I am not saying I got ripped off

I recently did some work for a teacher training center that I’d worked for in the past. I’ve worked for them many times over a period of many years. Those of you who know me might know exactly which center it is. I will not name the place nor rehash my dealings over the years with this particular institution in this blog post. Here, I would like to briefly detail a recent experience that I had working with/for the teacher training center and share some thoughts that emerged from the experience.

The course was delivered late last year. We can say in general terms the course was delivered online and the topic was about using English in English class as English teachers. I will spare you, dear reader, from the acronyms. The course participants were elementary public school teachers who mostly taught English or hoped to soon. Per the stakeholders’ request the course was something of a mix between an English class and training and practice on using English in class as teachers. It was supposed to be fun and offer participants some insights on their own teaching. Before the course I was given a sketched out “syllabus” which was something between a list of topics/themes and a schedule.  A few weeks prior to the course I tried to organize things in way that made sense to me and also matched what I presumed had been shared with (or even requested by) the board of education that would be funding the course. 

Prior to starting work on this project there was a lot of negotiation about the fee to be paid. The center and I went back and forth over email. Perhaps I was not as understanding about the impact on currency exchange rates as the institution might have hoped. I was also not as willing (that is, not at all) to work for less money than I made 10-12 years ago at the same institution. The negotiations were friendly but firm and I might have been asked to “understand the unique situation” the institution was faced with. After a series of offers and counter-offers we came to a tentative agreement on the exact (well, as exact as possible) scope of the work and the fees and such. I remembered the old adage that the best way to get what you want is to be prepared to walk away from the table. I was very willing to walk away but we finally reached an agreement after many rounds of negotiation.

One interesting result from the negotiations was that once I submitted the finalized schedule and a slightly more detailed list of topics and activities, we agreed that there could not be changed by the center. Back in 2021 I ran some courses for this center and sudden changes to the courses very near the start of the course drove me up a tree. I had a hard time dealing with the sunk costs of my labor and time with no additional compensation for re-writing major portions of the course. I tried to make sure that this would not happen again in 2022 when I delivered the course I am writing about here.

We can consider all the above the background. I think the 2022 course went well and I received some very positive and thoughtful feedback from the participants. I enjoyed working with the participants and believe I gave them some useful things to think about for their teaching as well as experiences to reflect upon and input and feedback on language and other matters. Not all my initial choices in terms of planning were stellar but I think in the end we got to some very useful things and it was a fruitful experience.

When I said goodbye to the participants, I felt that typical bittersweet feeling at the end of a positive training experience. Also, I felt justified in my hard negotiations both in terms of overall pay and in my plans not being changed by others. I suppose if I am being honest, I felt a bit underpaid for the whole thing.

A thought that I could not escape after the end of the course was that I did all the work and the center took all the money! I designed the loose syllabus and planned each session (with varying degrees of meticulousness). I invented assessments and gave feedback on them (even though I was not contractually obliged to do so.) I took the notes and random ideas that has been shared with stakeholders and made a mostly coherent course from it.  I felt like the center gave me a list of buzzwords and I created something meaningful from them. I felt like I did everything.

I suppose the center advertised the course and got a particular city’s board of education to pay for it. They had the big idea for a course on the particular themes of the course. The center paid for a Zoom account and let me use it. I assume the center sent reminder emails to the participants before the course started and maybe provided some technical support. During the Zoom sessions someone from the center reminded participants to turn on their cameras. I assume the center printed and mailed off certificates to the participants. The center had the good sense to hire me and acquiesce to my “demands.”

As I thought about the experience I felt like the (wonderful) participants would not have enrolled in the course unless it was funded, supported, and acknowledged by their board of education. That is to say say that I don’t think they would have joined such a course without getting certificates and professional development credit from the BOE. While they were interested in the content, I felt pretty sure most would not pay out of their own pockets for such a course. So maybe the center provided something of value? This veneer of an official course held some truck with the BOE and the participants themselves, I suppose.

I have no earthly idea how much the BOE (and by extension the taxpayers) paid for the course but I believe I would have done it 100% on my own for far less money. Maybe the BOE would not have been interested in hiring me, a random dude off the street in a different country, but I know that nearly every decision about the course was made by me. While the center took the majority of the profits the means of production are right here.

I am sure I am not the first person to experience something similar or to feel the same way. I wonder how people dealt with similar situations.

Interview with Thomas Farrell

Dr. Thomas Farrell is truly someone who needs no introduction especially for those of us in TESOL and interested in reflection. His website, Reflective Inquiry, shares his (many!) contributions to the field.

Hello Tom! Thank you so much for stopping by. Can I get you a drink? What are you having? Now, before I get accused of playing into Irish (or Canadian) stereotypes I should say that I ask that question to everyone who does an interview on my blog.


Ok, then. Let’s get into it and start with an important question. What is up with the hat that you wear for presentations?

