Major League ELT

25 years ago a film came out. It was the type of movie that changed lives. It was the type of movie that told us about life, about winning, and about losing. It was the type of movie I watched numerous times and memorized the quotes to. If I hear such a quote now it brings a smile to my face and makes me believe the speaker/writer is a person worthy of respect and surely worth listening to. That movie, of course, was Major League. I am not sure if everyone reading this needs to rush off and watch the movie, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. I don’t think one needs to be a fan of “Colonial Cricket” to follow this post, though. At least, I hope not. Those very familiar with the film might enjoy this list of 15 things you might not know about Major League.

Below I shared some quotes from the movie and valiantly try to match them to some thoughts on ELT. Sorry (not sorry) there are some swears and not very professional stuff below. There are also some potential **spoilers** for a 25 year old movie.

I think this could also be a nice little blog challenge as well. The steps are as follows.
1. Choose a movie. 
2. Choose some quotes from that movie. (IMDB works well and supplied all the quotes below) and apply them to teaching and learning and stuff like that. 
3. Share it with me and I will link it here. 

[Update/Note: In the comments some folks have shared quotes from other movies in the comments. This is also excellent and fun so please feel free to share some quotes and what they might mean for English language teaching.]

This is not the first time I have used this format for a post. The previous time was for “The Big Lebowski.” I was thrilled when the incomparable David Dodgson wrote a post with Monty Python quotes.

From the 2014 collection here is a lovely Breakfast Club inspired post by David Mansell over on Anne Hendler’s blog.  

What follows is some quotes from Major League and my ELT related thoughts.
(Please note: Major League II never happened)


major league


Rick Vaughn: What’s that shit on your chest?
Eddie Harris: Crisco.
Eddie Harris: Bardol.  Vagisil. Any one of them will give you another two to three inches drop on your curve ball. Of course if the umps are watching me real close I’ll rub a little jalapeo up my nose, get it runnin’, and if I need to load the ball up I just…
Rick Vaughn: You put snot on the ball?
Eddie Harris: I haven’t got an arm like you, kid. I have to put anything on it I can find. Someday you will too.
For me, this quote is all about energy and aging, two things that come to my mind from time to time, especially when I am in my rocking chair trying to plan my next lesson. Now that I have been in this game for 15 years and I am now seeing myself as a cagey veteran and occasional junk-ball pitcher I think it is important to find tricks to keep energy up for when it is truly needed. What comes to mind immediately is things like making the most with just a bit of material and not relying on the ability to be at the front of class firing fastballs for extended amount of time.
(Note: I am not advocating putting snot or Vagisil on worksheets.)

Forget about the curve ball, Ricky. Give him the heater!
While we can make a case for saving our energy and resources and everything sometimes we need to go with our best stuff and not worry about mixing it up. Use your best ideas now and worry about tomorrow when it comes. Don’t worry about keeping people off balance, just do all you can now.

Harry Doyle: That’s all we got, one goddamn hit?
Assistant: You can’t say goddamn on the air.
Harry Doyle: Don’t worry, nobody is listening anyway.
A lot of what we are allowed to do in class depends on who is watching and what they (stakeholders?) expect.  So, sometimes a little bit of cussin’ is not such a bad thing, depending on the audience. This also might mean situations where the admin is a little more clueless and/or hands-off the teacher is afforded more autonomy. Some of my best teaching and training experiences have come when nobody was listening anyway.

a fine team

A fine broadcast team

Come on Dorn, get in front of the damn ball! Don’t give me this “olé” bullshit!
Sometime you just got to get stuck in. For me this means getting in there and dealing with language.  I think a lot of time as teachers it can be all too easy to focus on other issues and avoid the nuts and bolts of language. We can’t always avoid this, even when the finer points of language might seem charging bulls and blistering groundballs from time to time. I think I am talking about something akin to what Jim Scrivener might call “getting your hands dirty” in teaching.

Harry Doyle: Monty, anything to add?
Harry Doyle: Monty, anything to add?

Colorman: Ummm… no.
Harry Doyle: He’s not the best colorman in the league for nothing, folks!
The nameless colorman was perhaps aware that sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing. This can create more room for students to do the talking.

Roger Dorne: See, I’ve got it right here in my contract. It says, “I don’t have to do any calisthenics that I don’t feel are necessary.” So what do you think about that?
Contracts don’t always mean the same thing they do in places that are not home. My best advice for those teaching abroad is to find out exactly how important and valuable contracts are in their new context before expecting that the contract is anything more than just a starting point. The answers might surprise and shock you. For me it is always a matter of costing it out and being aware of how far beyond the contract I am willing to go. I am am not sure how useful cries of “It is not in my contract!” are in various countries around the world. I think Lou’s response might be typical in many places.
(You are really going to want to go ahead and click on Lou’s response if you don’t know what it is.)

Harry Doyle: Just a bit outside. He tried for the corner and missed.
Sometimes we see what we want to see. Sometimes that is very far from the objective reality. We need to try to be as accurate as possible about what think we are seeing.
(I am not actually sure if Harry was seeing things in his own way or just being sarcastic or a homer or what.)

I’m not much for giving inspirational addresses, but I’d just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think that we’d save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sportswriters’ time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give ‘em all a nice big shitburger to eat!
Sometimes rallying around together as a group in the face of low expectations of outsiders can be great motivation. Quite a few times in my life I have been “stuck” teaching the lowest level and they worked their asses off and improved so much and showed they were capable of much more than had been expected of them. I am not sure if giving the world a big shitburger to eat is always the best and most healthy motivation but I believe it can work at times.

lou brown 2

A wise man and a master motivator.


