Friday, April 10, 2015

Sexism in ELT in Taiwan and Abroad

...or, gender discrimination in English teaching in Taiwan. Especially, but not only, in buxibans.

I know what the average reader is probably thinking: "why are you writing this? There's no gender discrimination If there's any sexism in the industry it's in favor of women! Sometimes schools will say this outright!" (which is true - on some Facebook groups I'm in to keep abreast of what's going on in the job market, I have seen a few "female preferred" or "female teacher wanted" ads). But after years in the industry it's become clear to me that this one area in which sexism runs in favor of women doesn't tell the whole story, and we still have to deal with discrimination in other ways. You might think you've escaped it once you've escaped office work, but surprise! Like invisible airborne fecal matter, sexism is everywhere! Like death, there are no known, foolproof ways to escape it.

Why this post now? Because the other day, I was in a taxi and the driver had ICRT on the radio. A commercial came on - the English translation of the Chinese ad was "sign up today and learn English from beautiful Teacher Emily or clever Teacher Ben!" (Note: at least I am 99% sure this is what I heard, but I only perked up toward the end. If someone else has heard the same commercial and can clarify, I would appreciate it). And because I just read this collection of infuriating stories about soft sexism and thought to myself: that's it. That's what I've felt about the ELT industry for years but not been able to clearly voice. It's not that we're actively or openly discriminated against (which I admit men, in jobs that involve teaching children, often are). It's that when we get there we're faced with all sorts of "soft sexism", from assumptions about our strengths to expectations of how we'll act to overhearing blatantly offensive remarks.

I mean, think about that ad. First, what do Emily's looks have to do with her teaching ability? Second, note the comparison of the woman noted for her looks, but the man noted for his brains. Which do you think will get more inherent respect as a Real Teacher, and which will not be taken seriously as a teacher but find her classes filled with a bunch of dudes looking for a masturbatory fantasy?

So, some thoughts:

1.) It's true that women are preferred candidates for some positions, but not all.

As I noted above, I hear this pretty often: "there's no sexism in English teaching, or if there is, it's in favor of women and against men, because buxibans prefer female teachers!"

There is some truth to that. A lot of cram schools do prefer female teachers. And yes, that is also sexist. If something favors women and hurts men, that also falls under the rubric of "sexism", even if men are generally privileged in other (read: almost every other) way.

That said, this particular way of looking at things only goes a short way to describing the kaleidoscope of gendered expectations in the industry.

-    The underlying assumption isn't that we're better teachers, it's that we're "good with children"

I have to laugh at people who think women are preferred for certain jobs because owners think we're better teachers generally. It's not really true - teaching is seen as a women's profession, but just as in the USA, when most people picture a schoolteacher (i.e. someone who teaches kids) they picture a woman, but when they picture a corporate trainer (which is a kind of teacher) or professor, they often picture a man. We're not seen as 'better teachers' - if anything, the areas of teaching where the default expectation is a man at the head of the class get more respect, and the areas where the expectation is a woman get less. Schoolteachers definitely get less respect than corporate trainers - to the point that I made it clear for years that I was a *corporate trainer* (assumption: I work in companies and teach adults, both true), not an *English teacher* (I was, but the assumption is I work at a school and teach children - neither of which are true).

We're seen instead as 'good with children', which plays into a whole host of sexist assumptions about innate talents of men and women. Even if those are true on a general scale, which they may be (evidence is inconclusive enough that I won't say either way), on an individual scale they're hogwash. I am not good with children. I'm OK, about as OK as any non-creepo guy. We're seen as 'nurturers'. Generally speaking, across entire populations this may be true. Individually, again, hogwash. I am not really a nurturer. I like kids for a few minutes. Then they poop on something or start crying and I can hand them back to their parents because NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.

So we're stereotypically placed in classrooms where people imagine women, generally, are suitable. Children. Kids' books. Colorful rugs. Toys. Whatever. We get those jobs, sure, but we get them based on a whole host of sexist assumptions about women's natural talents with youngsters.

These jobs also tend to pay less - more on that below. 

-    Have you taken a look at the staff rolls of some of the more hardcore buxibans?

Seriously, have a look at Aces' website. I'd laugh if it weren't so sad - all those branches, and one, just one, female teacher. A whole thread popped up about this on Taiwanease - the assumptions inherent in that, I will cover further down in the list. Needless to say I do not buy the argument that Aces had literally no female teachers (and I have it on good authority that Mo Da Wei is the same way) until recently, and now has exactly one, because they want "qualified long-termers and those tend to be men". I don't think those tend to be men - I can rattle off about 10 names of qualified female teachers, long-termers even, in Taiwan, without thinking. I doubt the "there are more long-term qualified men" line is true if I can name that many without even having to think about it.

An upshot? The qualified female long-term teachers I know would never settle for the kind of work and pay offered at Aces or Mo Da Wei. We tend to look for something better. The women I know who are serious about this work tend to go to international schools, universities, or do government work. Yay us!

Hell, don't even tell me that women dominate in ELT when I am only one of two women at two of my three jobs (I am one of two female IELTS examiners at my center here, and one of two IELTS exam class teachers at the school that employs me to teach them). How can you say women dominate when, once we find ourselves teaching adults, not kids, we often find ourselves alone among men?

-Teaching English to adults - especially Business English - is something of a sausage fest.

I don't want to say anything bad about the school where I currently teach one or two classes (depending on how busy things are) - they're actually quite good: the pay is fair, the DOS is knowledgeable, the support staff tries hard, they respect our schedules and personal lives. But, I can't help but notice I'm the only female teacher, and that they don't seem to be trying particularly hard to do anything about that. The last place where I worked, we did have quite a few women, to their credit. But, my fairly extensive knowledge of the adult English landscape in Taipei leads back to this: my experience at my current school is more the norm than at my former "management consulting" company. If you get out of teaching kids (i.e., out of the section of the industry that people mostly think women are 'suited to') you don't meet many female teachers at all.

One might argue that this is because female teachers would rather teach kids, but I don't really think that's true. I know quite a few female teachers, and none would prefer teaching kids. Even among not-so-qualified teachers and former teachers, the preference is almost always for teaching adults. Not just for men and women alike: the women seem even more gung-ho on wanting to teach adults.

Regarding business English specifically, I have definitely noticed that I had to work harder to earn the same respect afforded without question to male colleagues. The director and some clients seemed to automatically assume that, for example, "Good Presenter" = "Man In Suit", and even if she were wearing a suit, a woman just couldn't live up to that. I have seen Men In Suits coast in and have it be assumed that he knows what he's talking about, where I have to spend the first half hour of every seminar proving that I do, often moreso than that Man In Suit. There was really no question. It was just assumed - women = good with children, men = good at business.

That's extremely anecdotal, but it is my experience.

When we aren't thought of as better candidates because we're good with kids (even if we're not), we're considered for teaching positions based on our looks. Often openly.

You have not truly worked in ELT until you've been around when the owner and manager are trying to decide who hire and the conversation goes to which woman was better looking. Sometimes this will be couched in terms of what will draw students (which is still lookist bullshit). Other times it's just more blatant lookist bullshit.

2.) Just because we get jobs doesn't mean we're treated as well as male teachers or that sexist assumptions and expectations don't come knockin'.

It's something like this - nothing that can definitively be proven as sexism, but problematic nonetheless.

- Expectations that we'll be "easier"

...because we're female and therefore demure, meeker, quieter, more easygoing, more willing to get along even if it means we get an unfair cut. I can't tell you how many times at various former jobs, bosses seemed surprised to find that I was just as confident as my male peers, that I could not be sweet-talked into accepting unfair circumstances, that I'm probably the least meek person you'll ever meet, that I'm willing to fight if I have to, that I'm no less demanding than a man, and that while I see the merits of "go along to get along", it's hardly my life motto. "Go along to get along, unless you're getting screwed, in which case flip some tables!" is more like it.

And yet, even when my boss or manager knows this about me, I have definitely experienced continuing surprise that I don't fit the stereotype in their heads of how a young female teacher should act (I'm not that young anymore, but I look years younger than my age - I can often pass for 25, but I'm 34 - so I still kind of count as a "young woman" to many people).

