briefly the aims of the proposed SIG and what they want to call it and agree to run the SIG in accordance with the terms set out in the SIG Handbook. At this stage they also have to show that they have the support of 50 (?) IATEFL members.

The SIG Rep then communicates this to all existing SIG coordinators, who in turn inform the members of their SIGs. The approval of all the SIGS and the Trustees is required, and if objections are raised at this stage then the process goes no further.

I would think that this is standard procedure for associations like IATEFL, and do not see that there is anything underhand here. IATEFL trustees and members of SIG committees are all democratically elected and act in what they consider to be in the best interest of the Association and its members.

All of which is not to say that all the ideas being discussed in this thread for reform are not good ideas, just that the elected representatives of IATEFL have chosen for them not to be implemented from within IATEFL. These representatives will in time change and their replacements may think differently, but for now have chosen the way they have chosen.

I don’t see what more is to be said here.

26 04 2015
Stephie

Unfortunately I am not able to attend IATEFL and ELT conferences as much as I used to because my work life has taken a turn over into general secondary education.

But this debate has definitely caught my eye. I recently posted on IATEFL facebook and suggested it would be useful to specify exactly which arena of ELT teaching you want to look at and then gather facts and figures about that. I noticed many people arguing from many different contexts.

In the 22 years I’ve been teaching I’ve worked in private schools on fixed 12 week contracts, annual contracts and zero hours contracts. I’ve worked in the secondary sector on fixed contracts. Also as DOS, CELTA trainer and academic director on fixed contracts.

Generally ELT teachers who are fortunate enough to transition into management roles or public sector roles are in a different position to ELT teachers working zero hours contracts or privately.

So good to define exactly who we are talking about first.

Generally those fortunate enough to have public sector or management jobs with fixed contracts are the ones more likely to attend conferences such as IATEFL.

Next, the question of earnings is heavily interdependent on and inseparable from wider cultural and economic pressures. So in the private sector you have the situation where schools compete for contracts at cut throat prices, the lower the price, the lower the teacher pay. You have companies even wealthy ones, always wanting to save and make cuts in external training costs. You have publishers also wanting to make sure profits stay healthy so they contract armies of writers to write segments of books to prevent any one writer from getting too powerful (gone are the days of the Soars) This is connected to a wider global problem of greed, of society set up so that the majority work for not much and the few at the top cream the profits. It seems overwhelming, but grass roots and start small seems the only way to change. Everything is political. The fact that certain teachers on zero hours contracts may not be able to attend IATEFL makes it political. It’s kind of short sighted and slightly naive to pretend it’s not.

I have always felt a bit uncomfortable with the rhetoric of “professionalizing” for ELT teachers who are working zero hours contracts.

I used to enjoy IATEFL but I know some CELTA trainers and very good people who completely stay away. They have told me they see IATEFL as a forum for self promotion and often a re-cycling of old ideas in new words and phrases.

I am also good friends with a female academic and writer – what this person told me about their days “on tour” in the ELT world was a real eye opener. I don’t want to go into detail, but one element was the way largely female audiences of ELT teachers responded to someone male, well known, but doing something which was pretty under prepared and medicore and was given an almost rock star response.

What to do? There are some big elephants in the room and I’m really quite happy to hear that they’re finally being acknowledged and talked about as a start.

26 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

You say: ” some CELTA trainers […] have told me they see IATEFL as a forum for self promotion and often a re-cycling of old ideas in new words and phrases”.

Doesn’t that seem something of a generalisation, and a little unkind to the 500+ presenters who came from some 80+ countries this year with a genuine desire to share and learn? Sure there are sponsors and big names – the one provides the necessary funding and the other is an added draw for some – but there are plenty of ‘grassroots teachers’ at IATEFL too – in fact it is one of the few ELT forums that goes out of its way to support first time speakers and to offer reduced membership for those starting in ELT.

26 04 2015
Eily

Spot on Stephie – the diversity of contracts is hard to get a fix on in a single country, never mind around the world!
These guys carried out a survey last year
http://blog.slb.coop/2014/11/22/international-tefl-survey/
but shifts over time and changing trends/laws in contracts need a lot more work, and probably input from an organisation with the reach of IATEFL.
You said:
“I have always felt a bit uncomfortable with the rhetoric of “professionalizing” for ELT teachers who are working zero hours contracts.”
I am constantly impressed with teachers’ willingness to share skills on twitter and blogs – probably got something to do with the nature of the job itself – but the time invested in CPD is often not recognised by employers.
It is a huge ask of volunteers to spend their weekends helping out other teachers, which is why I take my hat off to the TaWSIG group’s initiative.

26 04 2015
phil Wade

This really kicking off now. From what I know of the history of the ‘big names, they often came from IH and worked at the British Council at a time when ELT was growing. Some got invited to write books and help create courses which grew and grew and them with it. Publishers need faces and characters to represent their companies so as one has grown so as the other. We also all know that events or some organisations are sponsored. That means they have to respect and promote those sponsors. As an indie ebook writer and a book reviewer, I can vouch from experience that it is hard to get your ebook reviewed for instance as some groups have to prioritise those from their backers. I guess the same thing happens at conferences.This is the system and it will only change if sponsors are removed. An alternative is to have independent groups with no sponsors that offer free membership and entrance to events.

As for a workers group. I am freelance and find it very hard to get any info or support for the actual business side of my work. I have organised strikes, protests, had to get legal support, negotiated contracts, marketed my services, dealt with unhelpful bosses and colleagues and been faced with ‘unprofessionalism’ and even bullying. All of these are what we freelancers need support with and so a group that deals with ‘real’ issues is warranted. For me anyhow. BUT I don’t think fighting and criticising others is the way forward. Providing choices, as with indie books, seems more helpful.

26 04 2015
Stephie

Hi Martin,

My own experience has been ELT conferences are often a mixture – there will be a certain re-packing and re-presenting of ideas and things we’ve already heard. But there is also usually several innovative or very interesting new perspectives, conversations and initiatives…..I personally found I always took away something from a conference….

However, I don’t think people who have expressed that POV about finding conferences not worth going to, were being unkind to anyone else attending ELT conferences, they were simply sharing a point of view that they have.

26 04 2015
Stephie

Martin – The part about self promotion at conferences, while people looking in may have their own perceptions on that, actually nobody can answer that truly apart from the people who present.

I actually think it is understandable for people whose livelihoods depend upon it, for it to be a little self promoting. What they are promoting may be useful and interesting to some people and less useful to others.

One of my favourite conference speakers was always Dave Willis. Whenever I watched him, at least to me, it seemed his love of the language and grammar was the main reason for him standing up and speaking. It was all about the language.

26 04 2015
Charles Rei

I really appreciate your thoughtful addition to this topic. Inequalities in ELT are largely due to market factors facing the industry, not collusion among an imaginary group of ELT gurus.

First, the industry is far too large for a closed group to keep control of trends. What makes people like yourself such thought leaders is that you observe, report and analyze what is happening in the ELT world rather than prescribing what should happen. The group of ELT ‘rock-stars’ (I use the term sarcastically) is popular because their notoriety affords them the opportunity to view ELT from a global view – something the local teach cannot do. ELT conferences are great because there is so much sharing, openness and local flavor. In other fields, conferences typically just exist for providers to sell stuff to each other. I could make a claim that publishers have unreasonable power over the industry, but I actually feel they are quite receptive to what teachers, schools and students want. We also have to keep in mind that they are only the content holders.

When it comes to pay and working conditions, exploitation is the exception and not the norm because exploiting teachers make very little business sense in the long-term. Low pay is typically due to the low barrier of entry and the limit value-add the teachers contribute to the price of the course. I wrote a series of blog posts on the pay of business trainers. Looking back, it may reflect the lives of other teachers in the industry as well. http://businessenglishideas.blogspot.de/2013/06/the-value-chain-of-business-english.html

But I guess my viewpoint may be different than the teachers who feel oppressed enough to protest so loudly.

26 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Tessa Woodward asked me to upload this:

Good Morning Scott!

Thanks very much for mentioning in your Sunday A to Z blog The Fair List, the award for excellence in gender balance of plenary, keynote and panel speakers at UK, ELT events.

(For those who haven’t visited the web site yet, at http://www.thefairlist.org, it contains support for organisers, speakers and participants in the form of background reading of both an informal and formal kind, a link to a webinar for those thinking of presenting at plenary level for the first time, checklists for organising conferences and loads more including awareness-raising activities and inspiring (I hope) photos.)

All the groups of people mentioned by other commentators here so far (Hi everyone!) need inclusion. Yes. And not forgetting those with mobility issues as supported by the disabled access friendly group.

If an initiative is about one thing…..just as The Fair List is about gender balance… it is not because the supporters don’t care about the other issues or groups. It’s that we all have limited time and energy and work on what we know about and have experienced. And we work on that issue in the way we have a flair for. So some reward success, some hector (without biting!), some use jokes, some name and shame. We can learn a lot from the tactics of parallel groups.

We are all trying to work for a more inclusive, fairer, professional community. And that is a great thing.

Happy Sunday everyone!

Tessa Woodward

(Founder of The Fair List)

26 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

“We are all trying to work for a more inclusive, fairer, professional community. And that is a great thing.”

Thank you, Tessa – there’s no way I would disagree with this sentiment! And I do support what you and the Fair List are doing towards levelling the playing field. But, as you say, we all of us have limited time and energy, and (sadly perhaps) have to be selective in terms of the causes we espouse. Also, I have to say, a part of me feels that – if women are good enough to give plenaries, they are also good enough to militate for women giving plenaries – that is to say, they don’t really need men marching on their behalf. The suffragettes, after all, did it on their own, didn’t they? Whereas non-native speakers, who represent a far greater segment of our profession, might well do with the moral support of a few alpha (NS) males like myself. Or?

26 04 2015
Stephie

According to this site average salary of a TEFL teacher in the UK is around 13 pounds an hour.

http://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=English_as_a_Second_Language_%28ESL%29_Teacher/Hourly_Rate

Here is another link showing average UK salaries – they put the average salary of a TEFL teacher in the UK as being between 13 – 19,000 pounds a year.

https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/eflteacher.aspx

In this link you can compare the average TEFL teachers salary in the UK to other professions. So it falls roughly in the same band as a theme part attendant, a hospital porter and a shelf filler.

http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/nov/22/pay-salaries-survey-ashe-ons

And here is a link to quite an emotional and perhaps controversial article in the telegraph.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/3325192/The-slavery-of-teaching-English.html

28 04 2015
Di

Really interesting facts, thank you, Stephie!

26 04 2015
Stephen

Who ought to have power? The thing about those with power is how they keep hold of it through time. Not long ago we workers toiled under privilege – offset with a bit of patronage – now it’s meritocracy. These folk – often the same, more or less – really do believe they earned it.

26 04 2015
macappella

Hi Scott,
Can I make three points? Or is that hogging the comments?

1 At the IATEFL TDSIG Pre-Conference Event, during the freer discussion ‘segments’ of the day, the topic of teacher development in the participants’ countries cropped up. I was one of only two NESTs in my group, the rest being from Nigeria, South Africa, China, Brazil, Chile, India, Malta…..a wide range. The NNESTs all told us that they felt that NNESTs tend to be ‘celebrity-struck’ (sic) for plenaries and preferred Names, plenaries being something like stadium concerts as opposed to local gigs. You go, you listen, you queue for the autograph.
They also felt that women and/or local NNEST trainers were far better at ‘closer contact’ TD. Those who expressed a preference for women were women themselves. In many cultures, women-to-women TD is likely to be far more effective for a slew of reasons. I was the only female speaker/group moderator, and a couple of participants didn’t move from my side all day, regardless of where they were ‘supposed to be’. Feeling safer with your kind. And just for the record, when A Name on That List walked in, most people in the room didn’t even notice.

Fiona (point 2 coming up…)

26 04 2015
26 04 2015
macappella

2 Re IATEFL and self-promotion. The hundreds and hundreds of people who have travelled from Bangladesh, Nepal, Cameroon, Eastern Turkey etc to IATEFL are not remotely interested in self-promotion and probably make up the majority of delegates. The self-promoters are easily avoided as …. well, I’m not sure I met any, so if there are any there, they constitute a fog-wrapped handful. And you don’t need to go into the publishers’ area.
It was my first IATEFL and the networking (what I had also probably perceived as self-promotion, if I’m honest) side of things had always put me off before – the blinkers came off within minutes of the event starting.

Fiona

26 04 2015
macappella

3 Final point. Power and Plenaries. To be invited to give a one-off, to speak about your work with passion, there’s no doubt that that is recognition, and an honour. The IATEFL plenary. But that type is the minority. Not the type seen as ‘power’. What about the ‘normal conference’ majority type plenary which COULD imply some sort of power? Do they indicate ELT knowledge and prestige, or something else? Practical application in the classroom is rarely in the brief. Twice in the last two weeks I’ve heard a speaker lauded for knowing how to ‘work the crowd’….. A plenary may make us think, it may be clever, but it must be entertaining. We can all think of conference plenary speakers whose go-to ELT tomes most teachers would find hard to name.

Fish. Roger McGough. Carol Ann Duffy. …. The great names of ELT? When conference organisers choose a plenary speaker, it’s not just the name or even the idea. It’s the capacity to entertain and to engage a fairly large number of people. The stand-up comedian, the raconteur. If you’re asked to do a ‘normal conference’ plenary, nowadays, it means you’re trusted to be entertaining informatively – it doesn’t mean you have A Big Idea (to borrow a phrase). Is that what I / we aspire to? I’m not sure…

Fiona

26 04 2015
Torn Halves

Nice to see the issue of power being raised instead of skirted. Our comment would be a wish that more was made of the aspect you touch on very briefly in your fourth paragraph. The bulk of the post concentrates on the exercise of power within the profession, but an equally important issue is how the whole business of teaching English is itself part of a global play of power, with, for instance, the corner-shop school in Spain, shown in your title photograph, helping to clear the way for the forces represented by the bowler hat used in its advertising. The spread of English is an integral part, for the time being at least, of the prevailing model of globalisation.