Jake Taylor: I play for the Indians.
Chaire Holloway: Here in Cleveland? I didn’t know they still had a team!
Jake Taylor: Yup, we’ve got uniforms and everything, it’s really great!
Sometimes I imagine I am Jake when I talk to non-teachers who seem befuddled that teaching English is an actual job. “Yep, we’ve got whiteboards and everything!” is what I feel like saying. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus has a great post on the question, “So is that your real job?” Much like the cute lady in Major League, people don’t mean any harm by it, but it still is not an enjoyable moment when such questions are asked.

Lou Brown: Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever fuckin’ do it again.
Sometimes an idea that works well and looks cool is not something we need to do again. This is an experience I have had many times. I want to try something a bit crazy and it ends up working well but I realize at some point I don’t need to do it anymore.

Lou Brown: Okay Vaughn. They say you’re a pitcher, you’re sure not much of a dresser. We wear caps and sleeves on this level, son.
Sometimes, you just gotta dress the part, son.

caps and sleeves

Appropriate attire? Winning?


Rick Vaughn: I look like a banker in this.
Jake Taylor: Sorry, Rick, house rules.
Again, sometimes you just gotta dress the part. Sometimes there are house rules related to dress and other things. They might not make sense and they might not be what you want to follow but if you want to be there you might need to follow them. If you really don’t want to follow the rules maybe you don’t want to be there and that is probably good and fine for everyone.


He does sort of look like a banker in that.

Heywood leads the league in most offensive categories, including nose hair. When this guy sneezes, he looks like a party favor.
This is just a shoutout to fans of K0TESOL, nose and ear hair, Pete Vuckavich, Rusty Staub, and the intersection thereof.

An Interview with @EBEFL!

We here at ELT RRR are honoured to have Russell Mayne, aka @EBEFL. Russ’s blog  has been called lucid, controversial, enlightening and a “damned good read.” It is highly recommended. He recently delivered a much talked about presentation at IATEFL this year. Aside from being praised for his honesty and courage his “sexy voice” was also noted. Russ was mentioned favorably in a few blog posts including Steve Brown’s “Never Mind the Bo**ocks-here’s the TEFL Skeptic” and “A Glut of Celebrity ELT Encounters”  from Nicola Prentis.   What follows below is an interview conducted over a 36 hour period on google docs. Please note: at one point in the interview Russell mentions a specific slide. The whole Powerpoint (including what some have called the bravest slide ever) can be downloaded from here


Hello and thanks for much for stopping by. It is so nice to have you.
OK…First question. Why @EBEFL? What is your interest in this? How did you become interested in this? Why is it important?
Hi Mike, As you know my name on Twitter used to be “evidenced-based EFL.” I came up with the idea after reading, and loving “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre. It crystalised a lot of things I was thinking at the time.  It’s a  fantastic  book and really funny.  Go and read it! I think that was what started me on the road to skepticism. At the same time I was running courses in Taiwan and everyone kept talking about this method or that approach or whether A or B was better and I just kept thinking…How do we know? Has anyone actually looked into this? Is everyone just blagging?

Another factor was I learnt to speak Japanese to a pretty good level in about 4 years and when I looked at material and things we did in the classroom I just kept thinking “I never did any of this when I learnt Japanese.” So much of it seemed boring or artificial or just for the benefit of the teacher. Anyway it all came to a head when I started my current job. Ironically we were teaching a lesson from Marjorie Rosenberg’s book about learning styles (I didn’t know that at the time but only found out recently). The lesson just had students coming out as “multi-modal” and I’m couldn’t help thinking -hang on, does any of this actually make any sense? we also never seemed to do anything with the findings. Like, “OK, Chen you’re visual, now do the same course as everyone else.”

It wasn’t just this stuff though, skimming and scanning, guessing from context and loads of other stuff bothered me too. I thought I was going crazy but then I came across Michael Swan’s articles and felt like I’d found someone who was saying things I was thinking. A bit later I actually wrote to him to thank him for writing them. I wish I could meet him. He’s always replied to my emails and seems a really nice guy.

What sort of things seem to be for the benefit of the teacher?
This sounds like a dodge but I’ve got a series of posts coming out on this  soon so….

Fair enough. We can be patient. Can you say more about your study of Chinese and Japanese and Japanese and how they are different from usual TEFL fare?
Haha I have a whole post written on how I learnt Japanese. It seemed a bit self-indulgent so I’ve left it for the time being. Basically my Japanese is pretty good, 1kyu level in 2004. I couldn’t be a translator but I I can watch movies/read books etc.  My Chinese isn’t as good despite being married to a Chinese speaker. I think that’s really interesting too -as a one person case study. People say “Oh you have a talent for languages” or “Oh you have natural ability” but I if that were true wouldn’t my Chinese also be pretty good? The difference is A) motivation which leads to B) the amount of work you do.

Can you tell us about your talk at IATEFL? What did you talk about? How did it go?
Hahahahahaha. You know, I really thought there would be around 10 or 15 people, maybe some of the folks from twitter. My friend Louise from Leicester told me she thought I would be lynched. When they said they were recording it I thought it was just to stick online later. I didn’t know it would be live. That was terrifying. A lot of people have commented on my saying “oh god!  at the start. I’m glad so many people came and I’m glad they enjoyed it. I do think I may have been preaching to the converted though….

