Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

November 24, 2011

What’s with all the sexism?

Filed under: Education,English language courses — rliberni @ 1:55 pm

I am feeling rather angry today and so probably not the best time to write a blog post but I can’t ignore this any longer!

This week I have come across two blog posts which to me are blatantly sexist and I can’t for the life of me understand why the writers concerned had to write like this. This, coupled with the appointment earlier this year of all-male board at IATEFL, has led me to wonder exactly where we are heading with regard to gender in ELT.

OK, so I grew up in the seventies, women’s lib and all that and I wholeheartedly believe in equality, not just in gender, but for all, and this is no feminist rant, what I feel really is a very deep sense of disappointment and yes, hurt. I also have one burning question – why?

Male teacher - logical, task-driven

The first post is on the Busy teacher blog  10 Reasons Why Men are Better at Teaching Than Women I couldn’t find the name of the writer (but from the picture I think male). He balances the point here with a sister post (no pun intended!) called 10 Reasons Why Women Are Better At Teaching Than Men’ I simply don’t understand why this has to be discussed along gender lines at all!  How many male/female teachers has he observed to draw these conclusions? If we look at the 10 points then he basically seems to be saying that male teachers are good disciplinarians and logicians so their students get better results and female teachers are more empathetic and sensitive and are somehow more approachable for students. This could have walked out of  an education article from the 1950s or 60s have we learned nothing in the intervening years?

Where is the evidence? Are all women colleagues you know warm and fluffy and all male colleagues strict and task-driven? As for men being better at grammar – I’ve been a teacher trainer and I can say on my very small sample of trainees that this is very debatable.

The second post was written by Jonathan on his blog Teaching Plugged-in and entitled  ELT and the infantilisation of

Female teacher - empathetic, sensitive

the adult learner . I know that Jonathan can be controversial (though I felt his attack on Mario Rinvolucri was a little harsh) and I admire his ability to throw out ideas that might cause debate, I really feel we need much more of this in ELT. But, this post just seemed to dismiss female teachers as unfit for purpose (fortunately the comments acceded as much) and the picture I got as I read was one of the ‘little housewife doing a bit of teaching for pin money’ surely we’ve moved beyond this in the 21st century. More importantly – how does he know? – where’s the evidence? His attack on this female teacher is based, it seems, on one student’s ‘experience’ (and one-sided) – gossip and hearsay.

Just as there are many different types of student, there are also many different types of teacher, we are not just male teachers and female teachers and this kind of generalisation on what seems to be very flimsy evidence is not appropriate. Certainly, we can argue the merits of different approaches, methodologies and start a real debate about these but please lets not do any more female (or male for that matter) bashing!

As for the decision of IATEFL to appoint an all-male board I have only one word to say – SHOCKING!

June 8, 2011

Who’s in my PLN? My very enlightening interview

In May Brad Patterson threw down a challenge to members of our PLN (Professional Learning Network) – choose someone from your PLNand try to get to know them better. He provided us with 5 questions and we could add extras if we wanted. This has inspired a number of interesting posts which can all be seen on Brad’s blog.

Quite often with these challenges I realise they are out there and get geared up to participate just as they are coming to a close! Fortunately this one came across my radar quite early on, but it was Eva Büyüksimkeşyan asking to interview me that finally gave me the push I needed to get on board with this challenge!

My choice is Shaun Wilden. Shaun and I moderate #eltchat together (along with other members of this team; Barbara Sakamoto, Marisa Constantinides, and Shelly Terrell), we meet on various online events and have even met face to face at IATEFL but I realised that I don’t really know much about him at all other than he supports a football team in a rival county to mine and, I think, likes marmite (could be wrong there – it may have been a joke!)

He is a great member of my PLN always cheerful, very patient, a very hard worker and always seems to know how to do everything – especially tech-wise. As such we are very fortunate to have him on the #eltchat team. He also has a wicked sense of humour (more of this below)

I put Brad’s 5 questions to him and then added a couple extra.

So here it is! Everything you wanted to know about Shaun Wilden – and more!

1) If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?

Without a doubt they would say energetic (unless they knew the word hyperactive).  Ex-students have told me that they were exhausted at the end of lesson with me. I am forever moving about and can’t sit still.  I’d hope they would say funny, I do like to tell a joke and am very sarcastic, which most of my Czech students cottoned onto.  As a third one, I’d think they’d say crazy – if I can make a lesson out of something, I will.

