It’s a difficult job.

I’ve been a teacher training consultant for years now, but in another existence I was a teacher recruiter and people often ask me for advice about the jungle that is job hunting in ELT. In many ways I am loath to give concrete advice because for me recruitment is much more of an art than a science. Anyway this first blog has ten ideas to get yourself to the interview stage. You may find some of the ideas a little obvious, but my recruitment experience tells me that little in life is obvious. A later blog will look at the interview itself.

I’m also often asked about the funny or shocking moments I’ve had in teacher recruitment. Yes there have been many and yes I may write about a few of them some time. Like the man who came to an interview with his wig in his pocket and decided to put it on half way through answering my question on the use of the third conditional …..

So how to get that interview.

1 It’s worth knowing that there is a global shortage of teachers and it’s very much a job hunter’s market as I write. So pick and choose. Think about the type of employer that suits you best (and Google their reputation), the levels and ages of students that you feel strongest with or want to gain experience with and above all, the place. Most jobs that go wrong do so because teachers don’t settle in the town or country they head to. Think it all through and don’t make mass applications. Be selective.

2 Tailor your cover letter/email and CV to the post advertised. It’s easy to spot ‘one size fits all’ CVs, so match the statements about your skills sets to their requirements. In the covering email take the opportunity to reflect and develop a little on the teaching you have done – employers want to know that you are a ‘thinking’ teacher, why you feel this is the job for you and that you have actually read the ad. By the way, if your skills sets don’t correspond with the job specification then why are you applying? The expression “while I don’t have …” always fills me with dread.

3 Brevity is good. As I say above, the covering email should expand on your experience and discuss your approaches to the classroom. Just don’t put too much detail as this is a job application, not a dissertation. Something like “I had a lot of mixed ability classes at xyz and made use of group work and other differentiation techniques to manage these classes.”

4 There should be no grammar, spelling, syntax or other errors in the application. None at all. You’d think that was obvious wouldn’t you, but …..

5 I think the ideal CV is two pages of A4, has the most recent job first and, importantly, no unexplained gaps. There is no problem with being unemployed or doing an obviously deadbeat job – we’ve all been there – just don’t try and conceal things, or recruiters will assume something odd was going on. If you have a lot of short term jobs on the CV it is worth explaining why, as employers are anxious about teachers who might break a contract. You may never have done that but make it clear that you haven’t.

6 Recruiters want to know from the CV – ideally in a few seconds – about your experience. So ages taught, levels, types of student and exams prepared for all need to be there. Materials and learning platforms that you are really familiar with also help. If it suits the post, mention of large class, mixed ability or low resource teaching should be there.

7 We need to know about your qualifications. Exams you took at 16 or even 18 are not of much interest really but it’s nice to know if part of your degree has some connection to the application such as a language studied, business (for Business English posts) or a linguistics option. Any foreign languages you have studied are relevant – I doubt you can teach EFL without having studied another language. Any language.

8 Still on qualifications, if your teaching qualification is not ‘mainstream’,
that is a Cambridge or Trinity award, you have an MA but no initial qualification or you have certification from your government that is not widely known, do explain what areas the course covered. Also outline how much observed teaching practice you had. Teaching practice matters a lot.

9 Please don’t inundate recruiters with copies of certificates or testimonials. They clog up the email accounts – recruiters will ask for them when they need them. To be honest I don’t rate testimonials all that much – I’ve never seen a bad one but have seen a lot of fakes. The names and email addresses of recent referees are what’s needed. I have seen plenty of bad references over the years but would never hire anyone without an individual reference or two. I once saw a reference that simply said “good time girl”. Not sure if that was a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

10 It’s illegal in the EU to advertise for only native speakers. Laws elsewhere vary a lot but whatever the law, it is clearly discriminatory practice to state ‘native speakers only’. You can seek help and learn more about this issue at And on the topic of discrimination, neither send nor apply to jobs that require a photo as part of the process. Visas need photos – job applications don’t. We know why some employers want photos so please don’t help them.


Lesson plans – a waste of time?

This a thought-provoking post. For me what matters is knowing what type and scope of lesson plan works for YOU.