Haha, I heard that “oh god” moment.
Yes, preserved for all of history…

So, what is it like to be famous?
(This question was brought to you from Anne Hendler
Erm…I’m not famous. Not even TEFL famous. but the reaction has been pretty surprising for me. As one of the first people to follow me and as probably the person who has supported me more than anyone else, I’d say, you must be pretty surprised too? (your comment about ‘bands getting famous was really funny).  I’ve been blogging about this stuff for about 2 years now and getting pretty happy to get a few hundred views. A few retweets was my aim but I think, as of yesterday I counted 50 retweets of the talk. That’s pretty surprising.

It was wild for me to hear, for maybe the second time, someone I’d been talking with online for about 2 years now.  And yeah, I have to admit I was feeling a bit funny (but it was not at all surprising) seeing all the RTs. Like, “Where have you people been the whole time? The guy has been pumping out great stuff for ages.” Anyway, enough about me and my feelings.  Back to the talk for a second. Is there anything you wish you’d said in the talk but didn’t?
YES! I really wanted to say something but I forgot. I wanted to say , in the second slide, that teachers who try to use these neuromyths, in my experience, are often the most hardworking teachers. They want to give their students as much help as possible and these kinds of things could seem to give people an edge. I never hear lazy teachers say “I’ll check their learning styles” and I think that’s important because it shows how well motivated teachers’ good intentions can be perverted. Imagine if that energy was turned toward something that might work.

That is a really nice point, and maybe one that might help protect you from your potential attackers.  Something I have been wanting to ask you for a while now is this…Learning styles is, of course, nonsense. So what?
Don’t you think it’s interesting? Something so common that’s essentially groundless? And that some people have been saying that for about 30 years?

Sure, I think it is interesting, but what do we care if others believe in it? What is the harm?
See slide 5 ;)

Is it possible it has given a net positive effect even while being utter bullshit?
Of course it’s possible. In fact I was asked something similar at IATEFL. the problem really is what comes along in the package with that. If you say “Oh well NLP is nonsense but they have this really great technique…” which they may well have, “…so let’s use it anyway” then how do you distinguish the ‘good’ NLP from the ‘silly’ NLP? Isn’t it easier just to use techniques, like rapport building etc. etc. and dissociate them from NLP? They’ll still be as effective right? But you won’t be giving legitimacy to pseudoscience.

Well said, and I think there is room for us to go back on forth on this one for ages.
For now in this interview, however, we have reached the lightning round, where random questions and their answers come fast and furious.

Do you believe in ghosts?
No. I don’t see how they could work, or why they have clothes on? Why would a ghost have clothes? And if it can float through walls how come it can stand on the floor? All very odd.

If you were in a band what kind of music would you play?
I used to be in a band hahaha. I had really long hair and we played Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins covers.

Excellent. I think EBEFL is a pretty cool name for a band.
Keeping with the lightning nature here, can you please define/explain ‘woo’ in 140 characters or less?
‘Woo’ such a lovely word. Woo is pseudoscience. I think ‘the amazing’ James Randi came up with the term, woo-woo. I think it’s great cos it sounds like someone making a ghost noise “wooooooOOOooooOOOO” It’s a kind of handwaving thing isn’t it? “How does homeopathy work?” ”We don’t know, it’s magic” -woo. Am I making any sense?

You are making sense but you are well over the character count. I will let it pass.
Moving on…Choose 1.  Green tea or onsens.
Onsens every time.

Tell me 1 absolute truth about teaching English.
To quote Ellis 2004
“It can be claimed with confidence that, if the only input students receive is in the context of a limited number of weekly lessons based on some course book, they are unlikely to achieve high levels of L2 proficiency” (Ellis 2005:218)

Boom. Nice one. Tell us 2 posts of yours you’d most want people to read.
It’s a man’s world.” I just can’t make sense of the current situation and also….erm….I dunno, any you liked?
I like them all, Russ. I celebrate your entire catalog. Really.
Please share 3 books not by Ben Goldacre to recommend.
Although not a TEFLer, Tom Bennet’s  “Teacher Proof” would probably be of interest to a lot of teachers. It has some problems IMO but it’s entertaining. I actually have a list on my blog

Thanks. Next, 4 research studies you think English teachers should read.
Start with Swan’s most recent book on ELT. It’s pure gold.Not particularly research based but  he backs up his arguments and is well-considered. You’d probably enjoy the one about why we need textbooks, Mike. ;)

This is a pretty good overview (2005).

Next I would probably look into what area interests you personally and start digging around. There are so many different flavours of teacher that it’s hard to say “this book is the one”. There are also more journal articles and books, in the field of TEFL alone, for anyone to reasonably read. What do you want to find out about? Then head to Google Scholar and use the icanhazpdf hashtag to get hold of the articles.

Alternatively ask people who know. A lot of academics and TEFL bods are on twitter. Wanna know about the lexical approach? Ask Hugh Dellar or Leo. Wanna know about identity in SLA? Ask Florentina Taylor. Julie Moore might answer your corpus questions. There are tons of people on there now and many of them blog.

Thanks so much for taking the time. That was fun. I can’t believe we didn’t even touch on the use of quotation marks on the term native speaker. In any case, it was great. Thanks so much! It was also nice to share the fruits of a google doc collaboration with the world. So, thanks again and best of luck with all, including the woo hunt.  

