Blog Post

Painting Pictures – Innovation sometimes takes a long time to come home

<![CDATA[In the last few months, and mainly thanks to social media like Facebook and Twitter, I have been meeting and interacting with a good number of colleagues about all things digital in general and foreign language education.

There is great excitement in the air about either integrating ICT into educational programmes or, "going all the way".

Pictures of another reality

I read colleagues tweets and blogposts with great interest. Reading them, you get the impression that they all work in environments where all this is possible:

The Institution

  • Has a budget which allows all this to be available in every class
  • Supports the training/retraining of the teachers
  • Has a system in place which encourages and motivates the teachers to introduce innovations into the programme
  • Pays the teachers well – teachers do not have to resort to extra private tutoring or other work to eke out a living
  • Uses materials which allow for a flexible syllabus and integration of ICT into the learning programme
The teachers
  • Are fully trained and qualified in the principles and practices of teaching foreign languages
  • Are familiar with the new literacies needed in order to put all this into practice
  • Are appropriately rewarded and have job satisfaction which does not only rely on a good remuneration
  • Are eager to continue developing as teachers
  • Are motivated and willing to put in the extra time it takes to continue developing
  • Are self driven and capable of continuing to develop independently

The classroom

  • There is a laptop for every student in every class
  • There is fast internet available – wired or wireless – available to all
  • There is a data-projector installed or a Smart Board for central projection of images, videos, etc.
  • There is central storage capability – a server – where students can leave, find, edit their own and each other’s work.
The Students
  • Are familiar with the new literacies assumed to be in place
  • Have their own PC or laptop at home
  • Have fast internet connections at home
  • Have a level of education that allows them to process instructions for new tools
  • Can understand instructions written in English
Pictures of my reality

I live in Greece and run teacher education centre in the capital. I feel privileged in that the teachers, administrators and directors of studies I get to know best are those who are, in fact, interested in teacher development.

But this is not the majority of the TEFL field locally. The vast majority of foreign language centres is run by teachers who are operating on a teaching licence which only requires them to have a Cambridge Proficiency in English or a Michigan equivalent. No TEFL training is required to set up or manage an institution and TEFL institutions can also be started and managed by entrepreneurs in totally unrelated fields.

This type of school owner/administrator/acting teacher is most often not familiar with TEFL courses available locally or worldwide. They have been doing very nicely, thank you, without them, and they are also not that keen on employing teachers who have such qualifications, simply because they feel threatened by them!

Just the other day, a teacher who recently obtained the CELTA Certificate from my institution reports that she was asked “What is this CELTA?” by a school administrator interviewing her in Athens!

Others report being hired and then being specifically told not to use any of that stuff they learnt on their course, “because it does not work”.

In this particular context, the major innovation at the moment are IWB’s but how they are used is a question I cannot answer. ELT publishers who have jumped on this particular bandwagon are making a mint by producing specific coursebook related software, which may or may not be pedagogically useful or suitable, but which is commonly addressed to the untrained teacher – of course, otherwise, they would not sell.

You may have guessed that the assumptions listed above are simply not part of the local reality. I cannot say whether this is due to poor pay, lack of education or an institution whose microclimate simply does not encourage teacher development.

The Paperless Classroom

Much of this post is inspired by Shelly Blake-Plock’s post on his TeachPaperless blog.  This is not to say I disagree with his 11 things. On the contrary, I do also believe that technology will not go away, in fact it is probably our future, that meeting strangers is a great thing, and that it is our role to be advocates, campaigners and promoters of, not just technology, but quality in education in general.

Yet I cannot help but feel that his thinking is based on the assumptions mentioned earlier on, which in my particular context just don’t check out!

Parents are in fact often an obstacle to innovative teaching methodologies – they haven’t experienced them and do not believe in them. Hence, they will reward and support institutions which make them feel comfortable and use the “old trusted methods”

There is a vicious circle in this which I am certain you can imagine and so I will not go on with it.

How can we change this picture?

I truly have no answer to this! I have battled all my life, often going against the current, and I think I have had some influence to the local learning context, but this is only at a small, often not influential, individual level.

This post is not intended to answer any questions or to suggest that we should not be excited by new developments.

