Sometimes I just can’t believe I have been in this ELT racket for more than 13 years. Other times it seems like a completely natural and normal thing. I am proud to say I feel as though I have learned a lot in my time. I thought it might be interesting to share some of my “key learnings” from my journey. This may or may not become an ongoing series here on the blog. Though it is summer break I have quite a few things going on right now (with some tight deadlines) but felt compelled to share some thoughts. You might read the mention of “tight deadlines” as a bit of foreshadowing or at least excuse making for the lack of quality in the documents I just created and submitted.
When I think about all the lessons I have learned over the years there is one that always pops into my mind. There are reasons for crappy material that can go beyond the skill of the creator. As we know, there is a whole bunch of crappy teaching material out there. At first, and for years, I thought this was because those creating the materials had no idea what they were doing and were incompetent at best. I am mostly talking about lesson plans, syllabuses (spelling intentional, thanks), and scope/sequences (all these are stuff hereafter). I have seen some things that struck me as terrible and ill-conceived and my initial reaction was to blame and judge the creator. Now, I am not so sure. In my older age, perhaps I have softened on this stance a bit. Things are not as simple as they seemed. Speaking of simple, I apologize if the points that follow seem simple. They somehow eluded me for years.
Speaking personally, I think I am capable of producing high quality stuff from time to time. I also know I can produce some rubbish. For me, a major factor in this is how much I believe in what I am doing. When I don’t buy into a project but am asked to create something what I make tends to be pretty crappy.[Note to potential employers: I am sure I will always buy into what you ask me to do so you don’t need to worry about crappy work.
Really. Probably.] I’m assuming this is likely the same for most people? When I see stuff prepared by other teachers I have no way of knowing how much they cared about the project or how much they felt it was worthwhile.
An example that comes to mind is a few years back when I was working in a training center. The edict suddenly came down that they wanted copies of all the materials we used in our sessions. For various reasons (mostly because my obligations were continually shifting and being added to coupled with unethical behavior from the owner) I didn’t think this was fair or reasonable to pile on so much more responsibility halfway through a project but I didn’t want to rock the boat too much. I simply submitted some piece of material every single day. What I submitted was a chaotic mess. Reasonable and experienced trainers would have a hard time making sense of it. If I had seen the material submitted and not known the background I would not have thought highly of the creator.
Support and information from the admin or other stakeholders is a key point that comes to mind. I think this often comes down to a lack of vision, a lack of planning and foresight, a lack of understanding what teachers want and need to know or any combination of the above. It might very well be a Northeast Asian thing but I have seen courses offered and changed in the blink of an eye and the teacher is often the one left holding the bag and scrambling to create stuff.
Related to the whims of admin is requirements that might not be readily apparent to me. Those asking for the stuff to be created might have imposed ridiculous specifications that would surely cause the quality of work to suffer. A friend once remarked that all the lesson plans he was given were terrible and almost entirely consisted of the proposed teacher talk for each section. From my perch as an enlightened person incapable such judgments I wondered if maybe there were some constraints placed on the teacher. For example, maybe all the plans (for no good reason) had to be 5 pages or more. Maybe the people receiving the plan had no sense of criteria for plans so they just weighed them. This could cause otherwise talented creators to submit crap. Just submitting stuff to meet requirements reminded me of the fun I had with neguices back in the day.
Time is also another obvious factor and flows from and relates to the previous sections. Who knows how rushed the teachers were when asked to produce the crappy stuff they ended up making. Quality stuff usually takes time to create and under deadlines created by non-educators this can be tough. Speaking personally again, I know that sometimes I just send off any old thing in order to meet the deadline and know that I will have to rework things later when and if I have more time. The crappy stuff I make just ends up being a placeholder.
Look, I am not trying to just blame admin for everything and and give crappy stuff creators a free pass. There are surely people creating stuff who haven’t a clue what they are doing and are in over their heads (I don’t think admin is blame free for this either though! The more I see the more I think that there are behind the scene factors helping make things crappy not as good as they might otherwise be. I can just see the mitigating factors a bit more know and hope to be a bit less judgmental to humans based on the stuff they have created. My lesson is to not judge the human who created the stuff I think is crappy. Who knows why it is that way.
(Of course I fully realize that what seems crappy might be completely awesome to others.)