Postmodern pedagogy


Browsing TEFL blogs and TEFL Facebook forums sometimes feels like a being a goose force-fed grain – there are just so many resources on-line.  Well-prepared lessons may  result (?)  but really, the choice is quite over-powering.  This is pedagogical pluralism to the nth degree. No single pedagogical ‘way’ dominates. All teachers can create lessons and share them on-line. This is postmodern pedagogy – homemade and contesting the domination of the big name publishers.  Materials may be locally designed to fit local context, and dialogically created between teachers and students  (“Dogme: nothing if not critical“. Thornbury, S).                                                                                        

    Take this gastronomic simile: The variety of TEFL entrées, main courses and desserts now available on-line is mouth-watering for any TEFL pedagogical glutton. Today’s EL teachers have more culinary delights at hand than ever to satisfy their students’ English language needs and appetites. Indeed, with such a range of EL lesson recipes teachers are spoilt for choice. What’ll be on the menu today? Which worksheets shall I download and devour?  But whilst each TEFL dish may be a delicacy to be savoured, the dining table is buckling under the weight.

   No other profession is quite like this. No other professionals, not even chefs, are quite so obsessive. Electricians do not upload myriads of ways to change plugs or light bulbs, nor do removal van loaders upload plans and techniques to transport furniture. In these professions you learn the job before you start or you learn on the job. Even more specialist/skilled professions can’t compete in terms of the quantity of websites devoted to English teaching materials and techniques.  Some ELT Facebook groups have tens of thousands of members!

   The impression one receives is of an obsession with pedagogy – and for the serious pedagogical geeks, pedagogical conference breaks are on offer, in teachers’ own times and at their own costs, to feed this obsession.  This is as serious an addiction as full-time gamers on their play stations and X-boxes. Evidently, TEFL teachers love their work – and that’s good for the TEFL business.

    Yes – TEFL is a multimillion dollar industry in which publishing companies certainly don’t miss out on their slice of the cake:  Marketing infuses the profession and new teachers quickly learn to love pedagogy; they’re taught to love pedagogy on their teacher training courses. These, in themselves, are not cheap, but once trained – new teachers also become major retail outlets for the ELT publishing market.

    Pedagogy rules OK.  Discuss in pairs and feedback. 

   Yet, there are many TEFL areas outside of pedagogy that also deserve an airing.  A restauranteur, to continue the simile, does not only discuss cooking.  What goes on in the kitchen is only a small part of the business.

   This is one reason I write this Postmodern blog – to explore other issues separate from pedagogy within the TEFL world. However, since it’s not pedagogical, it’s not highly successful in terms of readership. TEFL blog readers want pedagogy.

    No, I’m not against pedagogy. Not at all. I’ve had this obsession with pedagogy myself – giving my own money (through buying books), that I’ve earned through teaching, back into the ELT trade. And why not?  I’ve found pedagogy interesting, and surely – motivation for anyone to improve their teaching standards is highly applaudable, isn’t it?

    However, on the other hand, consider that most teachers with CELTAs and a few years experience are pretty capable at their jobs, especially if interested in continual personal development (CPD).  Do they really need to spend their hard-earned cash on deepening their pedagogical techniques – by buying the books or attending the annual conferences?  Sure, there’s always more to learn. But there’s also more to learn outside of pure pedagogy.

     Isn’t it strange that few language centre institutions actively encourage the pedagogically obsessive teachers in their quests for continual personal development (What’s that?). In that regard teachers are generally on their own, hoping their lessons will become more effective and their developing pedagogical skills will eventually lead to higher positions, maybe a DoS job with a higher salary.  However, the danger is that if such goals don’t arrive, pedagogical obsessions may burn out – and then language institutions stand and scratch their heads wondering whatever happened to their pedagogically obsessive teachers working hard to improve their teaching standards!

      Outside of pedagogy change is coming, but it’s slow. Few ELT websites step outside the box.  Check out this list of webinars run by the cream of the TEFL profession (click here or here) – all of which focus on pedagogy.  Good work, but come on guys it’s time to look outside the box – or have you been inside the box for so long that you now wear  only pedagogy-tinted glasses?