English Teaching Knowledge

There are a good many ideas out there about what it takes to be a good English teacher and I’d like to share some of them here.
How can anyone just point out the important factors in teaching English in just a few hundred words?
I’m not sure if this can be done as I intended it to be but I will try.
Student-centered learning is key. Many T’s are all about the TTT (teacher talking time) which should be reduced. Aim for 20%.
I+1  is also an incredibly important factor. We need to make sure all our lessone are pitched at this level.
Students work better when their affective filters are reduced. This is something teachers need to be concerned with.
Teachers also need to be sure they are empowering students. Students work better and learn more when they are empowered.
Of course, just doing the above is not enough. Lessons need to be planned appropriately. Proper scaffolding at each stage!
The stages of the lesson need to follow the correct frameworks and have the interaction appropriately planned for each section.
All the above is important but doesn’t really mean anything if we are not eliciting creativity from students, which we should do.
Let’s be clear, in the 21st century it is the responsibility of teachers of all subjects to foster creativity in all students.
But we need to be sure to consider students’ different learning styles and multiple intelligences or it will all be for naught.
Unless we create lessons that match the unique needs of all our learners we will be wasting our time and theirs.
Learners are all different. Our lessons need to match their styles and intelligences plus wants and needs and moods and more.
Learner’s needs must be considered and we must also ensure that we are developing their critical thinking skills. This is a must.
Students need to be given tools to succeed in the modern era. We should remember most of our students are digital natives.
However we do it, as teachers we need to be sure that we do and remember everything listed above and make them a priority.
I hope and believe I have offered some useful ideas and starting points here. 
hough, if all the above fails you can just flip the classroom or employ gamification.

A conversation about conferences

The following is a conversation between present day Michael Griffin (MGN, as in MG now) and Michael Griffin circa 1999 (MGT or MG then). This is, of course, a fictional conversation because I don’t own a time machine and even if I did I wouldn’t risk messing up the space time continuum by talking with myself. No offense to any humans or groups is intentional. I also would like to emphasize my aim and hope for there to be no hint of the aroma of sour grapes here either. 

MGN: Hi buddy how are you doing?
MGT: Hey. ‘Sup? What is going on?
MGN: Not too much. One thing on my mind is how I am so gutted because I am not going to either IATEFL or TESOL for yet another year.
MGT: What does “gutted” mean? And what are IATEFL and TESOL?
MGN: Oh, right, sorry. IATEFL and TESOL are professional organizations in the field of English teaching. This is, by the way, your future career.
MGT:  Wild. Really wild stuff. There’s more than one organization? OK.
MGN: There are tons of them. Regional ones and country specific and interest specific and probably lots I don’t even know about.
MGT: Wow. Weird. And how often are these conferences?
MGN: The really big ones are yearly but there are regional meetings and all sorts of other events all the time.
MGT: You mean to tell me that there is so much happening in English teaching you need to have major conferences every year? What can change? It is not like English changes all that much, is it? Are there radical changes in teaching styles every year? What could possibly be so new and important that you need to have a new conference so damn often? That sounds bizarre to me. You didn’t answer about the meaning of “gutted” bee tea double you.
MGN: Ahh, sorry, it means sad or hurt or something like that. It is British English. Many of my mates from the Irish Isles use it.
MGT: You really *shouldn’t use such words. It sounds like an affectation and makes you sound like a wanker or a jerk or something. Don’t do that. Seriously. Anyway, why are you so bothered about missing conferences?
MGN: Nice question. I think you are onto something with this word “missing” as I think it sort of feels like I am missing something. You know that thing about how you can’t go to bed until you are sure that all the possible fun has been sucked out of the evening? This is sort of similar. It is like a feeling that all the fun and excitement is going on without me. While on the subject, I can report that this feeling of not being able to go to bed while there might still be fun to be had dissipates as you get older.
MGT: I see. I guess that is pretty good news about “Griffin’s Disease.” And as for the conferences., well, what exactly is so fun?
MGN: I think part of the fun is meeting like-minded people. I am pretty geeky about this stuff and it is really to find people who share the same interest. It kind of reminds me of a baseball card show or a comic convention. Oh yea, while i am thinking of it, believe it or not, a friend you are going to make in the next 18 months actually attended a Star Trek convention one time.
MGT: I keep learning crazy things from you. So what goes on at these English teaching conferences? Do people seek autographs? If so from who?
MGN: I guess I have seen some autograph hunting but not all that much. It is sometimes fun and interesting to see people freaking out about authors and big names in the field.
MGT: I hope that…we never engage in such nonsense.
MGN: It might be too late. Anyway, your question here got me thinking a bit about the nature of celebrity in this field. I guess it is sort of a peculiar thing.
MGT: It sounds like it. I still don’t really have a clear idea on what goes on at these conferences.
MGN: Presentations and workshops and things like this. It is a chance for networking and learning and sharing.
MGT: I guess I had an idea already. Thanks.  Why can’t you go this year?
MGN: Time and money mostly. Those are always key factors with most things as you surely already know. It is also tough to fly out of Korea and get to the US or UK in time to really do much without missing too many classes.
MGT: Wait, what? You live in Korea. South Korea, right? That is something else. Wow. So, it must be hard for people from around the world to get to these big conferences.
MGN: Sure.
MGT: Aside from the fact that such a conference is all these nerds getting together to talk about teaching English and god knows what else related to it something seems strange to me that in 2014 you’d need to get together in an actual physical place to talk about this. Can’t you meet online? Don’t they have video conferencing, in the future? And yea, what about flying cars?
MGN: Video conferencing is common enough but being at the venue is a special buzz. Nothing on the flying cars yet.
MGT:  I can’t help but wonder about the teachers that can’t afford to make it to the US or UK. Surely that is most English teachers in the world, right? I have only heard about this stuff for the last few minutes but I am wondering who is served by these conferences. Who exactly benefits and how? Is it for teachers? All teachers? Or teachers with access to money and time? Teachers from certain places? What is the main purpose of such conferences? Is it for students in the end? Are there other ways to disseminate knowledge? Is it about disseminating knowledge? What is it about, ultimately? You mentioned networking and buzz a few times. Is there more?
MGN: Those are some good questions to consider. I am not sure I really have the answers to them now. Maybe I need to think about them some more. But again, I do think conferences can be a valuable chance for teachers to learn what others are doing and to connect with like-minded people. It can also be inspiring and motivating. I also don’t think you are saying anything that couldn’t be said about any sort of conference in any field.
MGT: Yeah.. OK but somehow it seems different to me when related to something like teaching English. Another thing, while you are wondering about conferences it you might also want to consider things like carbon footprints.
MGN: I never thought of you as the party-pooper type. Gosh. But at the same time, I do thank you for the fresh and outside perspective.


