Competitions for Urination Distance
(Also known, in the parlance of our times, as “Pissing contests”).
I guess I haven’t ranted so much lately. This’ll probably qualify.
I can’t help but notice (or think I notice?) when English language teachers get together there is often a subtle or not-so-subtle game of comparing and competing in which they try to highlight the importance of their current or previous positions or their contributions to the field.
Some examples that jump to mind:
- One dude telling me and some friends exactly how much money he makes and highlighting that this is more than people in his city usually make for teaching English.
- Someone referencing the amount of times they have observed other teachers’ lessons as a sort of proof of why their opinion was correct in a discussion.
- A new acquaintance mentioning numerous times that he, in fact, teaches graduate students (and thus not undergraduate students).
- People talking about how EAP is more serious or real than other English teaching contexts.
- Teachers being quick to mention that they are teacher trainers or teacher educators or teacher developers or teacher education developers and not “just” regular EFL teachers.
- Some folks mentioning the fact they have an MA when it’s not really relevant to the current conversation.
- Random explosions of TESOL jargon and theory unrelated to the topic at hand.
- Public school or private academy teachers made to feel looked down upon by those teaching at universities (especially here in Korea?)
- Unprovoked recitations of resumes or published works.
- Excessive use of the #humblebrag.
I must mention that interacting with these people has been positive and they are all pleasant people. I’d also like to apologize if I have somehow misrepresented anyone here. I mean no offense to anyone who has done these things or similar (with or without me around to judge you). This is just something I have been thinking about for a while and felt like blogging about and sharing my initial feelings on so that I might be able to understand it better.
I must also mention that I have almost certainly done some of the above. Especially the teacher-training one. Especially when I thought that was pretty hot.
It is also possible (or even likely) that I am misunderstanding such references and oversimplifying things and categorizing these examples in the “pissing contest” part of my brain when they are actually something else. For example, maybe the speakers thought mentioning some of the above were actually relevant to the conversation at hand but I didn’t interpret it like that.
Rash Generalizations and Amateur Psychology
I get the sense….
…this is more common from the male of our species.
….this is more common from males of a certain age (say under 40).
…this is more common from expat teachers in Korea and Japan than in other countries.
…this is more common from people who recently received an MA.
…this is more common from those who are still not sure if TESOL is a “real” field.
…this is more common from those who are not comfortable in their own skin or what they are doing with their lives.
My sincere questions:
- Is this more common in Korea (and Japan) than other countries?
- It this just human nature?
- Is this actually necessary? Does it serve a positive/useful purpose that I am missing?
- Is there a time and a place for mentioning such things and I am simply in disagreement over the time and place to mention them?
- Why do I even care? Am I being too sensitive?
- (How) Can we avoid the hassle and stench of the metaphorical urine being sprayed all over us?
As I was writing this I was reminded about a post I wrote just a few months ago, “Some valuable lessons I learned one time and hoping to remember.” Nice title, Mike! Very short, snappy, and informative.
Another thought that came to mind was this post on “expert opinion” from our
frenemy friend @EBEFL.
In my extensive research on this topic of pissing contests I discovered that humans are not the only animals that do this. Lobsters too! Per Wikipedia:
Pissing contests are not unique to humans. Trevor Corson‘s The Secret Life of Lobsters describes a pissing match between lobsters:
The American lobster urinates not from some posterior region of its body, but directly out the front of its face. Two bladders inside the head hold copious amounts of urine, which the lobster squirts through a pair of muscular nozzles beneath its antennae. These powerful streams mix with the gill outflow and are carried some five feet ahead of the lobster in its plume … What the researchers discovered during the ensuing fights was that dueling lobsters accompanied their most punishing blows during combat by intense squirts of piss at the opponent’s face. What was more, in scenes akin to a showdown at the OK Corral, the winner of the physical combat almost always turned out to be the lobster that had urinated first. And well after the fight was over, the winner kept pissing. By contrast, the loser shuts off his urine valves immediately.
Nice post. Fearfully scanned the list for any of my misdemeanors, but I think I’m OK. I mention my MA a lot, but I’m usually moaning about how useless it is.
