Build an alternative to Harrogate 2010

From 7th April  till 11th April. Harrogate International Centre will be packed with TEFL “professionals” discussing how best to help students learn English, how teachers can work more effectively, how they can use new technologies to better effect. They will be talking about the “latest ideas” in the industry. What they will not be talking about, at least not in the main halls, is how this amazing superstructure of academic research, huge publishing sales, international conferences etc is supported by practitioners who are often paid little more than the minimum wage and, of course, students, who are being ripped-off by publishers and academies.. Business managers will be congratulating themselves on another year of “progress” in the industry, despite the challenge of the economic recession.

In no other low-paid industry would such a conference be thinkable. Maybe cleaning companies would talk about new products on the market or changes in legislation, but rank and file cleaners would not rub shoulders with the elites discussing how they could work more effectively to raise industry profit levels, give greater and greater levels of service and receive nothing in return. No, 44 years of IATEFL have been an exercise in self-deceit for language teachers: Maureen Ellis, Associate Lecturer at the Open University  (not your average TEFLer’s wage) says:

It’s time to acknowledge that teacher education courses, innocent of the power

and significance of language policy and the pernicious effects of English as a global

language (Skuttnabb-Kangas 2003), have not equipped our teachers with respect or

empathy for their multi-lingual students. Language practitioners today must realise

that the battles over global issues will be fought on the field of language as much as

anywhere. If we are to be critical global educators, such critical thinking will have to

begin with us and our use of this expertise of language on which we pride ourselves.

Such an agenda will enable educators in every discipline, to examine their role in the

current global crises: financial, military, economic, social or environmental.

And in concrete:

A mapping of our ELT processes and products onto the larger goals and perspective of

development, will also offer new synergies and lacunae for collaborative research.

Thus more research grants and book publishing for those who have already benefited from a corrupt industry to tell those of us, teachers, who have probably not benefited in any way, that we are responsible for this despicable industry.

It is staggering. It is arrogant. It is time to call an end to their self-righteous pronunciations. Around the blogosphere we are calling on people to join us in building an on-line Alternative TEFL Conference. A conference that addresses our agenda.



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5 responses to “Build an alternative to Harrogate 2010

  1. alexcase

    Before we can address our agenda, we need to know who “we” are

  2. It’s definitely an interesting idea, but the main weakness would be a lack of what exactly makes the other useless. Meaning a lack of funding. Take away the B.Coucil money, and Macmillan, Oxford et all…well, how would it be possible? Other than us poor saps footing the bill?

    Don’t mean to seem pessimistic? Just realistic?

  3. marxistelf

    Hi Troy,

    It’s okay to be pessimistic. As you say, it’s just being realistic. If we are to have any success, we must stay grounded.

    As the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, said:

    “Pessimism of the intellect, Optimism of the will”

    Of course we can only manage a symbolic on-line challenge to IATEFL. But we think a lot of material is already out there, and we just want to put out a blog bringing this material together for the Harrogate conference. Maybe organise a few “stunts” too to publicise our agenda, but again this later idea might be unrealistic.

    In forwarding this idea around select areas of the blogosphere, we are concentrating not only on articles putting forward a new agenda, but also video soap boxes, personal stories, songs, poems etc which highlight where the battle for real quality language teaching should take place.

    The blog should be a record of our disatisfaction with the industry and a statement for change. This is what makes it an alternative TEFL conference, not because it has “internationally renowned” speakers or glossy brochures but because teachers come together across the internet to say, “Enough is Enough” To send out a clear message that the industry is run for obscene profits by self-serving elites, that another world really is possible. And here we don’t refer to a utopian world but a guarantee for students that a qualified teacher on a decent living wage will help them to learn a language as quickly and as effectively as possible.

  4. Personal pet peeve of mine (well documented on my blog as well as comments I’ve left on others) is the absolute blind eye that is turned towards, or should I say away from, teacher teaching kids with absolutely no qualifications.

    Might be a nice challenge to some out there. Why is it that simple ‘good will’, to put it kindly, makes someone qualified to teach kids? Teachers with CELTAs and those with higher qualifications complain to the high heavens of the backpacker plague that lowers our wages, yet the elephant in the room seems to be those that teach kids yet have no qualifications whatsoever.

    There are even coursebooks out there geared towards this kind of teacher. Might be an interesting topic?

  5. marxistelf

    Hi Troy,
    Absolutely right, no self-respecting Alternative TEFL conference can ignore this question. It is an absolute scandal.
    How about doing a guest piece for us? We are particularly interested in how schools get away with this. After all adults are adults, but leaving vulnerable children with people who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing, what’s going on? Is it the power of the “native speaker” myth or is it simply childcare imperatives?
    The British Council (oft criticised in these pages) is quite good on these issues. They pay young learners’ teachers a special wage supplement and they have excellent support and libraries.

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