2) What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Hmm, let me think, top shelf will have yoghurts, berries and some home made jams and chutneys. Second shelf has lots different cheeses, eggs and probably some cold meat. Next is the wine rack, which is full of white wine chilling, and then finally there is some defrosting turkey mince, which I shall be using to make tonight’s dinner.

3) If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?

I would to be a chef.  It’s my dream to have a small restaurant cooking good rustic food. I love cooking, it is my number one hobby and I’ve been told I’m quite good at it.  Since moving back to the UK a year ago, I have also started growing my own vegetables and would be more than happy to spend my days growing and then cooking food.

4) What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

I think one of the hardest things about our profession is it being taken seriously.  I still not sure that my family fully comprehend what I do or what I was doing for 20 years abroad and just the other day a UK TV programme used the TEFL industry as an example of way to see the world and have a fun (in a disparaging way – in fact our profession is fun but not in the ‘this is not a serious job ‘ way).  For such a vast industry things such as the fact it is poorly paid, and that it can treat teachers badly constantly amazes me.  Likewise, perhaps naively, I am astounded when teachers who have nothing more than a 4-week cert fail to see the need for developing themselves. 

5) What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

I am not a great book or film person. I spend too much time online so read more blogs etc than books. I do have the odd book on the go on my ipad as I spend a fair amount travelling.  Currently I’m reading ‘Reelin’ in the Years: The Soundtrack of a Northern Life by Mark Radcliffe.’ He is a radio DJ and in this book he has chosen a song for every year of his life and writes about the memories of each year.  As an ex-dj the idea of a song for each year really appeals to me. As for films, I’d rather have a good dvd boxset. As a committed Whovian you’d probably find me watching old episodes of the series though you can never watch them too many times.

Extra questions

6) What are your top 3 tips for successful language learning?

I’ve probably said to my students on numerous occasions – ‘don’t worry about how you say just say it’ and I think that is an important factor in learning language. Taking a few risks builds confidence. Certainly in my experience of learning Czech (a very accurate language), I was put off on more than one occasion by the teacher’s correcting every little thing.  Secondly, be interested in your learning.  Far too many of my students learned English, well tried to learn, by coming to a once a week class expecting to learn everything by attending class once a week for forty weeks.  Those that did best, invested time outside to learn, be it watching something in English, finding times to study and so on. My most ‘successful’ student went from A2 to C2 in a couple of years by working out he could learn on his daily commute – he recorded our lessons and played them back in the car. Thirdly, have a good teacher, be it at the end of an email to help or in the classroom a good language teacher can inspire, guide and advise. As far as we have gone down the path of technology and self-study there is still no substitute for a good teacher.

7) What is your greatest memory?

My greatest memory – well this one’s a little tricky.  I’ll share with you the story I often use as a live listening. I’m not sure it qualifies as greatest memory but it’s one helluva story.  At university I learned to fire breathe (well it beats the geography degree I was supposed to be doing) and one night while at a house party in Athens (where I started my career), I met a juggler who was keen to learn to fire breathe.  ‘Oh I’ll show you’ and off we head to the balcony. Now when breathing fire you should always check the wind direction and never, ever use petrol, as it is too flammable. Being full of bravado (no I wasn’t drunk) I took a mouthful of the liquid the juggler had for his fire clubs, lit a club and went outside to breath it out and duly impress the crowd.  I ‘spit’ out the liquid in front of the flame and there is a whoosh – the whoosh being the sound of the petrol (for that is what it was) igniting and the wind blowing it back in my face.  Oh no ‘I’ve set fire’ to my hair I thought but no not quite – I had set fire to my face. Luckily I was surrounded by EFL teachers who always know what to do and one had some excellent burn cream. They smeared it all over my face and took me outside to get a taxi to the hospital (far quicker than waiting for an ambulance).  We saw lots of our Greek friends outside – it was carnival season and the cream looked like clown whitener so they thought I’d dressed up for carnival…anyway seven days in Greek intensive care followed but am glad to say all worked out well though of course it put an end to my super model days. Oh well modeling’s loss was EFL’s gain.

Thank you Shaun looks like we might be all visiting your restaurant one day sounds awesome!

December 3, 2010

My Edublog Award Nominations 2010


A bit of a ‘last minute Larry’ (again!) but at the eleventh-hour I am happy to share my personal nominations.