Possibly related  links: 

James Taylor on attending conferences. 

A post on “Not Conferencing” from Mike Harrison. 

A post from Rachael Fionda (aka @SwanDOS) about how (and why) to attend conferences. 

“The Cult of Celebrity in ELT” by Nicola Prentis.

Yitza Sarwono reflects on her experience at JALT in 2012. 

Kevin Stein shares some experiences and gratitude from JALT 2013. 
Note: This post comes with a dust warning.

Anna Loseva’s post after that same JALT conference which she describes as not so interting and bizarre. I will let you be the judge. 


Two quick (and cool?) location-based ideas I’ve never really done

I think about space and location in the classroom a lot. One thing I often consider is about where I place myself in the room as a teacher and what it means. I know it is a no-no in some contexts but when I am sitting down it usually means I am taking notes one what students say. When I am at the board I am certain to be sharing incredibly important language-related knowledge. When I am front and center I am probably giving instructions on the next activity. These are habits and trends that I have fallen into. I suspect students pick up on them and sort of realize this is how Mike rolls and this is how it goes in class. I have not been explicit about this. It’s just what tends to happen. Lately I have been toying with the idea of being more explicit and making more considered choices but also trying out some new and different ideas.

The first idea, and one I’ve never really done (1)  is to set up and announce that when I am in one specific area of the room I am talking about really important sheet and people need to listen up when I am in this area. I’d only use it for the most important things ever like assignments and the moments of brilliant lucidity regarding the English language that invariably come out of my mouth when I have a board marker in my hand. I am imagining carving out a very important space in the first week of classes and making sure I utilize it at least once per class. I am slightly concerned about the implication that when I am not standing in this zone what I have to say is not so important. While that is likely the case I have a slight concern this system might devalue the rest of my blathering.  

This term I am teaching a course called “Professional Communications.” You might know it by such names as “Business English.” One thing we are playing around with focusing on very professionally in class is register and formal language. I think I am seeing students having a hard time distinguishing between when they should use the regular (casual and semi-academic) English they might usually use to communicate with classmates. While it could certainly be a related to task design, teaching skills and my very casual nature I think part of it relates to the “Now we are using professional language switch” not really getting flicked on or  maybe taking some time to settle into this mood and mode. My idea for this is, and I think it is not too late in the term, is to designate an area in the room as the “professional talk area.” When students are there they’d be expected to use the the most professional and businesslike language they have at their disposal. My thought is that by moving to a designated space it might help clearly show what sort of language is expected and act as a constant reminder. While I have never done this (2) I am keen to try it out and see how it goes.

Okay, those are my two possibly cool ideas related to space and place in class. Any ideas to add? Any experiences with something similar? Any tips, concerns, or caveats for mine?


(1) I actually did something vaguely similar in a presentation one time. I’m not really sure if it had any impact at all. I have no idea why I’ve never done it with a class.

(2) One similar thing I’ve done was to use the metaphor of “hats” when asking  participants on teacher training courses to discuss things.  The idea is that sometimes it’s helpful to think as a student/active participant in a lesson or session and then sometimes helpful to think as a teacher. Sometimes it can be hard to know where we are and in what way we *should be thinking and what we are basing our thoughts upon.  So, on some courses we say “OK now it is time to put on your teacher hat.” This can be taken a step further with the creation of actual literal tangible paper hats so the distinction can be even clearer.

Some things I did and didn’t do in my first week of classes

I have always dreamed of thought about writing a sexy listicle post about the 6.36 things you absolutely need to do in the first class as a teacher, or at least an English teacher, or at least as an EFL teacher in Korea, or as a university instructor in Korea, or something. Alas, I never quite managed to do it and this post will not be it. I intended to do it before the term and to have my post be the go-to post for every teacher starting a course ever. I’d then receive much fanfare and praise and hits. Delicious hits. But again, I never wrote the post. So here I am a week after my term started simply sharing some things I did last week. I fear much of what I am sharing is standard stuff that most teachers might just do naturally but I am also hopeful there might be something interesting or different for teachers to think about. Anyway, most listicles are crap anyway, aren’t they? My other concern is that perhaps much of what I am talking about here is too contextualized to my teaching situation(s) and might not offer much for readers. If that is the case, please accept my apology along with my invitation to share some different ideas and perspectives. So, yeah, what follows are some things I did in my first classes last week along with some associated thoughts.