We had a stab in describing our culpability in the following post:

http://www.digitalcounterrevolution.co.uk/2014/efl-elt-esl-english-language-globalisation/

26 04 2015
huwjarvis

Hi Scott

Thanks for this – thought provoking, as ever.

“Critical engagement” is something which established organisations in ELT such as IATEFL and TESOL (US) are always, in the last instance, going to struggle with because almost by definition as a collective body they represent “established thinking, interests and practices”. Of course this is not to say the individuals in such organisations think like this, power relations and hegemony are much more complex than the personalities involved who devote countless hours for free and are invariably in it for the greater good. Here is but one example to illustrate the point which you may or may not remember – way back in Jan I tweeted on several occasions within the week (as @tesolacademic) that nobody in #TESOL “owns knowledge” and in favour of #openaccess It was by far our most popular tweet this year with 3,762 total views in a week and it was retweeted by many including your good self. It was clearly an issue that many felt strongly about, but my challenge to IATEFL and TESOL (US) to retweet in support went unanswered. It is of course publishers with their #paywalls to knowledge whose interests are being challenged, and the two leading academic journals in our field (ELTJ and TESOL Quarterly) are closely affiliated to IATEFL and TESOL (US) – how could IATEFL or TESOL as organisations do anything but keep silent?

On a separate matter for those who are interested in some of the “critical linguistics” issues that you touch upon both Pennycook and Holliday have Keynote talks on http://WWW.TESOLacademic.org , as do others such as Phillipson on linguistic imperialism and Widen (who talks about her book Illegitimate Practices).

Oh hang on, by mentioning the website is this white middle aged, middle class man shamelessly self-promoting? … others will have to answer that😉 ….. but maybe the alternative narrative will have to come from independent initiatives like this one, and others?

Huw

26 04 2015
Fabiana Casella

Dear Scott:
Thanks for your post. My humble opinion as the citizen of a country like mine, where politics and power, corruption and anti-democratic decisions, have ruined most of all good the deeds and intentions of honest people, I have nothing more than to THANK IATEFL for all the resources they have been sharing online. Although I have never been to any of the conferences, never dreamed of attending, I considered myself lucky to be able to watch online, learn and share thanks to the recordings and the materials provided.
I am really sad and concerned about the comments and intentions of politicize the event and the main goals of the association. One more time, because of the political situation here, I DO know how this issue of “criticizing without giving a solution” works, and I am conscious enough I would have never thought that through a group in IATEFL will give a solution to the unfair
working conditions and low salaries for teachers, among others.

26 04 2015
helenwaldron

For me it’s a no-brainer to join TaWSIG. When hard-working, well-educated and dedicated teachers are being offered hourly wages which at best should be offered to gap-year students, I am happy to be part of any organisation willing to set out and change this.

26 04 2015
natibrandi

Hi Scott,

Thanks very much for somehow sticking your neck out for those seeking a fairer ELT world.

First of all, I think the TAW Sig, could be a fantastic way of learning about schools from all over the world, their access to resources, the numbers of classes they give to teachers, etc. Access to this information can only be empowering. Nowadays, we learn a lot about techniques and procedures teachers use all over the world, but we learn very little about their working conditions, and working conditions do count.

As regards Natives vs Non-natives, it breaks my heart to admit that when I worked as DoS and was organising local ELT events in Montevideo, I always struggled to find native teachers and include them in the conference programme. For some reason, a native speaker in the conference programme, meant more attendees. What does this tells us? It perhaps implies, that we discriminate ourselves. Many people from the places where I’ve worked (Uruguay and Argentina) seem to be more keen to spend their time at a conference listening to a native speaker. Now, are teachers to blame? Perhaps the school managers and Teacher Training Courses curricula designers, should reconsider changing their focus, they somehow seem to be spreading an admiration for Mid/Upper class “Victorian” England. Most local teacher training courses have subjects called Cultural Background, where they discuss the History of England, London, the Union Jack and the nobles. However, little is said about multiculturalism, the life of working class English people, the disputes about the usage of the Union Jack, and let alone, varieties of English (some TTcs include this, but they’re a minority) If you go to Uruguay, you’ll find that most of the prestigious language schools (for which I’ve worked and have the highest respect), are decorated with the colours of the flag and display pictures of the kings and queens, and of course, the main London sights. So, if English Languag Teaching should not be about exclusively looking up to the life of mid/upper class London, why are non-native managers fostering this? Is it tradition? Is it being afraid of changes? (i say London, cause I think the admiration is mostly for the capital city)

26 04 2015
Luiz Otávio

Dear Scot,
As a NNS myself, I must thank you for not letting this whole discussion die.
I really hope Kumaravadivelu’s quote strikes a chord with your NNS readership. If the fact that there are only, what, 3 or 4 NNS in this thread right now is anything to go by, then clearly he was on to something.😦

26 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

There are still two things I should like to know. Firstly, of what Association is tawsig a SIG? Any SIG (“a community within a larger organization with a shared interest in advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning or technology”) can only really exist within an Association, can it not? And secondly, in the interests of transparency, why are all tawsig postings made from behind an uninformative logo and pseudonym instead (as one would expect of a body in search of support) of a photo and name. As we say in Argentina, el pueblo quiere saber ….

26 04 2015
Anthony Ash

(1) tío, da igual que decimos en Argentina… punto.

(2) So, every other organisation in the world doesn’t post using its logo but uses the face and name of an individual? I didn’t know that. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for that in the future…. wait, isn’t that popularism???

26 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

I seem to have touched a nerve, Anthony Ash, to judge by your unfriendly tone. Perhaps I am naïve in liking to know who I am talking to? But to answer your question, most organisations have a spokesperson, and the spokesperson usually gives a name. It’s for the benefit of the association, really. And here, where many of those posting live and work in the same milieu, I find it a little strange that the person posting on behalf of the so-called ‘SIG’ (I notice you didn’t address my other point) would not want to make a more personal contact. But it’s his/her choice.

27 04 2015
Anthony Ash

“I seem to have touched a nerve” – well, we wouldn’t want the conversation to be boring🙂

It’s just that I think the idea behind Paul and his group is a good one – I can’t imagine why anyone would really disagree, since we’re all working teachers, some of which work in precarious conditions – so it’s saddening to see him and others being knocked back at every corner when they’re just trying to get something off the ground. They aren’t full-time organisers: they’ve got a wage to earn. So, as a natural result of only spending a couple of hours a week on TaW SIG, it might be flawed or have holes in its approach, but give them a chance at least. Weren’t you ever given a chance in your career?

26 04 2015
Eily

The language classroom has already dealt with a shift in the balance of power from the teacher to the learner. At the same time, access to CPD has become more widely accessible through social media and peer to peer learning.The next logical step is for the grassroots/chalkface teachers to compare professional experiences.
The shift in the balance of power is, in some places slow, but constant and irrevocable. Just like autonomous learners, that genie is not going back in the bottle.
The fairlist, iatefl associates and local partners, teflequityadvocates, TaWSIG and others all say they represent chalkface teachers and the work of their volunteers is admirable.
Isn’t there some overlap here, or least room for some cooperation and crowdsourcing? I would hate to see the power struggle end up with infighting amongst these groups.

26 04 2015
Teresa Carvalho

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your timely post, which touches on two issues that came up during the last IATEFLconference. I happened to be present at Prentis and Mayne’s presentation. My friend had presented in the same room, so I decided to stay on for their presentation to see what they had to say on the matter.

I was really surprised to see some big ELT names quietly flocking into my friend’s presentation even when it was half way through already and I was happy that they’d taken the time to attend a female NNEST and first-time presenter. Considering all the odds against her, I thought maybe they were interested in what she had to say — it dealt with gender stereotypes and humour among Brazilian teenage learners based on her M.A. research. Only after I’d learned that Russ’ talk would follow hers in the same room, did I realize how wrong I’d been all along. It suddenly dawned on me that the room would soon be packed, and that’s why people were arriving really early. Of course rather than finding out where the women are in such big conferences by actually attending their talks and getting to know them, those people were there to wait for someone to tell them. How ironical is that? It was really disappointing to see this happening right before my eyes.

Do those people really want to know where the women are? All they have to do is choose talks by different women from different parts of the world. I’ve seen amazing talks by women who make a big difference in their communities and countries. As a matter of fact, these women’s main goals may not include becoming plenary speakers, but rather taking action in other areas of education.

That said, when I look around, I see lots of women in ELT and I don’t think that not being a plenary speaker in conferences across the UK is representative of women’s situation in ELT. The language institute I work for here in Rio de Janeiro is run by women mostly and, if it is the case that women are underrepresented in some ELT contexts it is generally due to local religious, sociopolitical, or ideological views, according to which women are supposed to take on what we assume to be ‘lesser’ roles — not only in ELT, but in other areas within their communities as well. That said, it’s dangerous to generalize and assume that there are fewer women than men in ELT just based on a top-ten list. frankly, I usually choose talks based on their relevance for my classroom practices. Yes, I want to discuss special needs education, listening tasks, grammar and language development for teachers, among other areas. However, I’ve taken part in fruitful discussions on issues including gender inequality and working conditions, too during IATEFL conference sessions. Who says there’s no room for debate? However, I believe it would be more appropriate to dedicate a website or to set up a community to listen to teachers worldwide to get a clearer picture of the different ELT scenarios instead of turning all the attention to somewhat limited research and a top-ten list of plenary speakers. Yes, the way I see it, all named and shamed. And as you pointed out yourself, those names were all bundled together just because they were randomly mentioned by conference delegates. Where are the facts?

Last but not least, this year a Brazilian colleague of mine gave an inspiring and moving talk about what it’s like to teach in a State school in a low-income area on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and what she does to motivate her students. And yet, I didn’t see any big ELT names; on the contrary, many of us in the audience were Brazilians. People have no idea where the women are because they haven’t looked for them in the right places. What about the NNESTs. Yes, I agree with you. it is a much bigger issue: No matter how many of us are out there, we are the ones who are underrepresented and often ignored by many NESTs, some of whom will often limit their interactions within their cliques and inner-circles. I’m sorry if it sounds like a rant. Indeed, it is a rant. It’s sad to hear some very competent colleagues say they won’t present at international conferences because they don’t speak English like NESTs.

As for the would-be TaWSig issue —- As Martin Eayers puts it, a SIG only exists within an association, I just think that the issues it aims at dealing with would be way beyond their reach as a SIG. I’ve commented on it on the IATEFL FB thread and I’ve already expressed my views and I’ll say it again: Why not setting up an online community for teachers from different countries and areas to share their experiences instead of simply attacking IATEFL? Why not listening to teachers worldwide before forming an opinion and devising a doable action plan? It takes time for things to take shape and I’m sure more people would support them if they just stopped attacking IATEFL and worked towards becoming an independent association once their proposal was rejected. No one is forcing anyone to be an IATEFL member. We have choices however limited they may be and anyone who wishes to help teachers out there needs to listen to what they have to say before picking fights with teachers’ associations. As Fabiana Casella points out here in the comments section, criticizing without giving solutions definitely doesn’t work.

26 04 2015
Thomas Ewens

Great post, Teresa. I hope the big ELT names read it and take note.

27 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

“People have no idea where the women are because they haven’t looked for them in the right places.” This is such a good point, eloquently, even passionately, made. And the ‘other story’ about Russ and Nicola’s talk is salutary, to say the least. Thank you for your comment, Teresa.

27 04 2015
Russ Mayne

I’m sorry to hear about your friends experience. If it’s any consolation I really enjoyed her talk and was planning to go to it anyway.

27 04 2015
Teresa Carvalho

Russ, my friend’s presentation was indeed very good. i even meant to write briefly about it but I didn’t want to take up even more space in the comments section. The way she struck a balance between her research data and her findings was brilliant and so it wasn’t just figures and stats that she presented. She’s a committed teacher and colleague. By the way, our institution is usually very well represented at the IATEFL. Several teachers present each year not only at IATEFL, but also at other international conferences in Brazil, the US, and in Latin America.

You’re a very good presenter and you did manage to grab your audience’s attention but UK conferences don’t actually measure the role of women in ELT. I think that rather than ask this question, something delegates should start paying more attention to are first-time presenters, scholarship winners, and not-so-high profile presenters because they make up the majority of presenters. By doing this, we’ll make sure that everyone has an audience and is acknowledged. IATEFL does a wonderful job making sure its members have equal opportunities to present regardless of their origin; those with limited resources can apply for scholarships. It’s up to us to continue IATEFL’s work and take advantage of this diversity and mix.

It’s been my third IATEFL conference and I have observed the audiences for different types of talks and presenters. The topic of my friend’s talk was really interesting and maybe it attracted so many people who were interested in gender discussions. I was glad they had a chance to learn about what teachers do here in Brazil. Our institution sets very high standards and our teachers strive to meet them, so this is exactly what you can expect from our presenters.

27 04 2015
Nicola

So much interesting food for thought in your comments but I’d like to correct one thing. The count up of conferences was done with worldwide events, not just UK. The Fair List deals with UK events only which might be why the confusion.

28 04 2015
Di

What is the friend’s name and what is the title of their presentation, please?

26 04 2015
phil Wade

I think we may have outlined that 1) some people are interested in such a group 2) it would have to have some power behind it to make change rather than just wishes 3) it seems to be at odds with some of the IATEFL people already and that isn’t a good start for any relationship.

It might be good to outline what members will get for their fee. Legal advice? Updates on working practices and pay? Health and safety online training/guidance?

We all know TEFL doesn’t pay and contracts are hard to find but most of us accept that and try to survive. This, I honestly believe, isn’t going to change anytime soon. A group which claims to alter this on its own isn’t going to look very credible but one which is based on firm principles and has very measurable objectives and benefits for all members will.

