The local and the “foreigner”
A short while ago there’s been a discussion on the blogosphere related to the treatment given to foreign speakers in detriment to local teachers. I’ve read lots of blog posts in that area and chose not to say anything for myriad reasons. The most important reason is that I haven’t been to any of the conferences that people were talking about. As a matter of fact, it’s been a while since I last could attend a major ELT conference. The last big conference I attended was the national Braz-TESOL in 2006, when I was the Master of Ceremonies together with a very good friend of mine. We had to make sure all was ready for plenary speakers and even our workshop was cut short from a 90-minute hands-on workshop to a 45-minute hands-on (???) talk. But that was not an issue. In that conference, all were treated equally and all parties were open to all (as far as I know, at least). Needless to say, arrangements were made to host foreigners, but nothing particularly special. I had the chance to meet and take pictures with lots of people I’ve always admired in the profession and whose faces I used to replace with book covers, if you know what I mean.
However, I don’t want to discuss that here. What made me think about writing this post was a short period of time I spent with some former teachers of mine this afternoon. Just like I hold some of the people I met in very high esteem, like Scott Thornbury, Penny Ur, Luke Prodromou, and many others I had the chance to meet and briefly talk to, I’ve also always held my own teachers in very high esteem. This afternoon I was in the teachers room when two of these high-school teachers started discussing assessment. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay until the end of the discussion, but it was a lot of fun for me to be there listening to them. Actually, this was the highlight of the afternoon. I really haven’t got the chance to sit and talk to people like H.D. Brown, Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury, Ken Wilson, Luke Prodromou, Luke Meddings, Lindsay Clanfield, Penny Ur and others who are considered the big names of ELT. At least nowadays I have the chance to follow them on twitter and read their blogs, interact a little bit here and there, but because of all this media revolution, I’ve also got to know lots of other people I’d be dying to meet in person and sit and talk to. I could go on and on saying names, as they are the vast majority of my PLN and the ones I’ve learned a lot from whereas the names I mentioned above were the ones I knew (among others) before I joined social media. But what about the other people? What about the ones right next to you? Just like I’ve learned a lot from the people whose names I deliberately (as this truly illustrates the arguments I’ve put forth) chose not to mention, the same seems to happen outside web 2.0.
I’m fortunate enough to work very closely to my primary and secondary school teachers. These are people who have been working in the field for more than 25 years, and even though they haven’t written any methodology books in any of their area, they’ve still got so much to teach us. Many times I’ve sat down next to them on purpose to exchange ideas about teaching. If they had taught me a lot when they were my teachers, you can’t imagine how much more they teach me nowadays. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and the fact that nowadays it’s just so easy to get in touch with people overseas that some people end up overlooking those who are right next to them. There are many people who aren’t on the blogosphere due to lack of time or maybe because they simply don’t feel the need to be here, nor do they feel the need to join twitter. Some people may say they’re passing out on a great opportunity to learn more, but a 2-minute conversation with them will easily show they haven’t stopped in time and keep learning their own way. And the best thing: they’re right there. It’s very easy to talk to them over a cup of coffee.
I’ve already felt like one of those who are “taken for granted” for being a ‘local’. For instance, sometime we take our staff to workshops which take place in Brasília. And sometimes all the presenters do is repeat, to a much simpler extent, what had been discussed over the course of a week during our training sessions. However, this time teachers leave the lecture saying they were impressed and that what was said was particularly clever and that now they’d give it all a try. Well, to be perfectly honest, I guess it’s better that someone can instill this on them. If they need a foreigner to do so, fine by me. And this seems to be true of many different areas. For example, a friend of mine is a wonderful musician. He used to be invited to play in all sorts of festivals in Brasília and nearby cities when he lived in São Paulo. However, as he had lived in Brasília for a long time, he moved back to Brasília. Suddenly, all of those invitations disappeared. When I talked to him, he said he’d heard from music producers that now he was a local musician, and as such, it wasn’t that appealing to invite him. When he moved back to SP, all those invitations magically popped up. Weird, huh?! And this very afternoon, I had a talk with one of my former teachers whose wife is an artisan. She’d been advised to do something outside Brasília as this would help her work locally. Call me naïve, but I guess the idea of the available local versus the foreign expert is slightly more complicated than I thought.
Shall I do a Shelly here? I hope she doesn’t mind…
Challenge: Find a local #hiddengem and share some thoughts on education, teaching, learning and what have you. How much do you think you can learn?