Thursday, June 30, 2011

My TEFL existential Identity crisis

Over recent weeks there has been a thread picked up on by David Dogson, Isil Boy and my other colleagues at the University of Manchester, that of having a ten years in ELT crisis. This is not a new phenomenon, and has been reported, though I can't find the reference right now, (help please!?). David and I share among other things, the MA, beard wearing, a similar age, and length of time in the TEFL field. His “being a reflective teacher is good enough” rings in my ears still as an almost axiom-like statement of the times. Yet I see him as being more than just that. He has more than 'reflective teacher' labels associated with 'his online brand': he's that great guy with the beard, and the nice blog. Yes, that one. I wonder how I am constructed in the minds of others, what labels I am associated with. Perhaps I am suffering from web traffic envy. Not that how other people construct me is the be and end all, I need to know and be true to 'me' too.

Apart from the problem of wanting to be seen to be something. Another issue is that I am interested in sooo many things linked to our profession. I feel like my crisis is a bit about having too much choice. I want to do educational psychology, intercultural stuff, educational technology stuff, teacher educate, and so on. I want to be special.

Another problem is that it doesn't appear clear if the risk of specialising is worth it. I don't know how TEFL's big names achieved their successes, and knowing this might ease my mind. I don't have a mentor, so rely on spurious facts gained from biographys in book introductions and the like. From this I sometimes am able to get a fix on how they have managed their careers. I wonder how they dealt with financial, personal, existential, and motivational issues in their careers. Evolving as a professional is important to me, but I wonder at what cost this will come at.

Equally I feel my recent unemployed circumstances haven't helped this and have left me in the doldrums slightly. At the same time this period afforded me plenty of time for reading and reflection on my MA module on the education of language teachers module. This time and reading enabled me to pursue this specialisation. I have had a good few months in this respect with presentations for educators at ISTEK, Istanbul, online on the virtual round table, at ATEL's 14th ELT conference, Beirut. I go back to Lebanon next week for a week's teacher training work and have some work at the university of Manchester with some Chinese teachers too. This is all great, and a sign that my 'public' emergence as a teacher-educator is under way.

This idea of specialisation came out of a discussion with a very experienced EFL and management-head in Damascus. He was saying that the best thing he did was specialise. For him, this meant a move away from straight up EFL teaching, and towards business English. This was in the 1970s when ESP of any kind was perhaps fairly novel. From this he became one of the best, one of a few 'go to people', called in when they (clients, BC, IH, whoever) need a specialist ELT and management. I quite want to find myself in a position like this.

I feel reassured by Gary's comments on my previous post, his re-framing of specialisation to specialisations is helpful. The idea that a number of incarnations are possible is a hopeful one. This leaves open the door to me being a teacher educator, and an inter-cultural guy, and, and, and over the next 30-40 years of work. It's a relief to know that I don't have to choose a thing and stick with it, at least. On the other hand each specialisation involves just that, and becoming a highly knowledgeable, go-to person involves lots of graft, reflection, practice and time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Not a gay girl in Damascus

It is a good feeling to have left. I feel relieved, even the nights before going to the airpot I was still nervous about potential stresses that I may encounter leaving and had been having bad dreams about being strip searched, wholey unpleasant. I guess this was my unconscious playing out much of the paranoia that comes when you live in a state, on security lock down.

Damascus, especially downtown where we lived, remained largely 'free' from the "anti". Pro-Assad moving demos littered Damascus over many evenings at the start of the 'reported disturbances' and more recently began again with renewed gusto. None of these manifestations seemed threataning nor the security response, but the reported crowd control tactics of the goverment forces made me not want to be anywhere near any large gathering.

My paranoia is, I think, easy to understand. The internet was messed around with, was up and down like pants in a swimming pool changing room. Sites like twitter, facebook and youtube seemed to be the most effected. This combined with travel advice that we shouldn't leave the city, as it wasn't safe, and the (self-imposed) Friday afternoon curfew meant freedom of movement was curtailed. We saw the army and plain clothes mahrabat, or others preparing for their Friday trips out, all excitied like school boys on a school trip, banging their maces / battons into their, sometimes gloved, hands.