It also seems that such a group and the Equity one are ideal friends and could create the beginning of a new kind of ‘thing’ maybe. Whether that be a SIG, a group, an association, a movement, I don’t know.

Re: Male/female talks.

Am I the only person who doesn’t really get that emotional? I work in all female organisations sometimes then all male ones and some with a mix. None have disabled people but mixes of ages and some diversity of colour of skin. Maybe seeing an event as a whole would help you see alleged ‘diversity’ but saying that we need X% of 20-30 yr olds, disabled people, Y% of retired people, babies, animals and so many ethnic minorities and non-Christians. To be completely representative of the industry, a lot more research needs doing if we are to judge this one sample of people to be reflective of it. Otherwise we’re just ticking PC quota boxes which a fair few companies have done over the years in fear of not being seen as fair. But is it a bad conference though is there are more men, older men? Maybe they could get more time off, maybe they got funding, maybe they have no children. And thus more speakers would be male. Will it come to a point where we read ‘we have reached our male quote, only females may now apply’? If so, I fear for some kind of Monty Python kind of scene where men get dressed up as women just to get in to a TEFL conference.

26 04 2015
Teresa Carvalho

Brilliant, Phil. You’ve summed up all the points in a clear, objective way. The way I see it, it’s much ado about nothing.

28 04 2015
typtoptokyo

If it were completely representative of all English teachers the conference would have been held somewhere in China.

26 04 2015
stevebrown70

Thanks for this post, Scott, which focuses on something that affects everyone involved in ELT.

I think that when considering issues of power we need to be mindful of the fact that ELT is now a global industry, and as such there’s a lot of money to be made. Globalisation and the resultant development of English as an international language means that ELT is caught up in the whole Knowledge Economy thing. English is, to a large extent, a commodity that individuals, companies and whole nations want to acquire in order to develop their capital. The role of education as a means of empowering or liberating the individual through imparting knowledge and encouraging critical thinking that can lead towards social justice seems to have got lost as a result. This is particularly evident in the fact that globally-used coursebooks and other published materials actively avoid sensitive issues that would encourage critical thinking and challenge established norms

Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but I think that the commodification of the English language is a fundamental source of many of the knowledge-power tensions underlying our profession.

26 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, Steve, for your comment – and for connecting the ‘commodification’ of English with issues of power and agency: so long as teachers are viewed merely as intermediaries in the transmission of ‘grammar mcNuggets’ then there is little chance that their authority will be respected or their status improved.

27 04 2015
Anthony Ash

“So long as teachers are viewed as mere intermediaries in the transmission of ‘grammar mcNuggets’ then there is little chance that their authority will be respected or their status improved”

–> should be the motto of TaW SIG or any organisation that works for change for teachers. Beautifully put Scott🙂

Now let’s wait and see which person from IATEFL will comment saying it is wrong and based on false premises…

27 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

Scott writes well, and his content is always enlightening, but he did not write this – Steve did. And no one is going to tell you that this is wrong; it is an opinion, and as such has no true/false value. But the argument is not just about language teaching really, it’s about the way the world works and would be the same in burger bars or ice cream vans – like them most ‘teachers’ work for someone else and are often exploited. I did’t think anyone was disputing that.

27 04 2015
Anthony Ash

From what I see in Steve’s post, it seems Scott did write that – it doesn’t seem to be a quote from Steve. Happy to stand corrected if I’m wrong but I can’t see that or anything similar in Steve’s comment.

Martin, you’re not going to believe this, but I actually agree with you🙂 It is about the wider world and how it works, and you’re right when you compare the position a teacher holds as a worker with a cafe worker: both work for someone, and many employees are, as you put it, “exploited.” Couldn’t agree more – which is why I want to see change in the world. I can’t change the working conditions of cafe workers or burger joint employees – I don’t know their industry – but I know teaching and I hope I can make some difference here eventually. Even if it is a small one.

27 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

Sorry about the quote – it was Scott, and I got it wrong. I’m quite good at that! As for changing the world, well I’ve lived and worked in a number of countries, some rich and some poor, but all different. Local initiatives may work, but there’s a big difference between the conditions of a teacher working in an international franchise in a large city and a little school in a semi-forgotten province. Myself, I can’t subscribe to the chimera of some international association that sets out to fight for the rights of all English teachers everywhere; that’s too pie in the sky for me, but I could work towards a specific situation under one country’s laws and practice.

27 04 2015
jeremyharmer

Hello Scott,

I am sorry that you great post about power (and before anyone says it ‘names’ on that list most assuredly do not have it – the power that is; some of them just got lucky that’s all) is marred by two things, namely the quoting of a gratuitously insulting and entirely unjustified comment about IATEFL and secondly an organisation that will not name its organising members.

IATEFL first: well lets’s start with the fact that anyone, anywhere in the world can attend IATEFL for free, online. Shoddy? I don;t think so. And that many of the talks are given by people who are not representing or have anything to do with publishers or any concept of greed; that two of this year’s outstanding plenaries were given about situations where that kind of power (though there are others, of course) is not in evidence; that IATEFL is run by a bunch of principled, engaged and committed educators, volunteers for Heaven’s sake, who think it is is their obligation to make their organisation as pluralistic as possible. Yes, there are publishers and exam boards everywhere, but without their money and support IATEFL could not even begin to think of organising conferences where people like Nicola and Russ most deservedly have a chance to communicate their research and feelings to the whole profession – and however well- or badly-informed the comment have been about that, the fact is that a loud discussion is taking place and that’s good – and without IATEFL it wouldn’t have happened. Hand on heart I really admire IATEFL and the effort it makes to be inclusive, egalitarian and fair impress me. It’s easy to try and tar the organisation with unsubstantiated accusations of greed and shoddiness, but as a proud member of the organisation (I declare my interest) I don’t think it holds up.

And as for TAWSIG saying it would be impossible to list all its members? Well someone organises it; in the case of IATEFL we know (if we want to) who has been elected – elected, remember – and what their roles are. We can hold these people to account. I think you get my point.

Who has the power? well, yes, there are organisations and corporations and governments and huge testing conglomerates etc. But trying to ram ill-informed malice at IATEFL in this context just doesn’t stack up and it has no business here.

Jeremy

27 04 2015
Anthony Ash

I can’t see any comment from TaW SIG which says it won’t list its members – I’m not saying they haven’t said that, but I can’t see it in this thread of comments. Are you sure about it?

27 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for your comment, Jeremy – and I’m sorry that the negative reference to IATEFL offended you. I was just trying to gather into one post the various ‘discourses’ that IATEFL generates – or has generated in the last two or three weeks. In fact, as a topic for critical discourse analysis you couldn’t do much better than that conference – anyone looking for a PhD subject?

21 05 2015
lizziepinard

It would definitely be interesting!

27 04 2015
manaraboba

Hi Scott and Hi Jeremy,

Very interesting and mouth watering issue, POWER. As a foreign language teacher I have always been wondering about who is behind this powerful English domination, and to whom do I belong as a language teacher.

I do not think that it is a matter of volunteering because everything happens for a reason, and the IATEFL members must have objectives to achieve behind their “volunteer” status. I think there is a whole policy behind the organisation and contribution of the IATEFL, and the power it gained over the years is a good reflection and proof of a profound policy making.

27 04 2015
Mike Harrison

‘…the IATEFL members must have objectives to achieve behind their “volunteer” status.’

Must they? This is unsubstantiated surely.

27 04 2015
manaraboba

If we think in terms of a background for volunteering as “unsubstantiated”, then what proves the opposite, too? Think of how many people are earning a living thanks to “English” domination. Try to make links between the power of some nations, and the power of English among languages; we can barely draw a fine line between the two.
Therefore, the understanding of power goes beyond the frontiers of organizations such as IATEFL, to fill in, not only the agendas of, in Harmer’s words ” a bunch of principled, engaged and committed educators”, but also the pockets and accounts of people, organizations, and nations.

27 04 2015
Mike Harrison

No, what is unsubstantiated is your claim that volunteers are somehow in volunteering for an association for their own ends. I can’t speak for every volunteer obviously, but I did not enter a position as a volunteer for personal gain.

27 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

Hey, manaraboba, you know a lot of people are just simple teachers of English, who like their work, accept their working conditions and do some voluntary work on the side. Some are NS, some NNS; some men, some women; some tall, some short; some fat, some thin. Me, I’m on the fat side. Is that so bad? Volunteering is a long tradition in some countries. I volunteer for my local hospice; for my neighbourhood watch; for my local park conservation; for surveying moribund fauna; for IATEFL. I don’t expect any reward for any of these, and I wouldn’t do any of this if I didn’t want to. Is that so hard to understand?

27 04 2015
phil Wade

Perhaps starting a SIG/group and criticising existing ones should not go together. Pushing down the latter will not make the former look better. I don’t think this is the purpose or desire of the group anyhow. All they want is to join IATEFL. They were refused I think so that should be the end of it. Neither group is wrong or right but they just are not compatible.

This group shouldn’t really be going for blood at IATEFL events or making big names run for their lives and hunting them down with blood hounds and burning torches. The only people who really should be a bit scared are dodgy employers who continue to take advantage of new teachers. Educating people newish to TEFL will empower them. For instance, in France, some schools force teachers to register as freelancers as a condition to employment. So you get people who are not fluent in French signing up on some government website and agreeing to pay taxes and do this and that and legally changing their status, entitlement to health cover and retirement but not understanding the repercussions. Knowledge here would really make a difference.

Then there are employers who go even further by not paying staff, not giving any contracts or firing all contract staff and replacing them with freelancers to save money.

The easy option is to make a blacklist, which some have already done. The other better option is to be positive and offer employer training or education and even create some kind of award of chartered affiliation. Any school who could get this kind of recognition for being a good employer and being equal would attract better staff and get free publicity. They may even win some kind of funding.

If we continue to empower workers against employers, as like unions, then there is only so far you can push them before they fight back or close down.

One of the BIG debates we have had on Facebook has been regarding pay. Everyone wants more pay, McDonald’s is a prime example. If you do the maths, clients nowadays can’t pay like before so schools are for profit organisations and have bills. Thus, teachers usually get 1/3rd of the client’s fee. Yes, maybe an MA teacher can negotiate a bit more but the owner still needs profit. No amount of empowerment, negotiation or bullying (meow) will change the amount of money the client will pay. Educating them as to benefits and trying to get the government or company to increase training budgets may. In this argument, I have heard “we must educate the clients”. This sounds great that people want to inform clients as to how badly paid we are and also that they would be seen as more equal if they didn’t ask for natives but if a client approaches you and asks for a course at a set price, you can either take the contract or try to negotiate and risk no contract. I have tried and it has never worked for me.

The solution to pay really to me is only to have more co-ops but you won’t stop business people opening schools and some teachers getting 10 Euros an hour. I know plenty of them. Those ‘teachers’ are kids and usually have no teaching qualifications or degrees. For them, it is a fun job and they don’t stay

27 04 2015
Sylvia Guinan

I think I have a very good idea where all the women are – I believe that it’s predominantly a wider social issue beyond ELT.

27 04 2015
Glenys Hanson

Yes, Sylvia, doing the housework: https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111458, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11141910/36-household-chores-men-dont-bother-to-do.html
Things are improving – slowly. We’ll know when we’ve really got there when men are as comfortable wearing women’s clothes as women are wearing men’s. Won’t be in my lifetime. Monty Python’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mL7n5mEmXJo will get laughs for a long time to come:

2 05 2015
Sylvia Guinan

Yes, I was tempted to write a big article on this the other day;)

I started teachiing online in 2010 when my kids were toddlers – and spent 2008 – 2010 sharpening the saw, studying and researching technology at night when they were still babies.

I actually defied my stay-at-home status by bringing the world into my home until my kids got big enough for me to rejoin the world out there.

2 05 2015
Sylvia Guinan

Aha..!!

I’ve actually already got an article which describes where THIS woman has been…..

Choices and challenges in ELT – Choices, motherhood and becoming myself.

http://itdi.pro/blog/author/sylvia/

28 04 2015
EBEFL

I agree.

27 04 2015
marekkiczkowiak

Thanks for the article, Scott. Really enjoyed it and very glad the conversation about equality in our industry is going strong. It seems that there’s a lot of potential for change in ELT now. And I’ve already seen it happen in the year or so of running TEFL Equity Advocates. TESOL France, MELTA and http://www.tefl.net decided to take down all ads that require the candidate to be a NS. By the way, if anyone here is interested in supporting TEFL Equity Advocates, you can follow the campaign on the website: http://www.teflequityadvocates.com
As for IATEFL, I think it’s a great organisation. Of course, from the point of view of the advocacy work I’m doing, I’d like them to do much more to promote equality in ELT. I understand that historically IATEFL has been neutral, but that’s already taking a position, isn’t it?
As for power, I was shocked when Peter Medgyes rejected my informal proposal for a NNEST SIG. Out of all powerful and well-known ELTers, you’d think that he’d be the first one to be supportive of the idea. After all, it was Medgyes that pioneered research into NNEST issues.
Anyway, great post, Scott. Thanks for keeping the discussion alive🙂

28 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment, Marek. Interesting that Peter M. was not keen on a NNEST SIG. Did he give any reasons? Thinking aloud, these might include the worry that such a SIG would exacerbate the existing divisions between NESTs and NNESTs rather than elide them. If the aim of any heterogeneous organization is to ‘normalize’ the different communities within its orbit that are solely distinguished by an accident of birth, i.e. to make them unremarkable, then creating a SIG for NESTs might run counter to that objective. It might be like creating a SIG for left-handed teachers. Or red-haired ones. That at least is my take on Peter’s resistance. What do you think?

28 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Incidentally, if you have access to TESOL Quarterly online, you might be interested in this recent paper by Kumaravadivelu, in which he explores the issue of ‘self-marginalization’ by NNESTs, and offers a five-point strategy for emancipation.

