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Whose conference is this? IATEFL 2017 reflections

April 8, 2017

It’s a bit strange when a big international conference like IATEFL comes to your home town. In many ways it highlights just how international it is, and this year it also highlighted to me how little the ELT scene in Scotland is engaging with the wider profession. This was a great opportunity for us to showcase the many good things that go on here, and also to take advantage of the valuable input that can be gained by attending something like this. Obviously a number of us did, and there were a few sessions from local presenters, but on the whole I feel there could have been a much bigger local presence at the conference. Maybe it was because it took place during a week where most schools and colleges are on holiday, and, understandably, only a small minority of teachers are prepared to give up valuable holiday time to attend something work-related. Or maybe most ESOL teachers in Scotland just don’t think IATEFL is for them; it’s too EFL-y, too global to have relevance, I don’t know.

Anyway, I want to write about something that really stood out to me at this year’s conference, which is the scale of corporate influence over IATEFL and the tensions caused between big money sponsors and the genuine (I think) desire of IATEFL to be a force for good. Other bloggers like Geoff Jordan have criticised IATEFL in the past for being little more than a sales convention for publishers and a vehicle for writers to sell their latest books. Apart from the shameless plugging of materials and other “products” that goes on in the exhibition area, where delegates eagerly lap up the sales pitches along with the free samples of materials, stress balls, beer, bubbly and whatever else is deemed effective at luring them in, I was also struck by the corporate messages being transmitted through the sessions themselves.

The most striking example of this for me was in Sue Kay’s session on using authentic materials. I got a lot out of this session, but I’m not sure if what I got out of it was what Sue wanted me to get (I really hope it was!) and I know for sure that what I got out of it definitely wasn’t what Pearson, the publishers of her latest coursebook, would have wanted. Her session was entitled “The genuine article (you couldn’t make it up)” and ostensibly aimed to demonstrate the value of using authentic texts rather than writing them from scratch.


Very quickly though, it became obvious that Sue was really talking about using authentic texts in coursebooks. Within the first five minutes she had qualified her definition of “authentic” to mean texts that are originally found in authentic contexts, but are then adapted/graded to be more accessible for learners of English. Which, it could be argued, means they are no longer authentic, but let’s leave that whole argument to one side. Sue wanted to demonstrate the considerations that must be taken when selecting texts, to be sure the learners – in her case older teens – would respond positively to them. To do this, she presented three different authentic texts that she had wanted to include in her latest book, and our task was to guess which two had been rejected by the editors and which one had been accepted. The first one was about Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, and how they had jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in promoting children’s rights to education. The second text was about Jeff Bezos, the multi-billionaire founder of Amazon. The text described some of his personality traits and, put bluntly, implied that he is a bit of a dick. The third text was about a machine that sucks in smog and blows out clean air, and also breaks down the gunge from the smog in such a way that it can be used to make jewellery.

Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not (depending on how sceptical you are about international publishing companies), Sue’s editors accepted the text about the smogsucker, for these reasons:


I suspect they also liked the fact that the machine’s ability to recycle the smog particles makes it commercially viable as well as good for the environment. But OK, it’s an interesting innovation and it does have a positive use, though the publishers seemed to like the picture most of all and were less interested in its potential to curb pollution. In fact they seemed to like the fact that the article seemed to trivialise the “potentially dry” topic of the environment. Potentially dry!

So this means of course that the publishers rejected the text about Bezos. They didn’t like it because it didn’t portray him as a positive role model:


So we want to make out to the younger generation that all multi-billionaires are nice guys, do we? That’s aspirational, I suppose. Apparently it’s good for the younger generation to grow up thinking that rich capitalists got where they are by being nice to everybody. That way, when they end up on a low wage working for The Man, at least they’ll believe that The Man is spending his billions responsibly.

The publishers also rejected the text on Malala and Satyarthi, and here are the reasons they gave Sue:


To my way of thinking, these reasons are simply pathetic excuses. Students are too far removed from the topic? The topic is education for children. The students are older children who would be reading the text in an educational context. The topic couldn’t be more relevant to them if it was dancing a jig on their classroom desk. Satyarthi is too old for the students to relate to? Do these students not have parents and grandparents? Do they never engage with other generations? If teenagers have problems relating to older people then surely those of us who are educating them have a responsibility to make it easier for them to do this, like maybe showing them how older people like Satyarthi can do a lot of good for the younger generation. Controversial? This could only be controversial if the teenage students thought that they shouldn’t have a right to free education. If they do have that opinion, then surely there’s something seriously wrong with the type of education they are getting. Oh hang on.

As soon as the presentation was finished, and before Sue even got a chance to answer questions, some guy from Pearson stood up and announced that we could find out more about the book and order copies etc. from their stand in the exhibition hall, and then about half a dozen other Pearson people marched down the aisles thrusting brochures into our hands. It was all very hard-sell and really quite aggressive.

The whole experience of being in this session was a bit weird. Sue stressed how, when she saw the feedback from her editors, she agreed with what they were saying and was happy to go with the smogsucker and forget the other two texts. But her candour in exposing the comments from her editors gave us a real insight into just how ugly, self-motivated and irresponsible a publishing company can be. I genuinely hope that this was her real intention, and that her session was a clever act of subversion.

However, despite the dominant in-your-face commercialism resulting from its reliance on corporate sponsorship, there is still plenty to be said about IATEFL as a potential source for good. The most obvious example of this was the fact there was a plenary from JJ Wilson in which he spoke passionately about the work of Paolo Freire, and gave practical examples of how language teaching can be used as a means of highlighting inequalities and promoting social justice. There were also a number of smaller sessions on the same theme, such as Mike Chick’s engaging presentation of his partnership project that provides ESOL classes to refugees in Cardiff. Linda Ruas, who is heavily involved in IATEFL’s Global Issues SIG, did a great job of demonstrating the usefulness of the free downloadable materials that she’s developing for New Internationalist Magazine. Angelos Bollas presented research findings on the lack of LGBTQ representation in ELT materials. These are just the ones I saw, and I’m sure there were a lot more. I suppose I should also be grateful to IATEFL for allowing me to give my own presentation, which was a fairly direct attack on certain aspects of established ELT practices.

But IATEFL’s status as a charity, and the fact that the conference relies on sponsorship from massive corporations like Pearson, Cambridge and the like, places it in a very uncomfortable ethical position. Well, it should feel uncomfortable; I don’t know whether it does. There is some evidence to suggest that IATEFL is quite happy in its relationship with these for-profit bodies, such as its refusal to accept a Teachers as Workers SIG on the grounds that it doesn’t want to get involved in politics. This in itself is a political decision, which seems to place IATEFL firmly on the side of the dominant sources of power, rather than standing up against inequalities and promoting ELT as a force for good. Maybe all this social justice stuff at IATEFL is just lip-service, a bit like McDonald’s selling carrot sticks.

