Image courtesy of Nathan Siemers
Yep, I’m back, but with a caveat. My concern about how we treat each other as ELT professionals hasn’t changed. In fact, that is the focus of this post. While most of my posts are mostly planned out before I sit down at the computer, this is one of those that is just a general idea and I hope that by typing it out, some of my thoughts will start to sort themselves out and will become more cohesive by the end. Either that, or this post will be a disaster.
A lot has happened in the past month with the TESOL conference in Portland and IATEFL in Harrogate as well as the discussions that followed. The major discussion has been focused on the session presented by Sugata Mitra and one given by Russ Mayne. Surprisingly, those are not the issues I want to discuss here. Instead, my focus is on how we conduct ourselves with interacting with others within our field (or with people in general). I feel we have become too comfortable with the ‘snark’ remark. Biting, sarcastic responses have become so commonplace, there are those who feel it is now expected in order to make a point. Well, I for one feel we are heading down a dangerous path.
I am not perfect. I hope no one ever feels that I think I am perfect or better than anybody else. I am a leaving, breathing person with feelings just like everyone else on this planet. Just because I have more education or experience than someone else does not make me somehow more important than them. Regardless of how I have been treated, I do not need to reply in kind and ‘make them pay’ for their actions. I am also not a fan of the use of satire to make a point. It only pushes people away instead of inspiring meaningful dialogue. It muddies the issues and only hurts people. There are much more effective ways of expressing your disagreement without having to put others down. The number one rule in my classroom is to respect one another. I feel there is a decided lack of respect for those who are working hard to make a difference in the ELT community and within their own classrooms.
Another thing that worries me is that we are allowing this to happen, maybe even endorsing it by doing two dangerous things: putting others on pedestals and sharing things that others have said or written that are disrespectful to others. Again, you can disagree and even believe that others are heading down a dangerous path, but name calling and foul language is unnecessary. We can also admire what someone has done and give them credit, but to allow others to be above others almost like celebrities, we are saying to others around us that there is a hierarchy and we are not worthy to be a part of that. Worse yet is that some of this is happening not because of the content, but as a means to gain recognition in the eyes of those we see as more important than others.
So what do we do? It is always easy to point our what is wrong, but it is a lot more difficult to find solutions. Well, I don’t have a lot of ideas, but here are some that come to mind:
- Turn off the auto-retweet. Sharing a person’s blog posts just because ‘a person of importance’ has written it shows that we think more about of the person than the content. First, read it. Follow that with a dose of critical thinking. Then share if it is worth sharing. Yes, the person is important and a sure way of showing that is to read what they have written before posting it.
- Tune out those who yell or complain the most. On many occasions, I have decided to unfollow someone on Twitter in order to stop the frustration that builds each time I read another thing from them that intentionally hurts others. No, I am not advocating ‘sticking your fingers in your ears’ in order to only get information that you agree with, I am merely talking about the manner in which it is presented. If a person is constantly disrespectful to others in how they interact with them, I will ‘put them on mute’ and walk away for a while, maybe forever.
- Stop accepting everything that is put before you by the most ‘famous’ authors, presenters, etc. in the field. They often have great material, but even they would want you to examine it with a critical eye. If they don’t, well, that says a lot about how they feel about themselves and you in particular.
- Promote those who are struggling through things in their own classrooms. We are quick to share material that may get us a lot of retweets, but there is so many amazing material being shared by those we are hammering away at things without much recognition.
- Along those same lines, don’t be so quick to dismiss others who are excited about what they have achieved in their classroom when you feel they are ‘doing it all wrong’. Yes, there is a place to help them see where what they are doing may not be ideal, but congratulate them on seeking out ways to help their students. Discouraging them by pointing out their errors isn’t always necessary. If a student in your language classroom writes a paragraph on a topic for the first time, are we quick to point out the fact they didn’t have a good topic sentence or supporting evidence? No. We are likely to tell them what they did well and congratulate them on their achievement. They know it isn’t perfect, but they just want to be acknowledged for what they were able to do on their own. As we build a trusting dialogue, we can help guide them to become better writers. This shouldn’t be any different for those we interact with online.
In the spirit of respect and acknowledging others who don’t always get the credit they deserve, here are some people who have made a difference in my life online as an ELT professional. This is certainly not a complete list (which is a dangerous thing to do, but here goes):
- Tyson Seburn: He has been an incredible support to me as an ELT professional and personifies what I am talking about here. Encouraging, yet able to tactfully engage with those who he feels needs some direction. I don’t always agree with him, but through his work in building a trusting professional relationship with me, I feel I can discuss things with him and never feel disrespected. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing.
- Baiba Svenca: A gem. She is so encouraging and she takes time to talk with others online while treating them as a real person, something often lacking online.
- Sheila Stewart: Someone I met on Twitter and then got to know in person. We always seem to be on the same wavelength. Such an advocate for student-parent-teacher engagement.
- English Online (numerous people): Can’t say enough about this group. Consummate professionals. Follow them all.
- Vicky and Eugenia Loras (The Loras Network): A fine example of how you can promote your business while still putting others first. Smart, kind, and incredibly committed to improving things in the ELT community and their own classrooms. Well done, ladies!
- Florentina Taylor: Intelligent, yet down-to-earth. She is someone I feel I could learn so much from. I have a great deal of respect for her and what she is doing, especially in the tricky area of academia.
- Anne Hendler: Someone who is willing to be vulnerable by sharing what she is doing while encouraging others by thoughtfully reading, commenting, and sharing what others are doing as well. Embodies exactly what I was talking about above.
- Phil Chappell: Intelligent, yet never pretentious. When he shares something, I jump at it since it is almost guaranteed to be something of depth and importance. On the flip side, he is very approachable and respectful. A valuable asset that AusELT is lucky to have.
- Sophia Khan: Another amazing person to follow from AusELT (now in Singapore). Kind, smart, and willing to share what she is doing, thinking, and even struggling with in her work as an ELT professional.
- Lesley Cioccarelli: Incredibly active online and in her local community as an ELT professional. Always has something intelligent and good to share with others. Finishes an AusELT trifecta.
- Naomi Epstein: Kind, kind, kind. Naomi puts you at ease so quickly and has so many interesting and intelligent things to share. Her blog on teaching EFL to deaf and hard of hearing students is so enlightening. Really worth reading.