Many years when I was at a conference in Singapore, I was forced to check out of the hotel I was staying in but I still had a panel discussion to conclude at the conference I was invited to speak at. I had to bring my bags to that last event and had no place to put my baseball hat so I just wore it during the panel discussion. The leader of the discussion said this was to be my signature…it has remained ever since but now it signifies that it is who I am and that I do not hide behind the fact that I am officially a professor. In fact, when people realize that I am a professor, many say that I do not look like a professor. I say “thank you” and then “What should a professor look like?” To me this is the essence of reflective practice. When these set of realizations happen at a conference, I can see the light coming on in many teachers’ faces as they soon realize it is who you are and not what you look like! So now my hat is a symbol of the need for deeper reflection and the onset of the covid pandemic has made such a need even more important for humanity.

Thank you. I’ve been curious about that one for a while. Something else I’ve wondered about…You are obviously an extremely prolific writer. Do you have any advice for those that might like to emulate this?

I write a lot mostly because the process helps me to organize my many thoughts swirling around in my head. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” from EM Forester has always guided this need to write as reflection. I remember I started out to write spontaneously while in Korea all those years ago when I decided I wanted to know more about my own teaching. I just wrote what I was thinking about and did not worry about grammar or spelling or anything. In fact, one time I wrote on the back of a chocolate bar wrapper after class because I did not want to forget what I was thinking. I have not stopped since. If I can write, anyone can write so go ahead and just write your thoughts and soon you will see patterns in your thinking appear right in front of you on the page.

I know that reflection is very important to you and that you try to encourage teachers to reflect. I guess I have two related questions here.

First, why do you want to encourage teachers to reflect? That is, why do you care about this?

I only encourage teachers to do what I did all those years ago because the reflection process not only freed me from my rigid beliefs about teaching and learning ESL/EFL but more importantly about what I thought I was doing in my lessons. I later discovered to my astonishment what we think we do while teaching can be a lot different from what we actually do. You may ask, “Why is this important?” Well, I have noticed many teachers beat themselves up unnecessarily after teaching when they think the class has not gone well but they have no real evidence of this. Thus, engaging in evidence-based reflective practice can free teachers from these self-defeating and negative thoughts and really celebrate what they are doing correctly. After working with language teachers on their reflections for over 40 years I know most are doing a really great job but they don’t realize this. Engaging in systematic reflective practice can free teachers from any self-doubt (e.g., the imposter syndrome) and empower them to be able to provide more learning opportunities for their students.

Thank you.  I really like this point about teachers not beating themselves up. My second question is about challenges. What challenges do you see in the (for lack of a better word) promotion of reflection?

If by “promote” you mean encouraging, I think some teachers may be afraid to look at what they are doing for fear that they may be wrong. In fact, John Dewey many years ago maintained that any reflection must be accompanied by a particular disposition or attitude whereby the person reflecting must remain openminded (heed the evidence/facts we get from systematic reflections and admit we could be wrong); responsible (consider the consequences of our actions that impact our students); and remain wholehearted (continually reflect throughout our careers). All of these attitudes are not easy to maintain and so some teachers may be reluctant to delve deeper into their practice and that is fine as many are still doing a great job.

Thank you. Anything to add here?
I believe you cannot teach anything to anybody, so I say that I dance my dance and I invite you to dance with me as I do my dance and see what happens (I do not mean to physically dance as I would not subject anybody to see me dance!).

Thank you for the response and for making it clear that you were speaking metaphorically. Do you see any issues with how teachers tend to engage in reflection?

Apart from what I mentioned in my answer to the question above, one problem with engaging in reflection is that teachers look for the bad or think about the bad or things they did incorrectly and forget all the good that they do. Here is my most recent paper with the Korea TESOL journal that celebrates the good an experienced teacher is doing here in Canada that I think ALL teachers should read and then engage in reflection. I really do hope my framework helps.

Can you tell us a bit about your framework?
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to direct readers to my recent paper on what it is and how it works rather than me repeating all this: Farrell, T.S.C. (2022). Operationalizing reflective practice in second language teacher education. Second Language Teacher Education Journal, 1, 1, 71-88. RP SLTE Farrell

Thank you! I had a feeling a link might be coming. I appreciate your nudge for a more holistic approach to reflection. Do you see signs of people using the framework?

I do know that many more are beginning to use my framework as I see them in studies and the like and a few messages. I am so happy that your blogger /teacher/trainer friends like Rachel Tsateri have looked at the framework so in-depth and they raise great questions that are important. I realize it looks like a simple framework, but these are not simple questions to ask ourselves as teachers and humans because we really do get into exactly what we are doing.

