Mrs Khan went to the post office, the dentist, the bus stop, the sewing shop, the cafe….

I take it back, sort of. The criticisms are still there: the sometimes punitive over emphasis on “real life” for example, where observers and auditors of a particularly narrow mindset may criticise your planning for not linking to learners lives, as if this is the be all and end all; the notion that an ESOL for employment course should only link explicitly to employability skills; and the necessarily fake nature of some pedagogical dialogues. There are still issues with all these things. 

However, I did take the decision to go with a few “situational” sessions, but rather than using published materials, my first idea was to start with the crucial vocabulary. To this end, I took a walk down my local high street, taking pictures of a the various shops and services along that street. I live in a completely different area to where my students live and work, but focussed on my area for two main reasons. Firstly, I’m lucky enough to live in one of those areas where you have almost every local shop you could possibly need, and more: a couple of  cafes and restaurants, a small supermarket, an old fashioned greengrocer, a barbers with a rotating barber’s pole as the sign, a florist, a butcher, a small DIY shop, a brilliantly useful hardware/homeware shop that sells more or less everything, a couple of takeaways, a superfluity of hairdressers, nail bars and beauty salons, and, of course, a post office. As a range of potential situations and vocabulary, this was simply too rich to pass up. The second reason was far more pragmatic: I teach in a very large town, and the students are scattered across the various suburbs of the town, so the centre of the town is the only really mutual area that is familiar to all the students. I don’t know if you’ve been to a British town centre recently, but this one is stereotypically bland, with little to distinguish it either from other similar town centres (except the surpassing ugliness of one pedestrian precinct), or to distinguish the shop fronts visually from one another. Therefore, to find the same sort of easily identifiable range of shops would have taken something of a trek to find, whereas my own local area was a simple matter of walking home after taking the children to school. So yes, there was a slight stone-built cottagey tweeness to some of the pictures, but they worked as an effective stimulus for vocabulary. 

PowerPoint was king on this one. Each photo was loaded into a presentation, which was then used as a stimulus to get the students to name each shop. They worked in groups and wrote down the name on mini whiteboards, which meant I could check the ideas easily, and the students could peer check both word and spelling. After this eliciting stage, I have the students a  (black and white – austerity measures!) print out of the presentation, and asked the students to work individually to add the names of the places. This meant that a) they all had a practice in writing and spelling, and b) they all had a record of the key spellings. 

On the day, I followed this with a focus on functional language, and I wish I hadn’t. I typed up possible “things people say” for each place, and had the students work in groups to discuss which sentence went with which place. This was with a view to then writing up mini dialogues based on each sentence, and a focus on polite language. In practice, there wasn’t really time to move onto the functional language forms, and I rather wish I had simply revised present simple and adverbs of frequency with them and had the students talk about how often they went to the different places. Instead we finished the matching of utterance to place, and only really had enough time to do a bit of a spelling / vocab recap at the end. 

So as a follow up in the subsequent lessons I used a couple of different ideas. I still liked the idea of working with a dialogue, so accessed a couple of rather brilliant listening activity on the EsolNexus website. Some of the students are doing listening as part of their final exam, and really need to work on this. The first was a series of sounds from around the town, which was a nice revisit of some of the vocabulary from the day before, and students had to say where they thought it was, and then justify this using present continuous (“it is a playground. Children are playing.”) which was a nice chance to revisit that language. Then there was a listening based, of course, in a post office. I liked the listening though: it’s fast, for one, and includes a natural switch halfway through from a transactional conversation (sending a parcel) to an interactional one (“its busy in here today…”). It also had some complex bits of language that you might not expect at this level: a pointlessly applied reflexive pronoun, for example, and an unusually placed “anyway”, which provoked some discussion among the more able students in the group, although the biggest challenge, I thought, was the strong London accent, but in fact, the students coped admirably well with all this. 

So next up comes the functional language. I’ve cleared a lesson to concentrate on request forms, and hopefully will get to exploit the sentences from the first in this little trio of lessons. I probably should have done this as the second lesson, but I wanted the listening to provide a few more examples of some of the forms we might use in a transactional situation. I think I’ll go back to my sentences from lesson 1 and get the students to highlight which ones are questions, and then eliciti all the ways we can ask for something, before then getting the students to expand the sentences into role plays which they can then share and practice. 

So yes, Mrs Khan does indeed go to the post office in my lessons, just not all the time. 

