The semblance of an English teacher | Reflections

Do English teachers have a particular smell? Perhaps in your country, they smell of Chanel or something cheaper but not wholly unpleasant. Maybe where you come from, people associate this clade with some combination of body odour and/or cigarettes and/or coffee. Where I come from, people sometimes connect our glorious profession to the scent of jasmine. Why jasmine you ask? Well, if you adorn yourself with jasmine flowers, you are bound to smell like jasmine, no?

Okay, you are a bit confused but it’s all very logical you see. Jasmine flowers go with tresses of long, lustrous black hair (occasionally tied into a bun or cropped short). That hair goes with a sari (preferably silk or spun on a hand loom). And the sari of course goes on a woman (perhaps in her 40s or 50s) and that Indian woman is what I reckon a majority of people in my rhombus shaped nation immediately visualise when they think of an English teacher.

This whole discussion on NESTs, NNESTs and TEFL Equity is something I feel a little indifferent to. It’s not that I don’t empathise with the cause because I do. I have been through the gauntlet of countless applications and 100% guaranteed rejections; all these years of money and effort invested in learning Chinese only to hear that someone utterly unqualified got offered a position in China merely because the interviewer thought he looked like Harry Potter. So, I can understand the longing that Tesal Sangma and others who are in the spring of their ELT careers feel. In hindsight though, I am glad no one offered me a job because it spared me a lifetime of language school drudgery and sadomasochistic relationships with DOSes (gosh I find that abbreviation so weird). I enjoy my work with corporate India which provides me with opportunities to facilitate learning in a scope that’s far wider than ELT. While ELT is at the heart of my practice, informing my approaches and beliefs, it’s not necessarily what I want to design or deliver all the time.

So, you’d imagine that I don’t face the credibility issues my NNEST peers do worldwide. If only.

Indian English teachers

We don’t fit the box, nor do we ever want to.

Few seem to want to believe that people like my friend, Clarissa (in this photo) or I have any sort of credibility as ELT professionals because we don’t fit the ‘look’. At conferences, folks are stupefied when we tell them that we share their profession. They probe and discover that we don’t work with schools, tertiary institutions or government bodies, and then dismiss us outright. I still recall Clarissa complaining bitterly to a visiting academic from the UK at TEC15 about the contrived situation in which we are not considered teachers despite all our instructional zeal relative to our ostensibly chalk & talk critics.

What we have here is a knotted ball of multiple issues but there are three worth unbundling: gender, age and qualification.

A couple of years ago, a participant – a software professional – in one of my courses had a tête-à-tête with me about this job of mine. He wanted his wife to get a similar job because he thought and I quote that “it was a good job for married women, flexible and not very demanding.” I wasn’t being fatuous when I painted for you a picture of a woman in a sari as the archetypal Indian English teacher. It’s completely delusional to think that the number of female ELT academics in India is somehow indicative of how well they have done in the profession. Instead, I think it reflects the deep misogyny of a society which believes there are certain professions that are ‘suitable’ for women, ELT being among them.

And to be taken seriously by your peers in this undemanding, flexible profession that you find yourself in, you can’t be young. Young in India is a very subjective age range. While attending an induction recently, someone who I really hit it off with told me that on her table, two (older, sari-clad) teachers remarked on how young I was and how astonished they were to learn that I had already finished my Delta. I find this line of reasoning inane. I don’t consider myself young but that’s irrelevant because whether I have 2 or 12 years of work experience is not a reflection of my competence as an ELT professional.

I suppose one reason age is perceived as so very critical is the number of years you require to accumulate a booty of degrees and diplomas which funnily enough is the seen as the only way of demonstrating your credibility. India is the vortex of dud doctorates and post graduate degrees that do anything but further the disciplines of their study. A couple of years ago, I submitted a conference proposal which was rejected. I didn’t have any issues with this until I attended said conference and witnessed a dodgy professor presenting his even dodgier Multiple Intelligences study results; and he was one of the better ones. I wonder how much of my lack of academic credentialing contributed to my proposal being rejected. I can only speculate.

While globally, TEFL equity advocates are striving to redefine what it means to an ELT professional, in India no one acknowledges this rigid box labelled English teacher that you’re automatically meant to fit. To meet expectations, you have to be a woman. To make your voice heard, you need to be not young. To advance the discipline, you need a doctorate.

I don’t want to fit this box, nor do I want to live outside it; I’d like to tear up this meaningless semblance of an English teacher that’s foisted on us.