B. Kumaravadivelu: ‘The Decolonial Option in English Teaching: Can the Subaltern Act?’ TESOL Quarterly. Article first published online: 28 OCT 2014.

Here is the abstract:

In this reflective article that straddles the personal and the professional, the author shares his critical thoughts on the impact of the steady stream of discourse on the native speaker/nonnative speaker (NS/NNS) inequity in the field of TESOL. His contention is that more than a quarter century of the discoursal output has not in any significant way altered the ground reality of NNS subordination. Therefore, he further contends, it is legitimate to ask what the discourse has achieved, where it has fallen short, why it has fallen short, and what needs to be done. Drawing insights from the works of Gramsci (1971) on hegemony and subalternity, and Mignolo (2010) on decoloniality, the author characterizes the NNS community as a subaltern community and argues that, if it wishes to effectively disrupt the hegemonic power structure, the only option open to it is a decolonial option which demands result-oriented action, not just “intellectual elaboration.” Accordingly, he presents the contours of a five-point plan of action for the consideration of the subaltern community. He claims that only a collective, concerted, and coordinated set of actions carries the potential to shake the foundation of the hegemonic power structure and move the subaltern community forward.

28 04 2015
Di

Here is an interview with B. Kumaravadivelu .

28 04 2015
marekkiczkowiak

The main reason was that it’d be divisive. As if our industry was united at the moment. I can see how the NNEST title could antagonise NESTs, but if TESOL has a very lively NNEST IS with many NEST members, why wouldn’t the same work for IATEFL? I know, I’m comparing apples and oranges: IATEFL prefers to look on and remain neutral, apolitical.

Thanks for the article. Will try to look it up🙂 Sounds very interesting. I’d like to find out what the 5-point action plan is.
Thanks again for the article and for keeping the conversation going🙂

21 05 2015
lizziepinard

I think the trouble with a “NNEST” SIG would be that it would continue to make people focus on the distinction more than encouraging them to focus on more important things like how qualified teachers are. This article explains it better than I have here: http://eltcattheuniversityofsheffield.blogspot.it/2015/04/native-and-non-native-english-speaking.html – “labels that should be dropped”. 🙂

28 04 2015
timothyhampson

At my last conference I noticed that in workshops most of the audience members who spoke up during workshops were, disproportionally, native speaking men. This isn’t just a problem that exists with discourse at the top of the TEFL pyramid. Native speaking men who talk too much (myself included) are part of the the problem. It’s quite easy to blame people at the top but I think that everyone in a position of privilege has a responsibility to keep quiet and listen to the opinions of those who aren’t.

28 04 2015
isabelavb

Dear Scott,
Reading your excellent and provocative post has led me to engage in some random thoughts that I’m going to present rather loosely below:

– I believe power will be better distributed in ELT, be it between males and females, native or non-native teachers, privileged or underprivileged teachers, if we start from the bottom up. It doesn’t serve us any good to attack those at the top of the pyramid who have gained power one way or another. It is more useful to consider how they got there and change this path. They became international plenary speakers because they accomplished something that gave them a name, such as writing good course books and/or teacher development books/materials. Why were they the only ones to write such materials and not other qualified female and/or NNES authors? Is it because the consumers of such materials favor native-speaking authors? Why do they do so? How can we change that mindset? How can we find ways to support talented women and NNES professionals to achieve the same results?

– I agree that sometimes we ourselves are the ones to blame because we revere the “experts” – most of the times white native-speaking males – and fail to also value colleagues who are as qualified as them but did not have the same publishing opportunities. And we sometimes settle for so little. How many times have I seen the experts presenting the same talk over and over again, with no sensitivity to local contexts.

– I am organizing a conference right now and all the speakers sponsored by the publishers are native speakers. There is a balance between males and females, but there isn’t a single non-native speaker. This is because we asked for an “international speaker”. Why does an “international speaker” always have to mean a native speaker? I understand our need to have contact with practitioners from other countries, but why do they always need to be native speakers? Your post and the resulting comments have started me thinking that next time I’m going to request speakers from other countries but who are NNESs. However, at the end of the day, the publishers will bring in the authors whose books they want to sell, and who are these authors? So that takes me back to my first point – we have to attack the problem from where it starts, not from the top!

– We are always looking for talent outside our community. “You can’t be a preacher in your own land”, goes the saying. I have a blog and most of my readers are from outside Brazil. We need to learn to support practitioners within our community just like the good old experts support each other.

– We female NNESs sometimes sell ourselves short, too. I’m speaking for myself. I was invited to give a plenary at our local Braz-TESOL event last year. I thought I had been invited because the committee didn’t have a “better alternative” and went out of my way to find an “international” speaker to replace me. The committee members, two white native-speaking males (Graeme Hodgson and Jeff Stranks) said, “No, we want you. We think you are the best person to give this plenary.” Kudos for Jeff and Graeme!

– Even in our local context, I notice that more men tend to make their way to the “top”. I wonder why this is so. They are better at promoting themselves and seeming important and knowledgeable. They are also more visible out there and are better at supporting each other, at least here in Brazil, from my point of view. A Teacher Development SIG was just launched here in Braz-TESOL by a group of… men! This is clearly not just an IATEFL problem. Who is to blame? Maybe women like me are for being too busy with their job and family and not getting as involved as they should.

– We can’t blame IATEFL for all of this! There are more English teachers in my city than IATEFL delegates. It can only do so much. However, we can and should seek help from the association to change the structure of power in ELT.

– Of all the experts who have come to present in our conference every year, Jeremy Harmer is the only one who stayed from beginning to end and actually attended the talks of unknown but very talented teachers. He is among the experts I really admire.

Well, sorry for my long comment. I hope I have somehow contributed to the discussion.

28 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Isabel, for your comment.

Yes, it’s true that the gender imbalance is not just an IATEFL thing, and, in fact, IATEFL seems to be setting a good example in terms of inclusiveness – thanks, in no small part, by the work of Fair List, no doubt.

It’s interesting to step outside ELT into related fields, such as applied linguistics, and see if the situation is any different. It is and it isn’t: the American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) conference in Toronto this year featured 6 plenary speakers, 4 of whom were women. The British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL) is fielding four plenary speakers: 2 men and 2 women. Likewise, the International Applied Linguistics Association’s (AILA) World congress in Brisbane last year featured 3 men and 3 women. The International Task Based Learning Conference in Leuven breaks the pattern, though, with only one woman in its line-up of three plenary speakers. Finally, the International Pragmatics Association’s forthcoming conference in Antwerp features 8 plenary speakers, with a bias towards men of 5 – 3.

What does all this suggest? That women are represented at the top, but not perhaps in proportion to their distribution at the bottom. Still, gone are they days when you could get away with a conference of only men.

What is impressive in all the conferences I’ve just mentioned is that – judging by the names at least – there’s a strong presence of non-native speakers: is it ‘easier’ to achieve fame as a NN in applied linguistics than it is in ELT?

2 05 2015
isabelavb

Hi again, Scott. Yes, I believe it is much easier to achieve fame as a NNES in applied linguistics than in ELT. Your example here shows this and I can think of many more famous NNES applied linguists than famous NNES textbook authors.NNES are more “allowed” to theorize about ELT than to do it. I recently supervised an MA dissertation for the University of Birmingham. It was by a while Canadian guy living in Japan, and one of his colleagues questioned my ability as a Brazilian (maybe also female) to properly advise him. He included this in this thesis.

28 04 2015
typtoptokyo

Most of the celebrity-type TEFL people are white native-speakers who have worked in some capacity at the British Council or International House and more often than not live in Spain

28 04 2015
Mike Harrison

RE the NEST/NNEST debate: One of the most idealistic ideas I’ve had recently (and I’ve mentioned this in passing to a number of friends and colleagues) is to organise a conference or other ELT event where all the speakers were not native speakers of English. Of course, logistically how easy would this be to fund? Publishers and other sponsors are likely to want the safe and easy option of native-speaker speakers to put their money on. And that’s not to mention that there would be other factors to consider like where and when such an event would be held.

Anyone else had similar thoughts?

28 04 2015
Mike Harrison

Tense confusion: substitute ‘are not native speakers’ for ‘were not native speakers’ above

28 04 2015
Evan

Define “native speaker”🙂

28 04 2015
Mike Harrison

Another factor to consider, perhaps it wouldn’t work at all or at best be too flawed a concept.

21 05 2015
lizziepinard

Exactly. Reminds me of David Crystal pointing out that it’s a geopolitical term not a linguistic term. Or, that it’s meaningless linguistically speaking.

28 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Mike – see my comment to Marek above (on why a NNEST SIG might be counterproductive). The same might apply to a NNEST Conference. Or a women-only one, too, for that matter.

28 04 2015
marekkiczkowiak

I’d much rather see a conference with a 50/50 balance of NESTs and NNEST speakers, or/and one specifically devoted to equality in ELT. What do you think?

28 04 2015
phil Wade

The BC/IH comment is true BUT at that time, as when I trained, the majority of teachers seemed to be British and IH/BC were very hard to get in to. There were no NNESTs on my CELTA and it seemed that it was a native only qualification, at the time. Same for the DELTA. Things have changed. When I became an examiner, we were all natives, after 2 years, there were several non-natives. The TEFL industry has evolved a lot. When I joined it, everything seemed rather ‘Southern’ Britain with BBC recordings and Oxbridge accents. It isn’t like that now. I’m very happy to hear real non-natives on recordings too, far better than those cheesy actors putting on silly accents😉

28 04 2015
marekkiczkowiak

It’s great things have changed in this way. Hopefully, soon we’ll be talking of NS only job ads as a thing of the past🙂 Or even better, the NS/NNS labels will disappear all together and we’ll finally start talking about good teachers instead🙂

28 04 2015
Matthew

As most folks reading this are probably aware, the James Gleick quote “nonlinearity means that the act of playing the game has a way of changing the rules” often crops up in Diane Larsen-Freeman’s talks and writings on complex systems-thinking in SLA and language learning/teaching. And it’s this quote that keeps coming to my mind as I take in the conversation(s) (and arguments) happening here, other blogs, FB, twitter, etc., etc., all being ping’d back & forth, hyperlink’d, hypercharged, wordpress’d, like’d, re-tweeted and pintrested and storified and occasionally all cap’d. Talk about chaos! But productive chaos, seems to me…and I’m sure to many who have been reading and engaging with it online.

It seems relevant that this intense conversation around such important issues sprang up all over the ELT internets in the wake of what I have to assume was the most net-savvy, livecast, complexly ‘connected’ ELT conference ever (?). At one point I tweeted that I too felt the ‘post-conference blues’ even though I hadn’t even been there…such was the dispersion of rich information out onto the web – multiple layers of reports, videos, photos, tweets, webcasts, interviews, every hour, every minute, and for days/weeks afterwards. Having only a few weeks before attended the TESOL convention in Toronto at a convention center where WIFI was horribly spotty and I didn’t have phone/data service, where there were no ‘registered bloggers’, no livecast interview booths, fewer tweet-heroes, etc, the contrast was stark to me: I actually felt more ‘virtually there’ (as Diaz-Maggiloi says) at IATEFL than I was fully present at TESOL (and perhaps I should worry about that!?).

Anyway, to my point: the “act of playing the game” of discussing, debating, organizing, opinionating, thought-influencing, researching, and communicating about ELT has changed and is changing dramatically as the internet connects more and more stakeholders in complex, non-linear, highly interactive fashion evermore so with each passing year.

With this in mind, don’t we have to say Of Course! questions and concerns about working conditions, NEST/NNEST equity, gender issues, etc., etc. are now being raised and aired and with sometimes surprising, disorienting vigor? It’s happening all over the place because now knowledge and access and the ability to be seen & heard are available all over the place…rather than, well..in Manchester this year, and in Birmingham next.

Maybe this quickly and dramatically evolving ‘decentralization’ of information is part of what accounts for the ‘bad vibes’ we can see in some of these conversations. “The rules” *seem* to be getting broken left and right! People who have volunteered with IATEFL for 10 years..on the ground, at the site, in the flesh…feel, quite naturally, as if their commitment and motives and position are suddenly being put into question by people who seem to them to wearing tin foil hats at computer screens. Others find the refusal to hear out a proposal for a SIG organized around issues that polled really, really well on twitter (!) highly suspect, even antagonistic. It often feels like statements of one order get misread as being other another, and these stack up until someone posts ‘well, that’s that for that, seems’. That we’re in a spin cycle, still, where nobody is quite sure what a foundational source of authority really is.

IATEFL being ‘so online’ this year was amazing. I actually give IATEFL credit for all the best anti-IATEFL (seeming) stuff out there now🙂. Because they seem to have accepted the challenge to open up into the broadest type of access, and now people asking for IATEFL to post such fascinating (tongue –> cheek) things as policy around SIG proposals counts as…quite (p)interesting😉. And credit and respect is racking up in my mind for everyone who keeps their end of the conversation going with one more sincere, sometimes passionate comment, one more, and one more…even after being confused by, offended by, ‘attacked’ by…even to the point where they may question the benefit of the doubt that nobody is here to confuse or offend or attack.

‘Attacks’ seem to be occuring, but there’s nobody there doing it?!?…well, yes: maybe it’s the constantly changing game and the seemingly changing rules that is the primary confusing, and offending, and attacking entity, and it’s equal opportunity.

Maybe because of the complexity in play – the sheer number of inputs and outputs and connectivities involved, the disembodied voices who seem to know/believe/want too much, and especially because we *do* “change the game as we play it” and so bear a ‘deep yet diffuse’ type of personal responsibility for both our individual and collective actions here..maybe a new kind, a new order, of….patience (for lack of a better term) is required?

I’ll leave it there. And breathe, patiently. And shut down my computer for a while and get to work (which I love, and am not and have never been particularly well rewarded for but which gives me pleasure and affords me opportunities to practice patience;).