For those of us who do genuinely believe that education should not be a for-profit industry, I don’t think we should be boycotting IATEFL. Instead, I think we should all become paid-up members, allowing IATEFL to become less reliant on corporate sponsorship and forcing it to listen to the voices of individual teachers around the world. We should all attend the conferences but, instead of drinking the free beer and listening to the sales pitches, we should ask the reps questions about pricing structures, profit margins and the ethical issues embedded in the content of their materials. We should go to all the sessions, applauding any that promote education for social justice and heckling any that promote “innovative new products”. We should submit proposals for our own sessions so that the balance of content tips in our favour, creating a dominant discourse calling for our profession to harness its emancipatory potential. IATEFL is an International Association of Teachers. Let’s claim it back.

  1. Exit through the gift shop!

  2. geoffjordan permalink

    Good stuff, Steve. Just 2 things I disagree with.

    1. JJ Wilson’s plenary was as bland as his coursebooks are. He’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing if ever there was one. He mentions Marx, he pays lip service to Freire’s education for liberation and condemns “the banking method” while doing absolutely nothing to ruffle the feathers of the sensitive ELT establishment. What did his “passionate” talk of Freire amount to? Nothing! What did his “practical examples of how language teaching can be used as a means of highlighting inequalities and promoting social justice” amount to? A song here, a poem there, a gentle nod in the direction of “social justice”. His plenary was a cloying bit of candy floss, devoid of any real argument or challenging content.

    2. Rather than trying to claim IATEFL back, I think we should organise our own conferences where the likes of Pearson would only be welcome if they came to join the discussion rather than to sell stuff. We in the SLG cooperative in Barcelona are planning a conference here later this year, and we want to liaise with others – you, Paul Walsh (TWSIG) and like minded folk around the globe – so that there are simultaneous local conferences going on, all talking about issues that affect working teachers, all linked on line.

    • Hi Geoff,
      Thanks for commenting. I get both your points, and I share your concerns. I was also a bit sceptical before JJ Wilson’s talk because I only know him as a coursebook writer. Yes, his talk didn’t really show us how ELT can play a truly emancipatory role in addressing inequalities, but I think he managed to open a few eyes and, frankly, that wasn’t bad going, given his audience. I was shocked at how many hands went up when he asked how many of us had no idea who Paolo Freire was – a good 90% of the room, I’d say. But then, when you think about it, why would your average IATEFLer know anything about Freire or Critical Pedagogy? I did my Cert in 1993, my Dip in 1998, and a Masters in 2002 without any mention of Freire. It’s only really in the last few years that I’ve started to become aware of critical pedagogy as a result of doing a doctorate in Education (as opposed to ELT or Applied Linguistics), and also through my own reading of blogs and stuff.
      Once you become aware of what Critical Pedagogy is, it seems so obvious that a key purpose of education should be to build a more equitable society, but the fact is that the vast majority of ELT professionals are, shockingly, unaware of this basic concept. Unlike any other area of education that I know of, ELT is stuck in a very weird, narrow paradigm that gets most of its information from Applied Linguistics and is obsessed with the (possibly futile?) goal of discovering how people learn languages, without really considering the wider impact of what the process and outcomes of learning languages can lead to. You know how teachers of other subjects sometimes describe us as not being “proper” teachers? That’s why.
      I am now starting to think that the first big challenge we need to overcome is to educate teachers, never mind students, to allow them to become aware of what they are doing and how current practice is perpetuating, even fuelling, global inequalities.
      I know we need to be careful that existing dominant forces don’t hijack, dilute, repackage and profit from a project that aims to diminish their power, but it became clear to me at this year’s conference that there is such a lack of awareness among English language teachers that there’s even a problem, in which case anything that highlights this has to be a good thing.
      Regarding your other point, I agree with Claudie that we should do both. People like us need to share ideas as a means of developing ourselves and the effectiveness of our praxis, but if that’s all we do there’s a danger we’ll only ever be a curiosity, a sideshow, a group of radical weirdos that nobody takes seriously. The opposite should be the case. Our approach is grounded in theory that is widely respected in the field of education and educational philosophy. The notion of education as a means of improving the state of the world goes back centuries. It’s congruent with the work of John Dewey, who saw education as key to the implementation and maintenance of Democracy, and Freire’s influence on education in general is massive. It is the use of education as a means of generating profit and reinforcing hegemony that is the fad, the curiosity, the weird and illogical philosophy. It shouldn’t have a place in the mainstream, and it certainly shouldn’t be the dominant ideology at conferences like IATEFL. I genuinely feel there’s potential for us to work with IATEFL, rather than against it, to bring about real change in the way language teachers regard themselves, their learners, and their profession. There’s a long way to go of course, but we can use IATEFL as a vehicle for effecting this change.

  3. Geoff – Do both. Influence from within: TAWSIG has been noticed and issues are relevant – grow awareness and support. It is a matter of time. A true union IATEFL will never be – but without teachers it is not an “Association” – so it better take care of its true resource people. I wonder if Harmer would have had the volte face about “Grammar Syllabus” if it weren’t for your comments – and reality. (btw – not sure it is a true change of heart but I like Harmer anyways🙂)
    Influence AND act. Conferences? Yes. Also – with self publishing easy enough to get out a text with “Everything You Wanted to Know about PARSNIPS, but were Afraid to Ask”. (Wouldn’t it just go viral!)

    • geoffjordan permalink

      JJ Wilson’s novel Damnificados takes place in an imaginary Latin American city and has very little to do with any real squatter struggle. You may or may not like it, but there’s nothing “radical” about it – it does about as much as Harry Potter to promote social justice. He is also the co-author of “Language To Go” Intermediate, where, just in case the title doesn’t give you a clue about its content, attention to the present perfect is more in evidence than attention to anything Freire might approve of. He couldn’t possibly have been LESS radical in his IATEFL presentation, which doesn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with his work.

      • paulwalsh permalink

        Hmm…didn’t know he was also a coursebook writer…

    • geoffjordan permalink

      Sorry, my comment was a reply to Paul’s comments that appear further down.

      While I’m here, in reply to Claudie, I take your point, but I think we’d do well to devote more energy to fostering alternatives than to trying to change IATEFL.

  4. paulwalsh permalink

    Hi Steve,

    Good post. You pick up the tensions that run like a fault line through IATEFL, what I call in my blog post the Schizophrenia of ELT – – reflected in the question: Are we an industry or profession?

    1. These two opposing tendencies are mutually incompatible and cannot be resolved, because no matter how hard you try, the people who pay the most money IN wield the most power and influence. And at the moment, it’s the corporates singing the tune that everyone dances to. (And I have little sympathy for the shrieks on Twitter of ‘Pearson’s losing money!’ – as if big corporations are exempt from the laws of capitalism and actually PEOPLE rather than businesses. Teachers are also losing money through the crappy pay and conditions we’re forced to work under.)

