Decentralised Teaching and Learning

“Not all who wander are lost”. J R R Tolkien

The ‘V’ Moment!

The best horror film of my youth

‘V’ was a science fiction thriller first shown back in 1983. I remember being glued to the tv and everyone talking about it at school the next day. The plot involved  a group of aliens coming to Earth (the Visitors) and befriending human society.

For its time it was exceptionally well-done – the aliens spoke in this weirdly distorted way, and there were ray guns and alien motherships. At first the Visitors came ‘in peace’ but soon their true motives were revealed. One of the highlights of the series was when one of the aliens – Diana – peels back the skin on her face to reveal….a lizard!

V mask

Diana, the leader of the Visitors also eats a guinea pig in one episode. Go to 2 minutes in the above clip. I know it looks cheesy now but I saw this in 1983 and it was terrifying!

So the ‘V’ moment is when the hidden truth of something is revealed!

English language teaching and ‘V’

Fast-forward a number of years to my initial teacher training, a CELTA course deep in (then) Eastern Europe. Our tutors were excellent, the way they presented the material was learner-centred, the course was experiential and the learners were so enthusiastic! I really felt that my “CELTA-lessons” were what I’d be delivering in my future ELT careeer to the wild applause of devoted learners…

How wrong can you be?

A few weeks later I was ‘teaching’ Market Leader to a group of middle managers in a Polish tyre factory. I was not an excellent teacher, the lessons were not learner-centred and the learners were not as enthusiastic…this was my first ‘V’ moment!

sad clown

Some years later…

I completed my Trinity Diploma Teaching Practice and exam in Barcelona. The course was well organised, the tutors were great, the course really sharpened my skills and I felt a new burst of confidence. No more ‘V’ moments for me, only TEFL’s greener, higher pastures…

So I carted myself off to the sunny shores of Saudi Arabia and into a whirlwind of chaos.

Let’s just say my institution had problems.  The kind of problems you just can’t solve when no one knows what they’re doing. And while I really liked my learners I never had one class where all of them present with the magic three ingredients – book, pen and paper. Only mobile phones were obligatory it seemed. We were also chained to a centralised coursebook, syllabus and cycle of testing that made life unbearable for teachers and learners alike.

I remember one occasion when all the cleaners were sacked by the management for some unknown reason. We then had one whole week of wading through piles of rubbish strewn along the corridors to get to our classrooms. I really came to admire the stoicism of the Egyptian teachers I shared a staffroom with – ‘At least they pay on time!

What I’ve experienced is that the time when you’re learning how to teach (on CELTA, Diploma courses) is wonderful but is often disconnected from your future working reality. So I have some criticisms.

Namely, why teach task-based lessons on a CELTA or Dip course (with an accompanying 20 page lesson plan) when you will almost never do this in your working life? For most teachers starting out, ‘exploiting the coursebook’  is a challenge they would definitely have to face, and knowing how to evaluate published materials would perhaps be more useful.

Additionally, teacher qualifications in ELT seem to be based on teaching to a generic Adult ‘General English Learner’, whereas the General English Market seems to be shrinking dramatically.

Moreover, taking an written exam where rules for verb grammar are tested would seem to be somewhat anachronistic. Something more useful might be knowledge of Testing and Assessment which is something almost all teachers meet in their working lives. I believe that the syllabus I went through, the Trinity TESOL diploma, needs updating to take account of the new teaching reality.

Also, one point which I have tried to emphasise through this blog is that syllabus and task design should be core competences of teachers. In ELT training courses all the attention is on lesson design, whereas the micro (task/ activity design) and macro (syllabus design) are virtually ignored. I don’t believe this provides teachers with the skills they will need in the future, as more and more teaching situations (EAP, Business English, CLIL) require teachers to come up with a syllabus, implement it and test learners on it.

Finally,  Divorced Praxis – a teaching reality which is divorced from pedagogical theory results in a constant cycle of Deskilling and Reskilling. I gain the skills I need to do my job effectively, and then these are worn away by years of non-practice – or just never used!


Of course, there is always a gap between what you are trained to do and the reality of a job. But with ELT, I feel like it’s a chasm. That’s part of the reasons I started this experiment, because I wanted some kind of change in my own teaching, but also in the wider industry.

Moreover, whenever teachers do complain they’re hit with the ‘Don’t bash schools’ rhetoric. But saying ‘Don’t bash schools’ is nothing more than a rhetorical flourish. It’s not a logical argument. Of course teachers do sometimes make unfounded accusations, but most teachers I’ve met just suffer in (relative) silence and move on to the next job.

That’s why I feel that teachers and teaching associations should take more of an active role in lobbying for change in the industry. So here is one proposal:

Why can’t there be a ‘Teachers as Workers’ SIG in IATEFL that represents the interests of teachers as employed international workers?

One idea might be that teachers could crowdsource a list of basic employment conditions they expect in a decent employer – a Decentralised working contract. This could be produced under a Creative Commons licence and become a benchmark (for at least a group of schools who agree to sign up to it). This could be an attractive marketing tool for those schools who sign up and a signal of quality to potential teachers.

Or is this pie in the sky? What are your thoughts….

Final question

So what’s your ‘V’ moment?


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This entry was posted on March 24, 2014 by in For Teachers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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