I did…

  1. make sure students knew what they needed and wanted to know about the course and schedule
    “It’s in the syllabus” is a common refrain and lament from teachers but the fact it is there doesn’t always mean the info finds its way into the minds of students. While trying my best to avoid lengthy teacher fronted explanations of things in the syllabus I also tried to address any questions students had about the course and how it will run. Students knowing these things obviously makes things run more smoothly, right?

    One specific thing I did in one class was give students a card and ask them to write down what questions they had about a) the course and b) me. I prepared my answers to these questions while students were doing something else and delivered short speeches where these were addressed.
    One thing I have done in the past is to make a little quiz (scored and included on the final score!) based on the information in the syllabus. This can help make sure everyone reads it.
  2. share something about myself
    I remember one training course a while back where my colleague and I thought we did a spectacular job setting up the first day of a long course with a variety of activities. I still think we did well but I know we forgot one small but important detail. We didn’t have any chances to let the participants know about us. As they day was winding down this seemed to be an issue for a few participants. They really wanted to know who we were and felt that knowing info beyond our names would help break the ice. I think this is probably important to students everywhere but I also have this feeling it is more important in Korea. I think students want to know who the human that will be teaching them is. I think many teachers, quite rightly, feel the concern about talking at length about themselves but I do also think it can be important and helpful to carve out a time for this.Above I already mentioned answering questions students asked in a short speech. Something else I did in another class to list a bunch of questions related to what we might want to know about someone in the first meeting and then inviting students to ask me any of these they wished.
  3. use students’ names as much as possible
    This is mostly just for me, for practicing and learning.In every class I made a chart with all the names and looked at as necessary when I talked to students. I also studied the chart and quizzed myself when student were doing other things.
  4. have students talk to more than 2 classmates
    This was to help the group dynamics develop and also to keep things a bit fresh(er).Some of the activities included a built in info-gap in that each side of the room had different information. This required a new partner to share things with and gave more chances to talk to people they might not otherwise have talked to much that day (whether they knew that person well or not.)
  5. have students express their personal goals for the course and reasons for being there
    “Why are you here?” can sound like an overly philosophical question but the answers can be elucidating. From my view, it can be nice to know who is taking the course out of interest and who is taking the course because they have to. I think it is also instructive to see how well students’ personal goals match with the stated goals of the course.I used some (I guess relatively) standard needs assessment forms and questions. Something else I did was have students complete a checklist on how comfortable they feel doing certain things in English. This provided a nice chance to hear about their comfort levels but hopefully gave the idea, “Hey, it is ok not to be comfortable with all these things at the start.”Another thing I did was ensure that these “Why are you here?” and “What are your expectations?” questions were included in the activities on the first day (whether in group or pair work or short introductions from students to the rest of the group or through writing.)  Through seeing and hearing responses to these I was able to get a clearer idea of the students, which should help me in future decisions.
  6. address students’ goals and expectations
    Collecting students’ expectation and goals is important but I also think we want to address them in some way. I am not saying this has to happen in the first class. Sometimes students’ expectations don’t match those of the course. I think it is important to deal with these early on so that the surprise and disappointment factors are lowered. At the same time, I think it is nice to let students know they are in the right place for certain things, too.I took a few minutes to highlight both  what I saw as the connections and disconnections between what students expressed as their expectations for the course as how I saw the course. If some things were simply not part of the course or were unrelated I made sure to mention it. I also mentioned some things weren’t part of my original thinking but that we could potentially find room for some things. I also thanked students for sharing (what seemed to be) their candid expectations in the hope that this would keep the lines of communication as open as possible throughout the course. 
  7. create chances to see students’ abilities in the areas we will be focusing on
    This might sound like a no-brainer but I wanted to mention it here because I thought it was super helpful. I was able to gather some information about the students and their backgrounds and goals and everything else in other ways but I also wanted to see them performing in situations similar to what I’ll be expecting in the course.  So, by setting up activities related to the focus of the course I could get a much better and clearer sense of the students’ abilities and the range of abilities in the group.
  8. flex my language muscles
    This could also read, “Flex my grammar muscles.” I did my best to show my new students that I know my shit. I also did my best to show there are plenty of tricky points my extremely high level students will need to work on and think about throughout the course. Of course my mission was not to introduce defeatism but to show there are very real gaps that will be addressed in this class. Of course I also tried to convey a sense of confidence and knowledge in English points. I think in Korea there is a widespread belief that all “native” teachers only know the language but don’t know the finer points of it and don’t know anything about grammar. I do my best to dispossess my students of this myth in the first week.One way I flexed my grammar muscles was to have a worksheet filled with common confusions their predecessors had experienced and then create some chances to think and talk about corrections and reasons behind them. I think my explanations help create the illusion idea I know what I am talking about when it comes to English language.
  9. try to make the first lesson worthwhile time from an English learning standpoint
    This might seem related to the above point and it might even be. I think point 8  is about the image of the teacher and this one is about the takeaway for the students. I think it is important to give students something they might not have known about or thought about previously in the first class. I believe this sets things up well for future classes and helps encourage “buy in.”
  10. give a taste of what a regular class will look like
    I think spending the whole class time on logistics or on setting up the course without giving students a chance to see what the class will be like is not ideal. I like to give students a chance to catch a glimpse of how the usual class will go, for both their peace of mind but also to help the decision making process on keeping or dropping the course (when this is possible). I think students might feel resentful if the first class is very different from the rest of the classes and they were in some ways fooled into taking it.It is a completely separate point but I have heard of some teachers in colleges making the first day of class as challenging as possible so as to weed out a certain type of student. This is not something I have seriously considered but I think there might be something to it, especially when student evaluations are weighted very heavily. Perhaps it might not be a bad thing to help a few students make up their mind about the course and not take it.
  11. finish class earlier than the full time allotted
    For me this is about fitting the expectations (and custom?) in Korea. I still remember my first college class in Korea many years ago. I had 3 hours of things to get through in a 1.5 hour class and students were shocked and burned out by this first lesson. I have now learned to ease into thing and not take the full time in the first lesson. There might be some folks out there that would call this lazy or a dereliction of duty but for me it is a nice way to start the term. (Note: One class with another instructor immediately before mine went right down to the wire and nearly over in week 1. I might need to re-examine my thoughts on this issue.)At the start of class I said, “I have good news and I have bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” Regardless of what students said I told them the class would not take the full 3 hours and said it in the appropriately excited or apologetic tone. Then, when I was asked for the opposite news I said the same thing with a different tone.