Here's an example: the director (read: guy who called himself the director but acted like a more apt title would be Wandering Office Buffoon) of my former company would routinely show up 20, 30, 40, 60 minutes late for meetings with teachers, like we weren't important enough to be on time for. We all complained about this. One day after being left in a meeting room for 20 minutes after our scheduled meeting time, I got up and walked out. Nobody saw me leave. They called me - "where are you?? [Director] is waiting!"
Me: Our meeting was supposed to start at 10. It's 10:25. I left. I will wait ten minutes when we have a scheduled meeting - everyone's late sometimes. I will not wait 20. If you do it again I will walk out again. Keep doing it and I will quit."
Them: "But...the director! He was busy! He's waiting!"
Me: "I don't care. My time is important too."

They didn't do it again - I'm kind of scary when I want to be - but at our next meeting (on time!) I got treated to a long passive-aggressive screed by the director that didn't target me specifically but went on about how he liked 'ladies' because we were 'patient' and 'we always understand that everyone is busy' so we 'don't mind being flexible'.

Because my reaction to passive aggression is to pretend it isn't there - if you aggressively refuse to understand, then that tactic simply doesn't work - I reacted with "Really? I don't think so. In my experience women expect others to be on time just as much as men do."

That didn't go over well, obviously, but I'm not one to take that sort of attitude without resistance.

-    Sexist things either said to us, about us, or that we hear floating around

Either from other teachers, or from local staff or the owner of the school/institute/department/whatever.

In my decade plus in ELT, I have either personally seen, heard or heard about:

-- Male teachers, including partners in seminar teaching, ogling and openly discussing the physical attributes of female students.

-- Male teachers openly making sexist remarks about women - possibly other teachers, often students, most often, random women they've met, gone out with, slept with or just know.

-- The male director telling a female teacher not to leave her husband because "men cheat, that's just what they do, it doesn't mean he doesn't love you, it's a woman's job to forgive the man".

-- The younger brother of the owner of the school where I worked in China comparing me (sort of tall, curvy, very Polish-looking) to my coworker (slightly taller, slender, Western European looking) based on looks and therefore who "took care of herself"

-- Talk about how "ladies" will like or not like this or that: including one friend's experience of a male student saying the class should not discuss American politics because "the ladies probably want to talk about fashion!"

-- Female support staff interrogated, belittled and forced into unpaid overtime. Turnover among male support staff, what few were hired, was higher, even though they got less of this treatment.

-- Watched as the owner of the school where I worked in China, Ms. Huang, sat back quietly and pretended to be an employee while her partner, who was most definitely not an owner or co-owner, pretended to be the owner and director in front of parents, because "parents expect to see a man at the head of the business". 

-- Watching every female teacher receive a gift (a Zojirushi thermos) that was small and pink, when all the men received full-size silver thermoses. I gave mine away and went out and bought my own silver thermos, because fuck that shit, I hate pink.

-- Having crap mansplained to me: "Hey, in the sentence 'We're all excited about the party', what part of speech is 'excited'?" Me: "Past participle adjective. It's like a past participle like you'd see in a passive sentence, but functions as an adjective." Guy: "Well, you KNOW that words can change their part of speech based on how they are used in the sentence." YES. ALSO, EAT ME. Or, "you know, it's best to make sure with each activity that you have the students do something. Not just read, but read and fill in the gaps, something like that." "Have I ever put together an activity that was not student-centered?" "No, I just..." "You just nothing. Stop it."

--Being handed a new work dress code that, while generally acceptable, is much more 'specific' in terms of women's clothing, noting shoe types, hem lengths and more, while saying very little about men's clothing: not even that it should be 'tidy'. Women were told not to wear "tight" clothing, without regard to the fact that men often wear sloppy or too-tight clothing. We did manage to fight this successfully and have a more egalitarian dress code implemented, but the fact that it was included in its original form at all was a problem.

--Having to fight through rolled eyes and obvious sighs of impatience as we, the two female teachers, did fight for a fairer dress code.

--Fighting with people posting obviously sexist job ads (e.g. "young female teacher wanted") and having their retorts and other replies shore up the sexism ("the students want a female teacher", or "it's for young children, women are better with young ones, I would want a female teacher for my child too") rather than helping you fight it.

- We tend to work abroad or outside the West, where sexism is more overt

I don't want to say it's a cultural issue, but it is. It is more acceptable in many of the countries where we work to be overtly sexist, especially in the work sphere. Hell, despite it being against the law, it is still considered somewhat acceptable in Taiwan to advertise for a 'female' teacher, or to ask for a picture with one's application. It is more acceptable for the boss to openly discriminate, though that too is illegal. Female teachers encounter more sexism in everyday life - though there are also advantages. For example, I do feel that casual sexism is worse in Taiwan than the USA. But, random violence against women (e.g. being shoved in a car and raped) is far, far less common. It's harder for us to date, form relationships, make friends or put up with bullshit from bosses who come from cultures where their behavior gets more of a pass.

So if you wonder why at times there seem to not be many of us in ELT, there ya go. The guy gets a local girlfriend, marries her, starts his own school or gets out of ELT and settles down in his new country. The woman encounters sexism at work, has trouble dating, gets sick of casual everyday sexism and leaves.

That's a massive simplification but I've seen the pattern countless times. 

Not being taken seriously for our professional capabilities

Ever worked in an office where you felt that not only did men talk over you, but when you did speak up, that you weren't really listened to? But that when a male colleague said the same thing, that it was automatically greeted with serious nods of approval? Or, as above, ever feel that your male colleague in a suit who doesn't know much about a topic or the methodology of how to teach it gets the benefit of the doubt whereas you, knowledgeable as you may be, have to prove yourself? Ever have a seminar full of students actually refer to you, before they figure things out, that you are the assistant teacher and the man is the lead teacher, when in fact you are training him? Ever propose an entire redesign to a crappy e-mail English seminar and offer to revamp it yourself (for a fee of course) and have to fight for the director to see that the seminar as-is really is crappy (even when every other teacher agrees with you), and then have them refuse to use it until the director 'checks' it? All this after seeing a male trainer mention that the English for Meetings seminar needs a revamp and have that accepted without question, offered money to re-do it, and then have it used without the director having the faintest idea what's in it? Ever seen a male colleague request changes to material, and then watch the director ask a female teacher to make them for free, and when she refused, offering to pay the man to do it?

I have.

3.) We may not suffer from lower starting salaries for the same work, the well-documented issues surrounding negotiating strategies and sexism still hang over our heads.

Ellen Pao is quite right about this: if a woman doesn't negotiate aggressively and as such, doesn't get raises on par with similarly-capable male peers, she's told to lean in, be more aggressive, step up her game,  it's her own fault she didn't get those raises. If a woman does negotiate aggressively, she's told she's "difficult" or "a bitch" or "hard to work with" or "greedy and cares more about money than her work". And still doesn't get the same raises. You're screwed if you do, screwed if you don't. As Pao says, it's like being told to thread a needle that has no hole.

It's not much different in English teaching. My current part-time employer is pretty good about this: I was hired at an acceptable rate on par or higher than male colleagues' starting pay. My former employer? Male colleagues would go in, say they want a raise, negotiate a bit, and get it. It all happened in one meeting and it was a given that they had every right to expect a certain amount just as the company could make a counter-offer. I would go in, say I want a raise, and get "oh we have to think about it, let's have a meeting in a few weeks, we'll see what we can offer you". I would say outright "well, it's a two-way street. I have ideas and expectations too". I wouldn't have said that if we all got the same treatment, but the fact was, we didn't. I had to be blunt because I was getting sub-par treatment. I would get the screws put to me - talked down to about how I don't really deserve it but they're so kind to consider it, asked for concessions male colleagues weren't, told I'd get fewer classes if I got higher pay.

As far as I can tell, and it's not like we didn't talk about these things, male colleagues got none of that.

4.) We do suffer from lower starting salaries when employers stereotype us as teachers of children, not adults.

