Showing posts with label tefl. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tefl. Show all posts

Monday, May 7, 2018

Doing a part-time Master's from Taiwan

I'm having trouble reading this - 朝山?潮汕?Is that a radical or a design element?

So, my first full term at Exeter is finished, grades are in, and I'll just say I'm quite happy.

It's important to me to write about professional development - after all, I'm interested in Taiwan for personal reasons, but my actual profession isn't related to Taiwan Studies, affairs, policy, any of it, and although I know there are others here who take TESOL seriously, it's hard to see that just looking online. Besides, people have asked. There aren't a lot of professional development opportunities locally, so for those who are actually serious about the profession I figure it'd be good to talk about what I've been up to.

I have less to say about this than I did about doing a CELTA (taking over a month away from Taiwan) and a modular Delta locally. I'm in the groove now - I know what I need to do and how to go about it, and there's less initial confusion and stress. So, it just feels like "life" rather than "something worth writing about".

But, there are a few things worth saying:

A bit about my program

I'm enrolled in the MEd Summer Intensive TESOL program at Exeter: it's the only highly-ranked school I could find that had a program quite like this - I've written about this issue before. It's not a "distance learning" program: you take your classes face-to-face over the summer, and then go back to wherever you live to write your papers. This is enough for it to be considered fully face-to-face.

The same program is offered full-time, and the summer program tends to be attended by people like me: working professionals in the field looking to level up (I have heard that the full-time program skews quite a bit younger.) Most of my classmates are non-native speakers, which I appreciate, and the entry requirements are stringent enough (though, to be honest, I did not fear that I'd be rejected.)

The main issue was finding relevant literature - in general:

There is just not a lot of TESOL literature available in Taiwan. Caves has a modest selection, I haven't yet figured out if I can use an interlibrary loan system here and, given that the best university doesn't offer my program, I'm not sure it would be fruitful to try. I can get most journal publications electronically, but it can be hard to access books, as many relevant titles aren't available in digital copies (when one is available, it's usually offered in a read-online format through the Exeter library).

I lucked out in terms of having access to a large library of relevant titles through a helpful classmate, but if I hadn't made that connection, I might have spent thousands more just on books.

...and relevant to my context

Because this is a Master of Education program, and not a Master of Arts, it is very much tied to one's teaching context. You can't write abstractly: you have to find real teaching situations, evaluate them, and often propose your own output or adaptations for use in these real-world contexts. I appreciate that - it's relevant, not too up-in-the-clouds - but to ground your ideas in principled pedagogy and relevant literature, you need such literature about said contexts. And there just...isn't a lot. There are TESOL and AppLing researchers publishing research from Taiwan, some of which is crap and some of which is fine - but there's just not enough of it. In the field, Taiwan simply does not represent very well.

It can be a bit lonely

I did Delta with Brendan - we had each other to talk through the hard parts, read each others' work, make each other dinner and talk each other down from stressful moments. I also had a local tutor for the most difficult module, which helped a lot.

On the Master's, although one of my classmates is Taiwanese and we've become good friends, I don't see her often as she lives in Hsinchu. Otherwise, it's just me...going it alone. I'm quite extroverted so all that time stuck in books or behind a computer screen, without other people doing the same thing, got a little lonely. I started feeling a bit like a slug - not enough exercise. I felt trapped indoors on beautiful days. Finding friends working on their own stuff to be around and choosing outdoor cafes on occasion helped, but frankly, you're sort of on your own.

There's not a lot of local support

To be blunt, Taiwan does not seem to value qualified English teachers. It can feel sometimes like nobody cares. I quit one of my (many) jobs in part over frustration with what I saw as academically-underqualified management, feeling as though, if I wasn't going to get support at work, where my degree would be immediately relevant, I would at least need time to finish my papers. My other workplaces were highly accommodating of my time needs and I'm thankful for that - those papers, man - but weren't resources in terms of discussing module content and writing.

I'd worked with highly qualified academic managers in the past, whom I would have happily gone to with questions or for advice, but that dried up. I got some very helpful support from the person I consider as a kind of mentor (thanks, yo), but he's busy with other things too.

I know there are other qualified people in Taiwan I could talk to, but I have found once you get to this level, you tend to be horribly busy (as I have been), and I feel as though there's no such thing as a truly helpful workplace in Taiwan. Not even necessarily the universities. I have to hope I'm wrong.

Yet I can't help but feel as though English teaching here suffers from the same blight as journalism: professionalism is just not valued. It's depressing. Come on, Taiwan.

The best part is the travel - the papers are...papers

Seriously - the classes are lectures, a bit long (three hours) but fun to attend. Otherwise, you are free to ramble about Exeter, although many students will spend time in the library looking through the physical collection to take notes, get ideas on what they might need, or scan relevant passages. First year students have to write a fairly simple formative essay and take study skills seminars - we'll see what it's like for second years - but otherwise, we could enjoy the town (quiet as it is). There was never a point when we were too busy to go to the pub or out for dinner, or to enjoy theater and other performances with our student discounts. In fact, people commented on my constant social media posts having fun with my classmates asking if I was actually doing any work (some).

And, of course, if you're already in England, you may as well poke about Europe...last year I went to Georgia, Armenia, Greece, Czechia, Hungary and Austria. This year I'll go to Portugal, Wales and Italy (and there is talk of a weekend trip to Spain.)

Then, the papers came. They're not easy - I mean, it's Master's level at a fairly prestigious university. I did very well but I had to work for it, and I felt like I spent most of January, February and March deep in a hole with only my computer screen for company.

There are no exams (yay!)

I always found this a bit odd about my friends' Master's programs. I thought exams were for college classes where you could assume the average to...let's say "differently motivated"... students couldn't write a decent paper (sorry if that sounds mean, but...) and if you were in a Master's program, especially in any kind of liberal arts or humanities field, you would certainly do away with the nonsense of timed exams and express your literature-grounded, principled and justified ideas in writing. Apparently - according to people I know - that's not always the case.

My program, however, has lots of paper writing but no exams. As, frankly, it should be.

Time can be an issue

I was lucky - as above, my various employers were very accommodating. I also took on a new teacher training role during this time, which I've been really getting into. It was a steep learning curve, though, so I found myself teaching my first teacher training course while finishing up my first paper, and not sleeping much at all. But, the job presented itself and I jumped on it, as I'd always wanted to do teacher training.