    2. ‘I was also struck by the corporate messages being transmitted through the sessions themselves.’

    One way neoliberal capitalism works is by transmitting the same message in different ways. So after Sue Kay’s presentation you have Pearson aggressively marketing their products; in other session you have ‘Create the PD you deserve.’ Though seemingly different, they both have the same neoliberal capitalist worldview. That is, that humans are basically utilitarian individuals operating in a market according to a calculus of profit and loss etc. – a deeply flawed economic view or people and of teachers – and currently being fiercely attacked. (And it’s tawdry more than anything else.) Many economists are turning away from this model to something else, see Ann Pettifor’s book ‘The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers’ – and check out the New Economics Foundation website.

    3. I like the call to ‘Claim back IATEFL’ but to do that you’d have to step on an awful lot of toes. How many teachers would be willing to do that within IATEFL – and perhaps risk their career prospects and position in the ELT Ponzi scheme?

    4. I haven’t watched the JJ Willson presentation, saw the slides on Twitter, looked like it started great but went gooey at the end with a kind of ‘we’re all good people’ liberal nothingness. Critical pedagogy is really meant to be what it says on the tin – critical. (But then it is an IATEFL plenary..)

    I would also recommend teachers read ‘Education for Critical Consciousness’ rather than ‘Pedagogy…’, which is a bit of a plod in my opinion.

    • Thanks for this, Paul. I think we’re very much on the same page, and I agree that there wasn’t much criticality in JJ Wilson’s talk. But I’m not sure how much criticality his audience could have taken; so many delegates at the conference seemed very happy to just lap up and accept what was being fed to them without really critically engaging with it.
      I agree that the use of precarity is a clever way of muffling dissent, but there are a few people like yourself who are brave enough to stick their heads above the parapet, and there are others like myself (and maybe Geoff, though I don’t want to assume too much) who are in far less precarious positions and who therefore can speak out relatively freely.
      I think though that there are also a lot of people in the ELT world who are capable of effecting change but are unaware that it even exists as an option. The current CPD model is CELTA, where you learn some low-level technical skills, followed by DELTA, where you learn to be really good at implementing low-level technical skills, then a Masters, where you learn about the SLA theories underpinning the same low-level technical skills. Meanwhile, career options beyond being “just” a teacher are limited to becoming a teacher trainer, where you pass on the same low-level skills to others, becoming a manager, where you enforce the regime of precarity and help line the pockets of the directors, or becoming a materials writer. Of these options, the most financially lucrative option is to write a global coursebook for a global publishing company.
      I don’t think many people go into these types of job because they want to become oppressors and achieve personal gain from others’ misery. They either want a relatively decent income or a bit of kudos, possibly a bit of fame, or respect from their fellow professionals. Kudos and/or fame/respect can be achieved by rocking the boat as well as steering it, but only if people realise that the boat they are in is on a dangerous course. I think IATEFL can be used to make this point.

  5. paulwalsh permalink

    JJ Wilson published a novel with radical publisher PM press called ‘Damnificados’ based on a true story of squatters in Venezuela occupying a tower block – perhaps he could have been a bit more radical in his IATEFL presentation.

  6. Anthony Gaughan permalink

    Hello Steve,

    There are some things here I agree with, and some things I don’t.

    Points of agreement:
    1) The talk you describe above is a good example of a publisher handling a talk badly.

    2) The stories in the talk support criticism of publishers’ approaches to materials selection.

    3) By the way, lack of clear signposting of commercial talks in the programme makes avoiding these talks harder; they used to be signposted, if memory serves, and – if they were – it is interesting that this has changed. The selection committee does, however, filter to ensure not too many take place, and I know this, because I have seen them work as I was a SIG coordinator. I also only went to one commercial talk, and that was an extremely blatant one that I chose to attend knowing full well what I was getting into.

    4) The conference other things remaining equal only works with an income attainable only by gaining sponsors; so insofar as this is true, the IATEFL Conference (as opposed to the organisation itself) is dependent in part on sponsorship.

    5) The exhibition is a large, noticable feature of the conference; there are banners and sponsors are explicitly mentioned – this is fully transparent.

    6) IATEFL provides a forum for precisely the kind of criticism of both itself and its sponsors that one would welcome and expect in an open, freely operating organisation.

    7) IATEFL is a charity and as such is governed by certain laws.

    Points of disagreement:
    a) IATEFL is not “beholden to massive corporations like Pearson, Cambridge and the like for its very existence” – this paints a completely inaccurate picture. IATEFL accounts (those for 2016 were presented to the membership at the AGM, held during the conference, open to all, and voted on by those attending) do not support your claim that IATEFL itself (as opposed to the conference) is financially dependent on sponsors for its existence. Check the numbers if you like – you will probably find them in the members area of the website or just ask head office to send them to you.

    b) The “dominant, in your face commercialism” you see is – framed differently – just advertising space bought by companies as a result of which a very large, varied conference can take place – the actual cost of the event per capita can thus be held down, which isn’t easy in the UK when you want to cater for 2.5k – 3k people; further, there is no real pressure on attendees to engage with this “commercialism” except to partake in the sponsored tea and coffee. Which I did. Did you?

    c) You make the claim that TAWSIG’s rejected application supports your other claim that IATEFL “is quite happy in its relationship with these for-profit bodies” – without being clear what that relationship might be (though you might have implied it.) But the rejection suggests nothing of the kind. IATEFL is clear that the best, most effective way to affect worldwide change directly in teachers’ lives is not to try to do it from the top down via itself (including via SIGs) – it has neither the capacity nor the reach nor the resources to do this successfully. Instead it sees it as more effective to work with and support local regional and national TAs, which are much better placed to engage with the immediate concerns of their members. The people behind TAWSIG may disagree, and that’s their prerogative. They incidentally could also have run for election to the Associations Committee or Membership committee (vacancies have recently come up on both) and worked with TAs and the wider membership effectively in other ways. The structures for this work are already in place within IATEFL, simply in other forms.

    d) More members will not help IATEFL stop relying on corporate sponsorship for the conference. More members generally does not solve problems of cost and scale of the conference, and this in itself is an interesting problem. You can’t take money from general membership fees from people who can’t attend conference to pay for the experience of those who can by using that money to fund the conference. Legally this wouldn’t be allowed, and ethical it ain’t either.