   Recently a “IATEFL BESIG symposium” webinar took place considering ‘Business English in the Era of Global English’ (see here). That was certainly a  step in the right direction. Placing feet outside of the pedagogical arena to raise questions relating to such global issues as human rights, sustainable development, social justice, cultural diversity etc. is underway.

     Admittedly, this webinar was under the rubric of helping “day-to-day teaching and training and professional development” (see here), but at least the content was steered to tackling 21st century affairs and examining the role of ELT within today’s global world.  The Global Interests sub-section of IATEFL (GESIG) has actually been around for quite awhile. Now  it’s going virtual to present and discuss these interests. Good for them. Time will tell whether this was a pioneering event or not.

   So – why this teacher training obsession with pedagogy? Pedagogues by name and pedagogues by nature?  OK. EFL teachers are always bound to be interested in teaching methods and approaches, but why is the lens focused so strongly on teaching practice and not onto the profession itself i.e. on the underlying ethos of its mission, on the guiding philosophies of those who steer the profession, or on the language training institutions themselves? 

    Isn’t it strange, I ask again, that language schools themselves get very little attention from the world of TEFL?  It’s like they’re outside of the pedagogical equation?  Pedagogical quality is the domain of teachers and the only time language school directors show an interest in this question is when the contracts are not being renewed, or are being lost to competitors. To quote a recent Facebook comment: “Pedagogical issues go straight over the heads of HR people I’m afraid“.  As previously stated (see mask metaphor blog here) it’s as if the teaching side and the administrative side of language schools operate on different planets

    Exceptions are few and far between. I give a big thumbs up to Ron Morrain for providing one exception to the rule.  His webinar explored his own personal case of setting up and running a successful language teaching company (see here).  That was very openhearted of him. But I won’t hold my breath waiting to see if more will follow.  Percentage wise, language schools administrators rarely exchange on-line with the social-networking world of TEFL teachers.  Like the debates into the research and practice divide within TEFL, a similar divide too often exists between administration and teaching.

   In all fairness, questions related to the business of TEFL are increasingly being asked – generally by those on the teaching side of the equation. This is a recent trend, although I have yet to see language schools respond in significant numbers. Are they even aware of such questioning?  As previously mentioned on a different blog page (see here) such organizations as TEFL equity advocates, TaWSIG, TEFL Guild and ELT advocacy are openly discussing these issues e.g. working rights for teachers and the status of non-native speakers. 

   Elsewhere, Julie Kacmaz (Heart ELT) is being pro-active and showing how TEFL can be a force for good. Her project to help the Syrian refugee children is producing results – and, importantly, it’s working as a collaborative effort.  There are enough TEFL teachers in the world to have a collective active voice and produce such positive results. The Heart ELT project is proving that. Perhaps in time more will follow.

   Yes, the tide is turning – even if it’s slow.  The little publicized, individual projects existing as small scale humanitarian affairs often struggle for resources – financial and educational. A personal contact of mine works in a little village in Cambodia, teaching children English and improving the village’s water supply system. It’s a little known project, outside of the TEFL spotlight. The pedagogy is fine, but support is lacking. This is where the collective, institutional world of TEFL could be more integrated into current issues of global importance.

    Meanwhile, language centres continue to escape the TEFL spotlight. Their activities continue,  regardless of changing TEFL tides.  Research into new pedagogical methods and approaches rarely touch their skins and, as we all know, too many of these outfits are run by ‘cowboys’ intent upon making quick bucks whilst paying teachers peanuts. This is where quality control and corporate responsibility needs to be applied to language centre institutions.  This is really the area to think outside the box. Apart from business survival, what other social/community roles could they be playing?  What positive effects on social change could they be having?  The on-line TEFL world should not be just about teaching teachers new ways to teach the present perfect. In general, they already know that and how many ways are there anyway to skin a present perfect cat?

  So – this blog is not to advocate a reduction of interest in pedagogy!

  This blog is to try and direct interest outside of pedagogy,

  This blog is a very small attempt to turn the TEFL spotlight elsewhere.

  This is Postmodern TEFL.

  There’s a slow train coming and it’s picking up speed.

 In my own small way, this is all I am trying to do on these blog postings:

 This is my contribution to – Postmodern TEFL.

 (Agree with the designation ‘Postmodern’ or not. That’s not so important).



Phil NEWMAN. 2016