Susan Barduhn IATEFL 2013: exploring what moves expat language teachers

I first met *Susan Barduhn at the 2006 KOTESOL International Conference. When I saw her presentation, What Keeps Teachers Going? What Keeps Teachers Developing?, I was already saving up for my MA TESOL at The SIT Graduate Institute. Observing how she engaged the audience, I realized once again why I had to go to Vermont, USA.  Finally, in 2007, I sat in my first classroom with her. We sat in a circle, and she asked us questions. Once again, I was engaged.

This is what Susan does. She asks questions and engages learners to explore their beliefs and come to their own conclusions. And this is what she did for her plenary audience at IATEFL Liverpool. In her talk, Language Dealing, she helped us ponder the statement, ” ‘If English were a drug, expatriate teachers would be the dealers…’ Via metaphors of drugs, drug dealers, postmodern dance and medieval knights errant, she explores the identity and intentions of EFL teachers. Through her metaphorical speculations she suggests that the “phenomenon of expatriate English teachers could be considered a historical, cultural movement.”

Susan brought many interesting points and examples to the surface, including one where she compares expat EFL teachers to expat teachers of Mandarin. I found myself nodding in relief throughout her talk: relief in knowing that someone was speaking for the itinerant teacher; that someone was bringing more clarity to our story. But it was one point that really made an impact on me, and I’ll only focus on this discovery. I highly recommend watching her talk to get all the juicy details.

The Question

Is English really the drug, or is it something else? Is it pedagogy? Is it culture? Is it values?

This is what Susan wanted to find out when she interviewed 200 native and non-native speakers of English (must have lived in at least two countries outside their country of origin for  a total of 6 years). One of the questions she asked was, “What motivated you to live in each country?” This is what she discovered about why these teachers progressed through each country:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development
Expat English teachers delving into professional development: KELT-chat and KOTESOL

Then she asked us to look at the same answers like this:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development 

And so at the end of the talk, she posed a new question:

Could the drug actually be professional and personal development?

To this, a resounding “yes!” rang in my mind. It connected to one of my favorite posts by one of my favorite ELT bloggers, Laura Phelps: TEFLing at 35: a life gone right. In this post she expresses many reasons why she hopes she will still be teaching in different parts of the world by the time she’s 35, but this is the one I think speaks true for many teachers out there:

I want to be a 35 year-old who feels confident in the work I’ve chosen to pursue and who learns for the love of learning, not studies for the extra pound an hour. I want not to be freaked out by the prospect of no computers, no photocopier, no board, no books, no desks and no chairs. I want to keep those students in my life who make me cry with laughter, cry with despair, and open my eyes. I want to mentor and be mentored.

Over the past year — or maybe 18 months (see Things that may not have happened if I didn’t use twitter for an exploration of personal and professional development by expat in Korea, Alex Walsh) — I have observed and been involved in amazing organizations and loose collectives of professional development: iTDi, KELTchat, AusELT, KOTESOL and ELTchat to only name a few. I have been reading incredible blogs by teachers who are diving deep into their teaching world. Choose any of the blogs on the write-hand side of this page find and you’ll find their stories.

Who are these teachers? Most of them are exactly who Susan describes.

I am extremely grateful to Susan for doing this research and for presenting it to us in this way. I very much look forward to learning what else she finds out about this identity group.

-For a summary of Susan Bardhun’s IATEFL plenary please visit Chia Suan Chong’s post written live from the talk.

* Susan is a Professor and the Academic Chair of the MA TESOL Low Residency Program at The SIT Graduate Institute. Watch her IATEFL  interview to learn more about the program.

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The Vulnerability of Failing: IATEFL 2013 Failure Fest

IATEFL Failure Fest: how is failure a better teacher than success?

When I first heard that Ken Wilson was going to lead a session on failure at IATEFL Liverpool, I was intrigued, but mostly I was grateful. I imagined the Failure Fest as a space for reality checks, healing, and great learning for ELT professionals. Sophia Khan wrote about this beautifully in her debut blog post, Why We Should Celebrate Failure Fest,

what I like about Failure Fest is that it says: “I am human, just like you”. It focuses on our similarities rather than our differences. Finding a shared emotional experience creates a sense of solidarity, mutuality and possibility. Because we are alike – human – I can learn from your mistakes – and your achievements – as if they were my own. What is possible for you is also possible for me. No matter how qualified or experienced you are, we are more alike than different. Think about it: have you ever had a worry, feelings of self-doubt, anxiety about what the right thing to do is – then you find that someone has gone through, or is going through, the same thing as you? It is such a blessed, wonderful relief to know that you are not alone, even if you still don’t have all the answers.

And this sense of relief is what we all felt during the fest. The relief was expressed through having a bit of fun (Caroline Moore‘s punctual cow bell and Ken’s witty introductions), and through the presenters’ ability to show their vulnerability.