PS – my final (random but associated) thought is that while TaWsig folks’ posting of ‘memes’ on twitter and elsewhere might seem trite and silly, internet memes can be seen as a more sophisticated than silly way to communicate in the face of overwhelming discorsal complexity. …apologies for commenting so damn long (and only to end up saying ‘let’s try to be patient’!) but…thank you Scott (and all) for providing all the inspiring food for thought and speaking from such a clearly sincere and honest place!

29 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for your fascinating account of the multivocal, multimedia, multimodal discourse that this blog is just one instance of, Matthew.

You note that ‘communicating about ELT has changed and is changing dramatically’ – and (to connect this back to one of the themes in my original post) these radical changes must impact on the way certain voices are privileged while others are not, and hence on the way power is both enacted and constructed through discourse. That is to say, it is not just about writing the occasional methodology bestseller.

For example, the ‘English’ voice is certainly privileged here – no one has dared to code-switch (yet) on this blog for example; moreover a quick count of those who have commented here suggests that the male native speaker is still (ironically) the dominant voice. A more fine-grained analysis might look at the patterns of interaction (who has responded to whom? at what length?) as well as the way conflicts are resolved, or misunderstandings repaired – or not, as the case may be.

Move this kind of analysis on to the bigger picture (all the tweets and parallel Facebook conversations, for example) and you get an incredibly rich data set with which to hypothesize the distribution of power in our field – much richer that simply totting up the gender of plenary speakers at conferences!

29 04 2015
geoffjordan

The rich data set with which to hypothesise the distribution of power in our field might well help make our hypotheses more nuanced, better all round, but they shouldn’t deflect attention from some very obvious, features of the big picture. First, the power of publishers and exam boards in the multi-billion dollar ELT industry means that learners are being taught using materials and methods which fly in the face of what we know about SLA. Second, IATEFL (like TESOL and other organisations which claim to have teachers’ interests at heart) does very little to defend its members against the consequences of an increasingly competitive, profit-driven global economy. IATEFL is run by those who support the status quo. As an organisation it has done very little to help its members fight employers who squeeze workers, or to fight the discrimination against NNESTs. Most workers in the EFL industry are badly-paid, work in bad conditions, and rightly feel that they have no power to influence the key decisions which affect their jobs.

29 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

Geoff concludes: “Most workers in the EFL industry are badly-paid, work in bad conditions, and rightly feel that they have no power to influence the key decisions which affect their jobs”. I think this is generally agreed, but I also think that the same can be said about a large number of industries, especially those with an element of vocation attached to them, and is not something unique to IATEFL or that IATEFL is directly responsible for. IATEFL has to decide how to act with regard to addressing the interests of its members, and whether/how to effect internal change, but under the terms of its Mem & Arts to “help its members fight employers who squeeze workers, or to fight the discrimination against NNESTs” are not currently defined as its primary aims. Change may come, probably will come, in IATEFL but it will come through the aims and efforts of those inside the Association, not from those clamouring for change outside its walls. In short, working with IATEFL is probably going to be more productive than assailing it.

29 04 2015
manaraboba

Hi Geoff and Martin,
Yes, very true statement when it comes to working conditions and salaries. The place where is work is a very good example of negative work atmosphere (corruption, poor administrative management, overcrowded classes, lack of teaching support and materials). Anyone who has a better position to offer, please???

Ideal teaching practice seems impossible in here, but the students are my wealth. When I see their motivation, interest, and commitment, I just forget about all the problems outside the walls of the classroom, and the challenging, funny, and inspiriting knowledge and tasks I do with them provide the needed support to carry on.

I think that when teachers do their jobs with love, hardships vanish and creativity blossoms. Teachers are messengers of knowledge, and teaching can be stressful and demanding, like any other profession. Yet, the change I think must start from the teacher himself/herself because the objectives of associations like the IATEFL remain ink on paper unless met and accomplished inside the walls of the classroom under the guidance of teachers.

Gender is not a major problem to discuss I think, because things should not be understood in terms of authority or outnumbering. why not considering productivity and quality? The upsurge in female integration in the field is a step forward and should meet the required means to increase considerably. Whether it is a competitive or complementary, women may be very enthusiastic and creative in as much the same way men are.

Manar

29 04 2015
Martin Eayrs

Manar: You write “the objectives of associations like the IATEFL remain ink on paper unless met and accomplished inside the walls of the classroom under the guidance of teachers”. I would submit that the objectives of IATEFL are set out very clearly in its Mem & Arts and I would suggest these are being met under the conditions you describe. I think the objectives that are not being met are those that others, some outside IATEFL, would like IATEFL to meet, but which IATEFL itself is not [yet?] ready to. Purely my take; others may disagree.

29 04 2015
Andrew W

Fascinating discussion here, with a rich kaleidescope of points of view and some eye-opening perspectives. The ELT community today is very vibrant and although some may regret the “polemics”, to be quite frank the discussion has been mostly quite polite, not to say quaintly English, compared to the cut and thrust you might find on many internet forums on other topics😉. So kudos to everyone commenting here.

Nonetheless, I really do think it’s time for the ELT community to put the topic of working conditions and pay more firmly on the table, although I think the issue of whether it’s through an IATEFL SIG or not is a bit of a red herring. IATEFL and TESOL staff do a great and unsung job for the profession and it’s very unfair to accuse them of being indifferent to this topic – I can vouch  that those I know personally – in particular Bethany and Ros – are actually very concerned about it. 

The issue in my mind is that we can’t just keep talking about innovation, new  approaches to classroom or online teaching, the latest app,, the latest book by X or Y, the latest way to inspire or empower learners…. yet continue to ignore the reality on the ground that teachers are actually experiencing, which has a decisive impact on what can and can’t happen in the classroom. Because there is a very real deterioration in working conditions and pay more or less accross the board, in almost every country one cares to look at.

I’ve been in the business for well over 30 years and have more or less done every job available in the professional language training sphere here in France (trainer, director of studies, business owner, manager of the language  training centre of a multinational, market researcher and freelance consultant), Although a segment of the profession has always been characterized by low paid work, job insecurity and poor working conditions, my experience is that the situation is getting rapidly worse, with zero-hour contracts and low pay becoming the norm and teachers having to juggle with a multitude of different statuses and types of employer.

I think everyone in the profession knows this is happening, but there is almost no “hard” data to prove it – and it’s for this reason, perhaps more than any other, that the discussion keeps going round in circles, without having much discernible impact.

So before doing anything else, why don’t we first do some proper research into the issue? After all, there is plenty of research going on in the areas of pedagogy and learning, but almost none on the condition of teachers.

A worthy start has been made by the Serveis cooperative in Barcelona,  but the numbers for the moment are not representative enough (271 responses for an international TEFL survey with a target population of between a quarter and half a million). Dale Coulter in Germany also produced an interesting survey of pay and working conditions there, but once again, at the last count, the number of respondents was too low to be representative, though I think his findings are pretty accurate. Also I’d like to thank Stephie for the stats she posted in this thread showing that teachers in Britain earn more or less the same pay as care workers.

With this in mind and with the support of TESOL France and The Language Network, we carried out an extensive survey on the working conditions, pay, qualifications and concerns of English teachers in France (excluding teachers in the national education institution). The survey was conducted during the summer 2014 and we received 800 valid replies, which we estimate is 10% of the target population. This is a statistically representative sample, as long it reflects the relative distribution of different groups within the profession, which we believe it by and large does.

We’ll be publishing the results in the next few weeks (it’s taken us a year to analyse them and there is still a lot of work to do, since it is purely voluntary work). I think the findings will help to focus the debate on hard facts and not just opinions and hopefully, lead to a more fruitful discussion on what can actually be done to improve the situation – at this level everyone ought to be concerned.

My own view is that the key here is supply and demand – it is far too easy for someone with little or no qualification and experience to work as a “language teacher”. We used to call them backpackers in the 80’s and 90’s – today that may be politically incorrect. There are other factors too – the rise of e-learning and offshore-based distance learning and the industrialization of training systems in companies for instance, but as 75-80% of training is still face-to-face, they are not the over-riding factors.

The market price will keep going down and squeezing salaries and conditions just as long as a) learners and buyers cannot easily distinguish between professional and unprofessional language training and b) there are people willing to accept lower and lower pay and conditions, because they are mostly abroad for the experience and not in pursuit of a career and don’t have a family to feed. And there is a seemingly endless supply of them. One can blame employers, who have tended to take on younger and less experienced trainers, but it’s interesting to note that in every survey we have carried out among language schools, over 60% of school owners (many of whom are former teachers) agree that teachers’ salaries are too low and that it is the squeeze on market prices that forces them to cut salaries. Which we believe is mostly true, barring a few exceptions: our research indicates the market price in France has fallen in real terms by 33% since the mid nineties and that the average profit margin of schools is below 2%. In every profession where proper qualifications and  experience are not essential to find work, the same phenomenon can be observed. So perhaps three promising avenues to explore are educating the market about what quality and effectiveness actually mean in language training, finding ways to highlight this with convincing data and developing internationally recognised qualifications alongside CELTA and DELTA.  . 

We would love to see teacher’s organizations in other countries conducting in-depth research into working conditions and pay in their own markets too – that would help to establish international comparisons and clarify the debate.

29 04 2015
John Whipple

Hi Andrew, Scott pointed out your comment over on the IATEFL page. It is an excellent discussion. I am looking forward to your survey. @whippler is my twitter handle. Please get in touch. I’d like to find out more.

29 04 2015
marekkiczkowiak

Fantastic study. I’d also like to find out what the results are once you’ve got them either through @marekkiczkowiak or @teflequity Thanks!🙂

19 05 2015
eilyantares

Thank you Andrew, Bethany and Ros for this – both eagerly anticipating and dreading what the TESOL France survey results will show us.

19 05 2015
Charles Rei

This is perfect. I agree completely. I am convinced that teachers need to consider the business model in their market and assess how to increase their value to customers. Even as part of a school, the teachers can/should drive the innovation to help the institution gain competitive advantage. But too often among teachers I sense aversion to the business side of language teaching. ELT is a service business, and it faces the same challenges as others (ever talked to a professional photographer?). I think that if we all consider the value chain and keep our eyes on the market, we will improve our own situation.

29 04 2015
jeremyharmer

Re NEST vs NNESTS, I quoted Suresh Canagarajah in the latest edition of one of my methodology books (in a discussion on who speaks English/who teaches English). I like this quote: “The time has come for the NNEST professionals to move from the periphery of the profession to the center. It is time for us to argue that we represent the experience that is the norm for the majority of English speakers around the world – i.e. multilinguals for whom English is an additional language in their speech repertoire and identity. It is time for us to reshape pedagogy and linguistic theories to address the concerns of those who enjoy (or those who desire to develop) hybrid proficiencies and identities as we all do. The time to be defensive, apologetic and even confrontational is gone. There are no more battles to be fought. There is the serious task of living up to our responsibility of making knowledge that is relevant to the majority of people in the world – multilinguals. Perhaps that’s the label we have to start using – not non-native speakers of English but multilingual speakers of English.” Yes

29 04 2015
marekkiczkowiak

Beautiful quote. Hope the suggested label sticks. Much more accurate than the NS/NNS.

30 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Jeremy – short of rushing out and buying your book (which I know you’d love me to do!), can you give me the reference for this great quote?

30 04 2015
manaraboba

Hi Jeremy,

Very expressive a quote, but I do not think we are at a stage of readiness to change the labels. Language is a major factor deciding for the social and cultural identity of individuals, and although it is very true that the majority of people are multilingual, neither NS nor NNS will step over the fact that one is a native speaker and the other is a non-native speaker.

Take the example of job offers worldwide, NS are prioritised over NNS when it comes to job offers or seminars and conferences, and those NNS who succeeded to prove their existence have real potential and deep knowledge of the target language and their field of speciality as well. Moreover, I think that most of the resources used worldwide to teach and study English are NS produced (spoken and written).

So, giving up these names to use “multilinguals” or any other nomination requires more than just introducing the culture of NS to NNS.

Manar

21 05 2015
lizziepinard

“Multilinguals” – I like it.

29 04 2015
Andrew W

Hi John and Marek

I avoid twitter like the plague, since it is likely to exponentially increase my already pronounced ADD😉.
To contact me and for those concerned about anonymity, my full name is Andrew Wickham – you can find me on Linkedin or on the Linguaid site

30 04 2015
ebtghali

Thanks for this post.
I believe that power depends on individual’s determination rather than being male or female.
It’s true that political and social environments play a great role and affect the context we work and live in. However, the power to change is acheivable and not impossible as long as we have a stand and believe in ourselves as difference makers.
Many thanks.

30 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

“I believe that power depends on individual’s determination rather than being male or female.” In an ideal world, maybe. But believing in yourself might not be enough, if society doesn’t believe in you. Not inviting women (or non-native speakers, for that matter) to give plenary talks is, arguably, a covert sign that the powers-that-be don’t believe in them.

30 04 2015
Neil McMillan

I think Michel Foucault would be a good reference point in terms of addressing the question of power, “who has it – who ought to have it – and who has earned it”. To simplify quite grossly, Foucault might have said that no one “has” it, or ought to have it – power is not something wielded by the haves against the have-nots. Power is far more dispersed and embodied in a variety of often contradictory discursive practices. And power is productive – the act of marginalising a particular group, women, “teachers-as-workers” or whoever, produces counter-discourses which can shift the power balance quite dramatically. The classic example Foucault offers is the repression of homosexuality – in categorising this as a perversion, Victorian medicine inadvertently created a potent focal point for resistance and, ultimately, significant social change.

30 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for that, Neil: your Foucauldian take is useful, and I was sort of attempting to take a discoursal perspective on things in my response to Matthew earlier, but you have captured this angle much more succinctly. A good example of the way a counter-discourse has developed has been on the IATEFL Facebook page, with regard to the teachers-as-workers movement: from outright hostility (at one point there was a threat to close the thread down because of the heat being generated) to ‘yes, but…’ to almost unanimous acceptance (of the idea, if not the group itself).

