Interview with Pete Clements

I had the idea earlier this year to do some more interviews on this here blog so I tweeted about it and encouraged people to get in touch. Pete Clements responded and wrote, “Don’t really know if I have much to say but happy to chat about ELT etc in a Google doc.” I assure you he had lots to say! I truly enjoyed the chat and wish we could do it in person! It was an honor to have him here and I hope that readers get as much out of it as I did.  

Mike: Thank you for doing this. Can I get you a drink? What are you having?

Cheers. Fancy some somaek? Go easy though, it’s been a while.

Strong order. Good choice…I guess. I think you are the first interviewee to go for the soju and beer combo. I will go easy as well! Thank you for doing this interview! It’s really a pleasure to have you here as I enjoy your blog and find it super helpful and informative. 

Your blog is such a good read. Wish I’d met you when I was in Korea. Perhaps I’d have committed to ELT sooner if I’d had people like yourself to help me reflect, rant, develop, etc. I’ve revisited some of your posts recently and I love how honest they are.

Wow, thank you for the kind words. I just now learned that you were in Korea (or maybe I somehow forgot). Perhaps we can meet in SE Asia then. Can you tell me why you got started with your blog and what your aims are now?

Sure. I started blogging around 2015. I’d just finished my DipTESOL and started working with Martin Sketchley. He was my boss at the time – great guy, good teacher, likes a pun. He recommended that I start blogging and get on Twitter too as a form of CPD.

Blogging for me at that time was great. It gave me so much confidence and helped me meet/interact with so many cool teachers and just like-minded people. I have Sketch to thank for that.

Sketch! (I have never called him that but I like it). A friend of the blog. Small world! Regarding your aims for your blog, have these shifted over time?

Changing aims… hmmm. Well, it started with ‘get ideas out there and also reflect on my poor practice’. Then there was a bit of ‘chase the views with some clickbait as it’s nice to feel liked and valued, however superficial’. Then there was a ‘try to be more critical’ phase, then an ‘appear more knowledgeable – that might impress a few people and help my standing’ phase (that lasted about a month I think). Then an ‘I’m enjoying getting into materials writing and that also happens to be a niche blogging area’ burst of posts, then a move back to ‘just share ideas and be honest about my practice’.

These days it’s just a ‘Write what I feel like, try to be helpful and useful, promote myself now and then, enjoy it, learn from it’. It’s just a blog, and there are deffo more interesting ones to read than mine!

Which blogs are you reading these days, Mike? I like that Education Rickshaw one at the moment. I don’t agree with the guy often, but it’s a good read. And Philip Kerr’s recent posts – very insightful.

I am continually impressed with Philip Kerr’s blog! I guess I don’t read tooo many blogs at the moment. I will always read posts from Zhenya Polosatova (who is very much on my mind these days) when they come out. What advice would you give to those interested in starting a blog?

I guess it depends on the purpose. If it’s for your own CPD then I guess I’d say be honest, be bold, put your thoughts/ideas out there, welcome all comments, see your posts as a snapshot of your thinking at that time (which may/will evolve), reread them now and again with that in mind.

If you’re blogging for self-promo in ELT (whatever your goal) then I guess it’s up to you how genuine/polished/formulaic/etc you are. Just rock your style, up to you what that is. It’d be good if it were really *you* though. I’d enjoy reading it more tbh.

This is great advice. Thank you. I think you’ve written about it before but what advice would you give to those interested in dipping their toes into publishing?

Yeah I’ve written a bit about it and I tend to say things like ‘it’s easier than you think’, ‘just put yourself out there’, ‘all you need is LinkedIn’ etc.

But look, I mean, I’m both lucky and privileged in certain ways. I’m financially able at this point to take risks when it comes to my career choices. English is my first language and I can’t deny that’s been to my advantage as a writer before. I’ve also been in the right place at the right time. And so on. I’m not saying my advice is useless. It’s honest, but it’s perhaps a bit blinkered at times.

That said, getting on LinkedIn, sending connection requests to some commissioning editors, making yourself sound good, and doing some free samples probably won’t hurt.

Thank you for the honesty and the advice. It seems like CPD is quite important to you. I just noticed that the tagline on your blog says, “TEFL tips and ideas from a developing teacher” and it’s clear to me that you are highly focused on development. How do you prioritize where to spend your time and money?