Mrs Khan Goes to the Post Office

It’s generally assumed, it’s safe to say, that ESOL courses should be “relevant to students’ day to day lives”, perhaps more so than any other area of ELT. The ostensible intention of any kind of language education for immigrant population is enabling interaction with the target language society and culture, which leads to a functional/situational model of course design, built around lessons on practical, “everyday” contexts: going to the shops, interacting with the doctor, that sort of thing: what I call the “Mrs Khan goes to the post office” school of course planning. 

The challenge however, is around the definition of “relevance”, which is an entirely subjective concept: what does it mean to say that something is relevant to learners lives, exactly? My interpretation, based on what I know of my students, may be different to that of someone reviewing my scheme of work, who may have some knowledge, but not necessarily as much as me, and certainly will have a slightly different interpretation of “relevant”. An inspector, or other outside observer, may have another interpretation of what is relevant to learners lives, particularly if they are an OFSTED inspector with a focus on governmental priorities and how these are relevant to the learners: basically being a) (more) economically active and b) good little non-critical citizens, grateful for their lot.

A lot of the time, Mrs Khan going to the post office, Kasia talking to the doctor, Mr Wu complaining about his new shoes, or Alessandro talking to his daughter’s teacher are entirely relevant and useful things to cover. I’d love to find or develop some good low level resources for the last one, in fact, as it often comes up when I talk to students about what they want to cover on a course. The trouble with these things, as with any situational syllabus, is twofold. Firstly they are inaccurate representations of real interactions, and second, they are potentially limiting as course design constructs, particularly as students’ language gets more advanced.

The inaccuracy issue is obvious, when you think about it. Go into any service situation, for example, and the interactions are rarely as they appear in published materials. In Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy’s book, Exploring Spoken English they record a series of actual dialogues in real settings, and show that instead of being purely transactional, as in the mind of most teachers and materials writers, service conversations are a mix of transaction (getting things done) and interaction (exchanging pleasantries about the weather, that sort of thing. Even when operating in a second language, or even operating multilingually, this blend of interactional and transactional intention is possible: consider how quickly and naturally our own students drift from task focussed, controlled practice of target language to social focussed conversation, switching between languages as necessary. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t necessarily use these simplified, unnatural transactional dialogues, often because we need the authentic context to engage students, and set up a lesson for a specific language point: ask for the location of something in a supermarket, and you’re more likely to be given an aisle number or even shown directly where it is, than be given tidy directions or prepostitions, but you’re just setting up a lesson on prepositions of place, not making a real claim to be teaching “authentic” language in a real context. This isn’t making it relevant, or meaningful, it’s just taking away the uncertainty of the unfamiliar. 

Even if we do include these fake “real life” conversations, as we should, we can’t restrict course content to them. Anyone who has tried teaching ESOL for employment will recognise the limitations of tying everything to a limited context. The imposed restricted context of these courses leads either to particular language areas not being taught because they don’t fit, or awful shoehorning of contexts which are, if anything, less meaningful to students: adjectives to describe people for example, could be covered in a work setting (“you are looking for a new colleague. Describe her to your partner.”) but good grief is it ever strained, as compared to talking about family or people we know. This applies to any “real life” setting, good to a point, but sometimes, often perhaps, you need to go off the wall a little, and cover something outside of students’ experiences. As they get better and better, you end up needing to cover things outside the immediate reality simply because the language demands it: try limiting second conditional to “real life” and you’re pretty much onto a loser. The negative impact of these limitations is not necessarily reason to avoid these functional settings. Far from it, but we must acknowledge the inauthenticity, indeed, accept that there is nothing terribly “real” about a language teaching dialogue. 

I wonder if sometimes teachers just assume that the learners want language to be set in “real life” contexts: perhaps something of a hangover from ESOL’s association with adult literacy programmes where making it relevant may have been partly to offset reluctance or nervousness around literacy learning for adults. I think that while ESOL learners recognise the pragmatism of such an approach, I think they often lack this kind of motivational barrier: it’s probably pretty safe to say that the motivation of many, perhaps most ESOL learners is pretty high, and they quickly acquire and come to expect an explicit focus on grammar. There’s also the influence from our training, focussed on communicative language teaching, language learning should be about making meaningful communication; and which encourages us to set lessons into a context. Having “real life” as our consistent context is an easy way to satisfy both of these learned responses. Context does not have to be linked to students’ reality, mind you, and actually contexts can arise out of the language, rather than the the language out of the context: teaching discrete, decontextualised sentences to illustrate a grammar point, for example and then getting students to suggest the context after the fact can be an interesting and engaging way to work with language. 