30 04 2015
Jenna Cody

Wow…too many comments to read. I’ll actually read them all when it’s not 3am.

Some thoughts, very basic and raw and slightly tipsy:

1.) I agree wholeheartedly about NNES teachers needing to be included more. I don’t think many NES teachers hold a strong bias against them, although you’ll meet a few who have a “capitalism is king, if schools don’t want NNES teachers then we just have to accept that”, which is kind of gross and wrong (and is the sort of “the market is ALWAYS right” BS rhetoric that turned me off to my own native country, the USA, where it is so popular). But it’s true that schools and other employers do have a bias against them, and that’s a problem.

Also a problem? Honestly, while I have met so many talented and qualified NNES teachers who could sure teach me a lot about doing better in the classroom, I’ve also noticed a trend of NNES teachers attending teachers’ colleges in their own countries that don’t…well…they just don’t teach modern methods. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with, say, Audiolingualism or even in some situations Grammar-Translation, but when that’s basically the only way one is taught to teach, that is a huge problem. And so there are a lot of otherwise talented and hardworking NNES teachers who have inadequate, outdated training because the local colleges that train them don’t really know a thing about modern SLA research. So they come off as inept at times when they really don’t have to, their talent isn’t sufficiently polished and shouldn’t, be that way!

And I say this as good friends of someone who went through a teaching Chinese Master’s program at a well-regarded Taiwanese university, who says straight up: “it’s crap. You learn a lot about academic Chinese, but ****-all about how to teach it. The head of the program doesn’t think pedagogy is necessary – he thinks explaining the grammar and teaching some words, then taking a test, is sufficient.” And it’s not that different in the program for teaching “foreign languages”. Which is basically a fancy way of saying TEFL.

The solution here is obvious: work together to improve “teaching foreign language” Masters-level training at local educational institutions, and get more non-native speakers involved in programs that teach from a modern perspective, whether they’re Western or not.

The issue of women in TEFL is a harder one.

Secondly, as a woman who is trying to rise in the TEFL ranks, while I appreciate that a lot of the best work at the academic level is being done by women, and a lot of the seminal texts I’ve read have been authored by women, there IS a problem at the classroom level.

Mainly, we get stereotyped. Around the world, we are stereotyped as teachers of children. We’re “nurturing” and “good with young learners” apparently. We get shunted into kindies and children’s schools, and as those jobs tend to pay less, we suffer – the wage gap here is real. As a BE instructor, how many times have I walked into an English presentation skills seminar as the lead teacher, and just because I’m a young-looking woman, watched students assumed that the other teacher – at times my trainee! – is the lead teacher because he’s the man in the suit? And had to work harder to prove to them that no, actually, I’m the lead teacher, or I’m even training him, all because I’m female so I’m not automatically seen as a candidate to be a leader? Too many to count.

How many times have I looked at the teaching roster of private English language centers and realized that every single teacher was male? And that, while some of them were hardworking, good guys with solid qualifications and experience, that the hardest working teachers I know are female, but nobody ever seems to notice?

And that all the issues we face in the corporate world apply: that our bosses are just as terrible about not giving adequate pay raises to women who don’t negotiate, but once we start negotiating as the men do, we get written off as “b*tches” and STILL don’t have roughly equal access to pay raises we deserve? Especially when so many language school owners are in non-Western countries and have, honestly, some ideas about women that most female ESL teachers would find shocking if they allowed themselves to think about it (which we don’t, because we know what we’ll find, and we just don’t want to)? How many times have women in TEFL been stereotyped as doing it because they “love to teach” or “love children” (I don’t particularly care for children so I don’t get this at all), and had that used to justify lower pay, while men in TEFL “have a family to support” (they often are married and have a kid or two…but so are we!) and often get better pay, better raises, and better jobs?

Yeah…TESOL/TEFL/whatever you want to call it is fairly gender equal at the academic levels, but here in the trenches, it is absolutely not. That deserves to be addressed, not written off.

1 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Jenna for your late night thoughts – enviably lucid, I have to say! Just a footnote to your point about assuming that the male is the lead teacher (and to slightly contradict your last point about equality at academic levels) I notice again and again that my MA students, when citing an authority who they only know by their surname, ‘naturally’ assume that he or she is male. So, ‘as Tarone (1996) argues…. He [sic] also makes the point that…’ or ‘In his [sic] paper on the good language learner, Oxford….’ etc.

(They also assume, wrongly, that Vivian Cook is a woman!)

30 04 2015
Jenna Cody

One more then I’ll drink some water and go to bed and probably feel bad for my ranting and mild profanity in my earlier comment.

It’s notable that the “incoming and outgoing presidents” of influential groups in the field are female. I’m a fan. Good work!

But, using that as justification for the idea that sexism isn’t a problem in TEFL is rather like saying “we can talk about racism in America but remember that the president is a black man”.

Which…c’mon.

1 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

OK, fair point – but I’m not just talking about a one-off: look at the list of past presidents of both IATEFL and TESOL (both national and state chapters) and you’ll see the extent to which women share executive roles with men. I have always felt – especially at TESOL Conventions – that it’s a largely female-dominated field, at all levels. The obsession with plenary speakers skews the facts.

1 05 2015
Jenna Cody

I haven’t found it to be particularly female-dominated in adult language teaching. I do not teach children (you do not want me to teach your children). In my career working with adult learners, in so many situations, I’m the only female teacher. In others I may not be the only one, but there’s this sinking feeling that men are preferred, or the gender imbalance is not noticed – especially in Business English.

I left my former job in part because, while they hired women, they had that “man in a suit = most qualified BE teacher” attitude. I was being shunted to “soft” classes (eg. “Movie English” workshops which were perks companies bought for their employees) rather than the core business skills ones I am actually best at, and I noticed other female teachers getting the same treatment. I had to speak up several times before anything changed. I noticed that female trainers would come up with the most well-thought-out ideas for materials and seminar planning adjustments, then the company would ask us to make those adjustments without additional pay (which is not great if your only job security is your high paycheck, which is calculated hourly). When we asked for compensation, they’d say “nevermind” and hand it to a male trainer, and pay HIM to make the changes. The director regularly tried to tell all female trainers they had to wear high heels, and tried to give at least one marriage and dating advice (“don’t date the guy who works at the teashop. You have so many corporate clients – why get a stone when you could get a diamond?”).

At one of my new part-time jobs (my work situation is a bit weird right now, and I like it that way), every other teacher is male. They’re decent folks and I don’t feel excluded from social activities that make up a lot of professional networking, but it did take awhile for them to notice that there was a gender imbalance. And I have never had a female DoS. Every position, every job, always a man. So, you can see why I don’t feel that TEFL is female-dominated in the trenches of adult English teaching.

What’s more, when we do get stereotyped as teachers of children – and oh, we do! – it becomes harder for us to move up into the higher ranks of TEFL. Teachers in adult learning environments have better access to the tools they need to move up – rarely does anyone tell the ones working in children’s language schools about things like the Delta, IATEFL, becoming an IELTS examiner etc. let alone getting a Master’s, publishing, or speaking at conferences. Hands of invitation are not extended and legs up are not given. They’re rarely even properly trained. The lower pay makes it more difficult to afford the training and networking you need to get into those higher ranks, and you don’t always have the right kind of classes to be observed on Delta Module 2, which necessitates a more-expensive face-to-face option that many on a lower children’s language teacher salary can’t afford. So when women get stereotyped into those jobs (and again, we do!) it makes it harder for us to rise to the level of becoming big names.

Even for me teaching only adults, I’m so sick of horrible sexist bosses and ‘proving myself’ more than a man needs to that I’m wary of committing to any one organization full-time, because I’ve come to feel that I’m the only one I can count on. I’ve been going it alone as a freelancer and paying for my Delta out-of-pocket. How does one even rise in the TEFL ranks without attachment to a larger organization or get a chance to give a presentation at a major conference that nobody will pay for her to attend, when all she has to say in the way of professional networking is “I may not have a formal job or affiliation, because going it alone was the only way as a woman that I could get the respect and pay I deserve, but I really am one of you”?

1 05 2015
phil Wade

To be fully representational, you’d need to exactly how many men and women are in the industry but shouldn’t/isn’t IATEFL selecting talks on the topics rather than the speakers? If so, shouldn’t plenary speakers be selected in the same way? I know that having ‘Bob X TEFL guru’ advertised as a plenary speaker will draw crowds but if Bob’s (sorry Bob) talk is dire then people will leave with a bad taste. This is a risk I guess. Maybe you should let the members decide by offering selections online for people to vote for. Having been in departments where people were funded to go these events and then feed back, I have mainly heard the “I saw/met/touched Bob X”. Yes, they mentioned some interesting talks but never in the same way as seeing their idol.

Choice is the key I think. As long as there is a mix of old and new, big names and small ones, men and women, NESTs and NNESTs, everyone should be happy but to get that balance, you’ll have to start looking at names, nationalities, gender, ethnic background etc. An easier solution, as mentioned previously, is to empower those groups who maybe don’t apply. If you can get a balanced amount of applicants then the selection process will create a more balanced group of speakers. Perhaps this is the real problem but one that, when identified, can easily be changed.

2 05 2015
Jenna Cody

You’d also need to know what jobs they as men or women are more likely to be doing in the industry. It may look like there are more women overall, but look at the % who teach adults/are DoSs/have written books*/teach at universities/are teacher trainers vs. the % who teach children/are in insecure, poorly-paid ‘language school’ jobs**/aren’t in IATEFL…and I think you’ll still find a disparity.

*while I am fairly sure the other points I mentioned would come up as male dominated, I’m not sure about “have written TEFL books”, as just a cursory glance at my own ESL library shows a fairly equal distribution of male to female authors. Even though I have a very large number that say “Thornbury” on them!

**not sure about this one either. I feel like more women get stuck at the lower level teaching kids, but on the other hand, I feel like more men enter the industry as backpackers just looking for a fun year abroad or older men who have, shall we say, better romantic luck abroad and so need jobs that allow them to stay there. (This will probably not be a popular opinion, but I’m going there anyway).

2 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

” I feel like more men enter the industry as backpackers just looking for a fun year abroad or older men who have, shall we say, better romantic luck abroad and so need jobs that allow them to stay there.”

Not a popular opinion, perhaps, Jenna, but one that has been researched. An article came out a couple of years ago in TESOL Quarterly (2013: 47/1) called ‘Desire in Translation: White Masculinity and TESOL’ (note the intertextual reference to the movie with Bill Murray) by Roslyn Appleby. Here’s the abstract:

This article reports on a study of Western male English language teachers and considers the ways in which their identities were shaped in relation to discourses of masculinity and heterosexuality. The article first argues that masculinity and heterosexuality have remained unmarked categories in research on TESOL teacher identities. It then draws on interview data with 11 White Australian men and considers the discourses of gender and sexuality in their accounts of English language teaching in Japanese commercial eikaiwa gakkô (English language conversation schools). The analysis suggests that although some enjoy the privileges that attach to being a White, Western male, they also struggle to negotiate the eikaiwa gakkô as a contact zone where the professional and personal, the educational and commercial, the pedagogical and the sexual coexist. In this ambiguous space, discourses of White male embodiment, and of sexualised desire between teacher and student, are perceived to be in conflict with discourses of an acceptable masculine professional identity, and may limit the professional and pedagogical aspirations of the male teachers. The article concludes that it is timely for conversations about gender and sexuality as aspects of professional identity to include accounts of masculinity and heterosexuality as integral to professional practice in TESOL.

2 05 2015
Jenna Cody

I read that a few times, but it doesn’t clarify whether *more* male teachers enter the TEFL industry at the lowest rungs let alone why they do (if they do), just how they negotiate their working lives vis-a-vis their gender, ethnicity and sexuality.

“…they also struggle to negotiate the eikaiwa gakkô as a contact zone where the professional and personal, the educational and commercial, the pedagogical and the sexual coexist.In this ambiguous space, discourses of White male embodiment, and of sexualised desire between teacher and student, are perceived to be in conflict with discourses of an acceptable masculine professional identity…” – isn’t that true in any profession where there is sexual desire between men and women (that is to say basically every profession?)

“…and may limit the professional and pedagogical aspirations of the male teachers.”

…I’d be curious about what they mean by this and how being white and male would “limit” their “professional and pedagogical aspirations”. Or, do they just mean, they got into the field because they wanted to date local women and as such, are not very professionally ambitious? (If that’s not what that means, then I admit I don’t really understand the academic-speak here).

2 05 2015
Jenna Cody

I would read the full article but I don’t have access to TESOL Quarterly, and I’m not quite convinced I want to pay $6 for 48 hours of access. Seems a bit pricey and a freelancer like me can’t go spending $6 every time she wants to read a journal article.

1 05 2015
Martin Eayrs

Phil, I wonder if you have ever been on a conference committee for a large international conference? You seem to think that there is a plethora of plenary speakers all just sitting around waiting for the phone call. That may apply to a small number of self-promoters but is generally not the case. Searching for a speaker is a long and frustrating process, that will often start a year or more before the conference. The speaker needs to be willing, free on the date proposed, not too demanding in his/her creature comforts (we need to spend our members’ money well) and of interest to our members. It would be silly to deny that a name will act as a draw – if you have Steven Pinker headlining your conference your chances of ending up in the black are much higher than a speaker whose name, for whatever reason, has little resonance to those thinking of attending. May I suggest that you sacrifice something of your idealism – admirable though it is – in favour of a more pragmatic approach to this issue. That does not, of course, mean that we should not be looking for diversity in our plenary speakers – as in all our presenters – but it would be charitable to understand that the conference organisers can not always achieve this to the extent you -and I- would like.