I realise I haven’t written anything for this blog for quite some time, so I’m really glad that a recent conversation on Twitter about observations and lesson plans with @ashowski and @getgreatenglish, who following our chat wrote a post too, motivated me to write a new post. The conversation was prompted by a blog post by @ashowski which you can read here. In a nutshell, Anthony argues that from the point of view of the observer a thorough lesson plan is essential as comparing it with the decisions made by the teacher during the lesson can “reveal the most interesting features of the teacher’s pedagogic abilities”. Without this it would be impossible “to determine the extent of the teacher’s teaching abilities”. What?!

You know a great planner when you read their lesson plan, but you know a great teacher when you see them. While the lesson plan might reveal some…

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Breaking the mould – some ways of changing classroom routines.

I can’t work out if I am lazy or superstitious. Probably a bit of both. Lazy because I rather like my life to be under my control and rule-driven and so can’t be bothered to change anything.  Superstitious because I always do things in the same way – if I change my approach things might all go horribly wrong, you see. For example I always put out my clothes for the following day neatly the night before. I can’t go to bed without doing this – never have and never will. Equally when I head off on one of my teacher development trips abroad, I have a series of rituals around technology that I perform to ensure that the slides I need are backed up and the backups backed up and that all the cables are where they should be. It’s best to keep away from me mid-ritual!

But we are all like that. Aren’t we?

Well I think teachers are, at least in the classroom, and this blog suggests some ways of breaking classroom routines and rituals, some ways of going against the conventions. So, ten ideas to think about. In a blog like this there isn’t much space for detail but you obviously have access to the internet so please google any of the ideas that grab your attention. I’ve put a few links in to set you on your way.

1 Forget the course book

No, really. It can be a very liberating moment to go ‘unplugged’ into class. Pick up a theme that you know is causing a buzz amongst the students, choose a global event or choose something that is close to your heart. Decide how to exploit it – is it a story you can tell, a short poster project for the class or a role play, and go with it. Risky, yes, but satisfying for all parties too. Before someone mentions it, the occasional non-book lesson won’t mess up your ministry schedules that much!

2 Forget the teacher’s book

Now and again, drop the teacher’s book and work with just the student’s book. Take a close look at the unit – look at the language (am I really sure of the meaning, the form, the rules, the exceptions?) How can I increase motivation by connecting this unit to the lives of my students? Can I give my students an emotional connection to this topic? You are the bridge between the book and your students – the teacher’s book is just a neutral guide. The students need your local and informed input.

3 Re-think the lesson plan and try something new

Most teachers find themselves using the presentation-practice-production lesson structure – the PPP – on a regular basis. After all it’s the structure that we find in so many course books and students tend to find that structure easy to become familiar with and to understand. But it can be poor at establishing and responding to student needs or prior learning.

Why not try another acronym – TTT.  With Test-Teach-Test, learners do an activity at the beginning of the lesson. – you don’t get involved in this first task. Your role is to analyse the problems faced by students in this activity, so you can then present and teach the target language based upon student needs and knowledge. The students then repeat the first activity or a similar one. The students enjoy the high levels of participation and – teens and above – the analytical elements of the approach.

4 Or what about TBL –Task Based Learning?

This approach is typically led by a piece of reading or listening or a problem-solving activity. A real task. The three stages are, preparing for the task, the task itself (from planning to reporting) and a final stage that focusses on the form and the meaning of the various items of language generated in the task. TBL is highly engaging, communicative and outcome-driven. Take a look here for a much more in-depth discussion

5 Bring in your mobiles – LOL

Teenage students can make short silent videos or a series of selfies and add and practise suitable dialogues. These simple tasks are highly communicative, integrate the skills and can offer something for all ability levels. If you have internet connectivity in class try out some of the great dictionary or pronunciation apps or get the class tweeting! If you do work with teenagers, stepping into ‘their’ online world in class can pay you great dividends in terms of motivation and the development of learner autonomy.