You can call it a pet rant or a call from the hear but I would like to invite other members of my professional community (my PLN, as it were!) to respond by either contributing their own “Picture” of their local context, or by contributing ideas for a way out of this.

I would be happy to either publish or list any articles/posts that could develop or add to the picture.

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16 replies »

  1. I live in Argentina, where a small minority enjoy the benefits you describe on top of your article.
    I feel lucky I’ve always been surrounded by ESL teachers who have always been eager to improve themselves despite not being paid extra money for their professional growth, which should also be afforded by teachers. Of course, there are a lot of “so-called” ESL teachers who are not so but they teach English and from my humble opinion to struggle against this is a waste of energy. In the long run, the difference comes out and parents notice the difference when looking for ESL teachers for their children. What works best is parents’ recommendation so keeping up great work has the reward of beeing recommended.

  2. Dear Marisa,

    Once again, I would like to say that you did something great by starting this blog!

    With your list of ‘pictures of another reality’, you took me to another world where everything is more than perfect. In Turkey, the current situation is not promising. I think neither the system nor the school managers are ready for the change. I would like to give the link of an article I wrote by which I shared my concerns regarding this issue.
    http://burcuakyol.edublogs.org/2009/05/29/are-schools-ready-for-change/
    I would love to hear your ideas on that.

    All the best,

    Burcu

  3. Thank you for your comments and the pictures of other realities you have shown me.

    @Marisa Pavan – It is a great blessing to be in the company of like minded professionals. I have been equally fortunate myself and have always worked either for institutions which encouraged or demanded quality and promoted educational change. Similar problems seem to exist in Argentina though, as I see.

    @adhockley – Your post on inertia or caution at http://adhockley.wordpress.com/2009/07/26/inertia-or-caution/ is so related to mine and so much better written! I love the AKDAR model. As a teacher educator I feel responsible for the first four (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge and Ability) although your AKDAR addresses itself to the management of an educational insitution, I have a commitment to creating Desire for quality, development and change. It is the institution, however, which much provide the R (Reinforcement) . The pace is indeed dizzying but, sad to say, I don’t see many education managers (locally) trying to even cope with the effects of dizziness… They are very strangely absent from any of the debates that go on.

    @burkuayol – Your encouragement warms the heart!

    Your post (http://burcuakyol.edublogs.org/2009/05/29/are-schools-ready-for-change/ ) is just the kind of picture I have been talking about and is a case in point. It was the D (Desire) and the R (Reinforcement) in the equation of change that were probably missing! Often it is the setting up (obtaining agreement, involving teachers in the selection of content on INSET courses) and following up to attempts to educate and change that is not managed very well*.

    A side effect of this discussion: I am beginning to think that this may be a very good topic for me to present at the Annual Conference of Language School Owners in Greece which I have been invited to!

    *and that point refers to the minority of foreign language institutes which do offer teacher development opportunities to the teacher.

  4. Hi Marisa,
    Hope its OK to add a little to your picture of Greece – as a fellow ELTer here in Hellas (albeit in the North, in Thessaloniki)! Well, I guess after 15 years I have earned the right to comment : ) Good luck with that presentation at PALSO – as you said yourself, sometimes the only way to change things is being willing to swim against the tide when necessary. There are schools that are running on really sound principles and trying to bring the best to the students here in Greece and I am sure that yours is one of them – but as you point out, they are in the minority. So why is this so? For me the biggest problem with those private language schools that you refer to is that they see their school purely as a business venture (“to magazi mou”) which just happens to be an educational establishment. So from their point of view their aim is to locate the most cost-effective way of maximising the profit they get from each student – hiring a proficiency holder is cheaper, and I think it is the primary reason for doing so, as opposed to purely lack of knowledge regarding international EL training (although I agree with you that that plays an important role). The law allows it, so it is therefore justified in their eyes. Of course the threat of having someone more qualified is a factor too as you said, but I would argue that if DELTA and MA holders came at the same price as those with proficiency, many schools would jump at the chance to hire them because they could then use those qualifications as a marketing tool. Some already do right? But there are a couple of other issues arising which I think its important to point out. Greece, and many of the countries of south east Europe are under-resourced in terms of what is offered in state teacher training. The development opportunities you speak of which are so crucial to successful classrooms are a costly business. Teachers who can afford to train are the lucky few, and those who cannot are, in the main, not disinterested (in my experience the absolute opposite) but unable to access what *should* be rightfully theirs in a functional educational system. This situation is heightened by the credit crunch. This is a major obstacle and one that I think needs acknowledgment – particularly in Greece where the private sector props up the state sector in a way that arguably allows the state sector to relinquish responsibility to provide a decent education to its populace – including language training for young people and development opportunities for its language teachers. Greek parents spend a small fortune on private schools – there are strong arguments amongst political scientists that the economy could not survive without this employment sector and therefore the need is created and sustained indefinitely. But in the famous words of the wonderful song by the Specials “that doesn’t make it alright”. So, as a parenthesis to your points, how possible is it for things to really change while that is the basis for how education functions? And I say this as a general point as it is not something that only affects Greece. Would be interested to hear your views on this. Thanks for a really thoughtful post!