As you might recall, I first heard you speak in 2008 at a KOTESOL event. What do you see as the big differences in your thinking about reflection between then and now?
The framework I mentioned above is one of the major developments in my thinking on how to engage in more holistic reflective practice because up until this I noticed that reflection had become a bit mechanical for many teachers and teacher educators. It has become somewhat ritualized in many teacher education programs where the teacher educators tell their preservice teachers to “reflect” without discussing what this all means. Worse, they provide them with checklists to follow while reflecting emphasizing what they think is important but not what the preservice teachers think is important. Whose needs are they taking care of? Another major change in my thinking is that reflection does not have to be retrospective after teaching as it can happen before and during as well but all this time the teacher-as-person is part of the reflection, or as my mantra goes: Who I am is how I teach! Most approaches to reflection have overlooked this and the inner lives of teachers that they bring into each lesson they teach because we are all human. In some instances, teacher educators/supervisors or the like are with a teacher looking at a lesson as if the teacher-as-person is separated from the teaching. More recently I have seen where the emotions embedded in our everyday practice should also be a part of the reflective process and this extends throughout all five stages of my framework although I only talk about it in stage 5. Perhaps this can be an answer to the great question raised by your blogger friend, Rachel, mentioned above! Teaching is a relational act because it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the people (teachers and learners) from the act (teaching and learning). If teaching did not involve relationships and teachers acted like well-oiled machines, then classrooms would be very boring places. This is why teachers can be viewed by their students as being entertaining or boring, or approachable or distant, and/ or students can also feel supported, ignored, or mistrusted by their teachers. For teachers, the relational and indeed emotional investment involved in teaching includes constant monitoring of and listening to (and sometimes eliciting) how their students are feeling, and evaluating if they need assistance with their learning. We are emotional beings and this has to be a factor when we teach.

Thank you for highlighting the importance of emotion. Speaking of emotion, what are you excited about these days?

Sounds great! Thank you for sharing your excitement. I can see that you are keeping busy and, as above, are very productive. It’s wonderful to see what is coming and I think that is a great place to stop the interview even though feel like we could go on and on. I still have some random questions I’ve been curious about for a while but I will save them for another time!

Thank you so much for doing this interview and indeed all that you do for teachers around the world.
I want to thank you for interviewing me! I am flattered you wanted to. As a “pracademic” all my work is for the better lived experiences of my heroes: teachers! 

How is that working out for you?

Around 10 years ago there was this group of guys (and, yes, it was all men) who always often presented about the same topic at events in the biggest TESOL organization in the country I resided in at the time. Frankly speaking, I can’t say that I went to many of these presentations. Part of the reason is that the topic didn’t really appeal to me back then. The other part is more personal. I thought these guys were sort of full of shit. In the esteemed words of my former college roommate DJW, “They weren’t dicks.” Yet their seemingly arrogant attitude caused me to think they were my not type of people and thus forced me to tune out their perfectly reasonable ideas. I think this latter point, my perception of their personalities and attitudes, contributed as much as their ideas to my lack of interest in their presentations and pedagogical insights. 

Sometimes I think it’s a bit sad I missed out on the presentations and ideas and all because they might have helped my teaching and thus my students. I write this not as a confession or a chance to beat myself up but rather as an example of how our perceptions of others can contribute to how willing we are to listen to their ideas. I think it was very human of me to be cautious in accepting the ideas of slightly dickish dudes. Even if I have the slightest tinge of regret I think it was a natural response. 

I wonder what you think, dear reader. Do you think that we must separate the message from the messengers? Do you wish you could do so but find it challenging? 

For whatever reason when I think about general dickishness and the spreading of messages in ELT (including and perhaps especially positive and good ones) I think about Dr. Phil. I don’t claim to know much about this gentleman but I know he was frequently on Oprah in the 90s. I am not sure I ever saw him there but somewhere in the back of my mind his catchphrase “How’s that working for you?” remains.

There he is. Dr. Phil.

In ELT we have lots of people with good, interesting, and important ideas to share. I suspect that sometimes these ideas might not reach the intended audience for reasons that go beyond the ideas themselves. 

I wonder if those who (with, I assume, the purest of intentions) are interested in spreading the gospel of Gamification, Task-based Learning, Reflective Practice, The Lexical Approach, and Extensive Reading (to just name a few) are continually stepping back and asking how their messaging strategies and general public personae are working out for them in spreading the messages.

Maybe it’s not important and my one personal example above is insignificant because it’s from just one flawed human being. In my story above, the guys trying to spread awareness of certain practices were not even jerks and I was still turned off. Imagine how much more turned off I would be if they were in fact jerks. 

Maybe some would say that the idea is the most important thing and that if the messenger causes issues for the audience it’s the audience’s fault for missing out on the inherent brilliance in the ideas. Maybe that’s true.

I guess Tyler Durden said it too.

In regards to his famous question, Dr. Phil himself writes, “When I ask that, I genuinely mean it. How is what you’re doing working for you? Are you getting what you really want and need?” I ask the same question to those whose agenda* includes spreading their ideas to others. 

*I am using definition C2 here before anyone starts crying in their tea about my word choice. Also, if you read this post and thought “It’s not about me” you are probably right. This post is also, of course, not any sort of endorsement of Dr. Phil who is not without controversy. I truly just remember the phrase and think about it quite often. I should also state that I started writing this post about a year ago so it’s not a response to any specific recent events, comments or general dickishness.