6 Teach students to reflect

Teachers are always busy. A syllabus to follow. Parental expectations. Exams. All these things tend to make us rush. The lessons ends and the students leave. My suggestion is that every class should finish with about three minutes of individual refection time. Students can be taught to reflect. What did we cover in the class? What did I learn? What do I feel confident about? What am I confused about? Can I use this? How do I feel about my English? Teaching students of all ages to reflect alone and reminding them that reflection is for them, that it’s not a test, will help develop self-awareness and learner autonomy as well as increasing assimilation.

7 Speaking from the heart

Years ago I taught in a school where we used to share classes with one other teacher. In one of my shared classes we had a student who we termed as ‘lazy’ – he never made any great effort to speak. I now realise he had motivational issues caused I think in part by being in the wrong level class – he just found it all too hard. My co-teacher’s father died very suddenly one day and this one student was very upset and asked me what exactly he should say to my colleague when he came back to work. He had a real desire to communicate his condolences, but more than that he had an emotional desire to communicate. Lessons that focus on issues that learners have an emotional attachment to can be highly communicative and generate lots of participation.  You may well have to move away from the course book but topics like job changes, money, anxieties, hopes and dreams or for young learners, pets or families can create a real emotional need to communicate and that is when, suddenly, language is generated.  It’s surprising how much students have hidden inside them that they want to express in English.  Again there are obvious risks here but the benefits can be huge.

8 Mini teachers

There is a lot of discussion about the accuracy of the famous learning pyramid from the NTL Institute in Maryland (here’s a copy and I will let you research it, but one thing for me makes great sense. Asking students to teach a piece of language to a group or on occasion to the whole class is a great way to focus them, develop autonomy and, near to exam time, encourage revision and consolidation.  Saying “ok one person in each group is going to teach x next week, but I’m not going to say which person …” is a nice way to make ears prick up.  It also breaks the routine.

9 Go visual

Making use of photographs and videos above and beyond the course books is a way to engage the students and encourage production.  I recently saw a talk by Jamie Keddie called ‘Withholding the image’ in which he demonstrated how NOT showing a picture – at least at first – can create a huge hunger to communicate about what might be in the picture. Take a look at Jamie’s Lessonstream project here

10 Posters everywhere! 

I love the idea of students keeping a poster record of every stage of a lesson. Working in groups, students make poster notes about the language points, the activities and their reflections on the lesson. This approach encourages skills integration, collaborative learning, reflection and of course adds in the motivational factor of a public display. Students can also compare and discuss their posters group by group. I also use posters in professional development. Here are two pictures of some poster sessions I was recently involved with in Algeria.

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I’d love hear if you use or have used any of the above.  Please put your ideas in the comment box.

2nd British Council International ELT Conference “Communicative Practices in ELT in the 21st Century” May 2015 Oran, Algeria.

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I was lucky enough to have been asked to speak at the recent British Council International ELT Conference in Algeria. Some people have asked to see a set of the slides I used for my talk about using cross cultural communication concepts to support students with their speaking. My overall theme was that if students have some emotional involvement and investment in the content, they are more likely to want to speak. If you are interested in these ideas please take a look at a PDF version of the slides here BC ORAN CONFERENCE 2015.

Preparing for Professional Development – ten ideas – one or two of them a bit sarcastic. Perhaps.

My life is that of a peripatetic teacher trainer and consultant. Fifty-plus flights a year, twelve or fifteen countries, four months in hotels.  I lead workshops in schools, colleges and universities as well as speaking at conferences. I meet a lot of teachers.

A year or so ago I had just finished a session in (unnamed country) and was collecting the feedback sheets. One of the questions on the form was:

“What do you think you personally contribute to professional development in your institution?”

One teacher’s answer was “Turn up”.

The funny thing about that comment was that it angered me and made me reflect. In equal measure. So here are my ten thoughts as to how to make the best of your next professional development (PD) session.

1 Find out where the venue is and what time it starts.  I know I know but … And if the time or venue doesn’t suit you then put that in your feedback.  Oh and make sure you know what the topic of the session is. I’m not being silly about this. Really I’m not.