However, it's less clear that others doing this program would be so fortunate: I remember being dependent on an employer for a work visa, and I remember not having the power or resources to tell an employer to buzz off if they weren't accommodating. Most employers in Taiwan don't respect teachers' time - you're scheduled without being asked, pressured to work weekends or take classes you don't want, corralled into doing extra unpaid work (judging [ridiculous] speech contests, pointless paperwork, 'English corner' or whatever) and aren't even paid particularly well for the honor.

I could easily imagine someone without my resources - the experience of having done a Delta, the course exemptions from that Delta, accommodating employment, permanent residency, a persuasive resting bitch face* and a supportive husband - struggling to get all of the papers written.

Even I - a fully-resourced person - gave up my Lunar New Year to spend 6 straight days writing a paper on testing and assessment, with a cold so bad it bordered on the flu. I didn't have the time otherwise.

It's caused me to re-think similar programs in Taiwan.

Looking from the perspective of someone who had done a Delta, MA TESOL programs available in Taiwan didn't look particularly impressive. I didn't see how they actually trained one to be a good teacher (and I have been told that the MA Teaching Chinese programs tended to focus on the linguistics of Chinese rather than how to teach it).

But, I'm finding that's true with pretty much any Master's program. You get a lot of background in the field and a deeper theoretical and academic knowledge of it, but if you are looking to get better at classroom practice, they aren't going to do that. Period. No matter where you are. The academic knowledge is worthwhile, but it's best to know what you are signing up for. 

It's still absolutely worth it

Seriously, I'm lovin' it! I feel like I've found my superpower - a great hidden talent - writing academic papers that keep getting high marks. When you enter the field as an inexperienced nobody, as I did, and continue to work in it despite it being dismissed as "not a real job" by so many other expats (which I want to say is not fair, but so many "teachers" treat it as "not a real job" that I can't even blame the haters too much), there's always this desire to do something to set yourself apart as a real professional. Besides, although I don't write about it much, I do care about the field. I've toyed with starting an TEFL blog but Lao Ren Cha is enough for me, I'd rather write as a hobby and leave the work at work. Besides, it is interesting (to me) - I enjoy knowing enough about second language acquisition that I can shrug off all of the folk theories and pontificating. Leading TESOL training and developing future language teachers simultaneously really drives home that I do have a body of professional knowledge worth sharing. It's great.

I mean the papers can be torture, but also, it's great.

*no, seriously, sometimes you just gotta don the face and tell people how it's gonna be

Friday, November 24, 2017

Islands in the Stream: on a lack of mentoring in ELT in Taiwan

Just recently, an opportunity more or less fell in my lap.

Well, I say that as though it appeared out of nowhere with no work on my part, but that's not entirely true. As a result of completing a Cambridge Delta, I made useful connections in the professional teaching world in Taiwan: a network I wouldn't have been able to build if I hadn't put in that work and, I suppose, stood out while doing it. One of those people helped ensure we had access to the reading and sources we needed and has been a supportive person in the field since. He hasn't been the only supportive person, but he's certainly been the most supportive one. Hence, a chance to level up. Climb one ring higher on the professional ladder.

In other ways, I've had peers, trainers and other TEFL professionals - yes, it is a profession if you do it properly - who have been helpful or supportive. What I've learned on all of these qualification and degree courses, including in my current MEd program, have been useful and interesting and have helped me develop as a teacher, but arguably the biggest benefit has been connecting to this international network of professional teachers more as I progress professionally. This is true in any field - TEFL is no less different once you get out of the "fancy daycare" sewer end.

I have tried to pass that on as much as I am able, referring people I felt were talented, doing classroom observations and giving feedback, being a part of a group that meets to discuss TEFL-related issues and loaning out books from my now-considerable professional library. I hope to do more of it in the future.

But, I've been lucky. I was in a position where I was able to do the Delta and move on to the MEd (again, with support not just professionally but financially), and having the foothold to even do that can be an obstacle for many in Taiwan. Even so, despite my good luck, local support is minimal: a handful of dedicated people at best.

Yes, there are associations - well, there's one - and very few of the long-term professionals I know attend their events. I've been given several reasons for this which I won't repeat here.

In any case, associations aren't really the answer - what the TEFL world in Taiwan seems to lack is mentoring. 

Some could benefit from group or individual support when studying for Delta, as it can seem like an impossible feat. Some need the security of knowing there are people who can be their Delta tutors - but in Taiwan, the pool of qualified people is tiny, and most don't have the time (myself included - I'm not there yet but I will be soon, and I can only hope that at that point, I will have the time).

Some have trouble even accessing the readings they need for Delta and Master's programs - someone in Taiwan likely has the books they need, but it's hard to know who.

Some quite rightly want to find work that will help sponsor them for professional development, which is not impossible but certainly rare.

Some burn out as university teachers in an academic setting with little support, because the language department is so poorly run - low pay, purposeless meetings, large class sizes, with no incentive to publish nor many opportunities to collaborate with others on development, research or publication. There don't seem to be too many mentors there, either, nor much advice they can offer for dealing with such poor working conditions.

Some are talented but can't get their foot in the door at institutions that would value them because of bad timing and a lack of opportunities to demonstrate that talent.

The support I'm talking about doesn't have to be very high-level: it needn't be advanced degree holders working together or reaching out to bring others up. It could be peer-to-peer, with teachers working together within schools - yes, even buxibans - and finding, creating or referring opportunities to receive or provide training, observe each other for learning/feedback, design or improve a curriculum or syllabus or research or write. Yet not even that is always readily available. Not even the "fancy daycares" need to be the "sewer end" of the industry, and arguably would be far more pleasant places to work if there were more incentives to work together. It doesn't have to be as horrible as it is, and it should be easier to climb out and do better than $600/hour in an insecure job where educating the learners is not the chief priority.

All in all, people just don't seem to talk. The official learning and classwork inherent in professional development is important, but so is talking, and it's not happening. I know quite a few professionals in the field, and none so far has described to me a real mentoring experience they've had in Taiwan. Having that former Delta tutor who has passed opportunities my way - essentially a form of the mentorship I'm talking about - feels like a stroke of luck few others get in Taiwan.

I'm describing what I see in the foreign teaching community here, but I'm not sure it's much better in local circles. Certainly, local and foreign teaching circles don't overlap much, which is another problem. They can and should. Why they don't is beyond me, although I can't help but think we are actively disincentivized from creating such an environment.

Across the sea, I see a friend teaching at a university in Japan who goes to conferences across the country, has a strong professional network, is able to publish and attend conferences abroad, and is not only able to climb the ladder, but there is a ladder to climb. She has people to talk shop with, people to meet, avenues of collaboration.

I want that for Taiwan. While I know that anything that happens here will necessarily be smaller-scale, it's sad that it doesn't seem to exist much at all.