I didn’t do…  

  1. group norms activities
    This is maybe interesting or hypocritical as I have suggested this is very important before but in my particular context(s) it didn’t feel like something I needed or wanted to spend time on in the first day. Small classes and what feels like a general lack of issues on these areas is what stopped me from doing it last week.
  2. name learning activities
    The reasons for this are mostly small classes and students already knowing each other’s names. I didn’t see the point in spending much time on something that would mostly be useful for me (and something I can get my head around through other ways). I think in other contexts it is hugely important.

Please note that the “Didn’t Do” section here refers to things that I’d sometimes do or might like to do but didn’t do this time. There are plenty of other things I’d generally choose not to do. Primary among these includes reading the syllabus aloud or giving students a task-free time to read the syllabus on their own.

Looking at the lists above, what would you not do? What else do you try to do in the first class? What other things do you keep in mind for first lessons with a new group?


Exclusive Interview with @TheSecretDoS!

It is no secret I (Mike) am a big fan of @TheSecretDos and the blog that is attached to this human. Around 24 hours ago I had the sudden thought,”Wouldn’t it be cool to interview The Secret DoS and share the results here on my blog?” Then I mustered up the courage and asked. I was very happy with the positive response. I said, “I’ll get back to you in a few days” but I couldn’t wait. I wrote up some questions almost immediately and then shared them in an extremely secret google doc. The responses came in very quickly and I was thrilled with what I saw and I am even more thrilled to share them with you here. Thanks very much to Secret for taking the time and sharing these thoughts. I hope readers will get as much out if it as I did. 

Ann O'Nymous


Hello, and welcome, thanks very much. 

Would you like a drink? What are you having?
At this time of day, some of that kopi luwak. If it was later, with an eye on my waistline, I’d probably go for water. I start the day off as a hedonist and end up as an ascetic.

Thanks for that response. Not what I expected, perhaps.
OK, let’s just get right down to it then.
What do you look for in prospective teachers/employees?
These days, a sense that they really get a kick out of what they do. There are a lot of people where I work who seem to insist on the hours they work and the homogeneity of the level they teach. Timing was never an issue for me when I started – it was all about doing as much as needed to be done. And I recognised then, as I do now, that this was a personal choice. I did it because I wanted to be confident when I went into class. I still think that teaching is a vocation: we do it because we want to do it; not primarily for the utilitarian exchange of time for money.

I also look for independence. I also work with some people who seem to want me to tell them what to do all of the time. My view is, “They’re your students: you know better than anybody what they need. Just do that!”

I see. Do good teachers make good DoSes? [DoS = Director of Studies]
What is needed to be a good DoS?
I don’t think good teachers make good DoSes and I don’t think good DoSes make good teachers. Good teachers make good teachers; good DoSes make good DoSes.

I think/thought that I was a good teacher. By this I mean that I agonised over every lesson and some were way below my shame threshold. But if I was asked to line up in the line of good teachers, average teachers, or terrible teachers, I would have joined the first queue. As a DoS, I think I’d plump for the middle one…and I’d probably be wondering if I shouldn’t have slunk to the back of the third choice. That isn’t me being self-effacing. That’s me being honest.

What makes a good DoS is something that I have given a lot of thought to. I am cursed with what Chip and Dan Heath identify as “the curse of knowledge.” I once knew what made a good DoS, but now I am a DoS, I can’t remember. I think only a teacher can answer that question.

The best DoSes I ever worked for allowed me a lot of autonomy; they [made me feel that they] recognised my strengths; they spoke up for me; and when I moved on, they let it be known that they were sorry to see me go.

What is needed to be a good teacher?
Somebody who really believes in what they are doing (whatever that might be); somebody who knows how to sell that belief to the disinterested students sat in front of them; someone who thrives on being with people; somebody who isn’t fazed by chaos; somebody whose skin is thick enough to deal with criticism, but thin enough to think that the criticism points to the need for some introspection.

What comparisons can be made between the skills, knowledge, attitude and awareness needed to be a DoS and a teacher?
DoSes manage programmes and courses. Teachers manage learning. Both are management jobs. Some teachers need to understand that. Beneath it all, we are all humans (yeah, I know, right?!). There’s a view that it’s natural for teachers to give out to their managers because their managers are employed to deal with this frustration. I don’t buy into this idea. I am a worker here. In the same way that I can’t go and tell a teacher that I think their teaching is goddawful, they have no right to come and tell me that my timetable is goddawful. We need to learn to respect each other. If you can’t say something positive/constructive, shut yo’ mouth! If you have to shout out negative criticism, apologise for it when you’re calmer and learn not to do it again.