Some of my thoughts on your sincere questions.
1. Quite possibly. Especially Korea I’d say. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that for a sizeable chunk of people who come here, teaching is not the top priority, and this can lead to a certain stereotyping. Perhaps some of the pissing contesty behaviour is an attempt to distance oneself from that stereotype. My thoughts are that this is probably unnecessary, as if you’re at a meeting of teachers talking about teaching then you probably already have.
2. To an extent. Power and status is kind of unavoidable I feel, and so at least establishing your credentials to be discussing something is tempting. When I was reading about gender and sociolinguistics during my incredibly important and academic MA which confers on me the right to prognosticate about just about anything, some of the examples of women being denied access to power were in American* academia due to its pissing contesty nature. As a lot of people out here sail fairly close to academia, if not in it, perhaps this is cultural overspill?
3. As I hinted at above, it’s probably a way to help people to feel more confident about contributing to a discussion. I have certainly done it in the past. I think this can be seen as reasonably positive.
4. Conference presenter bios.
5. I enjoyed the blog post.
6. Simply yell “I ONCE TOUCHED SCOTT THORNBUSH!”** and that gives you the right to urinate on everyone else from a great height. No returns.
* I’m not being racist. The Brits were excluded from the discussion for being foppish, effette and quite possibly homosexual. Seriously.
** I’m assuming you’ve touched him at some point in your career. Not in a sexual way.
Please stay tuned for upcoming e-book, “ELT people I have touched.” It promises to be a compelling read.
It will also make upcoming conferences more fun as intentionally unintentionally bump into others.
Thanks for the comments, sir. I am glad you enjoyed the post. To be honest it was one of those that I wasn’t sure about about posting. But once i found the lobster report and the snazzy picture I figured I would be crazy not to post.
I think you make a great point about how “teaching is not the top priority” for many people here and there is desire to separate from that stereotype. I also think you make a great point that being at a conference is probably enough. Yes…perhaps that is exactly what rankles.
Thanks also for the academia spill over (sociolinguistic) effect. That is very interesting. Maybe people are subconciously trained that bravado is the way to go and the best way to win colleagues and influence others.
Thanks again for the comments. Soon we will dine on meat pies.
For the record I don’t think I will listen to you any more (or any less) when you get your MA wrapped up. 🙂
Nice post, Mike.
I’d like to add one if I may – people who ‘do’ Dogme. As you’ll probably be well aware, I’m very very pro-Dogme; however, I can’t stand the attitude that you are a better teacher, educator and person just because you don’t use the book. I often pick this up in discussions with Dogme people, or blogs. If done badly, it can be seriously detrimental to learning and that’s what these people don’t see (let’s not start a debate here, though). It’s basically about a misunderstanding of the concept.
As to the trainer one, I feel pressure there, but the reverse. I am a CELTA tutor and I can’t do anything about that, but I actually often try to hide it when discussing things with ‘mere’ teachers as it can seriously alter their perception of you!
Chris (MA, MSc, Delt… oh never mind..)
1) thanks for commenting
2) warm greetings (and hope that all is well in the UAE)
3) agreement about what you said about dogme
4) confession that I have fallen into this trap of dogme ingrouping in the past.
I think this has done more damage to “the cause” than all “the haters” combined.
I can see clear similarities here about defining in and out group status to those who do and don’t dogme.
4a) In fairness, I don’t think I do it anymore….Although I might make a joke about judging someone for using something as vile as a textbook.
5) I think you raise a very interesting point about NOT mentioning you are a CELTA trainer. I can see how that might potentially cloud the conversation.
(I, for one, would expect you to have a checklist and ask tons of CCQs throughout the conversation. #unfair #sorry)
I do think that such altered perceptions might get in the way of getting into an interesting and honest conversation.
Nice one, Chris (Dogme). Just in case I’m mentioned in that hit list up top, I’m sure I’ve mentioned in some tweetchats in these my first two months of twitter, that I mostly do teacher development these days, and maybe that I do it in a graduate program, but I highly doubt that my intention was to piss further than others in the chat. I’m pretty certain I was finding a sub 140-character way to establish that my comments/opinions might be coming from a context that indeed might not be relevant.to others, because I believe that context determines everything about how we construct and negotiate meaning.