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Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Aug – Sep 2015

People have been asking me how I get time to attend as many online events as I do. Lately though, I’ve hardly attended any. It might be a case of ‘nazar’ (evil eye) as we say in Hindi or just that I am currently (and happily) preoccupied with interesting work assignments and projects.

There doesn’t seem to be much happening with the usual ELT webinar hosts over the next two months. Do let me know if you spot any other events that ought to be included in this list. Happy learning!

An asterisk (*) indicates that the event requires prior registration. A (+) means that it’s probably a plug for a coursebook or some such.

August

September

iTDi summer intensive sessions

  • Being Affective is Truly Effective! | Juan Uribe | Jul 31, 0800 GMT
  • Correct Me If I’m Wrong | Scott Thornbury | Aug 1, 1400 GMT
  • Teaching for the 21st Century, and beyond | Barbara Sakamoto, Aug 2, 1300 GMT
  • A Journey into the World of ELT Methods | Alexandra Chistyakova, Aug 2, 1500 GMT
  • Fake it till you Make it | Barbi Bujtas | Aug 3, 1300 GMT
  • Be Different! | Theodora Papapanagiotou | Aug 3, 1500 GMT

and many, many more all the way till Aug 10!

Image attribution: Introducción al SEO para tiendas online en CAMON Alicante – Obra Social CAM by CAMON | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

E-moderating Reflections Week 2 | The curious thing about participation

I am currently attending an eight week long online course from the British Council on e-moderating, a prerequisite for becoming a blended instructor for one of their projects here in India. I have experience with teaching courses online although I haven’t ever used Moodle which is the platform both for the course I’m attending and any possible future blended courses I will teach through the BC. A non-assessed requirement of the course is to maintain weekly reflections and you’re allowed to do this in a range of formats including posting on your own blog. As I’ve been neglecting my blog of late, it’s only appropriate that I reflect here rather than elsewhere.

The course design has a little bit of a redundancy in that it requires participants to submit a Report of Work which asks you to report on specific assessment criteria providing evidence through URLs, screenshots etc. Despite the name, what it really works out to be is a sort of assessed reflection format. I don’t want to repeat myself so instead I’m going to choose one aspect that I touched on in my Report of Work and explore it further.

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Participation

We know there is such a thing as very little participation, and its impact on classroom dynamics and learning. But, what’s the impact of too much participation? And in the context of an online learning environment? Online learning environments supposedly support inhibited or weaker learners who might shy away from contributing much in a face to face learning environment unless they are working in pairs. However, even in pairs, there is the possibility of being dominated by a stronger learner. In theory, an online discussion forum levels the playing field a bit. There’s no question of turn-taking. You can take your time to formulate a contribution. It doesn’t matter much if you repeat ideas that have already been mentioned or it at least doesn’t seem as obvious as it would in a live conversation. And yet, I don’t believe that the effect of logging in and finding that the discussion forum is full of lengthy posts by just a couple of participants, is motivating.

Through this week, I contributed more than the average course participant (but by no means the most active) whether in discussion forums, synchronous chats and Wikis. I am left wondering whether I or any of the other more active course participants inadvertently disengaged our peers through misplaced effusiveness. While introductions are easy to contribute and comment on (“wow, you love gardening, me too!”), tasks that are associated with content pieces are more challenging to do so. When the cognitive load is already fairly high, it’s easy to get disheartened when it looks like the online party’s gotten started without you. So, you respond laconically to achieve the bare minimum criteria that’s expected of you. Tick in the box, yes. Genuine learning, no.

I’m concerned about what that might mean for my learners when I find myself moderating an online course. I wouldn’t want to put a damper on the zeal of the ‘enthu-cutlets’ as we call them in Indian English but merely (and privately) encouraging the more reticent participants or the ones with a pattern of perfunctory responses may not take care of the affective barrier of participants whose names are plastered over every forum, wiki, and activity and here’s the thing, those names and often verbose messages associated with them are omnipresent and everlasting each time anyone logs into the course.

A possible solution is to consciously partner more active participants with less active ones in tasks that compel the former to elicit and hear out the latter’s perspectives. Another solution could focus on building participants metacognition about interpersonal dynamics in online courses. I observed that I had a bias to having a ‘conversation’ with more active participants who had meatier responses in forums. In the coming week, each time I write a response in the discussion forum, I’m also going to try to respond to someone I would not normally engage in an asynchronous dialogue. The tricky bit is building this kind of awareness in learners.

Image attribution: LT – Presentations – Audience Participation by Matt Cornock | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0