On a recent trip back to the UK, I met up with an old friend of mine who works as a lecturer at a university training new primary school teachers. I asked him about learning styles and its place in the current training of teachers, and what struck me about the conversation was not so much his thoughts on the subject, but rather how politically he viewed it.
When I say politically, I mean Politics with a big P. His discourse on the the subject was framed within the context of what the current and previous Education Minister was in favour of, government education policy and the current political climate. As someone who works in an education system that is constantly having to reflect, deal with, resist and manage these things, this is quite understandable. For me, as someone who works in a very different educational setting, it was fascinating to observe.
Rarely in the world of ELT do we have to face up to these things, it seems. Some of us definitely like to talk and write about what you can call small p politics, whether that’s the topics we can discuss in the classroom, such as the environment, homelessness, consumerism etc*, or the issues that affect our profession, including the situation for non-native teachers, gender, and racial inequality. But from what I’ve observed, whether that’s on blogs, social media, presentations, conversations at conferences and so on, Politics seems to be almost completely absent.
The most obvious reason why this is the case is that ELT is a global industry and private language schools are generally quite disconnected from the state system. This is problematic for me because the vast majority of people learning English today are children studying in schools, firmly within a government run education system, and it seems to me that the our profession is over-represented by a minority of teachers, like me, who don’t have to engage in the big P politics. The reasons for this misrepresentation are numerous I’m sure, and I’m not in a position to speculate why, but I can’t help but feel that as a profession we need to engage more with the majority of our colleagues and learn from each other.
How this is done is another matter, and I’m not sure what the solutions are.* I’m also assuming that our state school colleagues actually want to be part of it, which may be a big misunderstanding on my part, I really don’t know. What I do know is that unless we widen the scope of our conversation, we will continue to be disconnected from the majority of our peers.
Does this sound representative to you? Obviously not every country is the same, and perhaps your situation is quite different. If so, I’d love to hear about it.
*For some excellent lesson ideas for some of those small p issues, take a look at the IATEFL Global Issues SIG website.
*One possibility is for local teaching associations to make sure that local teachers are aware of them, and at BELTA we are working very hard on this. It’s easier said than done though.
*Just as I was about to post this, the most high profile example of ELT and small p politics I’ve ever seen was posted on the Guardian Facebook page.
Thanks To Mike Harrison for pointing out the work of English For Action, who provide ESOL courses for adult migrants in communities across London.