    For the conference to be self-supporting, the following might be solutions – but they bring with them costs:
    – scale down so smaller, less expensive venues; this means fewer people can attend.
    – raise prices, so the indirect costs of the event are placed fully and directly on paying members; this means only richer members or those whose insitutions pay for them can attend (I have paid my own way for the last 10 years, by the way, except for 1 year when I was TDSIG coordinator)
    – reduce the quality of the experience (e.g. no evening events, no access to new material and other developments via an exhibition, no free or subsidized catering, no scholarships to enable less advantaged members to attend…

    e) There is nothing to stop members attending the exhibition from critiquing the publishers in exactly the ways you propose, and – as you appear to be assuming they aren’t – I would question why they aren’t, because I cannot see anyone, esp IATEFL itself, standing in their way.

    Anyway, let me take this opportunity to say (again? Did I tell you in person during Karaoke?) that I enjoyed your talk and learnt from it, so thank you.

    • Hi Anthony, and thanks very much for giving this insight into IATEFL’s operations. I freely admit that I know very little about conferences and how they are organised and, despite being a member, I don’t really know much about how IATEFL works as an association. The most contact I have with the organisation tends to be related to the conference, and I’m less familiar with what goes on the rest of the time.
      I’ll comment on your points of disagreement one at a time:
      a) I think you’re saying that IATEFL can function quite nicely on its own without corporate sponsorship, but it does need it to support something big like its annual conference – is that right? In which case I should modify my sentence to: “…its conference relies on massive corporations like Pearson, Cambridge and the like for its very existence” – happy to do that.
      b) You may prefer to call it advertising space, but I still find all that stuff distasteful. I agree that it’s the delegates’ choice as to whether or not they allow themselves to get lured in by the treats, and I found that aspect almost as upsetting as the commercial presence. And no, I didn’t partake in any free coffee, though I do confess to accepting a sweetie from someone at the City of Glasgow College stand. But in any case, I had paid my conference fee, which is not cheap. Again, I don’t know much about how conferences work and I should probably look at the IATEFL accounts to get answers to this, but I have never understood why you actually have to pay to present at IATEFL. What’s that all about? At every other conference I know the speakers are paid, even if it’s just their expenses.
      c) I think I understand your argument, but surely you have to admit that if a teachers’ association rejects a SIG dedicated to teachers’ rights as employees it doesn’t look good. My understanding was that IATEFL’s justification for knocking back the TAWSIG was because the existence of such a SIG would be too political. Maybe this isn’t true, in which case IATEFL should perhaps do more to dispel the myth. But if it IS true, my argument is that the decision not to accept the TAWSIG was, in and of itself, a political act, locating IATEFL on the side of the employers and so, by definition, against teachers. Having said that, I also see considerable scope for IATEFL to be more vocal in its representation of teachers’ rights, even without a TAWSIG.
      d) I see the ethical dilemma here, and thanks for highlighting it. I do feel that the conference needn’t be as swanky as it currently is though. I can do without free coffee, so surely others can too. If the conference was more low-budget it would be less reliant on corporate sponsors and it would also reflect more accurately the daily lives of its delegates. The general tenor of IATEFL is that it’s a big junket, a 5-day extravaganza where delegates can forget their usual hum-drum lives and low salaries and pretend they are part of a glitzy world of ed-tech and TEFL celebrities. Maybe IATEFL needs to consider keeping it real.
      e) Absolutely, and this is what I am trying to encourage. I think there is a lack of criticality among teachers in terms of how they see themselves, and their position within the whole industry/profession. There’s a blithe acceptance of hegemony that I find quite disturbing, but I am encouraged by what you and others are saying regarding calls to challenge the status quo. There’s nothing to stop us shouting, so now we just have to get people to listen.
      We didn’t really talk at the karaoke; it wasn’t exactly a good forum for critical discussion ;-). But thanks for your comments here, and I hope we get a chance to talk soon.

  7. I share many of your sentiments; however, I don’t think it’s quite as black and white as you suggest and the kind of change you suggest takes time. Running a conference for 3000+ delegates does not come cheap and without a substantial amount of sponsorship it just isn’t doable.
    As the founder of the only charitable ELT publisher Heart ELT and one of the smallest new players in BE publishing, Academic Study Kit, I too have pondered on several of the points you mention and contemplated leaving IATEFL. Recently, I came to the conclusion that it is easier to effect change from within. Trends have always come and gone in ELT. Grammar was in and out; Dogme and Storytelling have become sexy additions to our repertoire (isn’t dogme just ELT’s version of ‘show and tell’) and storytelling is the oldest teaching method in the book; it never went out.

    The latest ‘trend’, if we want to call it that, isn’t being led by the publishers; it’s coming from the teachers and the learners. Although some publishers may be paying lip service to it as part of their marketing strategy, it’s the state of the world and the need to act that is bringing these global concerns onto the agenda. Last year I attended several smaller conferences in Europe and they all included sessions on social justice, human trafficking and refugees. Poland’s Global Issues SIG had a one day event on social justice and I was delighted to see the vast range of global issues covered: empathy, the Holocaust, terrible plastics, acts of kindness, values education – just to
    name a few. Incidentally, the organiser Marcin Stanowski doesn’t allow publishers to sponsor their conferences and publishing reps weren’t inviteThe sponsors were universities and other educational institutions – those who care about learning.
    I suggest working with IATEFL on the issues you mention. I am sure they wouldn’t be happy to hear about the blatant sales drive you describe. This needs to be mentioned in the post conference feedback. Let’s reflect, come up with ideas and work together with our TA to change things. Actually, it is already happening but it takes time.
    As the joint events coordinator of the Global Issues SIG, one of the smallest Special Interest Groups ( but quietly growing), I am hopeful that change is definitely in the air.

    • Thanks for this comment, Julie. I agree that there seems to be a genuine demand for bland coursebooks, short ITT courses that focus on low-level skills, and the avoidance of discussions that make teachers’ jobs more difficult. And you could argue that the big publishing companies and the big ITT accrediting bodies are simply meeting that need. But then of course the counter-argument to this is that this is an inevitable consequence of the marketisation of education. In an ideal world, education would not be a business, and there wouldn’t be a “market” for these big corporations to profit from. I could go on a bit more about this but I don’t have time right now.
      I’d certainly like IATEFL to be more of a force for good, though ideally this would require it to take a far more aggressive stance in opposition to any for-profit organisations. But I also realise that this is probably a long way off, and for now it’s probably more sensible to use IATEFL as a means of getting the message out to the profession as a whole, encouraging more critical analysis and the raising of critical consciousness among ELT practitioners.
      Thanks again for your comment,

  8. paulwalsh permalink

    I’m not surprised Anthony feels the need to comment on this issue. I seem to remember in the mists of time that Anthony long ago said I was just “insulting myself” if I was to continue with advocating for teachers – just one of many personal insults I got from people within IATEFL (and for which one person has apologised) when I mentioned that grassroots teachers might actually be getting a bad deal.

    Here are the reasons we were rejected for SIG status as I wrote here, with my response:

    1) An IATEFL SIG would not be a suitable vehicle for furthering the aims expressed in the proposal.