There is so much out there and the list of  educators producing valuable and thought-provoking content is growing so fast that it’s sometimes overwhelming!! As each year goes by the wealth of great ideas and techniques continues to grow – so does collaboration and this can only be a good thing.  So…..

My Personal Recommendations for the Edublog Awards 2010 are:

Best individual blog – Kalinago English  – Karenne Silvester

Best individual tweeter – Cecilia Lemos Coelho (@cecilialcoelho)

Best class blog – Our Good News  – Greta Sandler

Best resource sharing blog – The Cybraryman website

Most influential blog post  – The 30 Goals Challenge   – Shelly Terrell

Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion –  #ELTchat

Best teacher blog –  A Journey in TEFL  – Eva Buyuksimkesyan

Best librarian / library blog – Library Tech Musings – Gwyneth A. Jones

Best educational use of audio – Breaking News English  – Sean Banville

Best educational use of video / visual – Teacher Training Videos  – Russell Stannard

Best educational wiki –  Celebr8UandMeDigitally  – Eva Büyüksimkeşyan and Alexandra Francisco

Best educational podcast –  EdTechLive  – Steve Hargadon

Best educational webinar series – Serendipity & Topic sessions  – Jo and Phil Hart

Best educational use of a social network – The Educator PLN ning – Tom Whitby

Best educational use of a virtual world –  Slanguages Conference – Heike Philp

Best use of a PLN – #Edchat

Best of luck everybody!!

August 12, 2010

Creating a teacher workshop

The idea of  deepening and expanding learning by living and studying together is something which has underpinned education for many years and can be seen in many different cultures. The UK boarding school and university systems were created under this principle and many other educational systems through time have seen the value of this shared way of life. With this in mind,  I set out to create a teacher development workshop for a small group of practising teachers.   

The workshops would last for a week, bring together 6 teachers to explore, share and learn. I created a rudimentary timetable which I hoped would give us a basis from which to begin our short, learning journey but which would be broad enough to allow us to travel in any direction we desired during the week.   

I also wanted to have a focus away from, yet related to English language teaching which could help to develop our own personal language and  have local flavour. I chose the Bronte novels. I grew up very near Bronte country and had always enjoyed both the place and the novels. They are universally known, great stories to read and discuss and we could also look at the place of literature in the English language classroom. We would read/re-read our favourites before the workshop, discuss them, visit Howarth, take the walk in the surrounding moors and then watch the films in the evenings.   

The land of the Brontes

Everything was in place and now the only thing was to see who (if anybody) might be interested in such an experience! I have to admit to a lack of research on the matter and I went ahead feeling that as this was something I would love to do then there may be others who would too!   

Fortunately I was right and in June I had my group. Three were teachers from my twitter PLN (Eva, Culya and Alex) and two I knew personally (Blanca and Merces). I was thrilled and very excited about bringing all of these teachers together. In the end Merces wasn’t able to join us but the others were intrepid even though the trip to Yorkshire required a train journey from London!   


 On Sunday evening August 1st we were finally together!   

Hard at work!

For the rest of the week we shared experiences, ideas, knowledge, camaraderie and food.   

We looked at grammar and skills and explored ways of moving all of these online using an amazing array of tools shown to us by Alex and Eva. We explored humour, some weird and wonderful vocabulary, quirky ideas for class activities and of course those brooding Bronte novels.   

On the first night I realised that my DVD purchase of  Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tennant of Wildfell Hall was not, as I had though three films but the BBC series comprising over 10 hours of footage!! Undaunted we decided to give it a whirl and set out to watch all of the episodes through the week. It was a bit of a race to the end but we managed it staying up until midnight each evening ploughing through each story.   

The advantage of the BBC series was that we were presented with more of the story and particularly with Wuthering Heights, which we all hated, we saw more of the dark truth behind the novels than we would have done with a shorter film version. It turned out to be a very intense and emotional engagement with the stories.   


At Home with the Brontes

The Bronte walk (which was longer than anticipated) gave us a good feel for the place and we were delighted by their house yet saddened by their plight.   

Bronte Bridge and Waterfall

There were unexpected bonuses too! We had Spanish peppers and Turkish shepherd’s salad for lunch. Turkish coffee and Turkish delight during our shared edchat session, a delightful Madeira wine for aperitif and of course, afternoon tea! We were even invited to a local organic farm for a tour and to sample Yorkshire specialities.   