Good question. Hmmm. Early on in my career my development needs were more immediate. For example, I was inexperienced as a YL teacher and my teaching centre offered a CELTA YL training course, so that was the decision made. As time’s gone on I’ve followed my career goals more.

My priorities have tended to be a mix between ‘chance for promotion/good job if I do this course’ and ‘chance of personal and professional enhancement which should ultimately benefit my learners (I hope!)’. The former has taken over in recent years as I’ve moved into EAL. Working in an international school meant getting a PGCEi, which wasn’t cheap and is seen by some as a cash cow. To be fair though, the PGCEi kinda brought the promotion/personal development motivations together. It was a thought-provoking course at times and certainly helped me engage in my practice, recognise certain constraints in international schooling, and better understand my role as an EAL practitioner.   

Funding wise… Well, I’ve been lucky with funding for some training courses. For example, my CELTA YL and my MA were both paid for by the British Council (almost in full) for which I’m very grateful.

Beyond that, CPD for me is non-negotiable (both dedicating time and money) so I budget for it. I said to myself back in 2016 that if I ever wrote one of those ‘global coursebooks’ then I’d put at least half the fees into CPD. It happened (surprisingly, and due to LinkedIn), so I’ve had a CPD pot ticking down for a while. These days though half of any fees go into savings for my kids’ education. Priorities change!

Thank you for sharing all of this. I believe there are some useful nuggets for readers here. Regarding coursebooks, is there a topic you’d like to see in a textbook someday that you don’t think would be possible at the moment?

Certain target markets dictate that topics related to gender and sexuality are avoided/ignored. I’d like to see this challenged, and I think an area of priority (if any) ahead of World Cup 2022 would be LGBTQ representation in sport, with reference beyond athletes to include officials and fans.

An aside, but I don’t think the issue with textbooks is always about omitting topics. Sometimes it’s about how they deal with certain topics too, such as whether they perpetuate colonial discourses. 

Mike: Well said. I won’t ask you about other issues with coursebooks! 🙂  Unless you’d like to get into it. 

Well, we can dabble if you want?!

There are enough coursebook critiques already. Lots are justified, many are purposeful and apposite (if that’s the right word?). Some are lazy. In some ways I think that coursebooks alone are an easy target. It seems far easier to critique an ‘artefact’ like a coursebook as a static resource than it is to delve deeper into how that resource is being used/adopted/adapted by teachers, and the impact that has on the learners.

My bugbear with coursebook critique is the hypocrisy that pops up from time to time. Critiques that focus on the absent curriculum, misrepresentation, and other issues focusing on overall choice of content are for me the most valid. They are highly relevant and the suggested changes are often actionable. Look at the way Tyson Seburn has handled the issue, the way that the likes of Lottie Galpin mediate in this area, the recent resources from Bristol Museum, etc.

On the other hand, critiques relating to how well coursebooks align with SLA theory can (at times) be a red flag for me. That’s where I find the most subjectivity (from both sides!), and the most opportunism. Don’t get me wrong, ‘coursebooks and SLA’ is a big issue in ELT, but it is not always approached with a fair amount of transparency. We need good mediators in this area, and there are few who seem both informative and genuine – we’ve mentioned Philip Kerr already so I don’t want to flatter but… you know what I’m saying.

My advice would be to always do your research on the critic – you may find that they are involved in selling or promoting some alternative approach to the ‘coursebook methodology’ they are critiquing. That’s when the cherry picking of research and the agendas start to become a bit more apparent.

Thank you for sharing your perspective on this. I am glad you chose to. And I think it’s time to move on to the lightning round…What kind of music are you into? 

Used to be metal. Classic, like Maiden, Judas Priest (saw them in Seoul!!!). Indie and lo-fi. When I’m writing resources I have the band Work Drugs on loop. Recently got into David Dean Burkhart indie playlists on YouTube, amazing. My other favs are Devo, Sparks, B-52s. How about you?

I am mostly into 90s hip-hop and 70s rock but enjoy almost anything. So, when you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

Sports Journalist. 

That is interesting! Somehow it’s quite different from your current work but I can see some parallels. OK. Korean food or Thai food? Any particular dishes you like in either cuisine? 

Korean food, 110%. Gamjatang, Chuatang, Dwaejigukbap, Kimchijjigae. Some good Thai food though, Sai Ua is a highlight.

I love Thai food but I have to say it’s Korean for me as well. Puns or riddles? 


What attracts you puns? 