    -There is nothing to prevent IATEFL from granting TaWSIG SIG status. Charity Law changed in the UK (think in 2006) and charities are able to take up advocacy positions as long as it aligns with their aims. Graham Hall and Sara Hannam wrote about this in an article called ‘To speak or not to speak’. The decision was made not on the basis of any kind of legal constraints or objective critieria, but one based on the opinions of individual IATEFL members.

    Myself and Nicola asked for the minutes of the meeting where the decision was taken but were refused.

    2) The proposed Teachers as Workers SIG does not fall within the professional development domain.

    – How do the Literature, Media and Cultural Studies SIG, and Global Issues SIG fall into professional development?

    3) The name and the remit of the proposed SIG might raise expectations that could not be met i.e. members would expect the SIG to intervene in local disputes.

    -We never expected TaWSIG to intervene in local disputes. This was not part of the original proposal, so an unfair criticism.

    I’d also like to refute Anthony’s point: 6) IATEFL provides a forum for precisely the kind of criticism of both itself and its sponsors that one would welcome and expect in an open, freely operating organisation.

    – This is Public Relations. IATEFL and its representatives have been vehemently against TaWSIG, they do not allow criticism, and have reacted very strongly to ideas of change to the status quo.

    Also, why would IATEFL allow criticism of its sponsors – precisely the people on which it depends for its existence and operations? (Turkeys Christmas)

    • Anthony Gaughan permalink

      Paul, you really still have no capacity to see how avoidably you alienated people who were totally sympathetic to your cause to start with, do you?

      If you find my saying that insulting, so be it. What I find insulting is your citing me in a formal complaint to IATEFL, instead of just getting in touch with me directly first to thrash out any differences over coffee or a beer, especially as we live in the same town and are both members of the same local association and all that. You might retort that I could have done the same thing, and you would be right, but I wasn’t the one feeling insulted, and I wasn’t the one who should have been winning hearts and minds instead of just trying to win arguments.

      But there you go. You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, I suppose.

      I sincerely wish you all the best, but Christ you make it hard at times.

  9. Anthony Gaughan permalink

    Hello again, Steve. Thanks for the reply. First off, you are absolutely correct about the failure of karaoke pubs to provide an adequate space for critical conversation about teaching. Who knew?

    (I pause to smile…)

    Now, let me try to reply to some of the points you make. Obviously I’ll be partial.

    a) Re. changing the wording of your claim about IATEFL/sponsor relationship: fair enough. Of course, this presupposes that the conference remains with the organizational and cost structure it has; this is by no means fixed in stone and is currently being reviewed as part of overall strategy. Questions like “is perpetual growth our aim and intention?” are part of the ongoing discussion for those involved in the running of the association. So this may affect the conference in future in some of the ways you would support.

    b) I find ubiquitous advertising distasteful too, and that is why when I was TDSIG coordinator we had a ban on sponsorship and advertising of any kind when funding our own activities (an attitude I shared and inherited from my predecessors). It wasn’t easy, and it limited what we could offer, but it was possible.

    On the other hand, I think that a publisher offering me prosecco and fairy cakes (an unholy combination…) doesn’t require me to buy (or buy into) their business.

    So again, I think criticism of the membership/attendees is more valid than criticism of the “system” (here, being IATEFL). That said, I agree that the perspective on the relative importance of the attendees and the sponsors for floating the event is sometimes skewed in what IATEFL says at times, usually in announcements from the plenary stage, and I shall be interested to observe how this goes under the new president, who has a strong record on engaging socially and not commercially with her profession.

    On the subject of food, I have met more than one delegate in my time who was – quite literally – living off the food and drink freely available as a result of sponsors’ events and other provisions at conference, because they had spent their total disposable income on simply getting there and accommodating themselves. One can criticize the conference or IATEFL for this, but these people clearly felt the privations were worth it. I also know they would have starved without the current arrangements.

    IATEFL cannot pay presenters to present, by the way, because that would plunge the event into debt. Do the maths: if average attendance is 2,500 and there are around 500 presenters/talks, just waiving attendance fees for those speaking would represent up to a 20% reduction in turnover. Then imagine what would happen if you actually offered a fee. This is what I mean when I talk about scale. To provide talks for a local conference with up to 300 people or so, you can get away with engaging 4-6 speakers for a day or two: this is financially quite easy to do. But it doesn’t scale well. That’s the reason, and it was confirmed by the treasurer at the AGM again this year when someone asked the same question.

    c) re. TAWSIG and political decisions, I don’t have to admit anything of the kind, because first I would have to agree that IATEFL does not already do positive work that affects their professional and perhaps personal lives. I happen to think that IATEFL does this and here are some examples: it provides scholarships to enable less advantaged colleagues to attend conferences and access other opportunities; it works with and supports TAs worldwide in providing training and other opportunities for hundreds of thousands of teachers; it provides these local TAs with an international partner an association with which can lend them more weight in their local contexts when dealing with ministries etc.

    If by “politics” you mean “IATEFL getting directly engaged in lobbying with governments and related agencies worldwide via a Special Interest Group”, then yes, I would agree that this was part – but only part – of the reason for the application being rejected. And the reason is actually valid and ethical.

    As I said, IATEFL could not support the demands on its resources that this would require, as should I think be obvious even to a relatively uninformed observer. And this is precisely why IATEFL has always sought to work bottom up, with local teachers’ associations and groups. because that is where the leverage lies, not in sending position statements from an email address in Faversham.

    IATEFL already has an Association scheme, a Wider Membership Scheme, a series of scholarships, a Global Issues SIG (which can and as I recall has addressed working rights and conditions in the past, and whose former coordinator is now president), specific support for teachers across Africa, and a dedicated stream of funding and support for projects for benefitting teachers worldwide which keeps growing. Could IATEFL say or do more? Yes. Does its rejection of a SIG proposal mean it is not speaking for, representing or supporting teachers, including their rights? No.

    d) as I said before, some of us are lucky enough not to worry too much about buying food and drink when we go to events and so can afford to stand on principle if we choose; there are many attendees who aren’t as lucky.

    e) If there is a “blithe acceptance” anywhere, then it is everywhere in society. What I find problematic about the narrative around IATEFL at the moment is that it is in some sense the enemy, part of some form of neoliberal syndicate trying to keep the workers down. I see plenty of ways for IATEFL and organisations like ti to do even greater good, but that is no reason to disregard the good it already does or to ascribe bad motives to it.

    IATEFL is a massive container ship of an organisation and as such cannot be expected to handle like a speedboat. It takes time – and a lot of hands on deck and at the wheel – to set a course. The best thing anyone can do is volunteer and work with others to make change. Shouting without work just makes noise. So I’ll stop now.

  10. paulwalsh permalink

    “Paul, you really still have no capacity to see how avoidably you alienated people who were totally sympathetic to your cause to start with, do you?”