1 05 2015
phil2wade

Sounds like a losing battle so why not just cancel them. I rarely saw the opening or plenary talks of any conference I went to because of time and I was always sent to attend certain talks and take notes. The ones I did see where general talks about this and not or abstract thoughtful ones, yes, some were just flogging books too. Maybe just adding more talks would be easier, less hassle and cheaper. I may be wrong but I guess some closing speakers get paid at events. I only say this as I came across some sites where you can hire them. I may be a very small minority but a proper talk by guru number 1 would be more interesting to me than an abstract closing.

A year to find 5 people to wrap up a conference seems a little troublesome to me. If they are truly going to summarise all of it and provide such a recap and some thought to take away then they will have attend almost everything and prepare their closing just an hour before. If people want this then really any member could do it. If they want a big name to do sthg funny or memorable then I guess that is what they pay for. Personally, I would hope that everyone would want to do it. It seems to be an honour to finish off a conference and whoever, if they are professionals, should make sure they rise to that occasion. It also makes sense that it is a person who has been active during the conference.

Anyhow, as I said, I haven’t been to many due to time, money and need. Comments from colleagues who go to them regularly as part of their researcher roles often revolve around the ‘conference circuit people’, networking and the reputation they get from giving talks. One guy even had his own shrine with his collection of name badges and ads from all his talks and plenaries. His attitude was very selfish in my opinion. He, and some others, saw conferences as their real job and teacher as something they had to do. I hope that isn’t common.

1 05 2015
Elka Todeva

It is nice that people mentioned earlier Foucault and his point that power is embodied in a variety of often contradictory discursive practices. We, both NSs & NNSs alike, are playing this game (in a Complexity Theory sense) too. We write about and give speeches how we would like to get rid of the native/non-native speaker nomenclature, but then in our “normal” discourse continue to stay with these terms. The more we start “walking the talk” (rather than literally just talking the talk), the more we will have a constant reminder, through the words we use, that the world is indeed a fascinating multilingual space and that we are better off building capacity rather than native speaker competence. Switching to the appellation multilingual teachers of language, as opposed to monolingual ones, will hopefully trigger some serious reflection in all of us and will bring to our collective consciousness the fact that personal experience with language learning makes us better, more empathetic, and more realistic language educators (and by this I mean that we can achieve a lot more that we currently do with some of our pet approaches to the enterprise of learning).

1 05 2015
Jenna Cody

A final note: I do appreciate and agree that we also need to fight for the inclusion of NNES teachers. But a quick survey of the history of the fight for women’s equality brings up a lot of problematic issues with things like “perhaps talking about women’s equality is important, but it’s distracting us from the REAL issue of civil rights/LGBT rights/immigrant rights etc”. Not those aren’t important fights, but that they’ve been used as a way of saying “not now” to women pointing out a problem – other people’s issues are more important. Just wait. We’ll get to you.

So…I agree, it’s just, I kind of recoiled a bit when I read “There is certainly room for improvement, but it does make me wonder if the gender debate isn’t distracting us from power issues that are much more pervasive and equally, if not more, pernicious”. It’s not that I don’t agree that the inclusion of NNES teachers is an issue, it’s that it can read to some of us as “yes yes, women’s inclusion is an issue, but the REAL issue is…” as a way of yet again saying not now, just wait, we’ll get to you.

I know you didn’t mean it that way, but I hope you can see how it might come across to some readers currently fighting for better treatment of women working in TEFL (on my end, trying to raise awareness in Taiwan of gender disparities in adult ELL and how to deal with sexist bosses, having walked through that particular fire).

1 05 2015
Kay Pandit

Scott:-

“Also, I have to say, a part of me feels that – if women are good enough to give plenaries, they are also good enough to militate for women giving plenaries – that is to say, they don’t really need men marching on their behalf. The suffragettes, after all, did it on their own, didn’t they? Whereas non-native speakers, who represent a far greater segment of our profession, might well do with the moral support of a few alpha (NS) males like myself. Or?”

Meaning what, exactly?

That the white females are still capable of militancy but that the poor emasculated NNS male and the still further subjugated NNS female are absolutely incapable of defending their interests without an alpha NS male in the shape of you?

Bad taste even in irony. So please dont plead it was tongue in cheek.

There’s a huge ink spill on some books that went in the bin which I wont be replacing.

After all that talk about respect and learner centeredness etc adinfintum. Sad.

2 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

“if women are good enough to give plenaries, they are also good enough to militate for women giving plenaries ” Not tongue in cheek, Kay – just poorly worded, perhaps, since the ‘if’ makes it sound as if there was doubt about the matter. Better: ‘Women are obviously good enough to give plenaries, so they are good enough to militate on the matter. They don’t need me to give them a leg up’. I stand by that.

As for non-native speaker teachers, this is another level of discrimination altogether because – unlike gender (pace Judith Butler) – nativeness vs non-nativeness is an arbitrary construct that has been imposed (as Kumraravadivelu among others argues) in the interests of maintaining a hegemonic power relationship. It is a construct that, as Pennycook says, ‘does no useful work any more’, and needs to be challenged. This cannot be said about the gender distinction (pace Butler again).

It’s not a case of patronizing NNESTs, it’s a case of dismantling the term (with all its negative connotations) once and for all.

2 05 2015
Jenna Cody

I would argue that gender, in the TESOL industry, is also basically an artificial construct.

Sure, anatomically it’s not, and we’ve only begun to indirectly research differences in male/female brain functioning. But within TESOL, there’s really no reason gender should be a construct at all. There should not necessarily be any difference between male and female teachers in terms of hiring, employment, training, types of classes given, and any differences in teaching style or abilities with certain groups would certainly be highly individual enough that general differences between genders needn’t be considered. Any attempt to categorize “male” and “female” teachers separately based on any general differences one might find across a population would devolve very quickly into inappropriate and frankly, usually wrong stereotypes about men and women.

It’s not like a vagina is a Magic Teaching Box where all our feminine ideas of pedagogy spring forth or a penis blocks a man’s access to the whiteboard, like “I want…to…teach you English but…my penis…is in the way!”

2 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

“I would argue that gender, in the TESOL industry, is also basically an artificial construct” It’s not artificial – it exists – why else would The Fair List be making a point of it? If it were artificial their energy would be directed at exposing it as such, surely? As in ‘Hey, you guys, there’s no such thing as gender, so plenary speakers should be chosen according to their merits.’ They are totally not arguing this.

3 05 2015
Jenna Cody

By that argument, the NNEST speaker construct exists because we are making an issue of it. If it didn’t exist we wouldn’t be talking about how to fight for the inclusion of, and better respect, NNESTs.

Well, a lot of the time with us fighters for women’s inclusion and equality, the rhetoric is basically, it would be better if people (for example, plenary speakers) could be simply chosen according to their merits, but as there’s sexism tainting the system, for now we have to actively work to be more inclusive.

I don’t see how that’s different from fighting for more inclusiveness of NNESTs. It would be best if we chose people according to their merits alone, but as that is leading to an exclusion of NNESTs, for now we have to actively work to be more inclusive, no? If one is an artificial construct, how isn’t the other? If one isn’t artificial, why is the other one?

And what justification is there, or could there ever be, for gender continuing to be a real construct (rather than an artificial one) in ELT? So why are we not fighting to change the idea that it is a real thing?

4 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

OK, whatever – but my point is still that – if I had to choose between the three causes I mentioned in my blog: women in ELT; NNESTs and ‘teachers as workers’, I would opt for the latter two, (a) because, given they include a majority of women anyway, any improvement in the status of NNESTs and of teachers will ipso facto have a positive knock-on effect on the position of women in ELT generally; and (b) women are doing a very good job themselves in terms of militating for greater equality (witness yourself) and they shouldn’t have to depend on the likes of me.

Why, then, should NNESTs? Well, here’s an extract from an email I got this week, from a female NNEST in a developing country, in response to the original post (I hope she forgives me for posting an edited version of it:

I’d like first to apologise for opting to send an email rather than directly reply to your most recent, very interesting and very provocative blog post …

It is impossible for me for the time being -due to some reasons – to intervene online and speak out about despicable practices going on forever either in the state or the private education sectors, or foreign institutions in my country unfortunately tainting a noble profession such as teaching and making it lose any shred of credibility. I’m very pessimistic about any positive change to see happen in the near future — the situation is very complex due to political, socio-economic and many others factors.

But opening the debate as you boldly did helps some scalded teachers hell-bent on never resuming teaching (not because they wanted to quit but pushed into it) think twice and perhaps reconsider their decision.

That means more to me than any number of woman plenary speakers at next year’s IATEFL conference.

4 05 2015
Jenna Cody

Women can advocate for themselves, but they’re not going to get very far if people with more clout in power structures (small and large scale, from the conference room where someone chooses who gets hired for an ELT job in Mozambique to a conference room where someone is delivering a plenary talk at IATEFL) don’t also stand with us.

And if the people with clout (that’d be you, not me…yet) decide it’s not a debate worth spending much time on because there are “more important” issues, then it’s not going to get discussed on a large scale and it’s not going to get much better.

Think Emma Watson. He For She. It’s not that we need to be stood up for, it’s that we need support, even if it’s just speaking out and getting the conversation started.

5 05 2015
Jenna Cody

Or think of it this way:

For important conversations to get started, influential people who can bring the conversation to the forefront need to take an interest even as the hardest work is put in by the people actually involved.

You would have listened to the IATEFL talk by now and seen how your name is at the top of a list of prominent names in ELT, and of those names, only one (Penny Ur) is female (I was surprised that Tricia Hedge, Patsy Lightbown, Nina Spada, Kathleens Graves and Bailey etc. didn’t make the list, but anyway). If we are so poorly represented at the very top of the TEFL world, who is going to be our own influential spokesperson with the voice and reach to make this conversation happen in a bigger way? Clearly some of the men on that list also need to get involved or help push the conversation into a more public realm. That’s how grassroots works – we blades of grass make little ripples that get limited attention until someone with “reach” hears it, repeats it, and then everyone’s talking about it.

Instead, what we get is something like “yeah, we COULD talk about women in TEFL but let’s not, they can do that on their own, instead let’s make the public conversation about NNESTs” to which women working to change things and to push forward the conversation, who maybe would appreciate support from influential figures with more reach than they have, might feel like…”gee, THANKS.”

Because plenty of people think we already have equality, when in my experience at least, we don’t. They don’t think we need to be talking about it, and posts that say “we could talk about it, but let’s not, let’s talk about this other thing instead” from thought leaders make even more people think the conversation isn’t necessary…when it very much is.

2 05 2015
Martin Eayrs

All the long words were a bit beyond me, Scott, but is it ‘wrong’ to say that we could also look at this from a ‘cultural’ angle – that some cultures are more outgoing, perhaps more self-confident and have been encouraged to be self-assertive while others are ‘quieter’, and less prepared to put themselves in the limelight? That being a non-native speaker may compound the problem of lack of self-confidence of such people in an English language context? I do appreciate that this is a generalisation, but having taught many mulitinational classes it has always been clear which students were over participative and which needed to be drawn into conversation. I’m a little insecure about this, as it may be a non-PC thing to say, but is is worth considering as one more reason why there are fewer NESTs giving plenaries, etc.? Feel free to shoot me down.

2 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

Martin, in the 150+ comments that have accumulated, I’m not sure which one you’re referring to, unless it’s to the original post. But I’ll take you up on the argument that, because they lack self-confidence, NNESTs (or some NNESTs) may not be ideally suited to teach. (Is that really what you’re saying?) Any teacher who lacks self-confidence (whether NEST or NNEST) will be starting with a disadvantage, but one reason a NNEST might lack self-confidence is because he/she has been construed as disadvantaged, even before they start. If we dismantle the NEST/NNEST distinction, we level the playing field, so that confidence becomes an individual trait, not a group one.

2 05 2015
Martin Eayrs

Scott: I fully accept that “one reason a NNEST might lack self-confidence is because he/she has been construed as disadvantaged”, but also ask you to accept that there are other reasons. Stereotyping apart, it is clear that cultures/ethnic groups differ on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, and in the acceptability of publicly questioning what an authoritative figure has previously stated. This will transfer to their degree of willingness to stand up in public and make a principled stand. You will I am sure be familiar with work of Alfonsus (Fons) Trompenaars – although mainly related to business transactions there is surely much there that is germane (?).

2 05 2015
manaraboba

Hi Martin,

I do agree that the reason can be culturally justified, since some cultures are more “conservative” than others. But the self-confidence justification seems more rational. After all, it is a matter of confidence and eloquence.

Manar

3 05 2015
Kay Pandit

Scott: “It’s not a case of patronizing NNESTs,
it’s a case of dismantling the term
(with all its negative connotations) once and for all.”
Great!
So we won’t be seeing the term by you
or in your blog again🙂
And we can look forward to you insisting on co-presenting
with your multilingual and also your extremely capable
female collegues at your next plenary?
What a brilliant idea!

3 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

In his recent article (referred to above) Kumaravadivelu laments that, after a quarter of century of critical debate, ‘the term nonnative speaker, with all its negative connotations, has taken on a stubborn quality, resisting any attempt to replace it with a neutral term such as expert speaker.’ By way of confirmation, in her book, The Phonology of English as an International Language (2000) Jennifer Jenkins attempts to create a three-way distinction between monolingual English speakers (MES) and bilingual English speakers (BES), adding, for good measure the somewhat ambiguous non-bilingual English speaker (NBES), meaning that a speaker may be bilingual but not in English. ‘This term bears none of the negative implications of “non-native” but instead provides a neutral, factual description’ (p. 10). By the time her next book was published (English as a lingua franca: attitude and identity, 2007) she had abandoned these terms and reverted to NS and NNS, without any explanation.

To be consistent, maybe we should refer to women as non-men?

5 05 2015
Jenna Cody

Not sure that works. The suggested reworking of “non-native English speaker teacher” results in a neutral term that doesn’t draw off of the basic meaning of another term. A “speaker/expert/teacher” can be any sort of human. Or I suppose non-human.