I’ll admit, gladly, that I’m as guilty as the next person of this sort of thing. I like to use topics as an organising principle, and tend to pick these topics from “real life” whatever that actually is, usually in conjunction with the students. What happens within those topics, mind you, is anybody’s guess: I tend to select listening or reading texts based around those contexts, vocabulary arising in them, and on the opportunities for grammar teaching that the context suggests. But then I also see a scheme of work as not so much a moveable feast, but rather a rough guide to be adapted and revised as appropriate, even ignored and abandoned, and so while Mrs Khan may get involved in a discussion about good shops and bad shops, experiences with the doctor, read about money, listen to a text about someone’s life history, learn about present continuous by describing a video, or practice present simple in the context of “a day in the life of a toaster”, she is unlikely to go to the post office.

Groups, Needs & Personality: I think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that

I’m currently teaching two Entry 1 classes. They both attend three days a week, are broadly similar in terms of nationality mix, gender and indeed language learning needs: both groups have members who are working above Entry 1 in some respects, working towards various different qualifications and one or two members with comparatively limited literacy. In each group there are students with similar social and economic backgrounds and situations: parents, recent arrivals, former refugees, workers, and so on. You jammy git, you may be thinking, easy scheme of work planning!

And in terms of scheme and course content, you’d be right. There’s a degree of overlap, especially as one group started a week or so after the other, and the focus of the lessons is broadly similar, and from an external perspective it’s pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, this is the trouble with the cold computational model of course planning common in FE: identify required input, deliver required input, assess required input, input successful: there is much much more to it than that.

In reality, the two groups are deeply, profoundly different, and I’ll tell you now, it’s nothing to do with the students’ individual learning needs and motivations, and it is everything to do with personality. Personality, to paraphrase Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction, goes a long way in the ESOL classroom. It influences all sorts of things. Group H, as I will call them, has many many extrovert, confident personalities, while Group D (and why not D?) has confident people, for sure, but far fewer extrovert personalities. Group H has a core of students who have been studying together for a year already, Group D is newly formed this academic year. In group H this core acts as a kind of glue, even when spread out around the room according to learning needs, they still interact well with each other. The core also gives a sense of cohesion for the other students to connect to. At the moment this is lacking with group D, but you can see it beginning to form amongst the students – the terms and conditions of group interactions, and the settings of the friendships and relationships being established. It’s interesting to observe, and the only disappointing thing is the way it will change when both courses finishes in January.

Personality, while perhaps not a fixed concept, is something which is hard to consciously change, and depends on a range of innate and learned factors. Certainly it is beyond the abilities and, arguably, the remit of the ESOL teacher to change personality, linguistic relativity notwithstanding. But the individual personality mix in a group has an impact on a number of things. Take, for example, the types of activities you choose, and their relative effectiveness: in my tentative micro-study of these two classes, group H responds well and confidently to free flowing, dogme-influenced lesson activities, group D is more tentative, and responds better to slightly tighter control over pace and activity, preferring a more “traditional” structure. That’s not say that group D can’t or won’t respond, but that they are, perhaps, developing their confidence as learners, and need at times greater guidance. And that’s absolutely fine. No single technique or activity, no strategy, no policy, works for all students all the time: I’ve spent years criticising the imposition of SMART target setting based pretty much entirely on that notion. But at least on activities, methods and resources my professional judgement is trusted enough that I have freedom to adapt things to those students. It’s not just activities, but also the nature of feedback: group D have, so far, responded really well to guided feedback: where I’ve suggested changes to writing, for example, they have a go and make the changes without prompting, experimenting as they go. Group H, despite their apparent confidence, generally prefer a lot more guidance, and like to have a longer explanation before making changes, although, and again, this is because of the god intoersonal relationships they have, there is a lot more natural peer teaching going on: stronger students will support weaker without being asked by the teacher.