One problem is the difficulty in accessing the professional development training where one builds such networks. While arguably fair for a fresh college graduate to be earning NT$600 a month - this works out to about US$20/hour in a country that's cheaper to live in - it's not enough to save to go abroad to do training. There is little professional development available in Taiwan itself (yet).

Another is that the vast majority of English teachers in Taiwan are unqualified. A strong professional support network of mentors and mentees requires a mix of leaders and learners, and there are so few leaders in education in Taiwan. I can name maybe 20 whom I know personally in the foreign community outside of the international schools, and I'd imagine some out there whom I don't know - but the number is likely quite small. Many schools have teacher trainers, most of whom were given the job because they've been teaching a few years longer, nothing more. While there is value in this, teaching for a longer period of time doesn't necessarily make one a better teacher (though it helps) or necessarily qualified to train. Many of the truly qualified ones I know in Taiwan are either too busy to take on that kind of role, and some have either left or are planning to leave. Of those, I've heard more than one story of someone who doesn't want to leave, but feels pushed out by how education works in Taiwan.

Of those who stay, as far as I know not one of them stays because they think the situation here is great. They stay, as I do, because they want to be here. It actively costs them career-wise, as it will probably cost me.

It doesn't help, either, that most institutions are run by businesspeople with no background in education. Although the atmosphere is collegial at my various workplaces now, I've seen plenty where building professional relationships for development purposes wasn't even considered, because it didn't occur to the businessperson at the top that teachers were professionals who could benefit from it. Other times, it's simply not encouraged, or seen as an active threat (in one memorable case I think they worried about us organizing, and organized labor is more difficult to exploit). Certainly as all such work is currently unpaid at most institutions, leading to a further lack of incentives.

I'm not sure what to do about all this except to do my best to be a mentor myself to the extent that I am able. When I reached out my arms, a few people pulled me up; I want to do the same for others. But if we create a stronger professional support network in Taiwan, it will make professional development easier and more accessible. We might not have a ladder in terms of training programs (yet) but we really ought to have one in terms of networking and support.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Master Hunt

If you've noticed that in the later half of this year I haven't been the most consistent blogger in terms of frequency of updates, it's because I actually have some exciting news!

First, I've been published! This isn't my first publication (I worked for a regional newspaper before I started college, and more relevantly have a story relating one of my experiences in Taiwan published here) but it is my first academic publication. It's not even all that academic, because I don't work at a university, don't have academically-based postgraduate education (my Delta is technically equivalent to a Master's but is more of a professional degree than an academic one), don't have a research budget and, thus, can't really do hard research. But, I did enjoy writing it, and hope you check it out - first link in this paragraph. I explore teaching note management skills as a method of introducing learner autonomy into the classroom, with an exploration of my own note-management teaching strategy.

Second, I've been accepted to grad school! I'll be starting at this program at the University of Exeter in July 2017. It's a program with a special schedule made for people like me who can't just up and move to England, or somewhere else, for postgraduate study but don't have a lot of options where they live. I applied quite early, but I was ready to and the platform was open, so I don't feel too weird about that. I would have gone this year if I'd had the money. That's what took away my blogging time, to be honest.

Anyway, I have a few thoughts on my process of researching, choosing and applying for Master's programs as an American in Taiwan. I am sorry to say that while there are some good things, it's mostly bad news. That is unfortunate not only for Taiwan, but also the USA.

A dearth of options in Taiwan

My biggest hurdle was finding a good program - I started in Taiwan but just couldn't find one that quite met my needs. I may not be in Taiwan forever, so I did need something from a school that is highly regarded internationally. I'm sorry to say that nothing on offer in Taiwan fits the bill. NTU is the only university of international repute, and doesn't offer my desired program. That doesn't mean other universities are necessarily "bad". They are not, however, universities whose degrees will get you noticed abroad.

There are MA TESOL and MA Applied Linguistics/Applied Foreign Languages programs in Taiwan: Shi-da, National Taiwan University of Technology and other schools offer them. Many are taught in English. They would not, however, help much internationally. Also, testimony of what one actually learns on these programs from a friend who did one in teaching Chinese turned me off to the idea of studying in Taiwan. He was, shall we say, less than impressed.

I have heard that there's a Master of Education program available through a small university in the US that allows you to take classes here, but that was something someone told me - I haven't found any evidence of its existence in my research. Anyone?

Columbia University Teacher's College Tokyo would have been an option, but they are apparently closing the campus - at least, a friend of mine went there so I know it's a real thing, she says it's closing, and I can't even find a reference to it existing online. Not that it matters: the tuition was similar to that in the US, and I can't afford US tuition. So, studying in a fully face-to-face program from Taiwan was quickly dismissed as 'not an option' for me.

Distance programs aren't great options

There are a number of distance programs: Nottingham, University of Southampton with the British Council and more in the UK (many, many more - I couldn't possibly link to them all), USC and Anaheim in the US (these were the only two distance programs I could find) - but I didn't want to do a distance Master's.

Why? The first reason is that, rightly or wrongly - and I happen to think wrongly - distance-learning postgraduate degrees tend to get the side-eye from academic institutions looking to hire, even if they are from reputable institutions (they also run the risk of not being recognized in Taiwan). The second is that I did distance learning for my Delta. It was fine, but I want something different. I want to actually meet people in person and have real-time discussions using my actual voice.

...neither was going abroad

So, I looked into what it would take for me to do a face-to-face Master's outside of Taiwan. Brendan and I are super-solid, I knew we could weather this, though I didn't particularly want to be apart for a year or two. I looked at King's College, Durham, University College London and more in the UK (not even going to bother with links, you can Google those yourself) and very few choices in the USA, because I honestly could not afford US tuition. I also looked at York University in Canada, but couldn't have afforded to live there and pay tuition. The same is true for the universities of Melbourne, Brisbane and Queensland, which I also researched. I looked at Germany, as well, but most schools (at least the ones I looked at, including Bonn) want you to pass a German proficiency test even if you are taking a program in English. I doubt I'd have the time to learn German at that level,

My country of origin is not affordable

In fact, I only looked at two face-to-face programs in the US: Columbia (because if I'm going to commit I may as well aim high - also I wouldn't need a car in New York and it's close to family) and SUNY Albany, one of the bigger campuses of my state university system and the only one to offer an MA TESOL. State university tuition would have been "cheaper" (cheaper than Satan's own private university pricing, so that's hardly a consolation) and at the time I was thinking I could live with my grandfather. He's since moved and that is no longer an option.