We didn't know any locals well enough to expect much opinion other than an expression of reverence for Bashar alAssad. There were a handful of people who understood that I was no threat, and shared something alternative to this. Anyway, in this context where there was a lack of reliable information, I was uncertain of trusting western media as they weren't in the country, or the state's offering, this meant clouds of uncertainty hung. The cumulative effect was fogging and suffocating. I didn't know nuffink. I couldn't go nowhere, outside downtown Damas. We woz a bit trapped. But it was a nice trap, I liked Syrian people, the warm weather, playing rugby, starting to learn arabic, the cost of food and living (rent aside) was cheap.

Back in blighty now, doing the family tour. More on Syria, my TEFLer existential crisis, and the UK soon. I am a slightly unwell, straight, thirty-something man in Sussex, not a gay girl in Damascus.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A map , Manchester and permanent BETA

Manchester isn't home for me, but I will feel a bit like I have gone somewhere close to home this summer when I set foot on the hallowed turf of their campus for the first time (since visiting mates as an undergraduate). Strangely, I have been studying 'at' the university of Manchester for the last two years linked only by a VPN (virtual private network), and a series of web interfaces. This VPN has many benefits including enabling me to access a lot of articles, and other texts via the John Rylands library server. I can also watch Eastenders and skip round access issues with blogspot addresses here. What is strange here is that without the VPN I can post to my blog (as the address is but not view my blog (at the blogspot address). Due to the slow web speeds here using the VPN is problematic, and like most of the world I 'suffer' from a lack of connectivity, thus I cannot actually view this, my own blog very often. Your comments get mailed, so please feel free, I will make the effort to get back to you when I am in a place with access.

My studies have been situated in Bulgaria, Switzerland, Mauritius, Lebanon, and Syria and the VPN has been like an anchor chain, keeping my thinking moored in the academy. Each module has been different but most of the communicating I have done has been asynchronous, but there have been occasional adobe breeze (web conferencing software) sessions where I saw a few moving faces. I have met, face to face, just a handful of course mates, and tutors including the i-Boy, the dodgester, and Dr Fry. Of course, I also feel a certain proximity to those I have interacted with virtually as well. This summer I look forward to meeting some more Manchester folks hopefully I will have a spark of research inspiration that will propel me, Olympian-like, towards a September 2012 finish.

As an aside, I am glad Manchester United got schooled by Barcelona, this should make the locals more tolerable, should I meet any who support United. I hope to do some schooling of myself as I learn more about working with teachers. I believe they are a group of Chinese English teachers. That is as much information as I have currently, still a while to go. Hopefully, I will play like Barca when the time comes and plan like Pepe Rena.

This experience with myself and Manchester has been great, I know my thinking about things education has changed, and my confidence is high. As a professional development junkie I know the good hits from the bad and this qualifies as some good stuff! Aside from affective factors I have become more aware of the industry that foreign language teaching is, the relationships between the academy, schools and so on.

Before the MA my topography of TEFL lands and sea was quite good, and like google maps I could go into more detail in some areas than others. Though my mapping isn't anywhere near complete (as an aside, incompleteness, and permanent BETA are concepts I have really taken on board over the last few years) I feel now I can zoom in on, and have street views, as well as having greater perceptual coverage then I had before. It is a tough time as I really need to specialise, both in my career and academically, and go beyond street view . To continue the metaphor I need to go macro, get microscopic and atomic views. The two areas that really stand out for me at the moment are teacher education, psychology and Inter-cultural stuff, but how many 'focus areas' is one allowed? Scott Thornbury has Dogme (a big thing), Gary Motteram has learning technology, and so on. I guess I think it may help to be known as that Dogme guy, that Tech guy, that X guy. Not only will this make me sound like a super hero, it will also stop me spreading myself to thinly, like the earth's crust.