What struck me about each of these engaging storytellers (Ken Wilson, Bethany Cagnol, Chia Suan Chong, Andy Cowle, Herbert Puchta, Jeremy Harmer, Rakesh Bhanot, Valeria Franca, Willy Cardoso) was the fact that they were all able to laugh at their failures. However, among the laughter, each presenter also expressed a sense of discomfort that came along with the initial moment of failure — or as Kathryn Schulz described during her TED Talk, On Being Wrong, how it feels to realize that moment of failure. Jeremy Harmer embarrassingly admitted that the first thing he had ever taught a student was to describe his “big, red, bushy beard.” Chia Suan Chong talked about how she cried after the miscommunication with a German bus driver. Valeria Franca described the dread of seeing little Luciana come up to her after her revamped English lesson on clothing. Bethany Cagnol shared the devastation she felt after being fired for having fun with her students.

“embracing our fallibility”

For many of us, the laughter doesn’t usually come immediately after these moments. It may come years after and for some people it may never come. There is something safe about hiding in the belief that we shouldn’t make mistakes:

“We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” – Brené Brown

I think one of my biggest failures has been holding on to this idea of perfection. I used to work late hours planning the “perfect” lesson, and on a few occasions I even broke down crying after class, realizing I had answered a question “wrong”. “I’m a trainer dammit! I *should know these things!” Although I may not be in a space where I can laugh at this failure, I feel a great sense of lightness at being able to admit it. And I know I am able to express this thanks the Failure Fest and also thanks to what teachers have been writing about failure over the past few weeks (Kevin Stein, As many flavors of failure…; Chris Wilson, Failing at Modal verbs).

The Journey of Failure

An old post of mine, The Teacher as the Archetypal Student, came to my attention the night of the Failure Fest when a new reader left a comment. I hadn’t read this post in years (written on September 11, 2010). Although my post doesn’t directly express my concern about failing, this reader saw it clearly:

I think it is the responsibility of the teacher to show her students that it is okay to make mistakes. Students can learn more from a teacher who allows herself to be vulnerable in front of her students, rather than an obviously flawed person who pretends to be perfect. Students will respect a teacher who openly admits her faults or knowledge gaps. When a teacher does this, learning can become a journey that the teacher and student go on together.

And so I thank Ken Wilson and Caroline Moore for providing a space to the world of ELT to embark on this journey of seeing the light between the cracks of failure. I also have great gratitude for all the presenters for sharing their light.

Willy Cardoso left us a wonderful quote to keep us pondering along this journey of embracing failure:

It is this great struggle, to choose between having a lot of freedom and having a lot of stability that makes us people. (…) And when you believe you can achieve both, it’s probably the beginning of a failure story…which is inevitable. You have to choose one when you know you won’t have much of the other. (…) I’m not likely to go about cycling on busy roads ever again because I don’t want to run the risk of falling, although I know it would give me a great sense of freedom. So in this regard I choose stability over freedom. In love, on the other hand, I will always be willing to fall.

In teaching and in learning, what is this love you are willing to fall for?

 

Smart Phones in School – inspired by an IATEFL post

This essay was written by Lee Yeongheon, a middle school English teacher who teaches in Ulsan, South Korea. She was inspired to write this after I asked her and other course participants questions for this post, Got Bandwidth? @IATEFL 2012. Yeongheon and I are excited to share this with you, and look forward to your comments and feedback.

Continue reading “Smart Phones in School – inspired by an IATEFL post”

Linking Experiences: How We Learn to Teach

What do Penny Ur, Willy Cardoso, and James E. Zull have in common? They all presented at the 2012 IATEFL Conference, and they all referenced the connection between reflecting on experience and learning.

If you know me, or my blog, you know that I’m quite passionate about the subject of reflective teaching. I’ve done a few presentations/workshops on the subject, and will soon be doing another at the KOTESOL Reflective Practice Symposium in Busan on April 21. I’m very excited about this, especially since I’ll be in the good company of friend and reflective practitioner, Michael Griffin.

This shameless plug is simply to say that when I saw these three speakers on Glasgow IATEFL Online, my mind quickly made links to how their individual takes on teaching and learning connected to my understanding of the experiential learning cycle and reflective practice. Here are the links I noticed.

Continue reading “Linking Experiences: How We Learn to Teach”

Got Bandwidth? @IATEFL 2012

After perusing the inspiring IATEFL Conference 2012 video interviews and the various registered bloggers, it became clear to me that something is missing from my dialogue with the in-service teachers in our training program: technology. Watching Nik Peachey‘s interview prompted me to start the discussion.

In his interview with Rob Lewis, Nik describes what he thinks schools should look like:

“Schools would do much better investing in good wireless, broadband connectivity, and make the whole school a kind of learning zone so that any student coming in with any mobile device can get connected and find useful materials that they can learn from”

Continue reading “Got Bandwidth? @IATEFL 2012”