This is where I throw a lot of shade on the USA.

Total tuition for the programs noted above that are based in the USA:

USC Rossier School of Education (online) - approximately $50,000. They bill it as being the same as face-to-face: you videoconference the classes and they treat you as though you are 'there'. You're not residing there, though, so I do wonder why the tuition has to be as high. They don't need to worry about space, maintenance, grounds, utilities or security during my residency because there isn't one.

Anaheim University (online): A little over $20,000, including inexplicable fees such as a "graduation fee" and a "thesis fee" (which is apparently to print and bind your thesis, but $450? Are they binding it in unicorn leather? What the hell?) I appreciate that they are trying to break down exactly what your $20,000 is paying for, and I appreciate that their tuition is more similar to what UK schools charge. But the breakdown doesn't make them look good. My 'graduation fee' is all the fucking money I pay for my fucking degree, not some $300 you tack on. No. Not Okay. Also, I have some serious side-eye for charging for an online degree what UK schools charge for a face-to-face degree. Why exactly does it have to be that high?

SUNY Albany MA TESOL without state certification (which I don't need) - face-to-face: $12,000 and change, per year, 2 year program so $24,000 total. For in-state tuition.

Columbia University - face-to-face: fuck that I'm not even going to bother, what the fuck makes them think a fucking English teacher can afford to pay that shit back, fuck you, a fucking pox on your house!

In comparison, the distance programs in the UK cost about 7,000 pounds, and face-to-face cost about 15,000 and change - for the whole program. This is for international students - don't forget that. What that translates into in US dollars is changing by the day, but suffice it to say the total tuition for an international student (did I mention international), not in-state or even a citizen, is cheaper than going to my own state university in the US which is supposed to be the affordable option.

My program at Exeter is quite a bit less than that, and I'm an international student.

English teaching isn't a particularly highly-paid profession - I could never have afforded to pay back US tuition. It's just not feasible.

It is really sad that my own country couldn't make it possible for someone whose career requires postgraduate education, and who would certainly do well in it, to actually get it.

This is a prime reason why I do not intend to return. Why should I give "back" something to society through teaching and education that society doesn't see fit to give me? I appreciate my basically okay public education through secondary school but the US tertiary and postgraduate system is completely, and utterly, fucked. I want nothing to do with it.

But thanks, UK!

To end on a high note: when I got my offer letter I walked down the street alternating between feeling like this, and like this.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Delta Module 3: The Reading Rainbow

So, I've had a terrible few months, but would prefer not to dwell on it here (as longtime readers know, I lost my mom in December), and will get right down to business.

As the magnificent shitstorm that was my life ramped up in October and November, I was also working through my Delta Module 3 extended assignment with The Distance Delta. For those who don't know what this is,

I chose Business English as a specialty and used one of my more unusual classes as the group of learners (I didn't do this purposely - they were the only Business English group class I had at the time). In the end I got a Pass With Merit (yay!) but was extremely stressed out (boo!).

After this challenging class, I have some thoughts and words of advice. I started out with a recommended pre-course reading list (as in, what to read before the module even began so you'd have more time during the module to design and analyze your course and learners) with advice after it, but the reading list grew so long I decided to turn it into its own blog post.

So, here's the reading, stay tuned for the advice.

1.) Pick a specialism early and read up on it before you start. 

Some common specialties are:

Exam Classes
Teaching Young Learners
Business English
Teaching One-on-One
ELT management
English for Academic Purposes
Teaching Monolingual Classes
Teaching Multilingual Classes

...and more.

I can't recommend what to read in every specialism, but I can speak to Business English (my choice) and Exam Classes (my husband's choice). For Business English, before you start the module, read either or both of these:

How to Teach Business English by Evan Frendo
The York Associates Teaching Business English Handbook by Nick Brieger

The former is shorter and easier to digest for someone who has never taught BE than the latter. The latter will be meatier fodder for the experienced BE teacher. Both are worth reading as both will give you the citations you need when writing the paper. Used copies are fine, no need to get the latest edition.

As English as used for business is pretty solidly in EIL (English as an International Language) territory, you may also want to get your early reading party on with Teaching English as an International Language by Sandra McKay. I read this late in my work for this paper and wish I had read it earlier.

There are also tons of articles you can read in ELT journals - most classes will give you access to their subscriptions so unless you have one or have access to one already, these can wait until the course begins.

For exam classes, start out with  Exam Classes by Peter May - Brendan found this a bit pedantic but it's useful for anyone new to the specialism, and great for citations.

Both BE and Exam Classes fall under ESP (English for Specific Purposes), and I do recommend reading the seminal work in that area by Hutchinson and Waters. It's reasonably engaging as academic works go and is fantastic for citations.


Because you will have to do a lot of reading for this course, we're talking a few books a week. Most of them you can skim or read shallowly, but it's still a mountain of material. If you know you're going to do this and you know what your specialism. In addition, if you are not experienced in your specialism, this will give you an inkling early on regarding whether it's right for you.

2.) Module 3's written assignment is in 5 sections plus appendices. Read up on some areas covered in it before you begin.

The 5 parts of your main assignment are:

1.) An overview of your specialism (specific to the specialism but not the class)

2.) A description of your needs analysis and diagnostic tests of your class with a short class profile, including results.

3.) A description of your designed syllabus including justification for your choices

4.) Formative and summative assessment and how it will be carried out

5.) A conclusion tying everything together

All of these areas require a minimum number of works cited and all fall within strict word limit guidelines, which were designed by sadists who will burn in Hell. You can find all of that information here. 

Again, will greatly reduce your reading list down the line, giving you more time to create, administer and analyze diagnostic test and needs analysis results, devise a class and write about it. You want that time. You need that time. Take that time by getting the reading done early.

Some recommendations:

Part 1: See #1 for two specialisms, I can only say so much here

Part 2: 

Syllabus Design by David Nunan (there's a chapter on needs analysis)
Designing Language Courses by Kathleen Graves - great for needs analysis

I would not recommend reading the entirety of the final three books - pick and choose your chapters. The first book is short and easily digestible, though a bit dull (David Nunan knows his stuff but isn't, shall we say, the most engaging writer).

Part 3: 

Actually, what you might read in Part 3 is similar to Part 2 - move on from the chapters on assessing needs and read the ones on creating syllabuses.