That said, I don’t mind admitting that when I talk to strangers on the streets here who don’t know much about the field, I describe my job accurately because far too often, including by members of my own family overseas, not doing so results in an immediate and significant misperception of large parts of my identity, which occasionally makes it difficult to carry on the conversation… And I know we’ve all had those moments.
What I’m reading underneath this here, Mike, is uncertainty about agentive intent (“what are you trying to tell me?”) and position negotiation (“I just want to be clear that my piss currently travels farther than yours.”), to throw around some jargon from two different discourses (the first is just easier for me and the second might be more clear for a lot of readers — my intention here is not to piss further than anyone, just to illustrate my point). The tricky thing about determining intent is that when in doubt it requires an interview with the agent, and probably an extended conversation after that, and then a lot of trust. For example, on those rare occasions when I wish I made more money than I do, and someone tells me they work at Citibank, or in defense contracting, I sometimes have a moment where I know my piss has smaller wings, and wonder why that guy felt the need to detail what he does for a living… and then the moment passes and I remember why I made the choices I did, and that I’m quite happy in them. Then I realize that guy probably wasn’t trying to compete with me, that my reaction was largely my own. He was probably just identifying an aspect of himself in an effort to facilitate smooth interaction, which most of us always try to do, though not always successfully.
I haven’t been aware of much pissing, to be honest, but I may not be in the right circles. Generally just a lot of nice folks with varying degrees of dedication to the field, as Alex mentioned.
BTW — would love to talk at some point about philosophies of teacher development, as you indicated in another comment recently, especially the idea of “teaching reflection”. A juicy conversation indeed.
Thanks for the comments!
(I think I mentioned in a previous response that you were not one of the people I had in mind in my post…but if not I will say it again)
I think there are indeed times when context and credentials and the like are important and relevant. Maybe there are lots of times and maybe it is even appropriate at first meeting. I really don’t know. It is just something I noticed lately. I guess my stance is that we are all teacher and such one-personupmanship doesn’t seem to lead anywhere productive.
I like your point about explaining the job/field to people at home or who are not aware of it. I think that makes sense and sort of matches with Rachael’s comments above. I liked how you wrote, “not doing so results in an immediate and significant misperception of large parts of my identity, which occasionally makes it difficult to carry on the conversation.” 🙂
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on and moments with piss travel contemplation. I think a lot of it really comes down to position negotiation as you suggest. I find it tiresome, so perhaps I will need to be clear in future interactions that I am not really interested in playing. Of course the reason for mentioning such things might not be readily apparent to me so it is highly possible I am misinterpreting intent.
Ahh the joys of blogging. Thanks so much for the thoughts and insights which helped me think about this is a slightly different way.
You said that are not aware of much pissing but perhaps you are in the wrong circles. I’d say you are in the right circles if that is the case.
Finally, you wrote, “I believe that context determines everything about how we construct and negotiate meaning.” I am in full agreement on that.
Interesting points, Tom, about intent and position. I was in a situation the other day when I met a relatively newly qualified IELTS examiner for the first time. This person works teaching in the English dept. of a university here and it was her first time doing IELTS outside one particular context. I’ve been doing IELTS examining for a couple of years now and feel quite experienced at it, and was giving advice to a colleague (no, friend: we know each other well) who is also newly qualified.
What I found fascinating was the reaction of the first person I mentioned. It wasn’t bad or negative, but she did tell me that my friend and I had “enjoyed a good gossip”, that she “used to be a CELTA and Delta tutor” and that she didn’t really need to do exams but after she failed the standardisation the first time took it badly as at this stage of her career she wasn’t used to failing anything and the process was stupid anyway. I interpreted this as a misplacement of intent, in that she took my friend and I discussing CELTA and IELTS and mutual friends almost as a threat to her own validity/status as an EFL professional – as if we were deliberately trying to slight her – and so had to renegotiate the balance by stating quite clearly her credentials, her relative position (‘above’ my own, as I’m not a Delta tutor). She was basically saying that now her piss has all but dried up, but look back and you’d see an arch of it covering a distance from Istanbul to Beijing. It was about insecurity, at the end of the day, and who can blame her?
