Readers of this post might at first be expecting something along the lines of a discussion about Dogme ELT or the recent (highly recommended, I must say) publication from Thornbury and Meddings titled Teaching Unplugged.
While acknowledging Thornbury, Meddings, Dogme practioners and the "teaching unplugged" movement in general as a valuable source of inspiration in the way I've come to perceive and question English language teaching, this post is more about extending the "unplugged" idea much further. In many ways it feels like a natural extension of some of my recent thinking about where some of us are at and where we might think about going and growing in future.
Here are just a couple of questions I've recently begun asking myself...
1. Why do a DELTA or MA TESOL?
They're a dime a dozen these days, they cost a fortune to do, and they're a leg up in the industry only so long as you realise and accept every other teacher of English out there feels the same way and is looking to do one of these qualifications.
If it's genuine teaching development you're after, and you're motivated, I think starting your own blog, getting active with the wider ELT blogosphere, and using this as a sounding board for your own experimentation and reading is as good if not actually better than the traditional DELTA/MA route. Actually, this sort of activity is a very good example of TEFLers actually unschooling.
If it's the piece of paper itself, why not do an MA in a different discipline? Most contexts ask for MA-holders more often than they actually ask for MA TESOL holders. You could use your MA to pursue new or old interests, and with the whole CLIL/ESP/EAP thing taking over ELT these days, there are plenty of opportunities for your new study to cross over and create valuable input into your language teaching role.
And heck, getting qualifications in a different field could even help you get out of what is possibly one of the most under-rated and under-paid 'professional' vocations on the planet... If you ever lose the passion or actually need to raise and support a family, that is.
2. Why go chasing the major publishers to get your work in print?
You love to write. You've got great teaching ideas based on rich experience. You're keen to innovate.
If you're in this frame of mind, going to major publishers with material you've made could be one of the most frustrating and disappointing experiences possible. Even if you do manage to slip a foot through the door, it's not likely to be making the prints you'd imagined or hoped for.
So why even go there (to the major publishers, that is) at all?
Make a website and a blog, start distributing your own stuff, and eventually consider charging for access to it. Schools and teachers will actually pay for genuinely good material, if the pricing is reasonable, and it is amazing how reasonable pricing can become when it's based on online distribution and doesn't involve publishers' dicing and pie-splitting when it comes to costs and royalties. Others stick to making everything absolutely free, and try their best to make some cash from advertising.
Funnily enough, this method can actually bring major publishers knocking on your door, too!
Make sure you wait six months before replying to them, and begin that email with an apology about how busy you've been. :-)
But more to the point, customised material delivered online is the way of the (near) future, and to me it represents the only real option for genuine variety and innovation. The great thing about all this is that it is something that teachers can do almost entirely on their own, and they could be doing it now.
3. Why do so much "direct" teaching in classrooms?
In the past, language teaching was pretty much formed around the idea that:
1. Students have no knowledge of the language they are learning, and cannot access such knowledge
2. The coursebook and the teacher are the only avenues to legitimate content and ways to understand and use it
Did I say the past? Times have definitely changed in terms of where the students are at (or could be at), but it's surprising or unsurprising to see how static the teacher side of the equation has remained.
With the Internet, there is so much genuine content and detailed guides to learning and practising English, one really ought to wonder why there is any need at all for teachers to do so much direct instruction and explanation during classroom time. Even coursebooks themselves have become so standardised and simplified that, technically speaking, students can use them as Teach Yourself English guidebooks (Darren Elliott and I proved this in recent blog posts!).
Even on the "live in the room person to person" Q&A front, it is very rare indeed that every learner gets to ask their question (much less get a thorough and comprehensible response!). At least with online resources and super student-friendly coursebooks, students can view rules and tips and explanations according to their own schedule, digest them at their own pace, and re-schedule and re-digest them as often as they personally see fit.
I think the real challenge for teachers now is to help learners access and make best use of the enormous web of resources available to them outside the classroom proper, and dedicate much more of the classroom time itself to really using the language and reflecting on some of its finer points - in a genuinely social (rather than academic) setting.
I do apologise if this offends anyone... but I think if you are teaching in a context that has Internet access and still feel the need to spend 25 minutes explaining present perfect with elaborate examples, then you are a nothing short of a time-waster!
4. Why make such a big fuss about ELT conferences?
I just deleted a whole paragraph here, because I thought it might just cause arguments and detract from the overall spirit of this post... but anyway: do we really need ELT conferences anymore?
Conferences are also potentially a relic of the pre-Internet and pre-Web2.0 ages, don't you think? A great place to socialise, check out coursebooks, check out coursebook writers, and do some general ELT celebrity spotting, but I think increasingly less relevant (and with less resonance) now that teachers have other, more powerful and more instant, means to get together and share ideas.
Well, there are just a couple of potential "unplug thyself" ideas - can you think of any others?