  5. Dear Sara,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and add to the picture.

    No, it doesn’t make it all right, truly it doesn’t.

    Do institutions jump at the opportunity to hire well qualified teachers because they come as cheap?

    Some do, and this is a very small but precious list of foreign language schools with DOS’s who regularly contact me (and I assume other similar institutions) when they are looking for new teachers.

    Do they appreciate the training of these teachers?

    Some do (the same ones). The rest would rather not know. Some of them are often outraged when a trained teacher even dares to ask if they might not be offered somewhat better pay because they are better qualified.

    Do they provide all a trained teacher needs to function reasonably well?

    I have heard ex-trainees reporting that they often pay for photocopies out of their own pocket because the institution won’t.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are worthy institutions where quality is both appreciated and supported.

    But the large majority just does not want to know.

    And what about the teachers themselves?

    Well, let’s not blame it all “on the bossa nova”….

    It does paint a rather dire landscape of the uninterested ruling the complacent, or vice versa… doesn’t it?

  6. Hi Marisa,
    Thanks for your reply. It seems we agree on a lot of things. We must meet for a F2F chat soon – next time you are up north or me down south! I’m not sure about the “disinterested ruling the complacent” metaphor though. There are examples of dynamic school owners and many examples of cutting edge teachers that defeat the generality of that model. I think its a question of putting the pieces together in the giant jigsaw puzzle that it Greek ELT and understanding how they fit together – that perhaps leads to more questions than answers but it is an attempt, which I think you will appreciate as a fellow thinker on these issues, to move away from overly simplistic analyses often encountered nowadays in chats within the field. What is more certain is that all the parts impact on each other and many of them lead back to one thing – making money now and continuing to make it into the future – perhaps at the expense of thorough pedagogy. That seems to be the “truth that dare not speak its name” around these parts – it is moved around, climbed over and generally circumvented as if it were invisible. So perhaps naming it clearly is a first step? The amount of money spent on language education and teacher development seems to support the idea it is a multi million euro game. Over the time I’ve been living in Greece I have heard so many voices arguing about the disinterst of teachers and their lack of enthusiasm about their own development – this is the reason, it is often cited, that the education system does not move forward – and it is only getting worse say the same people. I am always a bit stuck in these conversations as I find that the amount this is lamented is out of kilter with, for example, how the larger picture impacts in ways that I outline above i.e. the bigger educational landscape. I am sure you know what I am talking about. So, where possible, I try to bring those other points into the picture as I think they are important. I am pretty sure it is not, as it is often presented, purely a matter of individual teacher enthusiasm/motivation – and I am wary of strong arguments that suggest this is the only way of looking at things. As for what can be done about it – well that *is* a difficult question. Talking about and thinking about is a really important step as well as raising these issues in public forums such as yours with the school owners or on this blog. I say this as a teacher who spent many years paying for my own photocopies, resources books, teacher development and trying to make my lessons a nicer (and more thorough) place to be for the students when I worked in the private language school setting you describe – as I am sure you have. I am just not sure if the answer is for everyone to do what I did as I think there is or should be a better way and that is for these things to become a right rather than a choice upon which your dedication to the profession is assessed. Another way of looking at this is that the longer individual teachers shoulder this responsibility, the less likely it is that things will change – if each school has one teacher who fits that “dedicated” profile, then what is the motivation for them to change really if they can carry on making the same amount of money from it all as before?? Trying to clafiry what the issues are, though, is really helpful and important so thanks for your posting – and no need to apologise for the passion behind it – I *get* you completely and share many of your frustrations.