It's a fact of the industry: jobs teaching adults, being seen as better, more challenging jobs requiring stronger qualifications, tend to pay better. So when women are stereotyped as teachers of children and the adult classes are overwhelmingly taught by men, we earn less to begin with.

5.) When you point out these issues, the same dismissiveness applies, often from other expats.

I went into this above, noting that when I pointed this out on an online forum I got all sorts of nonsense back about how there are just more qualified long-term male teachers, or how "well the owners can do whatever they want, this is Taiwan, they own the business, deal with it". You get nonsense like "well *I* don't think there's any sexism" (coming from white men usually - not exactly the voices of personal experience on issues women have noted as affecting their lives) "because *I* have some female friends who say there isn't". Or worse, "maybe you're having those problems because you're just a bitch/not a very good teacher/not likable". Even if you are speaking more generally about issues you've seen impact people who are not just you. Oh no, if your experience doesn't conform to their assumptions about what your experience should be, the fault is automatically yours. It couldn't be that their assumptions are wrong.

So, the same old nonsense - if you notice a systemic issue affecting a group, especially a group you belong to - the problem can't possibly be the system. It has to be YOU. You're just terrible. You're not competent. You are "difficult". Or "but I saw an ad once that said 'female teachers preferred' so it's actually sexist against men!" without bothering to unpack that statement. Yes, ads that specifically ask for female teachers are sexist. But that doesn't mean the entire industry is biased in favor of women.

6.) Despite all of this, ELT/Applied Linguistics/TEFL at the academic level is a remarkably gender-egalitarian field.

Ever read McKay's English as an International Language?
Lightbown and Spada's How Languages are Learned?
Ur's A Course in Language Teaching or Discussions That Work?
Hedge's Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom?
Bailey's Learning About Language Assessment?
Graves' Designing Language Courses?

That would be Sandra Lee McKay, Patsy Lightbown, Nina Spada, Penny Ur, Tricia Hedge, Kathleen Bailey and Kathleen Graves.

The world of ELT in academic circles is littered with women. Nobody would argue that it is not an egalitarian field, at that level (or if they would, I'm not sure why).

There's no evidence at all, then, to support the idea that men are more drawn to teaching language, or teaching adults (the two most popular and respected certifications that are not Master's degrees or something like a PGCE are specifically aimed at teaching adults). There's no reason the field has to be as problematic as it is. There's no reason why the issues within it have to so closely mimic the ones women face in offices and business culture. It just doesn't have to be this way.

7.) Keeping all that in mind, do you really think teaching is a low-paid field because it's not valuable?

I hear a lot of "well women make less money than men not because there's a pay gap, but because they work in professions that tend to pay less. That's their own fault for choosing those professions!"

First, even the US government acknowledges, via actual real data and not the opinion of some butthurt Whitey McDude ejaculated onto a computer screen, that this is not true, the pay gap exists even when you account for this issue.

Second, it doesn't seem to occur to these guys that perhaps professions women tend to enter pay less because they are female dominated. It's not like nurses, teachers or care workers for the elderly, for example, are not valuable. Society certainly needs them all. A lot. Almost certainly more than they need hedge fund managers and almost anyone who styles themselves a "consultant", "in marketing", "in finance" or "a social media expert". Pretty much that entire spat of well-paid jobs could go and the world and its economy would keep in ticking, but try keeping the world going without any teachers or nurses. 

I honestly do not buy the idea that these jobs are poorly paid because - or only because - people go into them with a sense of 'calling'. People also become doctors because they feel they have a calling, and doctors are very well-paid indeed. These professions are poorly paid because a lot of people see women doing work and inherently feel that that work is not valuable. They probably don't consciously realize this, and would certainly deny it if called out, but it's there. There's a long history of expecting that yeah, women should do work, whether that's in the home or not, but that that work should be free - gratis, voluntary, out of the kindness of their hearts. A lot of the organizations (some valuable, some not) that rely on free labor are female-staffed. If you got men into those positions, just see how fast they turn into paid work.

This was also a phenomenon in mid-century America, one that Betty Freidan chronicled in The Feminine Mystique. I can't find an online quote of this, but it noted in some detail the tendency of newly-built suburbs to be held together by women: PTA women, women acting as counselors, women setting up public services, women building playgrounds, women setting up makeshift chambers of commerce. All for free. When those suburbs became established towns, those jobs started to become paid jobs: economic development, guidance counseling, town planning and zoning, the local chamber of commerce - - and went directly to men.

So, why is English teaching such a poorly paid profession? Not only because at the very bottom there's a slew of twentysomething know-nothings (no love lost: I used to be one) willing to work for crap wages, and not only because we're seen as disposable dancing foreign monkeys to a lot of cram schools. Not only because people who want to travel are willing to go into it without many benefits, and many are temporary. Not only because you can get your start with nothing but a Bachelor's degree and literally no experience. 

But also because it's a profession where women, even if they don't dominate (again, look at Aces' website), are preferred. 

Move that over to corporate training/Business English, where men dominate and are preferred, and see how quickly the pay goes up. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: The Evergreen Resort Hotel, Jiaoxi

Note: this is not a sponsored post - I'm just writing about my stay at Evergreen so others can get an idea of what it's like. I wouldn't do a sponsored post like this anyhow. I actually stayed here in December last year, less than one week before rushing to the US ahead of schedule and the difficult few months that followed.

The Evergreen Resort Hotel Jiaoxi

TEL: 03-910-9988
FAX: 03-987-6383 

No. 77, Jiankang Rd., Jiaoxi Township, Yilan County 26241, Taiwan 

If you have upper middle class Taiwanese friends, you have probably heard of the Evergreen Resort Hotel. Billed as a five star hot spring resort in a town famous for its hot springs (Jiaoxi, in Yilan County on the northeast coast), this is like the to-go place for a weekend away with a spouse, a family or an entire caravan of extended family or friends. (Not as uncommon as you might think: with apartments in Taiwan fairly small in size, when large groups want to get together they'll usually go to restaurants if they're in the same area, but if people are coming from all over, it's quite common to rent a block of hotel rooms in a resort-style hotel where kids have ample play spaces and adults can spend time together. These groups may never leave the hotel).

It's also popular for weddings, which is how we ended up there. I'd visit local friends and see Evergreen slippers near their doors, or just hear stories of weekends at this hotel, and that made me want to check it out. When a friend announced her engagement and chose it as her venue, we figured why not book a night there to see what all the fuss is about?

 photo DSC01560.jpg

My overall impressions are this: great if you have kids or want an easy weekend away, very comfortable and your needs certainly are looked after, but I'm not sure that the "five star" rating really translates. That's not to say we didn't enjoy it - we certainly did! Just that there may be some cultural differences implied in what is and is not a "five star" resort hotel.

The services definitely were high-end or at least very considerate of guests: we took a morning bus to Jiaoxi (you didn't think we drove, did you? Ha!) and called the hotel for a pickup. Although the bus station turned out to be walking distance from the hotel, they sent a car to come get us without implying that we could have walked (which we could have, although given that I was already wearing the shoes I wore to my friend's wedding, I'm happy we didn't). Wanting to avoid the weekend traffic to the coast, we took a very early bus and had a few hours to kill before the wedding. Our room wasn't ready yet but we were welcome to use all hotel facilities. All we really wanted, though, was a cup of coffee so we walked to Starbucks (not exactly next door but not far away). Once our room was available our bags were taken up without us having to ask.

 photo DSC01587.jpg

A good size private bath for a hot spring soak - don't worry, there's a remote that will bring down a screen curtain over that glass wall if you're staying with friends and want to bathe in private.

One thing that made me feel like "globally speaking this isn't really five star" was the lobby, which was sparse and frankly a little boring. Maybe as a Westerner I expect "five stars" to mean "ostentatious", decorated within an inch of its life, but the Evergreen lobby is almost entirely laid with plain neutral marble, basic seating, a very normal reception desk...nothing that took my breath away. Nice, but not memorable.

