What does this all have to do with me?

IMG_20170709_155935Whenever I start reading a post in which my fellow blogger ardently complains about the somewhat unsatisfactory situation in the ELT industry, I catch myself thinking: Well, I see the point but this doesn’t really concern me; I have my safe and relatively well-paid job (if not compared to other professions!) in the State sector of education here in the Czech Republic, and despite being a female non-native speaker, I’ve never been a victim of discrimination. So I’m sorry but I don’t really know what all these freelancers are talking about. It sounds too ‘political’ to me anyway.

But I keep reading and it often happens that due to an argument which somehow strikes a chord, I reconsider my way of thinking. That’s the moment when I realize that what I’m reading was written for the common good, not just for a select few.

Revolutionaries like to encourage us to subvert the current state of affairs by undermining the power of the established system – in this case, the ELT industry. It seems to me like biting off more than they can chew. But then I remember who I am now in comparison with what I was like before I heard those ‘putschists’ speak for the first time. I remember the time when I regarded certain people out there in the ELT world to be real superstars. I automatically held these authorities in high esteem just because I was told to by other authorities. Mind you, I don’t have a problem with that; having someone to look up to is normal at a certain stage of development. For example, there’s nothing wrong with teenagers admiring their celebrities unconditionally. Most of them grow out of it anyway and one day, blind admiration vanishes or changes into well-deserved respect.

So I also like to think that I’ve gradually grown out of my blind authority-worshipping. The truth is though that I’m not the one who should be credited. In fact, I’ve always been surrounded by people who weren’t afraid to air their views and slowly, their rants sensible counter-arguments undermined my old, almost fossilized convictions.

This all happened very slowly and nonviolently, and the new mindset was strengthened by some of my own discoveries. For example, when I went to a local conference, a talk given by a lesser-known person was often as good and useful, sometimes even better (from my perspective), as a plenary speech given by a big ELT name.

Also, and this is why I can’t deny anymore that it does indeed concern me directly, people are willing to listen to what *I* have to say. The miracle of me being given a voice happened in the realm of the ever-expanding blogosphere, originally on this very blog, a place which for me subsequently became a great source of professional and personal development as well as unique opportunities. And some of these opportunities have already become reality: for example, I was asked to write articles outside of this blog and I was invited to give a conference talk based on the posts I’d written.

I doubt that any of the above would have been possible 20 years ago – at the time when all we teachers could do was to obediently listen to what the big names had to say. If I had been a well-established academic, then yes, I may have had a say. But otherwise? In any case, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to even imagine the things as they are now – I was too small a potato and small potatoes don’t believe they really matter in the big world.

But confidence is the key to it all. The confidence of a regular teacher like me can be built with the help of all those brave people out there, who either provide support openly or serve as examples to follow. And then the sky is the limit. So I say it out loud again: it does actually concern me – because it’s all about us.

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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7 Responses to What does this all have to do with me?

  1. Marc says:

    Knowing I have decent jobs and conditions makes me want to speak out so that everyone’s conditions get better. Thanks for speaking out!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Kamila says:

    Hi Hana,
    Thank you for writing this wonderful post. I found it very inspiring.
    I’d say the confidence comes as a synergy of us, teachers, working hard and linking to the external world, which serves as a benchmark – If Hana can do this, I can, too:-)
    As for the Czech Republic not being part of the ELT industry – I think that, too. Schools (talking about private language schools now) don’t seem to have enough money to buy the latest editions of books and the whole sector is very much underfinanced, so not much of a market.
    I’ve never been discriminated because I’m a woman (except for not being offered my old job back after maternity leave but that’s another story) but I have experienced the DoS/admin’s: “You gotta understand, Kamila, John is a native speaker” a few times. That’s why I’m so grateful for the ELT sphere on blogs and Twitter because now I know better and can better fight the bias and inform my colleagues, clients, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kamila. You say that private schools here in the Czech Republic don’t thrive. What you say corresponds with how I perceive the situation myself – I remember that 20 years ago private language schools (at least those I know something about) did much better than they’re doing now. I don’t wish bad on anyone but it just crossed my mind that it may actually be a good sign. It may indicate that the state sector works relatively well in terms of English language teaching. In other words, maybe, people feel that what they (or their kids) learn at school is sufficient and so they don’t have to pay for extra courses. Given the fact that education provided by the state is free here in our country, it’s a really, really good thing.

      Liked by 2 people

      • ven_vve says:

        While I am in no position to judge to what extent the quality of teaching (English) in state schools in the Czech Republic (or even in Croatia) impacts on the need for continued (formal) language training after secondary school, I thought I’d point out from the perspective of an ex-school owner some factors that affected our business/the need for our services. As opposed to 20 years ago, there are far fewer beginner/pre-intermediate students in Zagreb, and that is most likely in part due to English being taught from the first grade of elementary school – I think this began experimentally in some schools in the capital in the early 90s whereas most kids had previously started with English in grade 4. So, yes, this could be viewed as the impact of more instruction provided by state schools, although this could just imply longer exposure to the language, not necessarily better teaching. Another reason A1-A2 students are increasingly hard to find is the exposure everyone (not just younger age brackets) is getting from a range of sources, primarily online ones – this was impossible 20 years ago. When I last taught in the private sector (when our school went bust) 4 years ago, adult learners in Zagreb were generally B1+, which, combined with a severely depressed economy and an abundance of cheap or free language training resources/materials online, did not lead to a thriving need for formal language training services. My two cents.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Hana Tichá says:

    Absolutely, Vedrana. What you describe perfectly parallels the situation here in the Czech Republic. When I earlier said that “the state sector works relatively well in terms of English language teaching”, I meant more L2 exposure due to an earlier start (as you point out) but also better-qualified teachers. I left uni soon after the fall of communism when some profound changes started to occur. Also, I’ve been involved in the private sector as well as the state sector in my career, so I’ve witnessed it all.
    The reason why you can’t find real beginners these days is, I think, similar to why English teachers are better-qualified (or rather more proficient) – it’s primarily due to the possibility of an extensive L2 exposure outside the language classroom.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Kamila says:

      Hi ladies and sorry I’m slow to reply. I definitely agree that the children speak better English these days and have good teachers. I’m quite thankful for it. Still, there are quite a number of beginners or students with low proficiency that I teach. I think they had just “fallen through cracks” for various reasons. As for the sad state of language schools – have you read this open letter from the Association of Language Schools? http://www.asociacejs.cz/news/200/59/Otevreny-dopis-pro-ministra-skolstvi.html Another reason is the strong competition between language schools who push prices down. I wonder if this is just Czech or universal – Vedrana?

      Liked by 2 people

      • ven_vve says:

        Hi Kamila and Hana,
        Apologies for the delayed response. I don’t know if it’s universal, but the lowest price criterion has certainly often been the deciding criterion when doing business with the state sector in Croatia. This, I think, was especially pronounced during the recession, which lasted forever here. It might be a bit different now – I haven’t worked for private language schools for a couple of years, so things may have changed (though I suspect not dramatically).

        Liked by 1 person

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