2 Bring a pen and paper. Again I know I know, but very recent experience tells me….

3 Treat the topic of the PD in the same way that you ask your students to treat a piece of reading. Activate your schemata. What do I know about x? How do I approach it? Could I do it better? That sort of thing.

4 While thinking the topic through, try to extrapolate it to your classroom.  I tell teachers to try to see their PD in the context of one particular class or even one particular student. Envisage the ideas in practice with that one class. That level of connection brings PD to life and gives it immediacy and relevance.

5 Try to prepare some questions in advance. I’m not suggesting you pre-empt what the trainer is going to say, but as I mention above, PD is more effective if you are engaged with the topic before you enter the training room.

6 Teachers need to accept that PD by an external trainer will sometimes be a little bit generic. We globetrotting teacher trainers do our best to understand the many local contexts we work in and avoid being too ‘top down’, but do bear with us if we may seem a little too global. That said, please see point 8 after you’ve read point 7.

7 In the session, take the opportunity to engage with and indeed challenge the trainer. We trainers are not ‘right’ or indeed ‘wrong’. Nobody is. That’s the whole point. A good PD session is a debate – a conversation with ideas and concepts (if that doesn’t sound too Californian) – so join in and see where it takes you. As a trainer I am always thrilled to engage with a teacher but please see my next point.

8 PD is about change, sometimes small changes and sometimes big ones. Usually evolution not revolution. And not everybody likes change.  If one thing causes me distress as a teacher trainer it’s the plaintive cry from teachers that

“our students are different, this won’t work with them”.

No they’re not.

Yes it will.

L1 interference happens in all contexts, just different interferences. Most teenage classes have some students who struggle with their self-confidence to produce spoken language. Reverting to L1 happens all over the world. Writing always needs to be taught. Adults announcing they “don’t need any grammar, I just want to talk” is pretty much a global universal. And almost nobody gets phrasal verbs.

Of course all students are different but not to the extent that activities that work in Riyadh won’t work in Rio or Rostov on Don, albeit with a little tinkering.  “Adoption and adaption” should be the mantra.

9 Personally speaking I am always very happy when teachers contact me after the event to discuss and develop upon the themes. It helps me to tailor future events – feedback from the frontline is very valuable. So do keep in touch with your PD trainers.

10 PD is not (at least I hope it’s not) a wall of theory. If it works, you should be able pick up and try out a version of it in your classroom fairly imminently.  If you don’t feel inclined to at least give it a try, then as a teacher trainer I may have failed.

Let’s hope not.

From teacher recruiter to teacher trainer – some thoughts from the front line.

This is a reposting of a blog where I put my dog into the fight about native and non-native speaking teachers. It originally appeared on Do please visit them.

For fifteen years now I’ve been working as teacher trainer and ELT consultant – much of my time spent with NNESTs. For some years before that however, I made my living as a teacher recruiter – sending EFL teachers and senior staff to posts in schools and universities all over the world.  Did I see many jobs that discouraged NNESTs from applying?  You bet I did! The mantra “…. applicants need to be native speakers of English …” was all too common.  It’s still common, but my sense is that things are somewhat better now but with plenty of work still to be done. In Europe the EU legal framework has helped a bit, but a glance at online ads will show the law is often flouted and I suspect prosecutions are rare.  Sadly ELT is full of discrimination. Gender, age, sexuality and race. You name it, I’ve seen it.  I once remember being told by a school principal that a candidate “doesn’t look like an EFL teacher”. I have to say I have no idea what an EFL teacher looks like, but what do I know?

What I hope to do in this piece is explore why there is still a native/non-native issue and look at some ideas for progressing the move towards equality. It seems to me that there are four ‘players’ involved in all this; the policy makers and those that make hiring decisions, the teachers, the students and the teacher trainers, consultants and conference speakers.

My assumption about those policy makers that decide who (or what type of who) will be recruited is that in most cases they would not recognise what they are doing as discrimination. I also assume that they do not do it out of malice of any kind. I think there are three motives at work.  One might be the ‘accent issue’ – the idea that students will somehow be given an ‘incorrect’ model of English.  And I’ve heard so many variations on that one over the years – Scottish, Texan and South African accents in particular seem to be frowned upon as well as NNESTs. The second motive I think is simply orthodoxy and inertia – “that’s what we’ve always done- we’ve never really thought about it.”   The third motive is student expectation – the argument that students want a native speaker to teach them, and I think that’s the most common.

