Why do I do all this ESOL stuff anyway?

Here’s a reflection somewhat brought on by a mild and no doubt well intentioned bit of teasing by an anonymous colleague about doing conferences and stuff because I want to impress my employer. This was good, because it did make me think. In the last fortnight I gave up essentially a whole weekend, and spent today at a full day seminar about Adult ESOL at the University of Leeds, arranged and paid for an extra half day’s childcare, not to mention several evenings of writing.

I want to do a summary of all these experiences at some point, I do, and will get round to that, but I am now really thinking about why do I do these things? Except it goes beyond that. It’s all tied up with questions like: why blog? Why tweet about my work/job? Why read all those books and articles and get into research projects and so on?

Because lets face it, I could just do my job. It would cost me nothing to merely do what I do. I could get all my learners to pass and get a consistent grade 2 or better observation grade, both of which would more than keep the metaphorical wolf from the door. But dear me, would I be bored. Bored bored bored. I’d probably get religion or something I’d be so bored. There would be whole planets of boredom waiting for me. Not wishing to sound big headed, but my brain would pretty much be ticking over at best. I don’t do “ticking over” and rarely have much time for people who do. I have my faults, not least a goldfish attention span and an amazing ability to repel admin and paperwork (register? No, haven’t seen it for a while).

I do this stuff because my work (rather than my specific job for my specific employer) interests me. More than that it excites, infuriates and regularly enrages me. In short, working with ESOL learners and teachers really does make me tick. Today, for example, we watched video recordings of ESOL learners trying to cope with some fairly simple tasks for a native speaker (managing a recorded message phone call, selling a car), saw images of the sometimes inevitable crapness of their lives and it reminded me that these are the people I do it for. I have conversations with my partner who also works with asylum seekers and refugees and we are both so often reminded that we are so very lucky to be living in a pleasant house in a decent part of town with family and friends who are supportive and caring; all things that ESOL learners often lack. And almost every ESOL teacher I’ve heard complaining is usually complaining because they have to do stuff which they feel detracts from doing the best for their learners.

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a middle class angst thing either. I got into ESOL largely by accident, and found I was pretty good at it. I didn’t set out on some well-intentioned mission to help the community. I admit if I won the lottery I’d probably give it up. For a year or so, anyway. Well. Maybe a part time class twice a week… But basically, I like language, I like people, I like helping people, and I loathe the government. So teaching adult ESOL is pretty much spot on for me. And the things I have learned in the last 8 years or so about ESOL, and the frankly shocking way most of the society I live in views and treats ESOL learners, make me so unsettlingly cross, have led to the whole range of emotions we can classify under “passion”: love, anger, jealousy and the rest.

Put simply, I don’t do the “extracurricular” stuff just so my employer likes me. They would generally appear to like me, or at least tolerate me, which is useful. There are clear benefits to pleasing one’s employer: it means they do nice things like putting money in my bank account every month. But I’m not looking for a mandate from them. I blog, tweet, research, go to seminars, conferences and all the rest for me, and so I can do the best I can for my learners. Everything else is just a side effect.



  1. Hi Sam

    It was nice to meet you on Friday and I’ve very much enjoyed reading my first blog from an ESOL teacher!


    1. It was great to meet you as well! There are plenty more, and not all of them as grouchy as this one – you’ll have to get one.

  2. Love this post Sam, you’ve summed up so much stuff that I think already… I did 3 months of ESOL after finishing my CELTA, then worked in EFL in Argentina, and there was so much I missed about ESOL that I ended up back in the same place a year later… (or it’s true, the only way really IS Essex!). Just not sure what the future of the sector is at the moment…

  3. In short, working with ESOL learners and teachers really does make me tick – I think that’s the secret ….

    Walking into the a classroom, or just giving our students advice to help them go forward, is what makes up tick and what makes us start thinking of the new academic year just as soon as the old one has finished :).

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