  7. Hi Sara,

    It seems that in the flurry of deleting posts I accidentally deleted my reply to your latest comment.

    I stand by my metaphor. I am fully aware of its harshness, but then I think you may not have had the extensive experience of visiting FL language schools in Greece that I have over the years in my capacity as tutor on various courses that the individual dedicated teacher has paid out of their own pocket.

    I am also in very close contact with those school owners/directors of studies who are striving for quality in their programmes. In fact, the blessing of my life is that I get to be close to those with the passion rather than to those without!

    But I have sat in the back of dinghy classrooms watching excited teachers try to teach well and to transmit their passion to their learners.

    And then, during the break, I have stood in dark hallways (because, of course there is no staffroom or resources room) trying to give a teacher feedback and have engaged in conversations with other teachers who looked upon me as the agent of all evil come to visit their patch, disrupting their peaceful existence, suggesting by my mere presence (and that of their colleague in training) that they might also need to change….

    I have not doubt that the pyramid will not work well without the managers being convinced and educated.

    The power to bring about large scale change does not lie with the teachers alone. And I do have feelings of sympathy for those teachers who resist – after all, why would they want to on an hourly rate of 8.50 gross.

    But there is always another side. 8.50 gross may sound like too little to some, but to me it can also be too much too!

    How can I not feel that when I hear people who pose as teachers and they cannot construct even a simple sentence in English without 3-4 mistakes?

    Who licenses them, who hires them, who allows this to go on is perhaps food for another post and another discussion, most probably on my blog which is writtern in Greek.

    May I invite you to follow?

  8. Thanks Marisa,
    We do have a different perspective on these areas you have raised it seems, but as you said, perhaps this is a discussion for another space so as not to digress too much from your original posting. I too have had much experience of frontisteria (private language schools) as well as the state sector and teachers from them, albeit in a different capacity, which I am happy to share with you if you would like to know more. I do have different views on how to interpret teacher resistance towards the “change” process. My only comment would be that perhaps you need to take into account the power position that you yourself are in in these settings and how it may impact on how those teachers react to you? Certainly teacher payment is a major factor in how much enthusiasm can be expected. I cannot really comment on your evaluation of some teacher’s “faulted” English as I don’t know what criteria you are measuring them against. Can you let me know where your Greek blog is and I will happily look it up. Thanks for the discussion. Kali synexia kai kali mera!

  9. Useful discussions were never created out of people always agreeing with each other and though praise may be music to one’s ears, it is the questioning voice that kickstarts us to get on and think things through.

  10. I think we’re seeing this “ideal world” out here because the people networking online are hardworking idealists and have learned to make a go of things. We’re pretty good at self-motivation.

    Starting out as an English teacher here in Germany in 1998, my experience was that if you were a native speaker with any kind of college degree and half a brain, you would be placed in a classroom that required great skill. Full stop. There was so much demand, and rates were so low, that being a curious individual thrown into teaching by my husband’s career move, and having more than enough of college, and keen to create a new professional career, I took the challenge. I started getting training from all sorts of places… including Berlitz, where I sat in with a bunch of cute youngsters fresh off the boat speaking Any English who surely got loads of MacJobs. I was the one eyed monster in the land of the blind. I signed up for everything, and did anything that wasn’t interfering with my mad teaching schedule. I got so much experience so fast that I never did get around to CELTA. Instead I did a course in Suggestopedia, and a suite of college teacher training seminars for EAP, and teaching technology courses, as the need arose, and joined a teachers’ organisation. And boom! I found myself teaching professionally.

    It’s been quite a ride at the rodeo. I always figure that those who don’t try as hard as we do will drop out. And those who love to ride – and shoot – the bull will probably all be on Twitter 😉

  11. Hi Anne and sorry for not responding to your post – have been working on full time courses and this was CELTA assessment week…. All finished today!!!!

    It’s interesting to read how different people have converged into EFL – but as you so rightly point out, who stays and who makes a worthwhile career out of it is another story.