So let’s think about positive action number one.  All of us who work on the consultancy side of ELT or speak at conferences and thus have access to policy makers and managers should seek out opportunities to lobby them, to reference the NNEST issue in our workshops and plenaries and generally make the case cogently and concisely. Change is possible and from the top down seems one way to drive it.

The issue about student expectation is an interesting one and the one where policy makers and managers are most likely to resist.  I just wonder how many institutions have ever actually asked their student body about this issue or have they just stuck (out of fear?) with the strapline “our teachers are native speakers” as if that was all the students needed to know.  I expect because of a history of being taught only by native speakers and being fed all the mythology that surrounds it, there is often some resistance from students to NNESTs. Students are not of course experts in language teaching so again we need to encourage institutions to engage with their student bodies and make the case. If they are prepared to. My personal experience of this is that students are very amenable to the idea if it is  explained to them – in particular they respond well to the thought that  a NNEST may have studied English at degree level for four or five years before they start teaching. One way of getting the message to students other than through the institutions is via local press, the internet and social media. There must be lots of us within Tefl Equity Advocates globally able to get local coverage that makes the case for NNESTs in lay terms that non specialists can appreciate. So positive action number two – let’s get the message out to the learners.

Positive action number three involves the NNESTs themselves.  In my CPD work I travel a great deal and run workshops largely with NNESTs. It is not uncommon to hear or see online that a ‘native speaker’ is coming to run a seminar.  Whoopee!  He must be good then! OK I fully accept that my sessions may be rather dull and that the most interesting thing about me is where I am from, but I hope my point stands. I make an effort in many of my sessions to take a proactive stance about NNESTs and pre-empt some of the anxieties that are often felt. I try to combine support and confidence building with a call to action. A call for NNESTs to teach loud and proud and to wipe away any self-doubt. So my third positive action is this. Those of us that blog, work in CPD, or speak at conferences need to boost the self–esteem of NNESTs. They are not part of our community, they are a majority in our community and their voices need to be heard. Can the campaign be led by the many high profile NNESTs – regular teachers need to have some champions and to see that our community can be led by all and not just by the NESTs.

Some people reading this might wonder if I in my recruiting days would discriminate against NNSETs. The reality is that most recruiters want to hire NNESTs, after all what they want is more teachers to find jobs for. Their motives may be economic rather than philosophical but the results are positive. It is the employers that call the shots. That’s why the Tefl Equity Advocates hall of fame is so important.  But to answer my own question, have I argued with clients and resisted requests to hire only NESTs? Yes I have. Have I lost the arguments and agreed to do what the client wants? Yes I have, as long as it was within the law at the time. As in so much of life, money talks. A poor defence perhaps, but an honest one.

For me it is the same as friends who ask why I do CPD work in countries with appalling human rights records. I do genuinely feel that ELT can be a force for good and for change. I really hope it can.

But we do need to get our own house in order.

A foreign country – ten things I wish I’d known when I started teaching.

I have been involved in teaching English for many years – I have never worked in any other field.  I ‘taught’ my first class in 1979. I have used inverted commas because I took my first job with no training at all at that point and I had very little idea of what was going on. But I grew up in a seaside town in the UK and there were always jobs like that to be had. The money seemed good to me and in all honesty it was a good way to meet exotic girls from exotic countries. I have grown a lot since then as a teacher and subsequently teacher educator and this blog is a result of a little reflection on my three thousand years in ELT.

1 Students don’t really listen to the teacher.

Or to be more precise some of them listen for some of the time. One of the most boring things known to humanity is to sit in a group and listen to somebody talking and talking and talking. Yet we all do it. Teachers will often say to me with great confidence that when they speak the students are listening, and indeed they appear to be. But appearance does not always show the drifting minds that have moved from your exciting explanation of the third conditional to what they need to buy in the supermarket, a worry from work or that good looking man they saw on the bus today. Verbose monologues do not teach. Which brings me to my next point.

