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Class struggle on the agenda?

Just as we were going to press on this IATEFL issue, a story broke: staff at the British Council in Italy were striking over job cuts (see Stop Press page 6)

As my twitter feed filled with more pictures in the Italian press of more teachers marching down more roads waving more red flags, I thought to myself once again: why are teachers and their concerns so rarely featured on the IATEFL agenda?

The question of what should be on the agenda, not only of IATEFL but of the ELT profession as a whole, is the theme of this conference special feature: and a very crowded agenda it has turned out to be.

The entire way in which we have taught English for the last three decades or more is called into question by the emergence of content-based methodologies. In the schoolrooms of Europe we have seen the emergence of CLIL, the subject not only of an IATEFL plenary session by Aleksandra Zaparucha from Poland, but of our interview, on page 32, with Xavier Gisbert, the mastermind behind the Madrid bilingual schools.

Across the world, another content-based methodology is fast emerging. As Trevor Grimshaw reminds us on page 23, English as a Medium of Instruction represents a paradigm shift in what we teach, how we teach and what language(s) we teach it in.

ELT orthodoxy is also being questioned. On page 24, Lindsay Clandfield asks why our classes are topic-led, and why digital learning has become something we use for homework. On page 26, Gill Ragsdale argues that ELTs’ refusal to engage with cognitive overload theory means we are making learning more difficult for our low-level students.

The UCLan Masters students we interview on page 28 ask why native speakers of English struggle with their own language. We ask why these teachers did first degrees in the English language, became fully qualified and taught for an average of four years before anyone told them about Second Language Acquisition theory?

Meanwhile, Mark Krzanowski, writing from China, points out the difficulty of getting the right staff, with the right training qualifications and experience to teach EAP in a whole-new knowledge culture.

So, in the end all our new agendas come back to one place: the staffroom.

A profession is built on the expertise of its professionals. And if those professionals are under pressure, underpaid and under zero-hour contracts, they may turn to their professional association for help.

But when, last Christmas, Irish teachers who were left unpaid and out of work appealed to IATEFL to signal its support, they got no response.

Some SIGs sent messages of support, as did several affiliates, even some members of the board. But from IATEFL as an association, there was not a word.

A teaching profession which puts the classroom on the agenda, but refuses to engage with the staffroom, does so at its peril.

Image courtesy of Diego Ph/Unsplash
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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