Part 4: 

Learning About Language Assessment by Kathleen Bailey - some solid info on diagnostic testing
Testing for Language Teachers by Arthur Hughes

Part 5: 

This is a conclusion - no extra reading required or desired

Again, this isn't a comprehensive list of what you will have to read, this is a pre-course list of books you might consider. You may not have time to read all of this - I know I didn't. If I were to put together a shorter list for someone with a BE specialism, it would be:

How To Teach Business English (Frendo)
Syllabus Design (Nunan)
Testing for Language Teachers (Hughes)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ears of Corn

Teaching English is a real job, but few people treat it that way.

Shibboleth shibboleth shibboleth!
Photo from here

Yeah, I know, that will shock exactly no one, except maybe those who were under the impression that teaching English could never qualify as an actual career (and I know a few folks who think this way). There are enough people on both sides to fuel many debates on LinkedIn, expat forums and TEFL forums, and yet nobody's written a truly thoughtful article or blog post on the subject. I found a few basic posts (like this one) that I don't think fully addressed the issue, and nothing that was comprehensive. I've written about it before, but I hadn't really found my voice on the subject yet.

My stance on it is basically this: teaching is a profession. It's as hard - or harder - than law or business and at times can feel like you work similar hours to those working in law, medicine or the higher echelons of business (all that talk about how teachers get their evenings and summers off? Bullshit. Plenty of teachers not teaching children in school systems don't get that time off, and those who do usually use it to do all of the spillover work which can't be finished during the school day, even with free periods. Continuing education, thoughtful marking of in-depth student work that goes beyond basic testing as well as planning good syllabi and classes all take time). It's a profession that requires a degree and certification as well as continuing education.

First tangent: a lot of people who don't fully understand the role race, class and gender play in our lives and what lives are on offer to us will often say "the reason women tend to earn less than men is because they choose less-well-remunerated careers such as teaching over well-paid ones like law". First of all, this is not true. Secondly, even if it were, the underlying assumption is that teachers are not well-paid because of something intrinsic to the profession. Perhaps that it is "not that difficult" (except it is), or that people who are passionate about it are more likely to do it despite the low pay (which is true - how often do you hear "I'm so passionate about law, I'd be a lawyer even if lawyers didn't earn a lot of money"?). But what I suspect is really going on is that it's not that women often become teachers despite the low pay; rather, teachers are poorly paid because they tend to be women. Gender discrimination at work (pun INTENDED). The teacher-and-nurse effect.

I just made "the teacher-and-nurse effect" up but it really needs to become a thing.

Most people would expect this of a math teacher, a history teacher, a Civics teacher, a French teacher, a Chemistry teacher, even an art teacher. They would never stand for "well I don't have any experience but I'm pretty good at chemistry and the school gave me a quick training session so let's go!". They would never accept a teacher for themselves or their children who was not trained, and they would want a teacher who was not only engaging and fun, but also had long-term course plans and class learning goals, and knew how to take concrete steps to achieve them. "Well, I'm being paid $15 an hour, I don't know a lot about history but I'll learn it and then teach it" or "I don't have a degree in Calculus but let's just figure this out together" would not fly. Not in a public school, not in a university, not in a center of continuing education.

Even if you took a foreign language - the sort of class that (obviously) most resembles a TEFL classroom - you wouldn't be okay with "I'm a native Spanish speaker, I have no teaching experience but I have this book, let's go through this together". Maybe that would be okay for a language exchange partner, but not a teacher. You'd want someone who actually knew what they were doing, someone who had training in pedagogy and methodology and knew how to impart knowledge of and fluency in Spanish unto you. Merely knowing something doesn't translate (pun intended) into knowing how to impart knowledge of something.

Basically, we expect our teachers in any other subject to be professional. We don't always treat them like professionals - we pay them too little and give them few resources and often even less respect, which is why some great potential talents in teaching don't go into the field - but we expect professionalism.

So why is it that we don't expect professionalism from English teachers? Why is this the one area of teaching - a profession - where it's not treated professionally? What is so different about teaching English as a foreign language that any inexperienced rando can get hired to do it, as compared to science, math, Civics or French?

I honestly can't think of anything. In terms of pedagogy, the methods used in language teaching don't differ that much from methods used in any other subject, including the difficult subjects such as Chemistry. In terms of content, I don't see how it's all that different from French class in my high school - the language has changed, but the ways of teaching it are more or less the same. There is really nothing special or different about TEFL/TESOL/ELT etc. as compared to any other subject you may wish to learn.

Before I go any further: I know that English is not the only foreign language to suffer the scourge of untrained, nonprofessional "teachers". Certainly the vast majority of Chinese teachers are awful, or at least wholly untrained. There are good ones, but pedagogy in Chinese and Taiwanese TCFL (Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language - I just made that acronym up) certification/diploma programs, if it is taught at all, tends to be taught very poorly, not relying on the mounds of applicable research available, not taking advantage of current practices in LT methodology, and generally outdated. In TEFL there is a (wrong) assumption that a native speaker just spending time with students will cause them to learn English (well, not entirely wrong: they will pick up some English, but not in any easily measurable way). There seems to be a different (also wrong) assumption that if you are a native speaker of Chinese, that telling the students all about the target grammar - all about it, even aspects they don't need to learn when first introduced to a concept - and then plugging in vocabulary, will cause them to magically learn Chinese with minimal practice required (certainly at Shi-da we didn't get nearly enough practice and fluency did suffer as a result). And again, that's not entirely wrong: if you attend a class like this, you will learn some Chinese. It just isn't the most efficient way to do so. Certainly language schools aimed at tourists in various countries employ untrained native speakers who have taken a quick introductory course.

All of those fall under basically the same rubric of the TEFL model that I'm criticizing. My attempt here is to compare TEFL to teaching as it is professionally considered, and to language classes done that way, by trained, talented and knowledgeable teachers.

So yes, quite clearly, TEFL is a real job. It's a real career. It's teaching; teaching is a professional occupation. It's no different from teaching Biology or Geography (which, I wish Geography classes would get an overhaul too. There's so much interesting discussion and learning fodder there, of the Guns, Germs and Steel variety, although maybe not so much the End of History or Clash of Civilizations variety, and yet it's so often reduced to memorizing capitals and main exports. Now that I'm gaining more knowledge of the various elements of good teaching, and being knowledgeable about Geography, someone should put me in charge of a Geography class - we'd have so much fun, ohmigod).

I do wonder if the lack of respect for pedagogy/proper methodology and what it can do for one's teaching is something more ingrained: public and primary/secondary school teachers are expected to have this training, but professors and other academics, mostly, are not. I think in four years of college classes that I had maybe three professors who actually knew how to teach. They were all very knowledgeable, some were quite well-known in their fields. But they didn't know how to effectively impart their knowledge: it was all lectures, Powerpoints, multiple choice and the occasional essay question. Part of that is, of course, huge class sizes especially at the lower levels, but part of it seems to be this pernicious idea that if you know something, then you know how to teach it. Professors know their subject, therefore they can teach it, apparently. Except they can't. Most of my professors would have benefited a lot from some training sessions, not in improving their own knowledge, but in how to get that knowledge to us in an interesting, motivating and relevant way.

