IATEFL Conference Fears #2


April 16, 2015 by helenwaldron

Dear Readers,

Another of the talks on demand that IATFEL had online by Sunday afternoon was the “Pearson Signature Event.” Pearson, of course is a hugely powerful publishing house, but it wasn’t clear to virtual visitors (me, at least) whether the event was called this because it was sooo Pearson-y and had that distinctive Pearson signature upon it, or whether they were actually signing books and merchandise afterwards.

The beginning was missing too. There were three Pearson employees scheduled to introduce the event, which was held in front of some impressive looking visuals (that I couldn’t make out), but I only heard two. One of them, John de Jong, claimed that “we are throwing too much at our students, and it doesn’t cling.”

I quite liked that image, until I realized we were talking about testing and that new measuring scale that was supposed to replace the CEFR again.

For the record, John didn’t use the word “test”. The talk was here about “measuring learner progress”. And for the record, the new scale starts at 10 and goes to 90, because there are no absolute beginners and there is no perfection. C2 students have no place in a language class (or do they just skive off the tests, I’m not sure) and B2 is an advanced language level. (Sure, sure, sure, but why?)

Ian Wood had a good image. He asked us whether we would leave our house without knowing where we were going, or how long it would take us to get there, and if not, then why we should expect our students to do it. He said there hadn’t been enough research done into how long it takes to learn a foreign language and divulged that the few organisations that had done research into this included the CIA and the FBA. This got me excited because I’ve been reading a book about how most innovation comes from the military, is reappropriated on a huge scale first by the sex industry and then by the food industry:


We don’t need to speculate how this “diagnostic tool” may have been put to use in the sex industry, because I don’t need this this language learning scale any more than I needed the old CEFR scale. I hand over to my fellow Irishwoman Mrs Doyle, who resists the hard, hard sell of the tea machine salesman at Christmas, (it’s bright, it’s shiny, it’s new and it takes the misery out of making tea):

My attention might have started to wane at this point, because it suddenly turned into a British Council Signature Event about the quality of teaching, with a panel discussion. The British Council is (and I quote from their website here) “… the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities”. (http://www.britishcouncil.org/). (Do click upon the link that follows this text to find a close-up of a young girl’s smiling face, rather helpfully captioned “a close-up of a young girl’s smiling face”.)

None of the British Council panel seemed particularly impressed by the Pearson graphics (which I couldn’t see). The first speaker was a rather engaging UK state school headmaster whose criteria for better teaching was i) the need to stop guessing (i.e. the time to evaluate methodologies and tools), ii) more and better CPD (continuing professional development) and iii) better relationships. He talked of the need to build better relationships in schools, because teachers are scared to try things out in an environment where (wait for this) “fear reigns over love”.


Ines Kayon de Miller, an Associate Professor of PUC-Rio in Brazil kicked off with that strange custom for “women of a certain age” at IATEFL to apologise for being a “woman of a certain age” (maybe we need a WCA-SIG).

Then she got down to business and spoke about “suffering inside classrooms;” “sad realities…based on fears,” of “loneliness” and of “lack of interaction.” One of the reasons for all this misery seems to be (yes!) testing, and she maintains that “there is no point in focusing only on achievement…the quality of life within the classroom is very important too.” This is true. My own schooldays passed fairly uneventfully. I can’t even remember my school leaving results, but I’ll never forget the kids and the teachers, the mood and even some of the lessons.

One last quote:

“Teachers need the courage to act like human beings in the classroom. And to treat students like human beings.”


Then came Anthony Gaughan who works for a private language school in Berlin. He challenged the definitions of the terms being bandied about altogether (does “quality” mean “artisan” – well made, or “industrial” – standardized? What exactly do we mean by “learner achievement”?).

Teaching, he said, is first and foremost a personal endeavor and therefore non-generalisable. Students want teachers to encourage them to speak and to hear what they are trying to say.

In other words, some things never change and we can never underestimate the human touch. And if you don’t love teaching and can’t respect the people involved, no amount of tools and programs and methodologies will help you.

Back to Mrs Doyle, I think:

Will try and be more cheerful next time.



6 thoughts on “IATEFL Conference Fears #2

  1. paul says:

    Nice, read with interest.


  2. Adam says:

    I really enjoyed this rite up and can empathize with a lot of what you’re saying through experience. Don’t feel that you need to be cheery about sessions like this!


  3. Dear Ms Waldron

    Even though I love your Speakeasy & Writewell postings very much and eagerly wait for them, this last posting on IATEFL is the one winning you kudos.

    Thank you for it!

    With best wishes Kaushi /Renuka

    Sent from my iPhone


    • helenwaldron says:

      Why, thank you, Kaushi/Renuka!

      To be honest, I’ve been a little surprised at the reactions I’ve been receiving. There was a lot of talk about fear in ELT and all I did was report it!

      Thanks also for the comment on Speakeasy and Writewell. They’ll be back in a month or two in a slightly different form….



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