Alex the Horse Whisperer

Alex fell in love with our sheepdog Maguire and took him off for walks (although at times it was not certain who was taking whom!) Our other little dog, Duffy, who is less of a handful, trotted along with the others as they explored the local countryside.   


It was a unique experience and I hope everyone agrees. To hear an account straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, see Eva’s beautiful piece ‘Far Far Away From The Madding Crowd‘ and  Teacher Workshops. Alex’s fantastic account Amazing Stories of Sharing  and Culya’s lovely summary of the experience The Adventure of my Life. Eva made a Glogster too!

A Visit to a pub - naturally!

For me it was a rich and rewarding experience and it proved a point:  

 if you take a group of dedicated and committed  teachers and place them around a table real or virtual, they will grow and learn together.

 English language students can come and stay with me for immersion courses all year round – one to one or in groups of up to 4 people (come with colleagues or friends).  Our next Teacher Workshop  is scheduled for January.

June 8, 2010

Pass it on!

Filed under: Education — rliberni @ 11:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

I am thrilled to discover that the award below was given to me by a fellow blogger as a blog to ‘keep an eye on’.  I thank you very much Bright Ideas (this is a great blog to pop into your google reader!) and I very much hope I can live up to the accolade!

OK the rules of engagement are as follows:

  • Copy and display the picture of the award given to you;
  • Link back to the blog that nominated you;
  • Nominate 10 different blogs yourself;
  • Inform the people you nominated, so they can in turn, continue the chain and spread the word about other great blogs out there.

So with a drum roll ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ here are my 10 nominations!!

  1. A Journey in TEFL Eva’s lovely account of her EFL teaching adventure gives a blow-by-blow account. Lots of other great stuff on this blog too.
  2. ZarcoEnglish Blog – this is just a part of Alexandra’s amazing website featuring her school and students – beautiful!
  3. Sean Banville’s Blog – Sean’s blog claims to be about the things from his head – it’s a good mix of a variety of topics and thoughts with emphasis on students and learning.
  4. ELT Musings and other tidbits – Tamas’s blog is a collection of experiences (some very poignant), thoughts and ideas about being an EFL teacher.
  5. Afghan Women’s Writing project – this project is truly amazing – there are some wonderful pieces by women in Afghanistan often writing under pseudonyms to protect their identity.
  6. The Island Weekly – Anne has a great collection here of things for students and teachers alike with regular grammar points to check.
  7. Mike Harrison’s Blog – another newish kid on the block (like me!) but well worth looking at, a good mix of experiences and ideas to share with fellow teachers
  8. Doing Some Thinking – in this blog Henrick reflects in ELT, shares ideas and his experiences of EFL in Brazil.
  9. What’s new in the world – is a treasure-chest of ideas, links, information and general stuff for teachers and anybody interested in education.
  10. The English Teacher – all you need to be an English Teacher online – lovely!

Thank you again Bright Ideas for the mention and the opportunity to select another 10 blogs to pass on to others!

December 8, 2009

My Edublog Award nominations

Filed under: Education — rliberni @ 2:07 pm
Tags: , ,

A bit of a ‘last minute Larry’ but at the eleventh-hour here are my personal nominations.

There is so much out there and the list of  educators producing valuable and thought-provoking content is growing so fast that it’s difficult to keep up!!

My Personal Recommendations for the Edublog Awards 2009

Best individual blog –  Shelly Terrell  Teacher reboot camp

Best new blog –  Teaching village 

Best individual tweeter  – Tom Whitby 

Best group blog – The Afghan Women’s writing project

Best class blog –  Writing4Business   

Best student blog – Marcus Brendel   Der Englisch Blog 

Best resource sharing blog  – Larry Ferlazzo 

Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion  #edchat 

Best teacher blog –    Kalinago English

Best librarian / library blog – Bright Ideas 

Best elearning / corporate education blog  Sue Waters

Best educational use of audio – Sean Banville

Best educational use of video / visualRussell Stannard

Best educational use of a social networking service –  Heike Philp’s Virtual Round Table

 Best of luck everybody!!

November 10, 2009

Why has education become so adversarial?

I am diverting  in this post from language per se to express my great concerns for some aspects of education today and how I worry that in some respects we have lost our way.