If you do go ahead and get yourself educated - a Master's or at least a string of reputable certifications (no online weekend courses), or even better, both - and learn how to teach, it will show in your work. The difference between you - a professional - and an untrained 22-year old (or even an untrained 42-year-old) will be apparent. You will be able to lift yourself out of the Expat English Teacher Gutter pretty quickly. Anyone with a shred of sense or acumen will see the difference. It is absolutely worth it, and that's why I'm currently pursuing a Delta, and after that, hopefully a Master's (we'll see: I can't afford a Master's, won't take out more loans, scholarships and fellowships are hard to get for students not intending to enter a PhD program, and for American students tuition is preposterous - and foreign schools charge us international student tuition which is also preposterous. I could cash out my IRA for it, but that would be stupid. I could retire for a few months on that! WOO! PARTY WHEN I'M 90!!1! So...let's see if the winds of life blow me that way, or if they just blow).

So why don't people treat TEFL as teaching in a professional capacity? If there is nothing to differentiate it from any other kind of teaching, why does it get the shaft?

Three groups of people are affected by this: owners/bosses, teachers/"teachers", and parents/students (depending on the students' age).

From the boss' or school owner's point of view, this is obvious. They can pay an unskilled, untrained "teacher" far less than a real teacher would expect, and treat them like unskilled labor (something a real teacher would never accept). These folks - often twentysomethings with little life experience, though not always - will feel they've gotten a lot if you give them a slapdash bullshit training session made up of a mishmash of cribbed notes from teaching textbooks, strung together with vague platitudes about "keeping it fun" and "engaging the student", hoping that the interesting foreign-ness of the worker, with a smidge of charisma from that worker, plus a few textbooks thrown their way for material, will keep up the illusion that the students are getting a professional service - all for cut-rate prices (for the boss - the students or their parents pay a premium of course).

Some owners, I presume, know that they're peddling shoddy product. Others don't know the first thing about real teaching or what it takes to be a professional educator, and truly do think that all it takes to teach something - including English - is to know a lot about that thing. And who better to know about English than a native English speaker? Nevermind if they don't actually know all that much about the grammar or underlying structures or history of their own language, and therefore can't teach it. Nevermind that they are unaware of the latest practices or past research on teaching methods so they can't employ them in the classroom. Nevermind that they haven't heard of even the most basic concepts in English, Linguistics or pedagogy and therefore can't refer to them. If you've never learned, or heard of, IPA, you can't use it when it would be effective (and it isn't always). If you've never heard of a "student-centered classroom", you can't work towards creating one. If you don't know the difference between PPP, TTT, TBL, Dogme, TPR, Audiolingualism, Grammar-Translation or the Communicative Approach, you can't learn about, and practice, how to use them in your classroom at the times when they'd have the most effect, or when to avoid them. If you haven't read up on research into the best way to introduce new language, you won't be able to consider it when you plan a class, and your approach may be substandard (or it may just be different, if you are extremely talented. Most people are not). You may base some of your teaching methods on inaccurate or misguided assumptions about language learning, or not really know at all why you are doing what you're doing - which is rarely effective.

The first type of owner recognizes the shibboleths that distinguish teachers from "teachers"; the second doesn't. In both cases, they don't care.

From the newbie "teacher"'s point of view, it's a relatively well-paid job - for the country it's in at least - that they can get right out of school, no experience necessary, and they get to live abroad. Makes sense, even if from a professional standpoint it doesn't seem very ethical: I'm going to go and pretend to be something I'm not so some school owner can charge people rates for my work under the illusion that I have the credentials! But since when have ethics ever played a big part in prosperous business models?

In fact I'd go so far as to say that a lot of those twentysomething unskilled workers fancy themselves teachers: intellectually they know that a professional teacher must have training and experience that they don't have, but there's a bit of cognitive dissonance going on, fueled by not a small touch of defensiveness: they are teaching, and they want to style themselves as education professionals; they know they aren't, so they tell the voice in their head that whispers "you need more credentials, you need more training, you need more experience" to shut up, and they gas on about how they are real teachers, how they're just as good, how their bosses are lucky to have them. They don't seem to realize that the reason their bosses chose them was because they lacked credentials, and therefore the ability to seriously negotiate compensation and treatment, not in spite of their credentials in the face of their massive - often delusion-based - "talent". They're college grads, they're used to believing that no matter what they do they'll be professionals, they'll be skilled, they'll be worth something. They're used to having that belief reinforced. I don't blame them for wanting to believe that they are more than they are.

I am definitely guilty of this. I was guilty of it before I had training or experience, I was guilty of it before starting the Delta, and I might still be a tad guilty of it up until I enroll in a Master's program. Until I realized how bad I was, I thought I was pretty good. Then I got to be pretty good, and all I want to be is better. But that process took awhile. So, I know of what I speak.

I want to stop here and note a few things before I get back on track.

First, that I am somewhat grateful to the TEFL industry for being what it is. I don't think I would have gone into teaching otherwise, and I wasn't doing very well at the bottom rung of the office ladder. I need to write a longer blog post about this at some point, but this is one way in which the USA screws over its youth. I didn't know teaching was right for me when I went to college, and so I didn't major in it. I "wisely" majored in the subject I'd enjoyed most in high school: I chose International Affairs because it was close to Social Studies. Social Studies + history + travel + language? Sign me up! By the time I knew I not only wanted to teach, but would be very good at it with the proper training and guidance, I couldn't afford a Master's program. I still can't: the deal was that my folks would help me with college, but I was on my own for grad school, and I shouldn't go until I'd worked awhile and knew what I wanted. By the time I knew what I wanted, I didn't have the money because, well, wage stagnation and wealth inequality are real things. Now, I bet they actually would help me if I asked, but tuition at an American school is far higher than any of us can take on and international tuition is not much better.

So, TEFL allowed me a path into teaching that didn't require that I go get a Master's I couldn't afford, for a job that wouldn't pay me enough to pay it off in any reasonable amount of time. I am sure many very good teachers have taken this route, and the educational landscape is richer for it. I wholeheartedly support having this sort of route into teaching, although I'd like to see the model change (maybe a future blog post on that too - what a 'path into teaching, but not TEFL as it is now' might look like). I wouldn't be doing what I love today, with at least a shred of professional dignity, without that start as a twentysomething hack. I'd probably still be at some crap office job that I never got promoted out of, because I hated it enough to not be in a mental state to do well. It would have been a waste of a life.