The wedding itself was lovely - pretty typically Taiwanese, which most of you are probably familiar with, so I won't go on at length about it (although I was a bit shocked that one person giving a speech said "as you all know, [friend] is almost 40. So this is proof that you can find love at any age!" ...uh, wow.) Wedding food, three dresses, big banquet hall, speeches, you know the deal. The huge Evergreen logos on either side of the wedding stage were a bit corporate and weird, but otherwise it was a fine venue for this sort of event. Being outside of Taipei one can get a better deal on high end wedding packages there.

 photo DSC01572.jpg

My friends Joyce and Stanley tie the knot

Our room was probably one of the most basic ones as we got it at a discount due to being wedding guests, but it faced the mountains - a good thing as there is construction going on in the building across the street so an ocean view room would also be a construction-site-view room. It came with a king-size bed with the most comfortable mattress in all of Taiwan and down-soft bedding (I still kind of dream about that mattress and comforter), a large private hot spring bath and separate shower, high-end toiletries in their own little cloth bags, Japanese-style cover-ups to wear to the hot springs, slippers, good towels, a full range of TV channels, a Japanese-style table and chairs with fresh fruit and candy, a full tea and coffee service and a massive picture window.

But, again, the decoration didn't wow me. It's very understated: light wood that frankly reminds me a little bit of IKEA, basic carpeting, a subtly colored cloth headboard. I researched the hotel a bit and found that that was the entire point of the aesthetic: to mimic Japanese simplicity, understatedness and minimalism. Rather than luxe upholstery and Western-style dark woods, they went with a Japanese hot spring look. The thing is, this could have really worked if it were really Japanese or at least more clearly Japanese-inspired. It didn't have some of the lovely aesthetic touches that make a minimally decorated Japanese space pop (eg. blue-and-white patterned cloth, shoji screens, tatami etc). Instead it was like applying Japanese minimalism to a Western aesthetic which doesn't really do it for me. It was nice. It just wasn't particularly memorable. I like memorable - I don't need my room to look like some crap out of Versailles (yuck!) - but I like to really feel that I got a unique experience.

 photo DSC01582.jpg

My favorite part of the room was this amazing bed. I want this bed in my life again.

So, I guess I would say: five star amenities and service, but the look just didn't say "five star".

We were stuffed after the banquet, so before dinner we availed ourselves of the hot spring spa in the hotel. This is where I felt a little annoyance: I knew that the women's spa cover-up wouldn't fit me because nothing in Taiwan fits me. The slippers didn't fit me either. I called to ask for a 2nd pair of men's slippers but they never came, so Brendan let me wear his and he just put his shoes in a locker when he got down there (I eventually took his and still have them: it's not stealing if you're allowed to keep it). I felt like - calling at all drew attention I didn't really want to my giantess feet. Not bringing the slippers? Come on guys. Five stars.

I could have also asked for a men's cover-up but instead just wore my own casual outfit - I had already had to ask for accommodation for my Hulk feet, I didn't want to have to call to ask for bigger clothing, too. It's not that they would have had a problem with it, it's that I didn't also want to spend any extra time thinking about how "one size fits all" in Taiwan actually means "one size fits petite women and if you are not petite, you are conspicuously huge". Fee, fi, fo, fum! If you want your five star hot spring resort to really attract international visitors, you should provide spa clothing that will actually fit the varying body types of those international visitors.

 photo DSC01584.jpg

My second favorite part of the hotel was the Japanese-style seating area with a view to the mountains.

But the hot spring spa itself was again very nice. I would have liked less cement and more stone and wood, and more natural scents in the scented baths, but there were a variety of hot spring pools to choose from. I tried the "tiny fish eat your skin" foot-bathing pool, which was a first for me as I don't normally go to spas where you pay for that sort of thing. But being a free amenity here, why not? The verdict? Do not try if you are ticklish in any way. It's, uh...very tickly and weird. But kind of fun. The scented pools (kumquat, Chinese herb and orchid) were nice, but I saw them adding the bath salts that created the scents and they looked chemical-y and fake. I'm not sure what they were made of, but actual herbs, dried orchids or kumquats etc. would have provided a more upscale experience. I quite liked the super hot bath and the more natural bath surrounded by plants, paved with stones and jets that pummel your back. The outside pools were also nice on a pleasantly cool December evening. There was free barley tea which was refreshing.

 photo DSC01565.jpg

Pretty typical wedding banquet food presented on a super fancy platter

What I did not like: the music piped into the hot spring area. Elevator music mixed with Christmas songs (at least it was appropriate for December). Also, the large number of children crowding the pools. I get that this is a family-friendly resort, but I didn't feel it was, in that case, a very good place for adults without kids to relax.

We went out for dinner, not really wanting to pay hotel prices for hotel food, and also to get out into Jiaoxi town a little. When we came back there was a children's Christmas concert and a guy in a costume making balloon animals. That reinforced my feeling that this is a great hotel for a hot spring vacation...if you have kids. Rather than go to the bar/cafe, which didn't look particularly interesting (I would expect a more unique bar/cafe area at a five star hotel) we ordered drinks to the room and sat in the awesome Japanese-style chairs drinking and eating wedding cookies for dessert. I liked that we really got the chance to use the space (also that I could order a glass of Macallan, neat, to my room and it would come with free Doritos), but I would have preferred a more inviting bar.

I did appreciate a free Taipei Times in the morning (you can choose a newspaper in English, Japanese or Chinese), and I thought it was sweet that as we were coming back from dinner a girl on our floor got a visit from Santa Claus. Around Christmas if you stay at Evergreen with kids and ask for it from the staff, Santa will visit your kids in your room and bring a small gift. It was really sweet, but the parents (snapping lots of pictures) seemed more excited than the kid (who looked kind of confused and scared of the guy in the fake beard and red velour suit - it's not that Santa is unheard-of here, it's that the kid was probably just too young).

Breakfast was included in the room and it was definitely of five-star size: a huge buffet of Western and Chinese style breakfast foods, all of which were perfectly good but none of which were anything to write home about. Guests are notified that they're more likely to avoid a wait if they have breakfast at non-peak times (basically not between 8:30 and 9:30am), but we felt like - this is when we want to eat, so this is when we're going to go. We did have to wait but not long.

Since the food was perfectly fine, my only real complaint about breakfast was that, again, there were kids running around everywhere (one almost made me spill my coffee as I was walking back to the table). It's not that I don't like kids, it's that when I think "five star resort hotel", I think "place for adults to relax without screaming children". Family-style resorts are something entirely different to me. I guess, rather like the "minimalist Japanese-inspired" decorating, the idea of "five star hot spring resort" and "bring the whole family!" are just not disparate concepts in Taiwanese culture.

 photo DSC01562.jpg

The venue was fine, but the corporate logos were a bit odd. 

All in all I would recommend going if you have the opportunity - if anything to get your foot skin eaten by tiny fish and to sleep on those heavenly mattresses as well as take a nice, scalding private hot spring soak. If you have kids it's definitely a good choice for a comfortable weekend away. If you're a couple looking to relax in a grown-up setting with other adults it's still pretty good, but probably not what you're looking for. But it's a great choice for a wedding!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

"This is Taiwan", except it isn't, just no, it's total BS

This post about how the common-ish "this is Taiwan" and the helplessness it expresses is a dangerous notion, and how Taiwan is a country "without hope", in comparison to the USA, a country of relentless optimism.

People are passing it around with the tag "what do you think?" but nobody except Facebook commenters (including me in the Facebook commenter group) is attaching any sort of opinion on the post.

Well, I'm never one to just pass on a link without an opinion, so here's my opinion: it's bullshit.

Not only bullshit, but a dangerous generalization. It's easy to say "Taiwanese are defeatist, that's why they don't work to make things better as individuals". It's pat. It's a ridiculous stereotype, the sort of thing bandied about among groups of buzzed and drunk expats in Carnegie's and the Brass Monkey as a way of explaining away their culture shock (that is, as all Taiwan's fault, never their own for not understanding or never a simple difference in worldviews). It comes close to insinuating that Taiwanese are lazy or mediocre. At the very least it makes two ridiculously vast generalizations that have so little application at the individual level that I question their value and their truth. It borders on, nay, it is, a caricature of two cultures, and is an accurate portrayal of neither.

