Interview with David Deubelbeiss

I recently wrote on Twitter something like, “I’d like to do more interviews on my blog so get in touch if you are interested. (Note: please do get in touch if you are interested in being interviewed on this here blog). I was thrilled with the responses I received so please ready yourself for some interviews this year. The first is with David Deubelbeiss, truly a man who needs no introduction. I was lucky enough to cross paths with him a few times when we were both in Korea. I hope you will enjoy the interview!

David in Brazil around 2 years ago

Mike: Hello and welcome! Can I get you a drink? What are you having? 

David: Wheat beer, cold as hell. I learned to really drink beer as a poor sod teaching English in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.  I spent a lot of time teaching English and learning Czech and developing my theory of language acquisition in a pub. My “hospody” there still has a bronze plaque of my seat of honor. But I’ll even take a warm beer–“lepsi tepla piva, nez studena nemka.” My poor translation -“Better a warm beer than a cold German woman.”  These are the first Czech words I learned in the pub.  No insult intended toward Germans, as you can see from my last name- I’m kinda grandfathered into that. 

Mike: (*smiles awkwardly and moves along) Here you are. Enjoy the beer! I said above that you are a man who needs no introduction but can you tell us what you are working on these days? 

David: I’m actually working on loving more. Being a better human being. A constant struggle but an honest one. Maybe I feel guilty for past stuff, don’t know.  But yeah, I’m always working. Larry Ferlazzo labeled me the hardest working teacher in ELT and at first I was a bit aghast but alas, I’ll take it. I’ve done a lot. So right now it is teaching resources. ELT Buzz. I actually create more quality teaching materials in a year than Oxford and Cambridge combined. Light team, saber charged.  However, not many eyeballs. Alas. 

Mike: I hope that things pick up in that regard. I have no doubt about the amount of resources you produce. Aside from ELTbuzz, where can people find you and your stuff online? 

David: Oh, don’t find me. If you are good – I’ll find you.  Let’s leave it at that. 

Mike: Okay, haha. On Twitter you wrote, “I am basically retiring!” First of all, wow, and congratulations! What does “basically” mean here? 

David: Well, like Dylan (not that one), I’m not going gently into that good night. But I’ve basically done a helluva lot.  Realizing I’m a dinosaur and it’s time to do what dinosaurs do well- learn how to fly.  If you follow my illogic. 

Mike: I think I am with you…

David: I love teaching and climbed so many of its hills. Now just to poke about when I want.  Thinking of heading out on my bike, alive and real in the world and just living without a home. Let’s see if I’m brave enough. 

Mike: It will be interesting to follow your adventures and experiences in learning to fly. You also wrote that you’d “like to voice my thoughts about ELT as I walk out the door.” What is on your mind? 

David: Well, I’d like to leave that for a full on foray but I’ll give you the surface features.  

Mike: Fair enough.

David: ELT is a commercial enterprise. It’s money, money, money. It hangs over our heads, even if you work in the public sector. Product, marketing, self aggrandizement. I’ll give you one example of what’s on my mind.  I’ve always been confused as to why so many in ELT love going to conferences. I spent a lot of years in the public school system, teaching ESL. And then, also as a professor teaching pre-service teachers. No such adoration or compelled desire for “conferencing” in general education. And I think a lot of it comes from the fact that “English teachers” are searching for validation. They don’t get it in their real jobs, and professional world (unfortunately). Haunted by the moniker, “not a real teacher.” I reject that but I think that has a lot to do with how commercial, teaching a language is. And it has only gotten more commercial. I was in the belly of the beast, fighting a good fight, basically running a large company. I got schooled into how it is all about “the bow” and not the content.

I’ll save the rest for more posts, more thoughts from myself. But I’ll leave you with the thought of how so much language, “English” schooling doesn’t result in much uptake and results. Why? Well, I think we got it all wrong, we aren’t following the evidence. Take your students to a pub. They’ll learn more in a night than they will a year in a classroom. The real learning, learning that you don’t know but it works. But hey, you can’t test that! 

Mike: Thank you. I will look forward to further thoughts on this. What you said about ELT’s being considered “not real teachers” and the results  connects well  (and says in a better way) some thoughts I’ve had. Now, shifting gears and looking back,  I wonder if you have any regrets from the “early days” of online teaching? 

David: I just had a few webinars and this topic came up. It is probably how we lost “the moment” of internet freedom.  I remember 2004 -5 and the promise we’d all have access to information, to connectivity, to the world at large. Alas, governments put a big toll on that highway. It’s all been privatized without a thought to the greater benefit of humanity. I fought hard for OER and a free web but the wave was too large and my boat too small.  That riles me a lot. Now it is just paywalls and big players that have the money to buy eyeballs. It’s all a form of prositution in a way.  I go back to Canada and the library I love in my town (North Bay, Ontario) is empty upstairs. So many beautiful books, adventures, dreams, and knowing.  Downstairs in the basement;  rows and rows of computers all busy, busy. Why? Because most can’t afford any good kind of internet connectivity in Canada. Kids go there to find the world. It’s sad. And even sadder, most find a world that is just self- gratification. But hey, at least it is free for the 30 minutes they get before the librarian says, “next.” 

Another regret, thought.  I do wish more teachers in Korea or anywhere would get to know the work of Andrew Finch.  Really a lot there to learn from him. He needs a medal or something. 

Mike:  Andrew Finch conducted one of the first presentations where I thought “Now I get this!” Thank you for the reminder! And now we move on to the “Lightning Round.” 

Mike: Favorite Korean food?

David: No doubt. Pocheon Galbi. Close second, Bimbimbab after a long run up a Korean mountain.  Fondest Korean food memory – walking to my job each morning and stopping for “toasteeeeeee,” no sugar please.

Mike: Guinness Record you wish you held?

David: I once held a couple.  But won’t go there.  I’d like to have the record as “the man who knew too much” Totally consumed with this world and each fact, hair, zit, molehill there is. 

Mike: Poet you wish more people knew more about?

David: Oh, so many. We are so neglected. Truly. It is a sad subject and I’ve devoted so much of my life in the service of compressing thought to gold (to badly paraphrase Beaudelaire).  But if I have to choose one, it is Gyorgy Faludy. Hungarian colossus. He should have won 5 Nobels.  Hungarians have so much to be proud of on the literary front – Koestler, Polyanis, Mikes.  But Faludy was a colossus. He had a mind, erudition without parallel, spanning time and heart. He lived a life that most men could only dream of. That too is the nectar of a poet – the life. The active life. 

Mike: That seems like a good note to end on. Thank you so much for doing this. I truly appreciate it. I wish you the best with your current and future plans and activities. 

David: You are very welcome. I always valued your thoughts and “reflectiveness.” Reflection being the headlights we teachers need, for we are always driving at night. 

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