Second, that as above, many good teachers do come out of this cesspit. The ones with a spark of natural talent that leads them to seek training and experience, to be better and to do better.

Third, that many schools, especially in rural or underprivileged areas, can't afford more than an unskilled twentysomething. There are professional teachers who would be willing to take a job like that, in rural China or a small Bolivian town or what-have-you, or even rural Taiwan, for low pay. A lot of them join the Peace Corps and do something like that. But not enough to meet the demand for English class among those with a bit of money in those places. Plenty of others would love the experience, but would expect a higher standard of pay and benefits that the school just wouldn't be able to offer.

In those cases, a twentysomething hack with a local teacher in tandem is still better than nothing, in terms of offering some sort of foreign language education to those who who want it and can afford it.

So, all that aside, back on track - what about the final group? Why do parents support this awful, unprofessional system? Unless they are paying markedly lower tuition (as may be the case with rural schools or schools in impoverished areas), they may simply be unaware. People without a background in education don't always understand what being an education professional is. That goes for students, school owners, parents and obnoxious people at parties who think they can tell you how to do your job. They may hear the teachers' and boss' "blah blah blah professional blah blah highly-trained teachers blah America blah" and believe them when they say that their words are "shibboleth shibboleth shibboleth", because they don't know better. They may just be lied to by the owner. They may know that the teacher is not a professional, but not realize that that matters and feel it's acceptable to pay high rates just to be in proximity to a native speaker. 

And of course, if they think it doesn't actually take that much training, talent, experience or knowledge for a native speaker to teach their language effectively, and that anyone who speaks English can do it, they'll feel more confident in trying to tell the teacher what to do (I will accept this from adult students in terms of what they want to learn, and will at least consider what they say when they express how they want to learn it. I don't teach children, but if I did, parents of children telling me what to do would get straight-up ignored unless their child was problematic and it was advice on how to deal with managing the behavior problem). It gives them a handy sense of superiority. Seems like a small thing to pay inflated tuition rates over, but what can I say?

That's really the crux of the problem, too: it's that school owners, often shrewd to the point of immorality, rake in huge sums of money by glossing over or entirely misrepresenting either teacher qualifications or the need for them. I suppose all's fair in business&war, and if someone is aching to pay too much money to get talked at by some white kid (because hiring practices really are racist), then they should be allowed to pay that money. If I want to pay a million dollars to snort cocaine cut with diamond powder, I should be allowed to do that (note: I don't want to do that). If a school advertises "look, we've got foreigners!" and folks line up to pay, then okay. If they advertise with "qualified, experienced native speaker professional teachers will help you gain fluency quickly and with ease", they're lying. Even f the "teachers" are qualified, experienced and talented, students still won't gain fluency quickly and easily. 

Presumably most parents and students want a good teacher for their money; a qualified and experienced one. Misrepresenting the teachers you are actually offering as worth the money - as more than they are - and then paying those "teachers" far less than you'd pay real teachers so that you can $$PROFIT$$, is thoroughly reprehensible. 

It also contributes to that same pernicious myth that it is not hard to teach well, that anyone can do it - and that for language teaching all you need is to speak the language, you don't need any knowledge of underlying structure, grammar, history or etymology. By hiring people who don't have that knowledge or ability (at least not yet), and paying them fairly well by local standards (although not well by international teaching professional standards), you're spreading the idea that this is all a teacher needs to be - that anything more is unnecessary, possibly even unwanted as it comes with demands for higher pay and better treatment. (That it also comes with better measurable outcomes for students is often ignored - I still don't understand why nobody, at least the students or parents, seems to care about this). 

That contributes to the norms of hiring cheaper inexperienced people, which makes it harder for the good people to get jobs. Quality goes down and fewer people bother to get qualified. Schools treat "teachers" badly, because these "teachers" are basically unskilled laborers, no matter how they're advertised. When qualified teachers want to get jobs, they often don't go into TEFL because they know it's a labor dispute minefield and their credentials likely won't be respected as they would in any other field of teaching.

That's a loss to us all. I suppose you could make the Libertarian argument that if quality goes down and nobody complains, then the quality was too high to begin with and if the market runs in that direction, then it should go down according to what people want. I reject this: those students still want to learn English. Whether or not you believe your "teacher" is a real teacher won't change the outcome of whether you've learned English to a satisfactory degree or not. It's like the market for medicine. Even if people are willing to buy your snake oil, the outcome will still be that patients won't be cured. In medicine (although not in homoeopathy) we have laws against this: if you are going to sell a product, it has to work. Learning a language is a lot more like medicine: you need a measurable outcome. It's not homoeopathy.

What's the solution for this? How do we get more people on the road to training, qualification and a professional career path and in the process raise the level of respect for TEFL as a career, as well as improve working conditions for those already in the field? How do we do that while also making it possible to become a teacher through a process of hard work and experience, without having to go back and get a degree that many can't afford, and when they were in school, didn't know they wanted?

I don't know. I suppose that really is the subject for another blog post.

I've gotten a lot of pushback on my stance on this issue in other discussion forums, so I'll just address some of the more common backwash here:

But certifications like CELTA and Delta won't make you a better teacher! If you are talented and have experience you can be a very good teacher!

I just don't believe this. If you are talented and have experience, you still need training to be a truly good teacher. It would be the rare prodigy who could do well without it. I don't care much where that teaching came from but I prefer reputable programs to "a teacher trainer at School X told me". Certainly it is possible to go that route and do well, but reputable programs are more likely to have measurable outcomes. 

The actual piece of paper you get for CELTA and Delta don't mean as much as what you learn in the process of getting it. It bothers me when people denigrate what you learn on these courses without having taken them, or worse, assuming that they are more than they are meant to be. While a piece of paper won't make you a better teacher, what you learn in order to get that piece of paper will. 

The only real pushback to this I've heard is "no it won't" and that's too ridiculous to bother replying to.

CELTA and Delta are nothing - real teachers need Master's degrees or a teaching license after their bachelor's degrees, like a PGCE.

I'm a fan of a two-pronged approach: a Master's is great for theoretical knowledge related to the English language and to teaching. I would like one someday and am currently deciding which kidney would garner the best payoff with which to pay for it. But from what I've seen during my time in the field, a Master's doesn't provide a lot of great on-the-ground practical teaching advice. I've noticed it in ivory-tower comments on LinkedIn full of advice that would make no sense in most real classrooms, and noticed it in watching other teachers who certainly had the qualifications but weren't very good with flexibility or trying different, more student-centered approaches. 