    There is a special drive needed, isn’t there? And, yes, many of those who love to ride are indeed on Twitter, a great place to meet colleagues and make new friends.

  12. Joining the discussion, I work in Turkey and have many of the same sentiments you do about Greece. I can count the number of quality teachers I’ve seen in Turkey on one hand. I know of exactly 2 private courses in all of Turkey that have competent management and teachers actively interested in pursuing professional development, and I’ve seen a lot of schools in a lot of cities here.

    Besides just management and co-teacher issues, the students are also problematic. They come from educational backgrounds diametrically opposed to student-centered learning methods, there are social taboos related to making mistakes, and, for a number of reasons, student motivation has to come from largely extrinsic sources.

    I don’t think we will ever be able to stop the influx of terrible teachers joyriding around or wasting away in our respective countries. It’s just the nature of the business. I too have come face to face with so much active hostility directed towards even suggestions that, “you could just possibly, you know, without saying anything about your teaching, make some improvements.” It’s not that they’ve worked here for 5 years and I don’t value their experience. It’s just that they’ve never actually developed as a teacher and their students aren’t learning 🙂 😛 There are so many self-proclaimed expert teachers in Turkey with 5-plus years of experience who literally consider standing in front of the board and teaching grammar rules for an hour to be a lesson. I just finished up my sentence at the infamous English Time and 14 out of the 14 teachers I observed had TTT over 85%, never elicted, never did group work, and didn’t know what a CCQ was. Correcting the fossilized errors and getting back to the basics isn’t easy 😛

    Anywho, this is just ranting. What I really think needs to be done is to network with like-minded professionals as much as possible. Blogs and Twitter are two useful forums to make something like this possible rather easily.

    Suggestion 1: Schools need to be held accountable. Teachers blogging in a given country should create lists of quality institutions. Less reputable schools should be singled out and teachers should be warned off them. These lists should be made available to professional institutions and to as many students as possible. I hope to start something like this on my blog this month. If other bloggers follow suit, information on various schools can be shared and we can add each other’s info to the list on our own site. The question is how to get the schools to agree to outside observations. If it works, schools might be motivated to make improvements.

    Suggestion 2: Put info about bad schools on web forums for prospective students in the country in their own language.

    Suggestion 3: Connect with teachers working in countries with similar conditions and provide each other with ideas that are geared specifically towards problems we face in the classroom.

    Suggestion 4: Swim against the stream and demand professionalism at our own jobs. Some of us are already doing this and it’s not as easy as it sounds, but we can make a difference.

    I hope others have more ideas. I’m as constantly frustrated by this situation as the rest of you. I think dramatic change is unrealistic, but at least we can make some headway.

  13. Hi Nick and thanks for adding to the picture, although the one you are painting is not a very nice one either.

    I don’t think you are “ranting” although it may seem so to those indifferent to your concerns.

    I’ve had a look at your suggestions and, you know, although deep down I share your feelings, what you propose could land you in a lot of legal hassles!

    Calling an institution disreputable may seem an easy thing to do from the distance of a blog but I don’t think it’s such a great idea. I liked your idea of identifying and highlighting quality institutions but the reverse spells trouble.

    Networking seems to be already on your mind and I think it’s great to connect with other teachers, through blogging or on Twitter (are you on Twitter?) because promoting quality is a great way of encouraging even mediocre schools to attempt to improve their services to their students and working conditions for teachers.

    I have been swimming upstream all my life myself and I know how hard it is sometimes but change happens – not instantly – and being an agent of change, even in a small way is a great thing to do.

    So I would encourage you to keep your standards high, to tell all and sundry what quality teaching is all about and to network with like-minded professionals who can create a movement and a drive towards quality education.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and the readers of this blog.

  14. Definitely food for thought. I never looked at a legal angle on this. Do you really thinks it’s applicable? Blogs are more like forums and you can find plenty of negative info about a number of schools on blogs or various other sites. TEFLBlacklist comes to mind. Keep it professional and stick to the facts and I think it’d be alright. Perhaps it would be better to just endorse the quality schools. I’ll definitely have to research this a bit more before making a decision.

    Yes, I’m on Twitter – faust_0308. Quite the newbie though 🙂

    Thanks for the feedback.

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