It's easy to revert to these cliches, these "things I've talked about with foreign friends at Carnegie's and they all agree so I'll blog it because it must be true if a bunch of white guys all agree on it after a few beers", these pat statements, these stereotypes.

It's also a bad idea.

First, the idea that America is a hopeful, optimistic country where it's instilled in us from a young age that things will get better, must get better, and the world is ours if we will only seize it. That may have been true a generation or two ago, maybe three, but honestly, I'm an American and I think our whole country is right fucked (with apologies to my in-laws as usual for my language). Between institutional discrimination, wage stagnation, a stifling corporate culture, the horrors of libertarianism, religious fundamentalism (and religious conservatism), science denialism, rampant bigotry disguised as 'freedom', the military industrial complex and the goddamn patriarchy, I don't feel a lot of optimism about my own country, and I certainly don't think we would be wise to have boundless hope for the future.

I'm so skeptical of how good the future of America will be that I left it! I couldn't do what I wanted to do with my life there, and I certainly couldn't have started my own little freelance business between not having a car (nor the money for it) and not being able to afford private health insurance (which is a little better with Obamacare but still not quite satisfactory). I could seize my future abroad, not at home, so why on earth would I think that the US is so great and the world is ours?

And that's not just me, that's how a lot of my friends feel too. Asked to come up with some fatalistic nihilist skeptical cynics I could go on for hours. Asked to come up with an unbridled optimist, I don't know if I could name even one.

Secondly, the idea that Taiwan "lacks hope", the people think that there is no future so "why bother", and this is why so many people say "cha bu duo" (close enough), "this is Taiwan", "this is how things are, they can't change" etc. Also bullshit.

Things Taiwan has done historically that belie a national outlook of hope: declaring independence in 1895, the 228 riots, the Kaohsiung Incident, the Wild Lilies.

Things that have happened in Taiwan recently that belie a national outlook of hope: holding out against an aggressively expansionist China, refusing against global and regional pressure to look toward a One China solution, and to insist on its self-determination, the Sunflower movement, the 3/30 protests, the November elections, especially the election of anti-establishment Mayor Ko in Taipei against the uber-establishment KMT candidate and consummate jerk Sean Lien.

A country doesn't see a group of students occupy their own nation's legislature because they feel it no longer reflects the will of the people if they lack hope that things can be better. 400,000 or so people (government estimates of 100,000 are pure bollocks) don't then show up to support them. Those same students don't end up somewhat successful - bringing the KMT's antics to public light, most likely influencing the elections later that year, and hey, has Fu Mao passed yet? Who knows what the future holds, but for now, the Sunflowers could be called successful.

This does not sound to me like a country that has no hope, that thinks "this is Taiwan".

For every "this is Taiwan" nihilist, for every cha-bu-duo person doing a mediocre job, honestly, I've seen someone with a goal, with a vision, with a willingness to take a risk or hope for something better. Among my students is one who could have emigrated to the USA (his brother did), but chose not to because "life in Taiwan is pretty good, why do I need to go there?", is one who says he hopes in his life to take part in something as momentous as the Kaohsiung Incident, is one who truly believes in doing a good job as a civil servant, is one who thinks that the academic reputation of Taiwan needs to be rehabilitated after the self-"peer"-review scandal and is actively working toward that goal, is one who puts in long hours of preparation and post-class feedback at the Mandarin Training Center even when their other teachers can and do get away with shoddy teaching.

That, to me, is not a country without hope. It can't be.

Now, that whole "this is Taiwan, what can we do" business is a real thing. I've heard it too. It's heartbreaking to hear, but two things:

1.) I've heard that sort of defeatism in the US too

2.) Remember that Taiwan is a collectivist culture (a generalization with a strong grain of truth in it, to mix my metaphors a bit). In the US we seem to revere lone mavericks who dare to challenge The Man and change the world. In Taiwan, for the most part, there's not a lot of credence given to that view, and solutions have to be collective, by consensus, not just One Man Against Them All. That man would be dismissed, because that's just not how society works here. There's nothing wrong with that.

Let me repeat: there's nothing wrong with that. It's not wrong. It's just different. Different doesn't mean hopeless or defeatist. It just means different. Solutions may come slower than we Westerners would like, but they also tend to enjoy broader support and therefore more complete implementation (see: national health care).

So of course one man or woman would say "this is Taiwan, what can I do?" because in that cultural framework, just one man or woman can't do much.

And you know there's a lot to recommend that view. Usually, one person can't change much. That's not defeatism, that's just the world. There are exceptions - but generally speaking, it takes a society, not One Maverick Standing Up To The Man, to really change something. I don't think it's hopeless to admit that, it's just pragmatic. Far more realistic.

Secondly, I don't think this is really related to cha-bu-duoism. There are people who strive to excel, and there are lazy people, or people who feel like it's not worth it. But you know what, those do actually exist in other countries, even the US, too! Why are we not ascribing the millions of lazy Americans to a national epidemic of hopelessness? (I know, some Republicans do, but mostly, we know better). Secondly, a lot of times that's an individual thing, and probably has to do more with individual personality, as well as (as my friend noted, and I agree) a reaction to a stifling corporate culture where hierarchy is prioritized over ability or innovation, where the way to survive is not to disagree or speak out too much, where being better at your job than your boss is at his or hers won't necessarily get you promoted, and where getting too much done just means more work and not necessarily any more reward.

But that's the corporate world. That's capitalism. That has nothing to do with the political future of the nation, and just because it's easier to keep your job now with no troubles so you put your head down and don't always do your best, doesn't mean that is your entire worldview.

I mean good lord, if my worldview were based on all the things I've done just to get by in my jobs (I mean, I waitressed at a Friday's in an airport and it was terrible, and I've declined to tell bosses in corporate jobs what I thought of the running of the organization because I needed to keep the job for awhile longer), how horrible would that be?

It's what I have done to get by, but not a final say on how I see the world.

And if I can feel that way, how can I possibly say that "cha-bu-duo" workers don't?

Mayor Ko and the "importing" of foreign brides

Link in Chinese

Apparently when speaking at a women's equality forum, Mayor Ko, to use the words of other commentators, "gaffed" by pontificating on how there can be more unmarried Taiwanese men than women when Taiwan "imports" foreign brides, using the word for "import" that is used for objects rather than people (is there a word in Chinese for importing people?).

I tend to agree - this was a gaffe, one of many for a mayor whom I generally support, but still have reservations about regarding his views on women. I know, people say dumb things, people speak poorly, or they get in a fit of pique and say things they don't really mean or that don't reflect the entirety of their worldviews (or just aren't accurate in light of their entire worldviews).

But he's done this more than once: in the past saying he - a doctor - couldn't have been a gynecologist because he didn't want to spend his career "with his head between a woman's legs". I've thought for awhile these "gaffes" are more than poor choices of words, and veers into the "when people tell you who they are, believe them". In terms of his views on women, I can't help but think Ko is telling us who he is, and perhaps we should listen. Especially in light of his more eloquent handling of almost every other matter - why does he keep getting this one wrong if his statements don't belie some deeper belief that he doesn't dare acknowledge in public, in a country that despite being deeply traditional is also one of the most, if not the most, progressive in Asia, and possibly the best country in Asia for women.

What makes it tough is that, well, I like the guy. I cheered when Ko won the mayoralty (then again, who wouldn't given the opposition?). I like a solid progressive anti-establishment maverick, and it's no secret that I despise the KMT and support the goals of the DPP, even though I find it hard to support the DPP itself (Ko is not DPP, he's an independent with DPP-leaning views). It's easy to shout down or mock someone you don't like having views you find abhorrent - to give American examples, for me it wasn't hard to laugh at Mitt Romney, and it's quite easy to roll one's eyes at say, Chris Christie or dismiss Bush II for the idiot he is. It's a lot harder to, say, come to terms with the fact that Hillary Clinton is a terrible person, or that Obama has foreign policy goals that horrify me.

Such as it is with Ko - how do I square his statements about women, telling us who he really is, with the fact that I support and even like him?

I don't know. Watch this space.