I have come across the word ‘banned’,  ‘not allowed ‘ ‘must not’ and ‘compulsory’ more and more of late in school newsletters,  teachers comments on school policies on using the internet and education news items in general.

Parents in the UK are cheating to get their children into the best schools. Should we even have best schools?  Are parents ‘cheating’ if they decide to buy or rent a house in a particular school catchment area? Why do they feel the need to do this? And, how has the government got the brass neck to call them cheats and criminals? The cheats and criminals are surely those who allow a situation like this to develop where each and every child does not have the same access to the best education!!

Parents who cheat to get school places will be prosecuted

Schools can fine parents if they take their children out of school for a day. I had to do this recently due to work. My daughter was studying the Egyptians so I arranged for a friend to take her to the British Museum while I conducted my work nearby. I consider the day to have been of great benefit to my daughter and I wasn’t fined because the school disagrees with the scheme – but who came up with this idea? What does this do to the parent/school relationship?

Schools reluctant to fine parents who take children out of class

So much for the parents. How about the teachers? With the current explosion in social media, internet resources and access to information  they should be in seventh heaven!  But no, with blanket bans in many schools, colleges and even universities on sites like YouTube, Facebook  and even email, censorship is alive and well. So is, as a result, not being in touch with where many children, teenagers and young adults spend their time.

YouTube banned in schools

This article tackles a very serious issue and one that schools and teachers have to take very seriously. I think it would be unlikely that  teachers would be using such material in their lessons and students would be more likely to access  material out of school so how does a ban help? Also, surely banning simply makes it more attractive. Shouldn’t we trust teachers to select and use material sensibly and appropriately as they are trained do. The rule nowadays seems to be to punish the masses for the behaviour of the minority.

So, finally, where are the children and students? Emphasis on target setting, league tables of school performance, endless testing (is there, in fact, time to actually teach?) and total central control over the classroom has created an environment where some children/students are stressed, some bewildered, some disillusioned and most on the ‘value-added’ conveyor belt of the educational production line.

In fact the whole concept of ‘value-added’, a manufacturing term, suggests one thing to me;

  • Children and students are having things done to them, they are part of an external process.

So, why have we moved from an arena of collaboration to one of adversary? Isn’t the pursuit of good education by government, parents and teachers a given, like motherhood and apple pie?

My personal feeling is that in the pursuit of so-called excellence we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Education seems now to be about me, my life, my wants and my desires. It is micro and the focus is narrow. This is ironic at a time when the internet has given us such unfettered access to the world of knowledge.

My definition of education would be – to prepare people to take their place in the world.

Here are the skills they need:

  • A knowledge of who they are, where they are and where they have come from – this is history and geography
  • The ability to communicate well – this is language, mother tongue and other languages
  • Knowledge of  their place in the world and universe – this is science
  • The ability to keep themselves fit and healthy – more science
  • Being able to function economically and practically in society – this is maths,
  • The ability to work with others, to compete where needed, take failure on the chin and celebrate success with decorum – this is sport, playing in the playground and cooperating in the classroom
  • The skill to work in a team to produce successful outcomes – this is sport, music and drama
  • The ability to produce and appreciate beauty – art, music, poetry, creative writing, gardening, cooking…
  • Respect for other people, our environment and other creatures – science, RE (and it’s equivalents)
  • Discipline – the school environment but also sport and music

And read, read, read – this is the key that unlocks everything.

I’m sure there are more. With our crowded curriculum placing emphasis on such things well-being, leadership, and now horror of horrors ‘twitter and facebook’!! ( How do you teach those? They are TOOLS!! Fabulous tools, exciting tools and they bring teaching into the 21st century but they are only tools) we are in danger of losing sight of the fact that we have everything we need and innovation is more about presentation and methods of exploration than revolution!

Exit Winston Churchill, enter Twitter … Yes, it’s the new primary school curriculum

OK, enough ranting, where does this fit in with language training? Simply do what you do but find different ways to do it. The possibilities offered by the internet for language learning are incredible. The ability to engage with teachers and native speakers across the world has never been so easy.

The availability of the internet should democratise learning and teaching for all so lets stop the adversary and embrace our brave new world!!

Here are some other thoughts on Education that are worth a look:

Rolling up the odd sleeves

How schools stifle creativity

The state of Now in Education #140conf

So what exactly is a college for?

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