And this is what I was referring to above when I mentioned sometimes feeling pressure not to reveal my professional position (as if it’s even something to write home about) as I feel it can cause misinterpretations or misappropriations of piss intent. Or is that just me?
Anyway, cheers for making me think,
Chris (PhD, Doula, BEng…)
Heh. And trying to talk about this now is really really dangerous. You’d have to ask her what her intent was, and then decided whether you believe her answer. This line of analysis does away with positivist data keeping, I guess. Reading your description, i found it fairly easy to suppose that she was trying to align herself more with you than with your newbie friend, despite her being a newbie on a second attempt herself. “I belong with you, so please treat me like it.” But maybe I’m reading it that way because a few of the “deans” of our profession match my age and education, and yet piss a whole lot more and further than I have managed, and sometimes I wish I were standing at the same urinal.
Speaking of urinals, why aren’t the women commenting?
Very funny post and responses. I have to admit that I do like to collect acronyms on my CV for exams, qualifications, etc. but usually just tell people that ‘I work at a language school’ if asked. Unless Chris is around, in which case I belittle him for not being an examiner of URINELTS .
LOL…. I almost just broadcast on twitter that Chris is not a URINELTS examiner but figured I’d just share the laugh here. Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you found the post funny. I hemmed and hawed about actually posting but have been very happy with the thoughtful comments and I am glad I posted it. I am also happy I learned about lobster piss valves.
You know fine well that I am an URINELTS examiner, due to my extraordinary ability to evaluate piss from way further away than you!
Another original talking point…(very original!)
I hope this isn’t something I do too much of, but I have to say I find myself defensively doing it sometimes when I tell people what I do (i.e. English language teaching) and they say, ‘Oh, yeah, my sister/cousin/friend did that for a couple of years. They’ve got a proper job now though.’
This was one of those things I just knew I was going to have to blog about someday when I started the blog.
(I did not always know that it would involve lobsters or lots of urine comments).
Please give me some credit for not mentioning how the comments on my blog were getting a bit pissy.
Thanks for commenting, Rachael.
(It has been noted that you were the first female to comment on this!)
Since I have elected myself arbiter of good taste and manners in this regard I would like to share my verdict on your actions.
Verdict: More than acceptable.
In the situation you described it sounds like you were carving out a place and perhaps helping your interlocutor see that this field can be professional and is not just the stuff of gap years and angsty 20-somethings.
To my mind that is quite different than a stranger blustering on to me (who if they talked to me for a minute would realize that I think the field is very real) about their credentials and how legit they are in the field.
Conference coming up this weekend. Let’s see what strategies I employ when faced with such situations!
I don’t think it’s unique to Korea. People do it everywhere in every field. It comes down to feeling the need to impress and gain credibility where one feels insecure there is little, that is if it is out-of-place in the conversation (unlike if you are talking about qualifications and which are most relevant, etc.).
By the way, I think I would know a lot about this topic. I did do a half a minor in psychology during my undegrad…
I think that is more than enough to share psych opinions in my book (and on my blog). 🙂
Thanks for commenting Tyson. I guess maybe the reason it jumps out at me so much is that people seem so eager to separate themselves from “regular” teachers and I think this is a bid sad/saddening. I think inappropriate credential sharing (ICS) has the negative effect and I am far less likely to listen to what people say and it forces me to take a much more critical eye/ear to those that employ it.
I think you make a good point this happens everywhere…I really think it does. At the same time I feel like it occurs more in our field (maybe due to insecurities?) and perhaps in Korea as Alex suggests because there are a lot of people not considered professional and teachers want to distinguish themselves from that lot.
Just some random thoughts about a week late.
Thanks for commenting and helping me see the bigger picture. 🙂
RE Korean context – I’m very sure that’s true. When I taught there in a hakwan, there was a very distinct culture of teachers who were there purely for the fun of travel and the Korean girls. Sad, but true. I too wanted to distance myself from them and employing this tactic (though I wouldn’t have been able to then) would have helped.