The Incomplete A – Z of EFL: L-O

EFL Asia

(Part 2 L-O)

 By Allistair Elliott

L is for (not) learning the local language.

If you can learn the local language, then do. If you can’t, then prepare to suffer the quiet approbation of the enquiring minds who ask you those two dreaded questions. “How long have you been in …?” Followed by “Can you speak …?” I’ve started to interlink my answer with Rule number One and just lie. I’ve been in … for six months, and so no, I cannot speak much of the local language. It’s an unsatisfactory situation and is the biggest Achilles heel of the EFL teacher who is settled into a place. If you are settled here, why haven’t you (or I) learned the local language? I have no satisfactory answer.

L is for lesson plans.

In the very narrow Venn diagram of space where mediocre supervisors, course administrators, Government departments, EFL writers and EFL teachers can agree on something, that something is the importance of lesson plans. I, for one, just cannot go into any class, unprepared. It’s just too scary to do, and the outcome is invariably rubbish. Of course, now that the humble EFL teacher has agreed with the mediocre supervisor about the lesson plan, so we now enter a battle to prove who is more important. Mediocrity is winning.

I feel that there is a raging war in EFL between the teachers and the administrators, about lesson plans. Authentic, real and competent EFL teachers do not have a problem doing lesson plans. Rather, we enjoy doing them. The problem is that the dreary, mediocre supervisor resents us having this skill, a skill way beyond their level of ability. Therefore, asserting their authority by getting us to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ becomes their way of compensating for another glaring lack of skill. Control must be exercised. Authority demonstrated, respect enforced. You do know Mr Supervisor, the time spent arguing about the minutiae of a lesson plan could be better spent creating new activities or finding better material for our students or improving our technical skills don’t you think? It’s about “respect”. You’ve got to show me respect. Therefore, I want your lesson plans to have bullet points in them!

It all feeds into other things discussed like control, witless office politics and mediocrity of course. Lesson plans and lesson planning are often nice things to do. As an EFL teacher, I take great pride in creating nice documents and hopefully useful activities that will benefit my students’ learning of English. Instead, lesson plans are often fought over with the mediocre supervisors, as if each one is Magna Carta!!!! Just calm-down and chill out. You do know that we are there for our students, right??????

M is for mediocrity.

As you’ve guessed by now, this is the kind of theme running through this polemic. Mediocrity is everywhere in EFL and it needs challenging. In my 11 years of EFL in Asia, I can count on two fingers the number of competent supervisors I’ve had – and I suspect one of them was ‘let go’ because she was, indeed, competent. Otherwise, mediocrities abound. Supervisors are invariably failed teachers. They can’t teach but can’t do anything else either. Stuck in a kind of self-perpetuating, self-loathing limbo, their life is fairly miserable and tedious. So, to give meaning, purpose and focus to their life, they often harass, argue and sometimes bully the more skillful teacher.   You can tell they are mediocre because you, the competent teacher, have more work to do because you have to cover for their uselessness. Also, the only creativity they have, is for coming up with excuses not to teach. They whine, moan and complain about most aspects of what they do, are pretty boring to be around and offer little to their students, because they have little to offer to themselves. They of course, will be your supervisor one day, so be wary.

Mediocrities are often insecure, humourless and small-minded people. They have no definable teaching skills, but plenty of political skills. A persistent tactic for the mediocrity is to hear your idea for a lesson, then to suggest improvements as if they have the wit, skill and imagination to come up with your idea themselves. Mediocrities only look big, because they make you look small. They are a despicable bunch, that often get in your way (and in your face) because they lack the skills you so abundantly have. But be aware, mediocrities stick together and are nothing if not shrewd and persistent.

They may lack the necessary teaching skills, but they have an abundance of self-preservation skills. Much like the T800 Terminator, they won’t stop if shot at. They will re-double their efforts and come back at you with both barrels loaded. Which is to say, that they have redoubled their mediocrity and are now twice as mediocre as before. Therefore, if you are a competent EFL teacher, I would argue that dealing with these mediocrities is one of your biggest challenges. They only care about themselves and have little interest in anything outside of this. You will not win the war against them, but I hope you win many battles. Good luck to you. You will need it.

O is for office politics.

There are people, like me, who understand that EFL teaching is a qualitative experience. However, with the development of EFL as a product and the concomitant growth in dubious career pathways, so flourishes our mediocrities through their greater skill in office politics. Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, backstab, connive and weasel their way up EFL’s dubious management chain instead. It’s a pretty poor situation that one of the core skills needed to survive in EFL, is politicking. But this is where we are at. Good luck to you again.

O is for ordering food.

If you do not, cannot or will not learn the local language* and therefore cannot order food correctly, take a tip from me. Go to one place and order one thing, and one thing only. Being the first encounter, things are often strained, messy and difficult. Just muddle through and get something. Thereafter, order THE SAME THING at this place forever more. Believe me, it saves a world of pain and confusion to go through the process of ordering something different. It really isn’t worth the trouble.

If you want something else, go to another place and order something else. And make that the only thing you order from that place. Eventually when people start to know your face and relax around you a little, then attempt to mix things up, though don’t be surprised if even then, this mixes things up. Just keep things simple and you’ll be fine. If you start to order different things and bemoan the fact that it’s confusing and not getting you anywhere, you’ve only yourself to blame.

  • I fall into all three categories.