    If would help if you actually expressed sympathy for the cause. My email inbox is empty with expressions of sympathy from you Anthony, which you could have expressed at any point in the last two+ years. I’ve written numerous blog posts, and comments on FB. I’ve set up the TaWSIG group and TaWSIG website. You’ve never commented once showing any support so unless you expect me to be psychic…there simply isn’t any evidence for what you’re saying.

    Regarding the complaint to IATEFL – you’re bringing this up online now, I hadn’t mentioned it in this forum and wasn’t going to. When I saw Rob Szabo in person at the BESIG conference he apologised in person to me and we buried the hatchet. So I don’t think I’m unreasonable.

    And perhaps if you want to go for a beer, then actually ask to go for a beer rather than wait for someone else to ask you and taking the moral high ground.

    • Anthony Gaughan permalink

      Yes, Paul, it would help, and I as I recall I did in fact express sympathy early on, but because this was also bound up with concerns, questions and the like, it didn’t get heard. This exasperates me, and it keeps happening, so I think the only thing to do is leave you to it.

  11. paulwalsh permalink

    No, that’s unfair rhetorically Anthony. One of the reasons I think you have been totally unfair is that you keep putting the blame onto me: “he’s insulting himself”, “You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, I suppose,” and “you really still have no capacity to see how avoidably you alienated people who were totally sympathetic to your cause to start with, do you?”

    How do expect people not to get annoyed if you’re continually pointing the passive-aggressive finger? You’re simply not whiter than white in this Anthony. It takes two to tango, and two to develop mistrust and antagonism in which you are playing your own part here on this forum again.

    I’m also exasperated too because you haven’t changed your tune in the two years since you and others tried to put me on the naughty step re: IATEFL, which is why I have very little faith in change within the system of which you are a part.

    Therefore, can you point out where you originally expressed sympathy for TaWSIG as you have been claiming throughout this thread? So we can clear up the misunderstanding?

    • Anthony Gaughan permalink

      No Paul. Please stop this now.

      “How do you expect people not to get annoyed if you’re continually pointing the passive-aggressive finger?” you ask?

      What do you think you were doing in your comment to my original comment above, when you a) choose not to speak to me directly but address me in the third person as if to a jury; b) set up a “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” sideswipe and then also dig up a very partial quote from me to set me up in the eyes of readers here as the nasty guy. Then, when I lose the rag, as then happened, because, as you rightly point out, this has been going on for a very long time, you say “see? told you so”.

      If anyone has been going into this exchange passive-aggressively, Paul, it’s you. And I wish I had exercised more restraint.

      I’m finished with this. It’s a waste of my time.

      This is not me being rhetorical, nor taking the moral high ground, nor being passive aggressive or even aggressive. This is me telling you that I am sorry for ever getting into any form of conversation with you about TAWSIG and all that came of it.

      I apologise for wasting your time. I apologise for things I said that hurt your feelings or gave you reason to think that I had insulted you.

      I sincerely mean this.

      Now, I’d like to apologise to Steve for having this needless argument on his blog, where it doesn’t belong.

      I’d also like to apologise to his readers, who have had to put up with this.


      • Anthony and Paul, I was unaware that there was history between the two of you, and it’s unfortunate that this has turned into something of a personal spat; surely that is the opposite of what any of us are trying to achieve.
        I think we all need to keep some perspective here, and also to accept the fact that we may be coming from a range of ideological standpoints. It’s easy to get frustrated when someone doesn’t share the same worldview, but we can try to resolve the differences through dialogue rather than arguing about who is more argumentative. And even if we disagree we can still do this respectfully.
        I think your exchange may have come to an end anyway, but if you do want to continue participating in this particular discussion then please stay focused on the wider argument.

  12. paulwalsh permalink

    There’s no need to completely lose your rag Anthony. I haven’t insulted you. If you make claims about something it’s perfectly reasonable to me to ask you to substantiate those claims. And to my knowledge you’ve never shown any support for TaWSIG as you keep on claiming. I’m not psychic. I can only go on what you’ve written online. You’ve never spoken to me about this in person and you’ve never offered to either.

    Yes, it’s a needless personal argument when we should be talking about how to change ELT for the better. Agreed.

    • Hi all
      Unfortunately, this thread has gone off topic and become a bit too personal. That’s a shame. I started writing a response to earlier comments by all, but as it’s just disappeared into a black hole, I’ll close with a few brief points.
      1 I agree that it’s easier to change things from within IATEFL than outside. Acting as the events coordinator of the Global Issues SIG gives me the opportunity to engage with members who genuinely wish to see change.;:.
      2 Teachers also need to become more discerning and aware of some of the dangers of commercial aspects of conferences.
      3 I believe it would be great if TaW SIG stopped reiterating the story about IATEFL’s rejection of the proposal for it to become a SIG within the existing association.
      4 Following on from point 3, I’d really like to see TaW SIG organise its own event.
      5. The personal stuff never helps any discussion.
      Thanks to Steve

      • Hi Julie,
        Thanks for bringing the discussion back on track. Despite the over-commercialism, I came away from IATEFL this year feeling reasonably positive about its potential, mostly because of what I learned about the GISIG. We all know that globalisation has been used to further neoliberalism and allow global corporations to extend their reach, power and potential to exploit. But globalisation can be a force for good, and I think your group is trying to highlight both sides. This in itself can help teachers (as well as students) to become more critically conscious of existing hegemonies and how they are being exploited.
        Other people are also talking about alternative conferences here and I think that’s great too. I rarely get a chance to attend many because, like most ELT professionals, I have a very busy job and it’s always a bit of a struggle to convince my employers that it’s worth going to these things – but that’s part of the problem.
        Thanks again,

  13. I don’t know the stats, but if 90% of the audience were unfamiliar with Paulo Freire (it didn’t look that high from where I was sitting, though I was also surprised), that’s not because of CELTA and DELTA qualifications alone, as with that belief you’re eliminating the vast numbers of non-native teachers from your calculations. Illich and Freire are key educators, but are not commonly referenced in ‘general’ pedagogy, possibly because of politics, but primarily because their approaches are difficult to apply to mainstream education and are about ADULT education. In terms of cognitive development, their methods simply require a level of development and autonomy not appropriate before mid- to late teens. Most ELT teachers from around the world are primary and secondary teachers who are more than familiar with Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bruner, Pestalozzi, Comenius and others (where CELTA trainees are not), as they ARE relevant to their teaching contexts. JJ Wilson forgot to name women, in his ‘Bono, Madonna, Sting = Scott and Jeremy’ analogy, and I spoke to him about it, given that he was speaking about social injustice, but in your critique, you seem to gloss over all the non-native, mainstream primary/secondary teachers and their years of formal training – or their contexts where training is simply not available. Please don’t forget them.