Friday, March 6, 2015

American Sexist

This is a post for everyone who thinks that a lot of commentary about women's issues and everyday sexism in Taiwan (as this is, after all, a Taiwan-focused blog) are somehow unique to Taiwan or unique to Asia. "Taiwanese culture infantilizes women", they might say, or "In Taiwan women are expected to be very feminine, and they really don't like masculine things - that's why all the clothing and other items they buy are so girly".

Which, there's a speck of truth to that. I wouldn't go so far as to say women are "infantilized" in Taiwan (I know enough women who are, say, the general managers of investment company offices, who are senior executives or who basically run their family businesses, enough tomboys and women who simply aren't that feminine, enough rebels, athletes and artistic types to know that that is something of an exaggeration) but there does seem to be a cultural tendency to expect greater "femininity". Most stereotypes, after all, build bullshit around a kernel of truth.

What bothers me is the idea that this is somehow Asia-specific, Taiwan-specific, or has already been done away with in the Western countries that people who say this often a.) hail from and b.) praise.

I've been in the US for family reasons since December (it is now March, for those who read this post down the line). That's the longest amount of time I've spend in the US since the mid-aughts - 2006 to be precise. I was 26 when I left, and I feel I've grown and changed a lot since then - become more articulate in my support for, and reasons for supporting, feminist causes, for example. Behavior I put up with in male friends and boyfriends back then I would not put up with now, and I would be better able to articulate why.

So, this is the first time I've been around American cultural norms for an extended period since before my sense of feminist self fully formed - at least I think it's fully-formed at this point.  And you know what? Gender-pigeonholing and expecting 'femininity' is a huge problem here, as well. And yes, it is somewhat media-propagated, it's also socially propagated.

There's the Fifty Shades of Grey crap going around - since I've been back I've had at least one friend spend quite some time rhapsodizing the 'beauty' of a relationship where a significantly younger woman goes against her egalitarian beliefs and lets herself be dominated, as per the wishes of her (barf) "inner goddess", a relationship I'd categorize as if not abusive, at least full of red flags and creepy behavior (this is not a commentary on dom-sub relationships, of which I know very little and have no firsthand experience - this is a commentary on the relationship in that book/movie/pile of trash).

Then there's shopping. As I shop for spring clothing, something I am happy to have the luxury of doing without a problem (that never happened in Taiwan), my sister and I have noted several times that the clothing and t-shirts available for men are much cooler and more unique than those available for women. Some examples from Target:

 photo Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.07.14 PM.png

Choices for women: yawn. They're cute, but boring. Totally fine as one aspect of a wardrobe, and would be fine if more fun choices were available - but the only fun choices are super feminine:

 photo Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.38.00 PM.png

So, the men get Game of Thrones sigils and Star Wars t-shirts, and we get "SINGLE"? Yuck.

There were t-shirts for sports teams - most of which seemed to include the word "Swag".

The men's t-shirts were much more interesting: 

 photo Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.08.18 PM.png

I personally would want "Omnomnomnivore" from that group.

So, we've been shopping in the men's section. I got fuzzy Batman pajama pants, Boba Fett pajama pants, a Sriracha t-shirt, and I almost bought a Star Trek t-shirt but decided against it as the last movie was so damn bad. You can get t-shirts for everything from Guiness to The Big Bang Theory to A Song of Ice and Fire. I'll have to get all the t-shirts altered.

I asked if any of these were available in the women's section. Nope. For women? Boooyyyss, we're single! 

Do they think women just don't like sci-fi, Game of Thrones or delicious, delicious Sriracha? I like all of those things. What makes them think that a woman wouldn't love a pair of fuzzy Batman pajama pants or a baby Iron Man t-shirt or a Darth Vader sugar skull t-shirt? All of which I would totally wear. I would not wear Snoopy sporting a pink bow or anything that says "swag", "cute", "kiss me" or whatever on it. Also, no sparkles please.

I've also been watching an inordinate amount of TV, simply because it's quite novel to have a lot of channels to choose from in my native language. I've become strangely obsessed with Ellen's Design Challenge (I just love cool furniture I suppose), but was put off by the judges saying repeatedly that "women" would not like one designer's items. Here's an example of an item that is "masculine" and that "every man" would want in their home but hardly any women would buy (very close to what was actually said.

Both my sister and I were put off by this - I freaking love this fan...thing (it's a credenza, right?). I would TOTALLY buy that. I would probably never buy the more 'feminine' designs thought up by other designers. I happened to love this guy's "masculine" work - I'm all about interesting metals, industrial details and thick natural woods*. 

I wouldn't go so far as to say I was pissed at how the show categorized these designs as "for men", but it, along with the "now we shop in the men's section at Target" experience, has really made me think about whether the US is really better at all in terms of socially-conditioned gender stereotyping than Taiwan.

Sure, women in the US, at least my part of the US, get less blowback for expressing our not-always-feminine preferences and sensibilities, and in Taiwan a lot of women complain that they do. But I'm from the People's Republic of New York where we are all Communists, pornographers, homosexuals and Jews - I would wager that in other parts of the country it's much worse. And you won't see as many instances of Hello Kitty figurine collection or anything like that.

But really, I'm not even particularly anti-feminine - if even I, not the least feminine person you will meet (although certainly not the most) feels pigeonholed, like "this is for girls, that is for boys" in the USA, if even I feel like I have to shop in the men's section of Target to get cool t-shirts and get irritated at a TV show for implying that women don't like things that women obviously do like, as I'm a woman and I like them, then maybe we are not as progressive as we think, maybe Taiwan isn't so much worse or so much more sexist than we think, and maybe we need to get off our high horses about what it's like 'back home'.

Women still get a raw deal here, too.

*shut up

Monday, February 23, 2015

Delta Module 3: the Git 'r Done Edition

After writing up a recommended pre-course reading list for Delta Module 3, I have some more thoughts and advice I'd like to share:

1.) Become very familiar with Word and Excel, especially creating graphs. This will save you a lot of time later.

You're going to need to be able to do things without problem such as reducing file sizes, scanning and inserting JPGs and PDFs, creating graphs in Excel and inserting them into Word, and creating page breaks or having only some pages in a longer portrait-oriented document render as landscape. Figuring it out as you go, if you're not already a whiz at Office (and I'm not - I was a terrible admin assistant), wastes time. This is especially important if you use a Mac, as the tutors for the online courses tend to use Windows and usually don't know how to help Mac users.

2.) If you think the paper lacks some construct validity, you're not alone.

My main issue has to do with word counts (below). I get why the limits exist and support that, I just think the limits decided upon are unreasonable and should be modified, not abandoned. I wrote about this regarding Module 1 as well. 

While obviously your grade is assessed based on the quality of your curriculum design, it is also to some extent assessed based on how well you can cram your individual writing style into their parameters, and how adept you are at cramming information into their teeny-tiny word counts. I have never delivered a baby, but I would compare trying to cram the amount of information I wanted to include into the word count they gave me as roughly similar to pushing a fairly large (think 10-12 pound) baby out of an itty-bitty vagina. It is entirely possible that a writer who does not have, and is not good at, creating a compact writing style might get a lower score just for that reason, regardless of how good the paper would have been without such stringent guidelines.

Maybe I'm just not very British about the whole thing, but, I do feel that the paper ought to be assessing how well we understand and apply the fundamentals of curriculum design, not how well we pack information into insufficient word counts. It does not entirely succeed in this regard as the word counts are simply not sufficient.

3.) If you think the recommended reading is a bit dated (a lot of it is from the '90s or earlier), you're also not alone, but there's a good reason for that.

I'm actually OK with this simply because a lot of really good seminal works were written in that time, after the Communicative Approach had become more of a standard thing and less of a groundbreaking new approach that, like the release of a new technology, inevitably had a few bugs to work out, but before that approach started to feel a little stale as it does today, but with nothing better having come along to replace it (rather like our End of History and the Last Man liberal democracy). And those works tend to be updated and come out in new editions. So, I'm fine with Bailey and Graves and Nunan because their publications remain relevant. The only thing to watch out for are un-updated books that haven't accounted for the emergence of computers. Like so:

 photo 10622948_10152756939661202_801816646064914207_n.jpg

4.) Yes, the word counts and other requirements are persnickety. Whoever designed the word counts is on my permanent hit list. Either way, listen carefully and do exactly as your tutor or course leader says.