I’m socially awkward. Puns (like, 10 puns in a row) break the ice. I’m also a dad and an uncle. We need puns.

We do. I couldn’t interview you and not ask about puns! I think that is a good note to end on. Thank you again for doing this. I truly enjoyed it and I am sure readers will as well.

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. 

“Activities those guys know”

Some time ago a friend and colleague invented the term that serves as the title of this post. I thought it was a brilliant turn of phrase and it captured a lot for me in just four words. I’d like to dive into what the term means for me and share some thoughts on it. But first, the backstory.

In a Northeast Asian nation famous for it’s pop music, spicy food, 12-step skincare routines, and fried chicken my friend was working as a teacher trainer. This friend (let’s call him TJ) is a seasoned and skillful trainer who was working on a training course with a strong focus on reflection and experiential learning. I’ve described the course as something like “CELTA-light with lots more emphasis on reflection.” The participants on the course were current public school teachers receiving government-funded professional development during their summer “break.” The course featured practice teaching and was notoriously rigorous in terms of the reflective component. Sometimes potential participants tried to avoid this course if they could. Luckily (?) there was another course running simultaneously right down the hall.

There was the Other Course, run by “those guys.” It seems the Other Course was wholly focused on simply doing activities for language learning. That is, doing language learning activities as students. When one activity was over they’d move on to the next activity. This is to say that there was no time built in for reflection or for considering how these activities could be used or adapted in the training course participants’ real classes. There was no explicit time for thinking about how to implement activities or principles into real-life teaching. There was only activities and more activities.

Who were “those guys?” They were not, to my understanding, folks with previous experience in teacher training and development. They were foreign teachers hired by the ministry of education as “‘native speaking’ assistant teachers.” I don’t blame them for the courses they happened to run and I don’t suspect they had much say in the content or course design. [Please see Rob’s excellent and thoughtful comment below for more on potential reasons the course took the shape it did.] I presume these teachers (trainers?) did their best and were well-prepared and hard-working. It is not my intention to bash them or judge them in any way. With that in mind, I might have to tread carefully here, especially since much of what I am writing here is based on hearsay and second-hand evidence. In additional to being second-hand my information is not based on careful observation of the course but rather just glances into classrooms. I did try to glean some information about the Other Course from those who experienced it as participants but it’s quite possible my information is not completely accurate. I still think there is plenty of fodder for reflection here even if I’m imagining some things or missing some details.

When I heard about the Other Course and it’s sole focus on activities I must admit that some smugness seeped in. Perhaps it was the smugness that only a recently qualified trainer can feel. I thought the Other Course sounded pretty much like a waste of time. I figured teachers can find activities when they need to. I also thought those guys were no more likely to have the good activities than the course participants (again actual schoolteachers) themselves. I thought that it’s much better to help participants develop a sense of what makes activities work and consider the hows and whys of activities rather than just doing activity after activity.

Now with the benefit of time I suppose improving the language competency of the participants is a noble goal. I suppose that giving participants experiences to reflect upon for their own teaching could be valuable and that those who want to seize the opportunity might do so. I suppose seeing and hearing how proficient users of English set up activities could be quite valuable for teachers who might not be so confident in this. I suppose the rigorous reflection course that TJ worked on is not for everyone so it’s nice that there were other options. I suppose that it was a good thing to offer courses which tried to meet the teachers where they were and/or offer what the teachers expected.

With all that said, from my view “activities those guys know” is not a good way to conceive of nor conduct a course. I believe there is potential for middle ground between hyper reflective and just zooming (pun intended?) between activities. Having some “ties that bind” and some “connective tissue” between activities done and delivered seems like an important consideration from here. There can be a tendency for teacher training courses to turn participants into “activity collectors” and I feel this is a shame because there is so much more to learn and consider. I think a training course experience can be much richer than “just” doing activities as language learners.

My current questions include:

  • Do you think a course where the whole point is to do activities would be productive in terms of teachers’ professional development? If so, how?
  • Do you think I am being too harsh on the guys and the activities that they know?
  • Does an “activities that those guys know” course meet your definition of a teacher-training course? Does it matter?
  • Assuming they want to, how could teacher trainers avoid courses that give off that “activities those guys know” scent?
  • How (besides sharing this magnificent blog post with them) could stakeholders be convinced that “activities those guys know” is not a strong basis for a course?
  • How can participants’ expectation that the purpose of a training course is primarily as a supplier of activities be altered?