So, in order to get that practical knowledge, I believe it would be smart for most would-be professional English teachers to also have a CELTA or even a Delta. The CELTA is thoroughly practical, and the Delta starts delving into the theoretical. After that, a Master's is the next logical move, to expand your theoretical knowledge base.

It's not that I think Master's are worthless, or that CELTA and Delta are the gold standard, but that they focus on two entirely different things, which are both valuable if you want to be a true education professional.

Pfffff! But CELTA promises to make you a great teacher, as though it can stand in for a real teaching degree. It can't!

That's true, it can't. 

But that's also not what CELTA advertises. They advertise an introductory course that will help you to become basically competent in the classroom without making a right fool of yourself. If you pass, which most people do, you'll still need a lot of training at your first place of employment. The CELTA grading rubric spells this out. If you get a B, you'll need some training, but not as much. If you get an A, you'll be fine without training (but everyone can benefit from receiving it). Almost nobody gets an A - around 2-5%. I got one, but I'm just special like that. (Actually, I'm not. I had good training before I did CELTA). 

A lot of people seem to think the CELTA advertises as a teaching certification on par with a degree - it doesn't. Or they think what the CELTA claims it offers is more like what the Delta offers - it's not. If you're going to criticize CELTA, do it on its own merits. 

The reason schools hire those inexperienced teachers is that the "qualified" teachers don't want to pitch in and always demand more. They won't go outside and hand out fliers for the school, they want more money - it's no wonder schools go for the inexperienced ones. 

This is technically true, but that doesn't make it right. A teacher is a skilled worker - it doesn't make sense, in terms of resource allocation, to have your skilled worker stand on the streetcorner with a signboard passing out fliers (also it makes your school look ridiculous, but that's a PR issue, not a teaching one). If you had a college intern, and an experienced logistics professional, who would you send outside wearing a sandwich board? Who is worth more in the office, creating something great? 

And of course they ask for more money - they have embarked on a professional career path. They have paid - often out the nose - for education. Business, legal, medical and other professionals all expect to be paid accordingly - why wouldn't teachers? You get a quality outcome.

But you don't get a quality outcome! I've seen as many bad qualified teachers as I've seen good un-certified ones!

Something tells me that line of thinking comes from anecdata. Of course there are bad qualified teachers - there are also terrible lawyers and shitty speech pathologists and horrible doctors. But on average, not just along the lines of some anecdote about a bad teacher you knew once, but as a statistically significant group, teachers who are qualified do provide better outcomes than those who are not. I wish I could quote a study on this, but I can't. Someone should do a study. Especially as I'm putting on scientific airs I can't easily back. 

And those un-certified talented teachers? Probably got their training unofficially in one or more of their previous jobs. And that's great - I'm not saying they don't exist. I'm not saying they shouldn't be recognized (some sort of reputable program that could certify such teachers after a survey of their work would be great, but is not likely to come about and might not be trusted). But these are not Fresh Off the Plane kids we're talking about here. 

What a teacher does is not measurable, therefore it can't be jammed into a certification or degree program. 

First, all sorts of professions do things that are not measurable - social and political scientists comment and analyze non-measurable outcomes. They are still considered professions. (I know a lot of hard science types would like to think they're not, but I'd actually argue the soft sciences are more challenging as you're dealing with squishy unknowns - analyzing something immeasurable without as much access to clear data is much harder than analyzing based on hard results). 

Secondly, I would say that what teachers do is measurable, or at least it can be. The state of the global testing industry is pathetic, and I don't believe the tests given today consistently measure student ability or learning. But good testing is possible - tests with construct and content validity, integrative, direct could do a lot better than the way students are tested in most schools today and get a truly measurable outcome.

In my own work, I feel that what I do is measurable. My IELTS students come in, and when they go out their mock test scores are higher than when they came in, and they score higher on the real IELTS than they would have without my class. My long-term students show measurable improvements in systematic errors - if I wanted to, I could in fact graph their improvements in past tense consistency, correct usage of perfect aspect, correct usage of prepositions in various circumstances and more. I could measure how many sentences per speech block were correct at the beginning vs. the end of the class. I could do identical beginning- and end-of-course role plays that could be analyzed for language learned. 

But these certification programs all force students to adopt one kind of teaching style which may not be the best. And degree programs teach young teachers to stifle creative lesson planning.

Spoken like a person who has never been through a certification program (I can't speak for degree programs, but at least in my observation that's not the case). CELTA and Delta don't actually push one teaching style on you, and in my courses they've been pretty open to any style that's effective, and any style that reflects the teacher's personality. They're not trying to create clones or automatons. Sure, CELTA advocates the communicative approach, but what else would you advocate? There's nothing new on the horizon, or at least nothing so new that it's unseated the communicative approach, and it's arguably the best of the lot that we have, although it's okay to let ghosts of teaching methods past inform your lessons. And a truly innovative new idea, while unlikely from an inexperienced teaching student (few if any of us are nascent Steve Jobses of teaching), if effective, would probably be embraced or at least allowed to pass. 

"Theyre all 'student-centered classroom, less teacher talking, the activity must be communicative'! No creativity! It's mind control!" 

First, having been at the weird end of cult recruiters in my neighborhood (and it appears I'm not the only one - there's a new blog out exposing these people, but I won't publish the link until I vet it further and talk to some people), I have an idea about what mind control is, and teaching degree/certification programs ain't it. 

So what would be better - a teacher-centered classroom? More teacher talking (note: this can at times be okay - and in my CELTA and Delta courses it was seen as potentially okay, depending on what the teacher was talking about and why)? Activities that don't urge the students to communicate or speak? Huh? 

Creativity is usually enhanced by training and experience, not diminished by same. The most creative lawyers can be creative because they know the law and can pick it apart. The most creative doctors can be creative because they know enough to know where a new experimental treatment may come from. The most creative businesspeople can see opportunities because they know the market and have experience in watching it change. The most creative person on your team is probably not your intern (and if it is, then training that intern will make them more creative, not less). It's no different with teachers.

But small schools in poor countries or rural areas can't afford these fancy spoiled foreign teachers!

That's actually true, and it's one of the few times in which I'd say hiring an inexperienced native speaker is better than not hiring anyone at all. This isn't a black-white thing.

* * * 

Anyway, this has been a very long blog post, but one I hope people will read to the end. I've enjoyed writing it - I hope you enjoy reading it!