I'm not anti-word count. I'm anti-British word counts.

I'm used to an academic system where you are given wide parameters - usually font size, spacing, margins and a generous variance in page requirements (say, 8-10 or 12-15), possibly font selection itself. What this does is create some basic standardization so you don't get two-page papers nor do you get 200-page papers when you wanted about 20-page papers, but someone with a terser writing style can write, say, 8 pages and someone who likes a few rhetorical flourishes can write 12 pages. There's room for individuality and creativity, and nobody would think anything of it if the paper didn't meet exact specifications.

This is a good system because it acknowledges that there is very little difference, nor is there any reason to freak out, over, say, an extra paragraph or have a page longer or shorter. It's really okay - what matters is the quality of the paper, whatever the size. None but the most anal American would care if your paper were, say, 4503 words rather than 4500.

And yet, this is what Cambridge essentially freaks out over. Your paper should be about 4500 words. You can write as few as 4000 (but 3999 and HOLY SHIT CALL IN THE NATIONAL GUARD YOU FAIL), and as many as 4500 (but 4501 and HOLY SHIT WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE FROM ZOMBIES). It doesn't make any sense - what is the difference in quality between 4500 and 4501 words? Or 3999 and 4000?

Wouldn't someone who wrote 4570 words well be turning in an inferior work by editing down to 4500 when it really sounded better with the extra 70 words?

The variances allowed in American page limits allow for this. Cambridge on the other hand has clearly eaten too many scones and not enough vegetables and needs a nice long sit on the pot to just relax.

I'm not saying abandon word limits - some standardization is needed. Or even to change to page limits - why not keep your precious word limits, but make them more flexible? How about 4000-5000? Or (heaven forfend!) 3500-5500? Wouldn't you get better quality papers with more freedom? Papers that inject a little individual flair into the whole thing rather than a string of passable but unengaging academic crap?

Along with this, the word limits given for the information asked for is simply not sufficient. What's asked for is reasonable. For example, for Part 2 it makes sense to want a candidate to describe and justify their needs analysis and diagnostic test strategies, write about their analysis of the results, and end with a short class profile and course priorities. What doesn't make sense is to ask for this in 900 words. 1500 words is more reasonable, and you'd get better quality work from it. Furthermore, you'd be assessing based more on the content rather than how well it's crammed inside a too-small package, increasing construct validity.

It also forces any sort of individuality or unique voice from your paper - my writing style was so quashed that it barely reads as having been written by me. I had to do things like replace "and" for every closely related set of nouns with a slash (so "speaking and listening" was replaced with "speaking/listening" because it was one word rather than three). This may sound like a conceit, but Cambridge says that they prefer paper that speaks to individual experience and insight - how can you do that if you are not provided sufficient word count?

Finally, every word processing program counts words differently. Microsoft Word for Mac counted my paper at 4498 words, but Word 2007 on a PC counted them as 4570. So, we were told to note the word processing program we used to account for any discrepancies.

But if you're going to do allow such discrepancies, then why have a word count at all? What purpose does it serve to be so exact when my handed in paper is 4498 words and another candidate's is 4500, but when viewed in the same program mine is 70 words longer, but would still be accepted even though the other candidate's would not be if it were 4501 words? It makes. no. sense.

As for the requirements, yeah, they want very specific things. While that does quash individuality to some extent, I get the reasoning behind this. Just don't ignore anything your tutor says. If your tutor says "you may want to provide further justification", then do that. If your tutor says "this could be addressed later", then move the point to be addressed later.

You don't have to agree. You just have to do it. Is this realistic? No. But there you go.

5.) Is there a slight bias toward one kind of syllabus? Yes. But technically you can do anything you want as long as you justify, justify, justify.

Cambridge folk and your tutors will swear up and down that there is no bias towards any kind of syllabus - it could be a process or product syllabus, negotiated or synthetic, whatever you want as long as it suits your goals and class needs and you can justify it. With one exception: as you have to submit some kind of course plan, you can't use a totally free-form syllabus reliant on Dogme or the Natural Approach*.

But, I swear to you, I observed a bias. As assessment is a required aspect of your course, a product syllabus with "can do" statements or clear assessment "at the end of this course, students will be able to" goals is the clearly favored syllabus for this assignment. Perhaps it is because a product syllabus requires less justification generally: the end goals of that syllabus and how they line up with the class's priorities, which are why it's called a product syllabus at all, are their own justification, but a process syllabus that focuses on how and what will be taught, with assessment merely measuring what was learned without pre-set ideas of what the outcome should be requires further justification as to why that process was chosen and why it's not necessary to state your desired outcomes or achievement levels.

But, that still boils down to "you don't have to work as hard to justify a product syllabus" which makes a product syllabus easier to use for this assignment, which I feel creates a bias in favor of it - less need for justification requires less verification and agreement on the validity of that justification after all.

Someone using a process syllabus is going to have to explain why they aren't using a product one (which takes the form of justifying a lack of defined end goals) but someone using a product syllabus does not have to justify why they didn't use a process one.

Add to that the tightfisted (or tight-other-body-parted) word count requirements that don't leave a lot of space to justify your choices, and there is a clear bias in favor of choosing a path that requires less justification - there isn't enough space to do justice to a more involved choice.

That doesn't mean you need to use a product syllabus - just that you're going to have to fight harder for your process syllabus, which is arguably not fair.

*I still think this sounds like the title of a porno movie

6.) Get reading done early - you will need that time to analyze and write about your results and ideas.

See my previous post, linked above.

As much as you think you can put it off, you can't. You will need more time than you ever imagined to design, roll out, collect, analyze and write up your diagnostic test and needs analysis (which should be related, by the way - your needs analysis results should inform the kind of diagnostic test you design - for example if the learners you're working with don't need to focus on listening and don't report any problems with listening you wouldn't design a diagnostic test focusing on listening, obviously). So get crackin' on that reading NOW and thank me later.

7.) The assignment itself may only be 4500 words, but the appendices you will attach bring it up to 100+ pages.

Yes, that's how much supporting information you need. Remember, for everything you write about in parts 2, 3 and 4 of this assignment, you'll need a buttload of data or sample materials supporting your choices. You're not writing a 17-page paper. You're writing a 117-page paper, even if it's not considered such when you submit.

8.) It's easier to choose a standard class with standard needs. However, doing this may also make it hard to be creative.

Brendan and I ran into this.

During the assignment, I was definitely the more stressed-out spouse, with my unusual class who didn't want to do role plays, communicative activities, games or take any sort of tests and which, while being a Business English class, didn't really want many of the topics commonly associated with Business English with the exception of presentations. When they talked about what they needed - to be able to socialize with coworkers, higher-ups at work and industry peers, for example, the common Business English methods for that were not interesting to them. They weren't there, as most BE students are, to improve in specific ways for work purposes: they were there for a reason not commonly found in BE - to have fun.

It was very hard to create a class for them within the BE parameters - and yes, there is a bias in favor of using a class that to some degree fits a typical profile of a class in your chosen specialism (there kind of has to be - otherwise how can you be assessed at how well the course you've designed fits within the specialism you've chosen?). Although, what this bias does is compartmentalize learners into classes that fit into specialisms that may not reflect them well for reasons that may be arbitrary. (I could see, however, Cambridge parrying this with "a Business English class doesn't fit in the BE specialism simply because it takes place in a business for colleagues and paid for by the company, that class may well be General English despite superficial similarities to Business English", and they wouldn't be wrong).

This gave me, while not real ulcers, definite ulcer-like pains. For the longest time it was unclear whether my class fit the BE profile sufficiently, but I didn't have another class to fall back on.

On the other hand, because my class was so unusual, I had a lot of room to be extremely creative in how I approached it. I had to be: I couldn't do the standard stuff as they didn't want it. I suspect this creativity-by-necessity may have contributed to my getting a Merit on the assignment.

