Phil Wade Interviews: Ron Morrain
Ron Morrain is the Director of Studies at the Language Learning Center Duisburg. He has been active in Human Resource Management and Development for over 30 years, and is also a lecturer at the University of Duisburg-Essen. His active schedule additionally includes corporate training, executive coaching, and teacher training throughout Germany.
Ron is a very respected but not that well-known member of the international ELT community. I virtually bumped into Ron whilst studying Coaching and his advice and support were invaluable to me as he speaks from experience. Given his experience and knowledge, it’s not a surprise to learn that he has a PhD and is dedicated to his craft.
I was very pleased that Ron agreed to take some time out of his hectic schedule to do this interview and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did doing it.
There is a growing movement online for better working conditions for EFL teachers. As the owner and manager of an English school, what are your thoughts on this matter?
My understanding of “working conditions”, in reference to the latest exchanges on social media, is that many freelance language teachers are defining “working conditions” as a permanent work contract. A permanent work contract can offer benefits like health insurance, sick pay, holiday pay, unemployment benefits, and retirement benefits to mention a few. In other words – job security! The term “working conditions” (in my opinion) is being used as a synonym for “job security”, and job security is only one part of working conditions.
I can only comment on my experience in Germany, and there are very strict regulations when it comes to the employment of freelance teachers. No school is exempt, and strict compliance to these regulations is highly recommended for anyone wanting to be a player in the language services industry. Whether it is a language services provider (a school) or a freelance language teacher, one must be aware of and follow employment regulations. Many teachers are not aware of employment regulations and simply seek job security, and here is where the problem starts.
When it comes to managing a language school, I will be the first to admit that the road to enlightenment is paved with many inconvenient truths. Freelance teaching is not a means to an end – and private schools are not obligated to offer freelance teachers a permanent work contract. In fact, most language schools cannot afford to hire teachers on a full-time basis because of the financial constraints government regulations put on them. Additionally, contractual agreements with clients can also create more challenges. Having said that, anyone who has ever managed a business knows that all businesses have administrative and operational costs. Competition is tough in the language services sector and the bottom-line must always come first when running a “for-profit” business. Attaining, and maintaining, a healthy profit margin is important to the survival of any business, and schools are no exception.
Bethany Cagnol’s recent article in EFL Magazine gives a great overview of the current situation in France. It is a “must read” to understand the situation freelance teachers are facing. I am sure that if such a study were to be carried out in Germany the results and numbers would not be any different.
If a freelance teacher is seeking job security, I would advise them to read up on current employment laws, benchmark with other freelance teachers, and weigh their options before entering the highly competitive world of language services. Reality trumps idealism when it comes to working as a freelancer – no matter what country you choose to live and work in.
As you have been involved in recruiting teachers for some time, what do you look for in an ideal candidate?
I learned a lot about this business from having great mentors and by educating myself along the way. One fact which has never changed over the years is that a CV can never predict the future performance of any teacher or trainer. While qualifications are important, they should only be the prerequisites for entry into any selection process. Our clients require that we thoroughly screen all candidates before any placement or job assignment and request a copy of their CV as well. In order to fulfill our client’s demands, my human resources management and human resources development experience came in handy. It led me to take behavioural approaches for our candidate selection process. As part of our selection process, we include telephone interviewing, face-to-face interviewing, assessment centres, and mentoring programmes. The adage “Better safe than sorry” is my mantra when it comes to selecting candidates who will represent our school within the state, corporate, or academic sectors. Furthermore, being a NES (Native English Speaker) is neither a qualification nor a guarantee to becoming an effective or successful L2 teacher or trainer.
While our complete candidate profile is somewhat detailed, some of the important factors taken into consideration, in the beginning, are as follows:
- University Degree (does not have to be in Education – 2 year degree acceptable)
- Language teaching or related qualification (EFL, ESL, TEFL)
- Certified English language examiner B1, B2 or C1 (TELC, Cambridge, LCCI, etc.)
- C2 English language skills (applies to all applicants and must be documented)
- Minimum of two years teaching experience (exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis)
- Technology-friendly attitude
I’d like to sidestep into teaching as you seem very passionate about using Task Based Learning (TBL) at your school. Is TBL just ‘task, grammar, task’ like I have seen in some resources or is there more to it?
The list of acronyms used in language education is vast, and it takes a while to learn the important ones. In the field of L2 acquisition and education – TBL, PBL, and CLIL are some of the more important ones for me. I was born in Texas (Houston) and the simplistic definition of TBL as ‘task, grammar, and task’ reminds me of the Texan saying, “If ignorance was dirt that argument would cover about an acre.”
Having been involved in training for more than 25 years, one thing which was clear to me from the beginning was that learners want and need tasks in order to learn something well. I believe that understanding diverse learning methods, developing personal approaches to them, and integrating them into the classroom is what makes a great teacher. The concept of TBL is not new; in fact it has been around for centuries. My mentor, an avid Constructivist, always used the term “cognitive apprenticeship” during my internship as a communications trainer. (Collins, Holum, and Brown) Simply put, it is the process used by a master craftsman to teach an apprentice a trade.
Reading up on the TBL ideas developed by Prof. N.S.Prabhu, and later by Rod Ellis, are a good start to understanding how TBL can be integrated into L2 learning. But, it is only a beginning because TBL can be very different when put into practice. After much “trial and error” with TBL in adult learning environments, I have been able to “tweak” TBL models to fit my personal approach, while still meeting (and surpassing) my L2 learner’s training goals. It is important to say that this occurs without compromising the basic idea of TBL. The combination of technology, mind mapping, and L2 skills acquisition (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), make for a high energy and very interactive L2 learning experience.
Implementation of TBL in L2 learning means creating a student-centered approach where learners must do the learning, and teachers act as a guide through the process. Everything that happens during TBL is, and should remain, focused on the learners and their goals. My version of TBL requires a lot of space, modern facilities and equipment, well-planned learning schedules (time), savvy classroom management skills, and a group of open-minded learners. I have had some learners actually complain because they expected a teacher-centered approach where spoon-feeding frontal approaches would be used. When they realized that they had to work and do the learning for themselves, some actually became reluctant to participate in the learning process. Reluctant learners are not necessarily incapable learners. Be fair and vigilant in supporting them and challenge them respectfully is my advice.
While TBL is no silver bullet to L2 acquisition, my experience has shown that it does facilitate and expedite the L2 learning process and can be a strong and positive motivator for L2 learners. Teachers can make a big difference in a learner’s L2 learning experience by taking the time to learn what TBL is, and how it works. Understanding the relationship between teacher/learner in the TBL process does “take some getting used to” and requires some “letting go” because it is not a teacher-centered approach.
L2 teachers and trainers must change the way they think about L2 acquisition, teaching, and learning in order to effectively integrate TBL into their personal teaching approach. Coping with change is never easy. Most of us resist it, because we are comfortable and secure in our world as we know it. And yet, if change is an inevitable reality of life (and it is), then we’d better be prepared to respond when the unexpected comes knocking on our door. The rapid integration of technology into education has only made TBL even more important. As Michael Lewis said in 2001, “The future just happened!”