    Re the commercialism, for my own part, I ignore the freebies because I can, but there are teachers there who have spent two months’ salary to get to the conference – some more – so some free shortbread, cupcakes, or pens… well, why not. Have you spoken to many of the teachers from overseas? In some cases, they don’t care which publisher put it there, it’s food and it’s free, and it reduces their spending. No, not true of everyone, but neither are the comments about teachers and freebies above.
    Did you go to any of the parties?
    Oh, and the self-published books on PARSNIPS are out there. Volumes 1 and 2. I saw them at IATEFL.

    I used to be radically anti-IATEFL because of the cost, in terms of both money and time, which tends to make it less accessible for non-native/non-UK-based, women mainstream teachers (the percentage of delegates who are white, native speaker, male TEFL professionals is disproportionately high), but apart from that I think you take from IATEFL what you want, and you put in what you want. And on the whole, anything that supports teachers from so many countries and offers them such a range of sessions and events – well, ultimately, I don’t think that deserves much criticism.

    • Thanks for this comment, Macappella. I take your point that Freire worked in adult education, which means his influence over general education may not be so great. However, critical pedagogy is all about raising learners’ critical awareness, allowing them not just to learn that inequalities and social injustices exist, but to examine the reasons for them and then explore possible solutions. I would have thought that such an approach would be perfectly valid when working with children. If there is any hope for the world to become a more socially just place and for inequalities to be addressed and reduced, surely the younger generation needs to develop the skills to identify what is wrong and then work towards equitable solutions. That’s what Freire was talking about with his problem-posing approach as opposed to the banking model. If we don’t problematise the current state of the world then all we are doing is educating our children to accept the status quo and sharpen their elbows so they can find ways of achieving success on a personal level, without effecting change.
      I understand the arguments about the free food etc being important for some conference delegates to be able to survive during their time in the UK, but this is only a good thing if we accept the current system. Following Freire’s approach, I feel we should instead be analysing the reasons underlying this situation by asking critical questions:
      Why do many teachers have to spend so much of their own money in order to attend IATEFL?
      Why do they feel it’s so important for them to attend the conference in the first place? What do they feel they are gaining from it?
      Why do publishers give out free food and tat as part of their sales strategy? What kind of relationship does this create between teacher and publisher?
      Why does IATEFL feel the need to put on a conference that it can’t afford unless it receives sponsorship?
      Why is IATEFL’s main conference in the UK, where teachers are relatively well-paid and can afford to travel somewhere else, and not in a country that would be more accessible for people from other places, and more affordable once they get there?
      Why is IATEFL’s headquarters in Kent?
      Why is the number of white male native speakers at IATEFL disproportionately high? (I am one of these, by the way, and very conscious of that fact).
      I feel that exploring the answers to questions like this will help us to problematise IATEFL as an institution, and I think this is needed. Critical pedagogy is about developing learners’ abilities to do the same sort of thing.
      Thanks again for your comment,

      • Hi Steve
        Have you followed the activities of the Global Issues SIG? They are the reason why I decided to stay within IATEFL as I think influencing from within without resorting to ranting and being negative about it will be a better use of my time .
        The people in GI SIG are the most switched on when it comes to a vast spectrum of global issues. I am the events coordinator and we are looking at many of the issues you mention.
        Yes – the conference is only open to the privileged few who can afford it. It is really outside so many people’s reach.
        Check out my post on the IATEFL’s fb page (post conference reflections.)
        I tried to raise a few points without getting people’s backs up.

        Global Issues is the way to go!
        Got to push on.

  14. paulwalsh permalink

    In answer to bemobile15 and others,

    Just to reiterate one obvious point: nobody in TaWSIG – including me is against IATEFL or its members. I’ve written two articles for the LA SIG newsletter, one of the smaller SIGs in the organisation with only a few hundred members – and presented twice at conferences.

    But I just think that if people diverted a fraction of the energy endlessly spent defending IATEFL against criticism (and one which, to repeat, isn’t criticising individual teachers but the system in which we have to work day by day) into actually trying to improve working conditions for teachers then there would be no problem. The fact that the debate hasn’t moved on in two years speaks volumes – it seems more about PR than reality. And as Steve wrote in a comment above: “surely you have to admit that if a teachers’ association rejects a SIG dedicated to teachers’ rights as employees it doesn’t look good.” Again, it’s NOT about IATEFL but the way the whole system operates and impacts on the lives of grassroots teachers re: low pay and crappy working conditions. And the influence of big corporations and chains is a causal factor here, the same corporations and chains pitching their wares every year at conference.

    And here’s my system critique of ELT – of which we ALL are a part – asking teachers one thing: To think about what we are doing. And to ask two questions: Who are we? What we are doing?

    You may think it’s wacky or perhaps you don’t agree – but you can’t accuse me of writing to attack individuals. It’s a system critique.

    bemobile15, your Point 3 and 4 are related. It’s very difficult to organise a conference or event for teachers often with precarious working conditions across several different countries. I’m sure you can see that. But I think something might actually be in the works. Watch this space.

    • Hi Paul
      I don’t know why I came up as bemobile15, it’s Julie speaking.
      I have suggested organising an event several times and there are plenty of people on the fringe who would be interested, but at the end of the day if you want to move things forward, you have to ‘act’. You also need to mobilise people to come to your event, so nurturing positive dialogues is key in that as well as attracting new members. There are plenty of people in IATEFL who found it hard to pay to attend the conference, I am one of them. Add to that cost loss of income for the days spent there. If people are inspired, they’ll attend. There are ways of starting things on a shoestring if you’re resourceful.

  15. paulwalsh permalink

    Hi Julie,

    There actually has been one event several of us attended. Along with several other TaWSIG members, I presented at Oxford TEFL’s ‘Power to the Teacher’ conference last year which was great – and where teachers were very encouraging about the whole thing.

    I’m not on FB anymore, but I remember we spoke about this yes. As I remember the event that was organised in the end seemed quite business-oriented rather than teacher-oriented but the details escape me. But you’re right, grassroots teachers should organise something. But these things take time and energy – two things busy teachers often lack!

    But I’ve actually been thinking about this a little. It would be great if local groups of teachers could raise some cash to contribute to a conference – without funds it’s extremely difficult to get something like that off the ground. That would also give people a reason to organise locally. So instead of individuals all coming from different places then people come as groups.

    There’s also plenty of positive dialogue about change in the TaWSIG G+ group:

    • Hi Paul and Julie,
      It’s good to hear about these “alternative” conferences. Several years ago I attended a conference in a Glasgow college that was sponsored by one of the big publishers, which meant it was free to attend. It was basically an opportunity for a couple of big names in ELT to come to Scotland and promote their books, and my colleagues and I were not impressed at all. More recently, the same college organised another conference without sponsorship. This meant there was a fee, but the content was far more useful as the speakers had been selected because of the relevance of what they had to say, and they had also considered their audience when planning their talks/workshops, rather than just talking at us (I should declare some bias here as I was one of the speakers at the second conference, but I think if you ask anyone else who attended both conferences they would say the same thing). My point is that if a conference is independent, with no underlying commercial agenda, it’s a lot more likely to be useful for the delegates. Funding is an issue though, and we need to find ways to work through that.