But “non-men” relies on the basic meaning being a “man” and anything else is a non-man. It’s the exact opposite of what Kumaravadivelu is proposing as a new term for NNEST.

The way to neutralize gender is to call everyone a “person”, not “men” and “non-men”.

5 05 2015
Jenna Cody

Actually nevermind, I think I misunderstood your post above. I get it now. My bad.

3 05 2015
Nicola

Anyone interested the Where are the women in ELT? talk, it’s available now https://genderequalityelt.wordpress.com/where-are-the-women-in-elt-iatefl-talk/

3 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Nicola. It shall be my required Sunday afternoon viewing! Or listening, rather.

3 05 2015
Nicola

Q is for quaking

3 05 2015
Andrew W

I like the term “multi-lingual language teacher”. NNEST will never exist anywhere outside the hallowed ELT inner circles and is a category that defines itself negatively, as in “I am not a native speaker of English”. Reaction of the bod in the street : “oh so you’re not qualified”
But “I’m a multi-lingual teacher of English” is positively defined as in “I speak several languages PLUS I teach English”. Reaction of the bod in the street “Wow, an expert”.😉

3 05 2015
jeremyharmer
4 05 2015
marekkiczkowiak

I’ve been told today that IATEFL have decided to inform future employers that they need to remove “native speaker” from the Jobs Market ads, so I take back my comment about IATEFL remaining neutral which I posted here earlier. Great step forward. Hope this information is made publicly available so that more people can find out that IATEFL is changing🙂

4 05 2015
Martin Eayrs

Perhaps next they can be asked to remove the equally disturbing requirement that only males or only females need apply for certain jobs.

4 05 2015
phil Wade

I think you can take credit for some of that, Marek.

Anyhow, back to equal representation at conferences…

Personally, if I work in a majority male environment and went to a 100% female conference it would be a nice balance perhaps. My wife wouldn’t be happy but what the heck! If they were all white and ‘mature’ you could say it is very unequal but I’m not sure if we are saying it’s not representative of the industry or just not equal in general. If we are saying the latter, at some point ‘discrimination’ will crop up and possibly worse accusations.

As I see it, and as stated here, IATEFL operates a blind system when applications are judge on quality. Thus, if it turns out that everyone is Welsh, male, white, chubby, bald and wears a red tie, you can’t blame IATEFL. If we then play the ‘not equal card’, IATEFL will have to remove their system in place of quotas and then actively hunt down people to fill them. They would then be putting quality on the back burner. I may be wrong but I thought IATEFL was about quality.

Perhaps having a conference in a different place may help attract more diversity, making calls for speakers more attractive to NNESTS or just ‘international teachers’, women, young and old, different ethnicity etc.

4 05 2015
Martin Eayrs

Nice post, Phil. I agree that in principle it would be lovely to hold the annual IATEFL Conference around the world but the economics of this seem unsurmountable. The SIGs, however, do hold conferences internationally and IATEFL is addressing the problem of its geographic insularity by providing more and more webinars and other online events.

10 05 2015
Kay Pandit

“IATEFL is addressing the problem of its geographic insularity
by providing more and more webinars and other online events.”
Or making more wide-spread & global the myth of the
monolingual English teacher superiority over the multilingual ones?

10 05 2015
Martin Eayrs

So, Kay, let’s get this straight. Would you recommend IATEFL not provide its members with these services? With webinars given at no cost to teachers all around the world by, for example, Sugata Mitra, Claudia Ferradas, Penny Ur and Herbert Puchta. To name a few. Or are you seriously accusing IATEFL of promoting “making more wide-spread & global the myth of the monolingual English teacher superiority over the multilingual ones” to such an extent that it should ideally cease all its activities?

4 05 2015
Jenna Cody

Yeah because English schools around the world give a crap what IATEFL thinks or wants them to do.

I would put $$$ ca$h money $$$ on the majority of English schools not even knowing what IATEFL *is*, or caring.

The discriminatory ads will persist until teachers stop applying to any job with that language in it. For some schools just having all of the qualified teachers stop applying will be enough. For others they’d still hire backpacker-teachers and even that would have to dry up before they’d change.

5 05 2015
typtoptokyo

Outside of Europe a large amount of people dont know what the CELTA is never mind IATEFL

5 05 2015
Jenna Cody

Ooooh another fire I’ve walked through. I’ve got blistered feet from all this.

My last employer didn’t know what a CELTA was until I went and got one (on my own dime of course, it makes me laugh and laugh and laugh that they have information for sponsors paying for candidates. Ha ha. Funny joke). Then, since I was pretty good, they advertised that they “preferred” CELTA holders, but didn’t actually know what the CELTA entailed or what one learns on it. They have 7,8 admin people at that school and not one who knows anything about ELT – not resources and materials, not syllabus design/curriculum planning, not CPD/training, not lesson planning/classroom management/methodology…

What they wanted was people who could keep corporate clients happy by any means necessary, and they wanted people who could do that with no effort, training, investment or input by them, so they could charge those clients an astronomical sum and then proceed to do no more work for the class once arranged, paying us a small fraction of that sum for doing basically all of the work after that time with little or no support.

I may sound bitter (OK, I am a little) but this is what most private language schools do. They aren’t set up with the mission to teach English and make money doing it, they’re set up to make money period with English teaching as a kind of sideshow. Actually knowing about ELT is not seen as important. Partly because of this Randian worldview and partly because different cultures have different ideas about whether it’s OK to discriminate when hiring, and how, this is a part of why discrimination flourishes in ELT hiring, whether it’s gender-based, age-based, race-based or N/NNEST-based.

Of course these places don’t know what IATEFL is. And it sure seems that a lot of people on the more academic/conference circuit side of ELT don’t quite get what conditions are like on the ground. That’s exemplified by thinking that IATEFL saying “don’t discriminate” will have any real impact. It won’t.

Then some wonder why English teachers feel they don’t have a good work situation or protections and why we need something like TaWSIG.

4 05 2015
osnacantab

I’ve tried to read this entire thread and may well have missed points made but I’ve not noticed much or anything about the working conditions of teachers of English around the world in state schools. I don’t think it is crucial that what I’m suggesting needs to be done within the framework of IATEFL though it would surely be of interest to IATEFL members.

If they do not already exist, it would be interesting and perhaps helpful to set up national English Teacher (EFL) Organisations concentrating specifically on gathering information on teaching conditions – number of hours to be taught, size of classes, pay and contracts etc. Having gathered basic information these ETO’s would then start pressing for improvements. It would make tactical sense for these local ETOs to link together into an international organisation – IAETO – the International Association of English Teacher Organisations.

It would also make sense for these proposed ETOs to work closely with existing trade unions, where these exist.

It seems to me the self-employed and those working in private institutions would need a separate organisation.

5 05 2015
Jenna Cody

Seems to me that if we have separate organizations for those who are self-employed/in private schools, it unnecessarily divides us – we’re all in the industry together and while the two groups may have different needs and issues (for example, those of us in private industry are much more beholden to general student satisfaction whereas those in public schools and academia can comfortably say “they don’t have to like you, they just have to learn well” – we private-school and freelance teachers don’t have that luxury) they’re broadly similar enough that working together is probably smarter than working apart.

Also a lot of us private-school and freelance types want to dip a toe into academia or the greater TEFL world and have trouble doing so. Nobody pays for our CPD. Nobody sends us to conferences. Some don’t even consider us real teachers (whether or not that’s true depends on how you define “real teacher”). Nobody gives us access to TEFL journals (see above – I can’t go spending $6 every time I want to read one article, which effectively acts to block my access to an important area of academic TEFL work). In this one small way, working together can help those of us in non-academic areas of TEFL gain some small access to the higher-level workings of the industry.

5 05 2015
AM

Thanks Scott for this post .
It is sad to have this discrimination against non native speakers. We have this problem in my country too ,some universities tend to recruit native speakers of English to teach English . I believe that the English teacher should have the skill of language teaching more than knowledge of the language

5 05 2015
osnacantab

Isn’t a down-to-earth point about native/non-native teachers of English that academic discussion on this matter is peripheral? Surely it is mainly employers and learners who demand natives not the profession itself that pushes them forward. It would be an improvement if everyone got into the habit of talking about trained teachers of English, whatever species of native is under consideration.

Incidentally, how fortunate we are that the English language allows us to refer to trained teachers of English, in the plural at least, without having to refer to their here irrelevant gender. I am reminded of the fact that some writers in our field long ago adopted the convention of writing “the teacher” and “she”, Would it be too stylistically clumsy to write about teachers in the plural thus avoiding the need to use “he”or “she.”?
Dennis Newson

5 05 2015
Martin Eayrs

Dennis: I’m not sure that a concept of ‘trained teachers’ would really solve matters a great deal. What a teacher learns in ‘training’ needs to be honed by teaching experience and CPD; ‘training’ varies enormously in rigour and quality from institution to institution; and ‘training’ is in itself no indication of competence unless it contains as extensive observed TP module, which is not always a part of ‘training courses’.

5 05 2015
Jenna Cody

Isn’t that the whole point really? The demand for native speaker teachers comes from employers (who often don’t know ELT procedures and practices, or even English, from their own bums some of the time), so what really needs to happen is a push in the industry to get employers to open up more to hiring them, or at least considering them seriously for hire.

Rather like with gender equality in the industry, there’s only so much IATEFL can do about that as most employers don’t know or care what IATEFL is. It’s got to be grassroots to some degree.

5 05 2015
Martin Eayrs

Readers of this blog may be interested in reading comments made on behalf of IATEFL’s Trustees with regard to claims made above, which provide a rather different perspective than that presented by some posters here. See https://www.facebook.com/groups/iatefl/permalink/901493203242376/#

6 05 2015
paulwalsh

Readers of this blog may be interested in reading comments made in opposition to IATEFL’s Trustees decision NOT to grant permission for a ‘Teachers as Workers SIG’ which provide a rather different perspective. See decentralisedteachingandlearning.com/iatefl-calling/

6 05 2015
phil Wade

OK. I may just be a voice in the wilderness but I think this ‘discussion’ may have reached the end. IATEFL turned down the proposal because, from what I understand, you aren’t compatible. Gavin mentioned the ‘square hole, triangle peg’ idea which I think is perfect. Nobody is wrong. You just have 2 different approaches. In fact, joining IATEFL is probably really not a good idea at all. You want to change things and move forward with people who are currently not happy and want action. IATEFL seems to have quite happy members who enjoy the tradition of it.

I would focus 110% now on the future and paving your own path. You have already made ripples and other similar groups seem to be popping up.

I think IATEFL does a great job of what it does. I also think the TAWSIG people have some great ideas and passion to change the TEFL world for the better.

I look forward to seeing where you go and how we all can improve our industry in the same way I look forward to seeing online IATEFL events.

29 05 2015
paulwalsh

To bring it back to Scott’s original comments on ‘power’ and who has it, I think that ELT is going through a period of destabilization, where certain home truths are being questioned by voices from below.

I think the issue of whether we are an industry or profession is key (or which discourse takes precedence) as there are obviously limits to debate within the industry – awkward questions that are not welcome. This relates directly to power. But a profession, traditionally autonomous from the market, might be willing to debate controversial issues more openly.

It’s just my theory that ELT is suffering from a mild case of schizophrenia: http://decentralisedteachingandlearning.com/schizophrenic-elt/

14 06 2015
isabelavb

Dear Scott,
I’m sorry to use this comment feature for this purpose, but I don’t have your e-mail. I am one of the editors of the NNEST-of-the-Month blog, one of the projects carried out by TESOL’s NNEST IS, and was wondering if you would accept my invitation for an interview. If so, could you write to me at isabela.villasboas@thomas.org.br? The blog has been active for ten years and has had over 100 interviews.
Thanks!

15 05 2016
Philip

Interesting article and comments… but can’t read them all!
I gather, from the article and the comments, in talking about power structures IATEFL and TESOL are to the forefront – plus this ‘clique of (not quite) dead white males blocking opportunities…’
Well, I’m sorry, but after many years of EL teaching I don’t feel any power imposed on me by these organizations (or dead white males)- simply because I don’t belong to them. That’s certainly not a criticism of them, but I’ve just never got involved. My life has just been that of a daily-grind chalkboard teacher. No time for conferences, I’m afraid, plus the money to fund a conference trip is not a top priority of mine. I can watch on-line the plenaries anyway.
In other words, discussions of power structures relate to power structures within these, or such like, organizations. But the world of ELT is bigger than IATEFL and TESOL. They’ve certainly never been part of my teaching life and I’m not sure they’re ever going to be. I’d also say the same goes for 95% of other teaching colleagues I work with who just get on with the job.
Anyway, as we all know, TEFL is not a well paid job and teaching conditions could be better – a career in plumbing would set us up for life far better. I gather, maybe wrongly (?), that taking positions on working conditions is something IATEFL has been wavering over for some time and the old (2008) Voices article by Sarah Hannam is again being cited and discussed. It’s an old hot potato – isn’t that right?
Here in France, I don’t see much can be done to ‘up the status and pay’ of English teachers. Old Napolean established too well in granite the ‘code de travail’ and the political establishment in the senate or Elysee Palace doesn’t pay much attention to EL teachers’ needs. These are the last things on their minds.
Elsewhere around the world, effecting change and improving conditions for teachers may be more plausible and I applaud any organization/individual that cares to tackle this issue and help improve working conditions of EFL teachers i.e TaWSIG. Good for them, whether or not they are a IATEFL SIG. Is that really so important?
Whether, or to what degree, they succeed remains to be seen. But their hearts are in the right place. They have my support – however minor and inconsequential that may be.
Btw – anyone interested in knowing who are members of TaWSIG only need go on the site. It’s no secret.
PS. Yes, that’s a ramble. Thanks again to Scott for the thought-provoking article – evidently many thoughts here have been provoked.

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