Brendan had the opposite experience: his class fit the exam class mold perfectly. He was far less stressed during the assignment as the needs of the class were clear and well within the parameters of the specialism profile. The path was clear for him and he got to use a product syllabus (as above, it is its own justification!). I chose a process syllabus because it made sense for my class, and had to justify up the wazoo why I didn't choose a product one. He chose a product syllabus because it made sense for his class but at no point had to explain why he didn't choose a process one.

And yet, because his class was so straightforward, it was easy and smart to use well-established, straightforward approaches and materials. There isn't a lot of room for creativity and change when the norm actually works, after all.

So, despite his paper likely being better situated within the Delta Module 3 rubric, it may have actually been harder for him to have achieved a Merit.

We'll never know.

Advice? Try to be creative - if you do it well and justify it, it pays off.

9.) If you think you have enough charts and graphs, you don't.


When I did my first diagnostic test result appendix, I was told that for assessing speaking, I did not need to type out transcripts of what was said and then analyze every little grammar, lexical, pronunciation etc. error, that I could mark based on overall impressions and then give some examples of how I came to those impressions. I thought I'd done a pretty good job with that, when I was told it was not sufficient.

In the end I did actually type out transcripts of what was said - although I chose snippets of conversation that exemplified my impressions rather than analyzing the entire 3 hours of spoken discourse, and analyzed those for the above issues. I had been told I did not need to, but I did.

Then I graphed those issues, comparing the number of grammar errors, lexical errors, register errors and pronunciation errors in a pie chart to see which were the most prevalent, separated out for monologues (such as a presentation) and discussion (a group conversation), using the total number of non-target forms to inform my assessment of their overall level.

I originally had maybe 5 or 6 graphs for the spoken part of the diagnostic test. After rejiggering it with the additional analysis, which took an entire working day, I had graphs and charts in the double digits.

And I still only got a Merit, not a Distinction, despite doing more than I was told I would have to do.

You need more graphs.

10.) Advice and guidance for Module 3 generally tell you to set aside a few hours a week for it (I think in the range of 7-10). This is not true. Treat it like a part-time job: 20 hours a week or thereabouts is what you'll need to do well.

Not much to say here. Expect to spend several hours a week and at least one entire weekend day on this, and toward the end expect to devote entire weekends to it.

11.) I definitely recommend taking the three-month online course over the two-week crash course after which you write your paper.

I can't say much about the two-week course - perhaps if it comes with post-course tutor support as you devise your curriculum and write the paper, it won't be so bad. But considering the amount of reading I had to do, and the level of detail of the requirements and how to meet them that I had to understand and apply, I really don't feel two weeks could have done anything other than confuse and terrify me. Doing it over several months means that you don't have to worry too much about the next part of your assignment: you do each one in turn, and breaking it down like that and connecting them as you go makes a complex project easier.

12.) I'm not encouraging you to be a pirate per se, but I just want to point out that you need a lot of books to get a healthy number of citations and have a good number of sources informing your ideas, and if you don't have access to an ELT library at work or school, well...

...I mean, it's not good to pirate intellectual property. But without some form of access, doing this on your own could cost you literally hundreds if not up to a thousand dollars in books, especially if you buy all new. Not a lot of these books are available in e-book format at a discount.

First, try to buy used. Second, save on shipping by having orders consolidated by a friend or relative in a country with cheap shipping, sent to you as one box. Third, pay full price but order from Book Depository where shipping is free around the world, or in Taiwan, Bu Ke Lai which will deliver to a 7-11 near you (Caves also has an extensive ELT offering and is a pleasant walk to the corner of Minzu and Zhongshan Roads from Minquan W. Road MRT, as does Crane which delivers). AbeBooks is also a good resource but hard to use for maximum savings.

If none of those options helps you bring down the cost of books, I'm not telling you to pirate so you definitely should not check out all of the titles available as PDFs online, nor should you seek out help even though there are people out there with PDFs who are willing to help a serious teacher out.

I'm just saying. It's really not right how expensive books can be for some candidates without access, which creates a system of privilege between the haves (British Council teachers?) and the have-nots (freelance Business English trainers?). I discussed this regarding Module 1 reading in a previous post. I don't like such systems, and mum's the word if you decide to tear down some walls. Knowledge shouldn't be something only accessible to those who have enough money to pay for it.

13.) Be ready for some culture shock if you're not British or "close enough" British (like Australian or Kiwi*). Basically if you're American.

Partly the word counts, partly the British English, partly the foreign and somewhat baffling qualification and award system, and partly the way they use language. I don't think Cambridge ESOL intends to come across this way, but something about things like "stronger candidates provided a correct definition" and "weaker candidates had weak arguments" or "candidates are recommended to spell terms correctly" (page 7) just...come across as a bit snobby-posh to Americans, I guess.

Oh, and get used to British indirectness. "You may wish to revisit this" means "this sucks, fix it". "This is a good point that could be improved with further discussion" means "okay, but you're going to have to say more". "Are you sure this is the best strategy?" means "this is a bad strategy". "How does this connect to what you said earlier?" means "Either this doesn't connect to what you said earlier, or I don't see how it does". "I'm not clear on this" means "you were not clear on this". "I'm not sure" means "you are wrong".

Also I'm not sure if this is a culture difference thing but some of the examiner's report comments on Delta modules strike me as odd. For example, the 2011 report for Module 3 says that weaker candidates started with a course in mind and chose the specialism later, letting it act as a kind of title, when it needs to be front-and-center. Which, yeah, you need to keep the specialism in mind at all times, but the only way I could see to avoid that issue would be to choose your specialism and then choose from among a selection of suitable learner groups. And that strikes me as quite a privilege - I wish I'd had that option. But, I only had one reasonable option for my learner group, and if I had to choose Teaching English to Poopydinguses because it was the only specialty that fit my only real choice of group, then consarnit I was going to choose Teaching English to Poopydinguses. Not everyone has the luxury of choosing a specialism first and a course that fits it later.


Calm down.

14.) At some point you just have to go all "Git 'R Done". 

I reached a point in my paper when I was devising a class that, while mostly good, I knew would in some ways be unacceptable to my learners. They would never want to do the formative assessment I devised, nor would they want to do any sort of homework, for example. They would be far more interested in discussing the media I chose rather than doing any sort of specific language work with it. In most classes you can make them take their medicine, that is, give them what they don't want so they can achieve what they do want. But with my class, they didn't have any specific goals for what they did want other than "speak better English", "be more fluent" and "have fun". The last was a very specific and strongly-stated goal. As such we'd been using Dogme, and it'd been working. Their employer was fine with this - implicitly encouraged it, even! But, I needed language work and other activities in my course plan - filling it with discussion would not have been acceptable as it would have been rather formless. So, I designed activities and language work I knew they would never want to do, and I would never make them do (even though I might make a different class do them).

I kind of felt like, "if I'm supposed to design a course that learners will both be happy with and benefit from, and I have to include these sorts of things, but I know they won't be happy with it, and I would never actually teach it that way despite this being a course tailored to those learners, then why am I doing it at all? What is the point of a course tailor-made to learners to Cambridge's satisfaction that the learners themselves won't want to do?"

My learners knew that I was using them for Module 3, and overtly said that they did not want anything to do with the formative assessment that I was required to design. They said outright to put it in the paper to pass but please never give it to them, or if I devised an observation-based assessment, to never tell them about it as they didn't like the anxiety of being observed that way. I knew I would never deliver the formative assessment as written.

But, you know? Git 'r done. I put it in there and got my Merit. A merit for a great course, tailored to specific students, who would prefer that it not be tailored in quite the way Cambridge expected it to be.

Whatever. Git 'r done.

15.) In the end, it's worth it.

You'll be stressed and full of suppurating ulcers, and you'll start feeling really stabby toward the end, but you gain a lot of insight into what goes into planning a solid course, and practical knowledge of syllabus and curriculum design that would be harder to pick up as quickly or practically in any other way. One thing I can say is that I improved a great deal and that has informed my teaching. That makes all the ulcers worthwhile.