  16. paulwalsh permalink

    Steve’s blog post here and this thread have inspired me to write the following post. Thanks Steve!

    • You are very welcome, Paul. Your blog posts have been very influential in helping me understand the social injustices inherent in our profession. Please keep up the good work.

  17. I agree with much of what’s been written above. I don’t have much to add except to say that if you don’t like big corporate conferences or textbook companies, you can make your own. I’ve been involved in starting up both an independent conference and an independent textbook company (that I won’t plug here). We’re yet to make millions, but it’s very rewarding and can shake things up a little. None of this stuff is hard but it does take some effort. In a world with a variety of conferences, big ones like IATEFL would have to compete harder in all of the areas you’ve criticised; even if these small conferences don’t take over, they can have a positive effect.

    • I agree, Timothy. There’s nothing to stop anyone from engaging people to attend a different type of event. Small conferences are becoming much more popular these days. People will always come up will alternatives if they aren’t happy with what’s on offer. Inspiration and innovation always finds a way. Patti Smith’s advice is hard to knock ‘You just keep doing your work …. one does the work for the people and the more people you can touch the better.’ And William Burroughs advice to her. ‘Build a good name, keep your name clean …don’t make compromises…’

    • Hi Timothy and Julie,
      I’ll try and comment on both your comments in a single thread. It’s great that you are developing and independent conference and textbook company. I would have thought though that the aim should not be to “make millions”; this would involve selling out and becoming exactly like the existing companies that you are trying to oppose. I understand that this very difficult, and requires the uncompromising attitude that William Burroughs advises in Julie’s thread above. I like Patti Smith, and I think she has been relatively successful in getting her message across without compromising her principles. It’s really difficult to do this though; the system is so powerful that it can easily subsume alternative ideologies and find ways of making money for themselves; the Punk movement is an example of this.
      Let’s keep fighting though.

      • The ‘making millions’ was just a joke. I do think it can do a bunch of good and if we every get do sell out, I hope someone starts up something new, outcompetes us and shuts us down.

  18. paulwalsh permalink

    I take your points about being positive and organising own events (which we are working on, and which I’ve done in the past with Lesson Jams here in Berlin), but I think we’re in danger of sliding into generalities. Firstly, it would be much more efficient if institutions that have the power and resources and ‘heaps of cash’ to do something about this put their some of those resources into change – or at least let some teachers have a conversation about it. And at the end of the day, there’s no getting round the fact that teachers are going to have to ask bosses for more money – and take action if you don’t get it. And there’s no way both sides can win in that situation. As someone once wrote: “Between equal rights force decides.” And at the moment, power is most definitely not with the teacher and many schools are taking full advantage. It’s not a ‘bad apple’ situation but a ‘bad barrel’ situation. Check this out:

    ’15 or so ELT schools closed in Ireland between 2014-15 which stranded students and disemployed all their teachers without any warning. Typically this business decision was communicated to them with just an A4 page pinned to a locked door saying ‘Sorry! We’ve ceased trading.’ The problem? Bad regulations. Ours were so bad in Ireland, they were voluntary. Our owners were so shady they would pressure the DOS to fire you if you were earning the highest rate in the school or if you were in a union.’

    So yes, you’re right. We should push for change ourselves, but we should also be fully aware of the situation at hand.

    • Yes, I agree Paul. ELT is in many ways a microcosm of a very far-reaching system designed to exploit large numbers of people, to the economic advantage of a minority. This broad perspective is essential for us to be able to fully understand where we are, and where we need to go. Which, to a large degree, is what Freire was talking about all along.

  19. I’d just like to make a brief comment on the publisher presence at last week’s IATEFL (my first). I haven’t actually got a problem with the publisher presence in the exhibition area, the freebies or events. I do have a problem with spending ages deciding what to see at a conference based on a series of blurbs with no publisher names mentioned and then, 2 slides in, publisher branding and sales pitches. It’s the intentionally disguised sales pitches that I resent.
    I don’t think there has to be a conflict, but I do feel there needs to be more careful monitoring of what happens in those sessions.
    Why could publishers not ask their representatives to give presentations on practical, classroom-related topics and link/pitch any related resources at the end? It sounds so naive, I know, but they’d still promote and teachers would learn. I learnt nothing from the two sessions I saw.

    • Hi Helen, and thanks for joining the discussion.
      I agree, the covert approach of using conference sessions as sales pitches is very underhand, and very cynical. I went to a session that I thought was going to be about helping learners to become aware of their progress, and it was actually some guy from Pearson pitching some new way of describing language levels. You come away from these things feeling kind of dirty.
      As others have said, there’s an argument in favour of allowing publishers to sell their wares at IATEFL. But in order to accept this aspect of the conference, you also have to accept the fact that ELT is an industry. I have reached the stage where I really dislike with the whole concept of education as a commercial concern, so the exhibition area of IATEFL just looks really ugly through my eyes.
      I accept though that the current situation is unlikely to change any time soon, and we’ll probably have these big publishers at IATEFL for years to come, but anything that can be done to diminish their influence, particularly their influence over session content, would be a good thing.

      • We went to the same one – Visible learning … ppppfffttt! You really *do* come away feeling dirty and cheated. And I was lucky because my employer had paid for me to attend. I really felt for people who had paid for that time out of their own pockets.
        I suppose we, members of IATEFL, teachers, trainers etc, need to demand a more learning-relevant conference. I fully intend to.

    • Helen – I teach Adult ESL. 17 years ago when I first started attending my professional Association (TESLOntario) conferences there were two HUGE rooms of Publishers’ Displays. Yes,there were giveaways but what was more important was being able to look at the books and resources. I would go back many times. It was very helpful for a developing teacher to see the material – and I made a point of collecting my own resources so I was never dependent on a resource being available or not in a school collection. At last year’s TESLOntario conference there was one small narrow room – miserable selection – most familiar names and faces gone.
      I used to go to many workshops that were clearly marked “Publisher’s Presentation”. Again – they gave me a chance to see inside the material AND there were often clear demonstrations of classroom applications. (That is not to say that I did not quickly learn which workshops, which presenters, coursebooks and resources would be useful to me and my approach, which not!!)
      Because of cutbacks there are fewer “handson” workshops at our conferences, less financial support fronm government and there is a move to “webinars” for “PD”. They are not as satisfying as F2F in my ooinion but times they are achanging so this whole discussion may become moot…..

  20. Mmmmmm am following

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