2 I like the sound of my own voice too much.

Like most teachers I feel that when I am speaking I am in control – indeed there is usually at least some silence when you are talking. But, as I say above, that need not indicate listening. I have taught myself to use my voice as a resource, a resource like any of the others we have in our classes. In your planning, consider when you will need to talk, for example to set up activities, to present and to summarise. Equally, during the lesson use your voice as a targeted resource, to clarify, to reassure and to motivate. My sense is that a minimal time speaking to the class as a whole and with students working largely in small groups is the way forwards. Your spoken interventions to the groups or individuals are thus very focussed and so highly effective.

3 The course book that you have and hate is the course book you have.

There are truly great course books in ELT, plenty of good ones and of course some rather mediocre ones. Such is life. But the book you have is the one you have to use and I think, to the students at least, you have to be seen to like it.  I see teachers as the bridge between the book and the students. You are a kind of ‘localiser’. If you think that text on the London underground is not relevant, then find or write one on the local bus network. If you think that grammar box explanation is too complex, fine. Make your own explanation using the L1 as needed. Books are not set in stone.

4 Learning a language is hard, really hard.

Time is never on the side of the language teacher and there is always pressure to keep moving. Try to slow down as much as you can and allow students time to think, time to form their answers, time to try things out. At the end of the session allow a few minutes of reflection so they can piece it all together. Learning a language is hard, really hard.

5 Students need to know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

ELT students can be asked to do some things that to them feel a bit strange. Pairwork, role plays, games and even the fact that they need to speak English all the time are things that are second nature to us, yet can feel alien to our students who after all are not specialists in our field. Students can sometimes resist being asked to do certain things in class and overall will do activities better if they understand the rationale behind them. A ‘zero lesson’ at the beginning of a course or semester – likely held in L1 – is a way to explain to them how and why they will be doing certain activities in your classes.  Usually 20 minutes –with a few examples – is enough and I think it’s a great investment. Give it a try. Teens and above.

6 We need to give our learners survival strategies.

I am a really poor language learner, (I’m British!), but I travel a lot for my job. I have taught myself various survival strategies to make my life easier when I am travelling.  For example at airports in the Arab world, I have taught myself to listen for the names of cities and numbers. I don’t know which numbers, just that it is a number and that if I hear it in connection with my destination city I need to ask the staff what has happened to my flight. I have to rehearse almost every transaction in Russian – shops, ticket offices and restaurants. Rehearsal and then in I go! In Spanish I can say “it’s one of those things you use for + verb” to deal with my very poor vocabulary.  You can think of lots of these mini-strategies and students seem to like them, especially those who travel for work.

7 Students will take risks.

If your classroom is a safe place to be, psychologically safe that is, then students will take the risks with the language that will allow then to break through to true fluency. But creating that safe place is a challenge – try to always have it in your mind.  What can I do to make this place somewhere they can ‘let go’ and really try? It’s like that first swim without armbands I guess. You have to really trust that teacher don’t you…..

8 As a teacher you are never alone.

Remember whatever happens in you in class – good or bad – has happened in a classroom before. Many times. Don’t ‘bottle it up’, talk to colleagues and their similar experiences will be very reassuring.

9 Conversation classes are a silly idea.

First of all, I would wonder what the students were doing the rest of the time if not talking. The spoken language should be fully integrated into every stage of the lesson. Students want to speak and we need to maximise their opportunities to do so. Standalone conversation classes are very contrived and in my experience become dominated by a few pushy students. I don’t like them.

10 We need to make time for reflection.

Point 4 mentions giving time for student refection after a class. We also need to reflect on our own work. Try to find a little time for yourself, to reflect how the classes that week went and what you can learn from them. It will also help you to value yourself a little more and that must be a good thing.

This piece is called ‘A foreign country’ after a quote from the 1953 L P Hartley novel ‘The Go-Between’. The opening line is “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. A nice sentiment to have in mind as you look back at your own teaching perhaps.