I’ve blogged before, I think, about the essential falseness of the classroom setting: the language of the classroom has its own authenticity separate from the “real” English of the outside world, and any attempts to integrate this realism are undermined by this disconnected classroom microcosm. It’s impossible in a language classroom to ever fully replicate the complexity of genuine interaction, and neither should this be the aim of the language lesson. Indeed, we should perhaps be looking not at developing authentic language but rather the authentic ability to cope with the unknown, to handle the unexpected and the complex. This “separate universe” view applies to personality too. When students come to class they assume a status, a role in class that is different from their role in their “real” lives: not necessarily introvert to extrovert, but perhaps a discovery of added confidence when they realise that they are by far the strongest student in the class, or a deference borne out of a realisation that despite their verbal fluency and confidence, they need significant support for even the simplest writing task. Perhaps some students, when they arrive, see that they have the chance now to change where they were, and consciously decide, for a few hours each week at least, to have a go at being a slightly different person.

All of which makes for interesting teaching, and is one of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, that this job is as interesting as it is. It’s a constant challenging creative process, making that present simple lesson work for that group of students, or re-modelling the lesson on the fly because the activities are just not engaging the students (and again, that’s not just about stretch and challenge). Indeed, it’s the days when you repeat a lesson and it goes more or less exactly as it did the last time that you get almost this sense of disappointment, a feeling, almost, that you have in some way let the students down. Without this variety, teaching could so easily become as tedious a job as working on a packing line, just with added stress.

Nailing It

I’ve got a bit of a confession to make. For all my woo, do it without paper, learner centred stuff, I actually really love resources. In particular, I really enjoy making my own. A lot of people might say that I make a rod for my own back, in terms of time and energy spent, when, because of our tendency to share resources and schemes of work in a shared drive, I could access loads of suitable resources, and yet I still make or design a lot of my own resources. I have to have the resources to fit the lesson I have in mind, rather than alter the lesson to fit the resources. This means a lot of published material is sometimes almost there, but not quite enough, and the same for shared resources from colleagues: they are good, but they don’t do exactly the job for the lesson I have in mind;I am, in short, a picky bastard.

There are several drawbacks to this: not least the quantity of time and effort, (although very often I can create a worksheet on a given subject in more or less the same time as it might take to find one). These aside, however, and challenges still remain. Lesson and materials design is essentially a form of writing (hands up ELT professionals who would give it all up to be a novelist/poet/playwright) and like any writing, is something of a process of trial and error: version 1 is ok, but lacks a proper follow up, version 2 has a better follow up, but needs tweaking at the start, version 3… well, you know what I mean. Eventually it all comes together: half lessons, mini lessons, and so on eventually gather all the bits to become proper, meaty lessons.

There have been a few of these these “coming together” moments in the last two weeks: my Halfords lorry – reading/review of definite and indefinite articles lesson, my ICT sessions on keyboard shortcuts and on online safety, and my “make a poster describing people / revising present simple third person singular” lesson. It’s very satisfying when you finally crack that elusive final practice activity, then watch all the component parts link together properly, tweakable to take into account the various needs of the class, nicely bookended with clear opening and closing activities: very satisfying indeed.

This is probably the main reason I stick with it. Sometimes, indeed quite often, you nail it from the off, and the materials and the lesson idea come together beautifully. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error, a bit of bodging and persuasion, but it does come together. Sometimes, of course, you try it, it bombs, and you simply don’t bother going back to it. But you end up with materials and lesson ideas that not only suit you but also the lesson, the students and the context: they just work. Sometimes I think this does make for lessons which are too personalised to me and the way I teach, but hey, I’m paid to teach, not to design universally applicable teaching materials. If you can’t make the resources work for you, well, you know what my answer is to that… 

Nobody Expects Dimples

This week I taught two lessons which reminded me of the richness that letting the students lead on the content can create. The first lesson was on Tuesday night – a Level 1/Level 2 group on the theme, broadly, of “life stages”. It was meant as a build up to a listening activity based around this recording from the BBC’s excellent Listening project, but took on a bit of a life of its own.

The activity was a variation on the game of consequences. At the top of the page I had printed “Be born”. Students worked in pairs and added the next thing that thought would happen. They then passed it to the next pair along who added another idea, and so on. I mixed things up a little, taking a lead from a chapter in 52 by Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings and every now and again asked the students to put something bad as the next event.

Some of the language generated was fairly predictable: go to school, get a job, retire, etc. But once the class warmed up to the task, the list almost became small, occasionally tragic biographies: have a breakdown, have an affair, get expelled, drop out, recover, get kicked out, bring up children, and, my personal favourite, have a mid-life crisis prompted by a pair of students talking about men of a certain age. The students were trying to express an idea, lacked the necessary language to do so, and my job was simply to fill that gap.

