The National Council of Teachers of English looks like a CPD and lobby group for teachers, which, of course, includes ELT people. They caught my eye recently after Stephen Krashen (yes, I twitter-follow him) tweeted a mild complaint because their blog posts are written by professional writers instead of by teachers. To me it made sense: many arts and language teachers aspire to being professional writers and respect those who break through.
I wondered if there was a parallel in my local ELT context.
Here in Ireland, just looking in the staff rooms of our private ELT organization, I can see a couple of ELT subcultures. On the one side there are the artists (including writers), doing ELT as a necessary day job. On the other there are down to earth, positive types who also see this as a job, but one they have a special fondness for. They often see IATEFL/TESOL membership politically, as ‘a good move’ and also as a chance to talk to other like-minded people. But I feel there is also a third group, of people who are just on the run. These people have been stung and don’t feel up to… well, anything else. For them, the nice thing about ELT is that a CELTA is a ticket away from that place they happened to be born in, away from that life they happened to be leading, a ticket to go almost any elsewhere they choose. They are on the run from any culture at all, including the culture of joining associations.
Some never return. I remember a post from Hugh Dellar (yes, I twitter-follow him, too) about his conversations with young adults he met on his trip to the US Pacific Northwest last year. In it he expressed some shock at the ‘drifter’ culture. He wasn’t talking about ELT workers. Just kids who had breezed away from everything and were at best ambivalent about falling off the edge of the continent into the deep. That reminds me of some of the ELT people I’ve met. But not the ones who love what they do.
Joining an association may be something that comes only after self-identification.
Many of us ride into ELT on the back of a very romantic vision that we feel we desperately need… maybe this is a need that has existed throughout time… the innate ability to make a break for it and start again on our own terms. It’s a self-respect thing: ‘I can survive on my own’. I think as we mature a bit, and as we learn how to survive alone and what its like, we realize that vision will not grow to be big enough for our future selves. Our more mature dreams eclipse the romantic one we entered ELT with, we begin to grow into ourselves. As we mature we learn that life is about living and working with other people, not despite them.
Living with ourselves as teachers – just as teachers (not ‘teachpreneurs’, ‘managers in training’, ‘the next DOS’, ‘future coursebook author’, ‘learner coaches’, ‘corporate trainers’ but just as ‘teachers’) may be the hardest basic lesson we learn once we have decided to stay in ELT. It’s who we are and always will be, no matter what adventures or accolades may come. It’s ELT’s crossroads of community and common cause. We all need to remember this. Just because we entered ELT in our misadventure and youth, it should not be ‘despised’ as Paul reminded Timothy (yes that’s a biblical reference in an ELT blogpost: 1 Tim. 4:12). ELT grandees should never snigger along when a tired school owner says ‘Ugh… teachers’ at management meetings or ELT events. In the end it’s what we all are. Teaching is the basis. It keeps us all going and it always should. It’s what the world needs from ELT. It needs teaching.
That’s why Krashen is right to note that ‘teachers’ are absent. Why should a teacher on a teachers’ blog for teachers run by an association for teachers give top billing to the fact that they are actually a writer now? Why at IATEFL conferences do speakers list out the myriad non-teaching roles they have held when they speak about teaching to teachers? Are we all supposed to move on? If a speaker doesn’t ‘teach’ any more, why? If they don’t teach any more is the speaker really just self-promoting?
Why do we fail to celebrate teaching and working as teachers? TaWSIG talks about this. Teaching in ELT isn’t the ‘initial’ phase of an ELT career. Teaching well and teaching sustainably is what we are all about.
Now go prep for your lesson. It’s worthwhile. But make sure you are getting paid for it.
John Benjamin Whipple has been working in ELT in and outside of the classroom since 2002 in Dublin, Ireland and the Marche region of Italy. He was a founding member of ELT Ireland, ELT Makers and ELT Advocacy Ireland.