Managers need to understand that there is very little to be gained from telling somebody that they’re wrong. People react badly to this. The ones who want to know how to improve will often ask for opinions. Then you can go to town. Until then, I think there is a lot to be gained from highlighting people’s strengths and when people appear to be falling short, making it clear that what is happening is that they are failing to meet the expectations (which may be right or wrong themselves). It follows, obviously, that you need to be up front and explicit about what these expectations are.

We have talked about defensive behaviour and acting defensively before. How can one in the course of everyday school life ensure that we don’t trigger a defensive response from you?
Always assume positive intent. Recognise the truth that permeates tired old folk wisdom and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

You have been in this field for 20 years, right?
Oh yes.

What advice would you give yourself of 19 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago and 1 year ago?
To 1995 Secret, I would say, “Get out of ELT. It’s rotten and unprincipled. Become a real teacher. And what are you wearing?!”

To 2004 Secret, I would say, “I told you to get out of ELT. It’s not too late. And don’t use your credit card any more.”

To 2009 Secret, I would say, “I told you to get out of ELT. It’s still not too late. And I told you to stop using your credit card. At least heed the last bit of advice.”

To 2013 Secret, I’d say, “Remember that everybody thinks that they are trying to do the best they can. They don’t need you highlighting the cognitive dissonance. You’re stuck in ELT now. Embrace what makes you happy in life. You’ll be dead soon.”

What can EFL teachers around the world learn from how (for example) French is being taught in the UK?
We can learn what it means to be teachers. Not English teachers. We need to throw ourselves into the debates that the education field is having. Forget all the crap about devising fun ways of doing X or Y. Start thinking about what actually makes people learn! Because it might very well be that the things that make people learn are not very much fun. Perhaps they’re bloody hard work.

We also have a lot to teach the French teachers of the UK. We have been freed from all of the constraints that bind them; and we have squandered a lot of our freedom. Learn from our mistakes; but also learn from our discoveries.

Now we move on to the rapid fire portion of the interview.
Top three silliest things ELT people tend to believe:
1. People want to learn English.
2. What we teach matters more than how we teach it. 

3. Student success reflects on our prowess.

Top three most harmful things ELT people tend to believe:
1. They have a right to speak “for” their students.

2. They know better than their students.
3. Because they have a right to an opinion, their opinion is right (or even worth listening to). To be fair, this is one of the most harmful things that anyone believes.

Current thoughts on dogme in 140 characters or less:
Dogme should embrace fundamentalism. Compromise is never a good position to argue for. Fly the flag and burn the bridges.

4 Books other than The Chimp Paradox ELT people should read from outside the field:
The first 3 of the following books I’d read before The Chimp Paradox and they may have provided the right context for me to really benefit from its insight:

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) - Carol Tavris
The Invisible Gorilla – Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
The Self Illusion (Why There Is No you Inside Your Head) – Bruce Hood
Trivium 21C – Martin Robinson 

The first three served to create an awareness that the brain is not very helpful. Some of us know about the manifold cognitive biases that we are subject to, but even then, we may not be aware of the inefficiency of our brains. One of the books makes the point that our brains tend to make up any old crap and pass it off as reality. This means that we see things that aren’t actually there; we remember things that never really happened. This insight made me really understand that people rarely ever tell lies to make other people look bad: they genuinely believe that those lies are true. When you have somebody complaining about you, you don’t need to try and defend yourself by denying everything. You need to find out what made them think that these things were true and see if you can take action to ameliorate the situation.

Trivium pretty much settles the argument for me about the role of grammar etc. I am interested in exploring in a future blog post whether or not the trivium is reflected in the “olde style” P-P-P.

That sounds like another super interesting post. While on the topic of blogs, do you have any thoughts on blogging to share? What do you get out of it?
On the phenomenon of blogging, I get huge amounts out of it. I discover interesting voices, unreal situations, beautiful writing, funny anecdotes, provocative bombast. There are some great blogs out there.

As a blogger, I get to scratch the irresistible itch to write. I get pleasure from people’s kind words. I get to offload some of my frustration. I get to hear other people’s opinions about my flights of fancy. I find the narrative that helps me reach an understanding of the unconnected events that make up my days. I have a readership that I wouldn’t have if it was just a private journal just for me. And my life is full of started, but never finished journals!

One post of yours you’d like others to read?
Given the fact that it appears to have resonated outside the ELT classrooms, I would probably say the one entitled, “I have piled my soapboxes high.” To be honest, all of the blogposts are really just rushed off streams of consciousness. The thing I am proudest of all about them is their titles! “I have piled my soapboxes high” was intended to echo Yeats’s beautiful poem, “I have spread my dreams under your feet/Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

The most recent one is a quotation from Malcolm X’s “The Bullet or The Ballot” speech. How fortuitous that in a post that praises rhetoric, Malcolm used this phrase that encapsulates the tension between those who feel that education needs to be fun to be engaging and those who think it has to be rigorous to be engaging: part of what’s wrong with the former (say the latter) is that they do too much singing!

Thanks for explaining the title of that post, I had a feeling there was some hidden meaning there. And of course, thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my questions.
The pleasure was all mine. Really.