Something similar occurred with another class, this time Entry 1. Like the life stages task, this was intended as a precursor to something else, but also grew beyond the bounds of the planned activity.This time, students were brainstorming / researching in dictionaries vocabulary to do with physical appearance. Each group had a sheet of A3 paper – one group used this to brainstorm words to do with hair, one with body, one with face and one with skin. I was a little nervous about the last one, what with the potential for racist overtones, but in fact this provoked arguably the most useful chunks of language: greasy skin, oily skindry skin, and sensitive skin. The face list also took me by surprise – one student pointed at her cheeks –

“What are these?”

“Cheeks.”

“No.” Irritated by her stupid teacher. “These.”

I looked more carefully, a little nervous about staring, and the penny dropped:

Dimples!

In both cases, the new vocabulary arose from the students needing specific sets of language to express a concept. The task gave a setting for the vocabulary, and linked it all together, but ultimately the words were the students’ own words. It would never have occurred to me to teach words like sensitive skin or dimples despite the students in question having both – sensitive skin in particular is useful for a student who is resident in the UK. Having a breakdown, an affair or a mid-life crisis is unlikely to make it into most teacher-selected syllabuses, but nevertheless arose because the students had a need to talk about them. And again, these are not unusual or unlikely phrases – you could find them in most newspapers, magazines or online with a fairly high degree of frequency. Both groups, took great delight in exploring the new language, playing with it, using it.  “I read about a man in Poland, he had a mid life crisis and…” “Can you have just one dimples?” “Do you know good [indicates rubbing cream into skin] for sensitive skin?” 

There is an element of luck to this, for sure: with another group on another day we might have just the expected language. This isn’t some form of “best practice” that can be packaged up and rolled out at a training event. There is an element of skill as well. This wasn’t dogme, unplugged teaching per se: the activities limited the range of emergent language into a reasonably predictable collection of terms. We weren’t about to start talking about finding a job or how to make chapati, after all. A little control, a little setting of boundaries, if judged carefully, can make for a surprisingly productive lesson. You need to judge, as well, if the language is going down a dead end, explain well, and, arguably most importantly of all, capture what has come out. In this case I had the A3 sheets, and the lists of vocabulary (many of which were copied or photographed). For the level 1 group we had key terms on the interactive whiteboard which I have turned into PDF handouts and sent out. I’m in the habit of recording new words and concepts on a regular whiteboard next to the interactive one, then taking a photo with my phone. The A3 sheets were photographed, uploaded to google drive, and on display on the interactive whiteboard in slightly less than a minute, with virtually no impact on the flow of the lesson. The emergent language was captured and shared. 

The language was practised as well. For the level 1 group I closed with a speaking task – asking have you ever..? in pairs using the consequences sheet. For the Entry 1 group, one  I had the photos on the board, I elicited the relevant structures (“I have got…” and “I am…”) and had the students tell each other about themselves before reporting back to the whole class using “he’s/she’s got” and “he/she is…”. I also think I missed an opportunity or two: the level 1 class could have written short fictional biographies, for example. The entry 1 class will be following it up properly: putting the descriptive language together with the work we did last week on daily routines, and creating a profile of an individual based on photographs and other images. 

There is, I think, always a place for teacher led decisions on language content in some lessons, and students like to have a little direction. They are, after all, not stupid, and can smell an unplanned, undirected lesson a mile away. But you can create an activity and the conditions for language to emerge within the lesson, while still giving the lesson a sense of structure and purpose. Sometimes, as well, specific forms are unlikely to ever simply “emerge” in this way, so a bit of teacher-led is necessary: while we are under pressure to get students to pass exams and achieve external curriculum aims, then there has to be a fair portion of teacher selected content. 

But there is still a lot of freedom there, of course, which means there is plenty of room for dimples. 

Sick of angry posts

I’m fed up. I’m fed up of posting these grumpy blog posts about the way that things are for migrants in this country. Really fed up. Except I’m going to keep posting them, in much the same way that the British press keep printing front pages like this one:


Or perhaps this one: 

Or this? 

These came through at the same time as I was completing a letter to my local school opting out of the pupil nationality census: the DfE are asking schools to gather data about not only children’s first languages at home (which is at least pedagogically useful), but also their nationality and their date of birth. 

