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.


  1. Hi Ed,

    Sorry for the late comment - note to self: comment on blogs when first reading them rather than leaving it till later!

    Even since my post and the comments of the ELT community, I keep pondering this one. On the one hand, specialisation can lead you down a narrow path away from the broad realities of classroom life; on the other one, without choosing a focus it seems we end up treading water.

    I can't help but feel that many 'specialists' seem to have become so by chance as much as anything else. I don't mean by luck of course but rather while wandering the meandery path that sprawls across the world of ELT, an opportunity or a set of circumstances found/pushed/pulled them and so it began...

    Thanks for the comments regarding my blog as well. However, I still regardt as a random collection of reflective ramblings rather than part of a 'brand' :)

  2. I will not refer to you as Dave ' the brand' Dodgson anymore, :O)
    I was drawn to this
    earlier, and thought I would share.

    I agree that somethings are chance, but I have never been much of a destiny fan. I wish, although acknowledge its futility, to create my own path. I guess it's the affordances of the ecology, again.

  3. Hi Edd,
    I think that without looking for it, without moving ahead, without trying, we cannot find our real vocation, our satisfaction from what we do.
    I hope and wish that the specialisation will help you to become the professional you would like to be.
    It would be great if you can find a time to teach as well because you are really an amasing teacher!
    Good Luck!

  4. Alex, thanks for those kind words. I am flattered! I am very satisfied in my work, both as a teacher and a teacher educator, and all the other hats I want to wear. The experience nourishes. Do you think accountants suffer the same need to specialise and have existential crises?
    I agree with the learning by doing thing completely, but I just like to have a little move governance over my life!!