I’m sorry, but hang on. One government department is demanding unnecessary immigration information from parents, while another is proposing that employers gather and pass on the same information about their employees, all of which is supported by the “British jobs for British people” rhetoric quoted above. Except it’s not. The country has some financial challenges, I get that, and a whole load of social problems, but as ever in this little Englander island, people are too lazy and selfish to investigate the origin of those problems, and just pin them on the nearest face that doesn’t quite fit into their narrow view of the world. And the government, not to mention their lapdogs at the Mail and the Express, are merrily riding this wave of anti-migrant feeling, pinning blame on migrants in order that nobody question their austerity plans, or the practices of them and their wealthy mates in the top 1%. 

And at the same time as the DfE is inappropriately gathering immigration information, and employers are perhaps to start acting as immigration enforcers, I am supposed to be promoting British Values and equality and diversity? I increasingly feels that I live in a country which no longer shares my values. Certainly when I talk about tolerance and respect as part of British Values to an ESOL class it sounds increasingly hollow. It never felt particularly meaningful, to be fair, but now it’s genuinely just a pretence, a show. I find it hard to believe that this is a country capable of tolerance and respect, and the notion of democracy of a country with an unelected Prime Minister is simply ludicrous. Sure, I’ll do British Values, but only because if I don’t, then I’ll get it in the neck from observers and inspectors. 

I am tired of posting this sort of thing, but I can’t promise it’ll stop, not for some time to come. 

Déformation professionelle

This is a fun phrase that I first heard the other day when posting on Facebook. It was a picture of a poster, and on the poster we had something like “teas, coffees, and frappucino’s”. I am, for my sins, a bit of an apostrophe fascist, and my comment was less than complimentary. A French speaking friend told me then of this phrase, deformation professionelle, which means, roughly, that one tends to view the world through the eyes of your own profession, to the exclusion of all others. Wikipedia suggested that “distortion” might be a possible translation of deformation in this sense, and I rather think that is what we are dealing with. We spend so much of our waking lives engrossed in the discourses and attitudes of our profession that we filter everything through this. 

Take, for example, a thank you note that my wife received over the summer from a grateful client whose first language isn’t English. It was a very sweet message, full of praise and very complimentary about my wife’s skills. So she showed it to me, and I looked, and the first thing that popped into my head? “Entry 3, I reckon…” Naturally, I kept this to myself, but it goes to show how ingrained we are into our work, sometimes. 

I do it all the time. I have a folder on my computer full of links to articles that might make great reading activities, because I’ll be reading something on a Sunday morning and find myself thinking “this will fit in just great with the lessons I’m doing the week after next.” Or I’ll get a new £5 note and think “ooh, this would make a good stimulus for a lesson” (and it did, thanks for asking). 

On the one hand, this is generally a good thing. I have a finely tuned radar for resources, and can spot a potential worksheet a mile away. On the other hand, it’s not. For one, the incident with the lovely letter was pretty mean of me, even if it was only internal. This judging of the language of others, native and non-native speakers is, let’s face it, really quite annoying. Annoying not just for those who are judged, but also for me: two minutes on Facebook and I’m desperate to get my red pen out. 

Another drawback is when you have another area of interest which doesn’t always sit well with the first. So I once wrote a question on the end of a worksheet for maths which said something like this: “Anna rides a bike to work, it takes her 25 minutes to get there. Her brother drives an expensive Mercedes, and it takes him an hour to drive in the trafffic. Which person is the idiot?” (So the last question wasn’t quite that, but that was the overall thrust.) Or I’ll find an article on cycling in Poland which will get added as a possible text, even though no students are interested in cycling. Even an interest in language and language learning can be dangerous: I have a whole bank of activities around the hardest langauges to learn, the history of English, how people learn, lives of students, words from other languages and so on, but which are not necessarily interesting in and of themselves. I realise that for an English teaching professional this is hard to imagine (seriously, how is etymology not interesting?) but there you go. 

It’s not a serious condition, to be fair, except perhaps when it manifests itself as arrogance towards those in our institutions who do not teach. Sure teaching and learning is the primary business of a college, but without all those other people the whole place would be empty, dirty, and would, in time, quite literally fall apart. And sometimes, you know, it would be good to switch it off, and just get on with other stuff. From a mental well being perspective, it sure can’t be good to be continually flagging good articles, assessing writing, or proof reading texts for punctuation mistakes. 

Or indeed writing extensive blog posts on the subject.