IATEFL Post-Mortem 1

Did you follow the on-line coverage of the IATEFL conference?  If you did, I wonder if you share my opinion that not one interview and not one recorded session said anything that might lead to real progress in the profession. The dismal quality of the whole sorry affair (with the exception of Nicola and Russ’s talk, but including Scott’s empty contribution to a very disappointing round table discussion on the use of L1), was highlighted for me by Jeremy Harmer’s truly crass talk on testing, of which more in Part 2. Here, a comment on the interviews.

The worst part of the IATEFL / British Council coverage was the series of poorly prepared, totally uncritical, uninformative, lack-lustre interviews. The interviewers fawned over the interviewees, oblivious to the opportunity to ask these powerful people to explain themselves. All three interviewers showed a shockingly smug lack of awareness about what can be achieved in an interview; their blissful disregard for all the skills required to get good content from an interviewee was gob-smacking, and a true reflection of the lack of professionalism in a bloated organisation where quality counts for little. How much planning went into the interviews?  I get the impression that whoever was responsible for this shockingly amateur mess thought that it was enough to just get a list of “important people” lined up, set up the recording gear, sort out the IT stuff, put a few adverts for British Council around the set, and go at it. One thing is to deliberately set out to establish a relaxed, informal atmosphere where the audience can see the “human face” of all the big names (such a plan would actually require quite a lot of thought and sensitive decision making) and another is to completely ignore the complex components of a good programme of interviews. In this case, everybody concerned seemed totally unaware of anything beyond their noses: they seemed to think that it was enough to just talk to the big names about their most recent accomplishments for everybody to be enthralled. Such is the self-satisfied complacency of those who lead IATEFL and the British Council.

No attempt was made to probe any important current issue affecting the membership of IATEFL. No attempt was made to bring people with different views head to head. No attempt was made to follow a thread – testing, for example. No attempt was made to give coherence or cohesion to the interviews as a whole. And of course, there was a total lack of critical content. Just for example, why wasn’t the new president of IATEFL asked about NNESTs, or the pay and conditions of most teachers, or the CELTA and DELTA courses, or the refusal to allow the TaW Sig, or the lack of women among those who make the most money out of ELT?

Just to really put the seal on it, we had Carol Read’s final contribution to the interviews: a gushing “Well done Everybody!” affair, where her extraordinarily enthusiastic endorsement of the team’s efforts highlighted the extent of her ignorance of what good coverage of a conference entails.

In Part 2 I’ll comment on the plenaries and on the sessions devoted to testing.

5 thoughts on “IATEFL Post-Mortem 1

  1. “The worst part of the IATEFL / British Council coverage was the series of poorly prepared, totally uncritical, uninformative, lack-lustre interviews.”

    One of the regular interviewers is a friend of mine and so I feel a little bit guilty about the fact that I find myself very much in agreement with your criticisms here.

    In my friend’s defence, and also as a former employee of the BC, I think you’ll find their hands are very much tied as to what they are allowed to ask – the tone is more slick party political broadcast than a Jeremy Paxman Newsnight grilling. Even so, I like all these suggestions:

    *”bring people with different views head to head”
    *”follow a thread – testing, for example”

    And hope the BC consider these for next year in Birmingham.

    (Enjoy the blog btw)


  2. Geoff: I like your initial commentary on this topic (at the beginning of the conference). The country in which I now live (you know if from U of Leicester) has an anuual conference for English teachers. At the end, they publish a glossy magazine. I once saved the magazine to read on a plane flight to Spain. Not one article provided anything usefulul that I could use in a classroom the next day–how utterly annoying. I truly believe that some of our most valuable techniques cannot be found in research articles –they can only be found by being in the classroom all day, every day (as State teachers are). In NY I taught 300 kids everyday!!!! Well, 300 were on the attendance sheet, maybe only 200 were present, but when you teach that many students you get to know what students can do and what makes them tick! And then, the secret is to find the more knowledgeable teachers who have been in the school forever and know all the ins-and outs (the organization is also important to learning outcomes) and just pick their brains for information: “How did, you teach x? How would you introduce Y? How would you test Z? My students were having difficulty with P?” A wise teacher told me, the best teachers simply steal ideas off of everyone else! It’s a lot cheaper than going to a conference and these teachers will do everything to help you. When one asks an earnest question, I have never had a teacher not help me, and stay with me until I’ve got it!


  3. Geoff – Thanks for your feedback on the Manchester Online interviews. We’re aware there are some areas of our coverage we can improve on and we’ll certainly consider the points you’ve made in our plans for next year. Thanks again. Julian – Manchester Online Team


  4. Geoff, thank you very much for your reviews about IATEFL Manchester online. (Actually this year, I had really some bad feelings of this year’s event (as they seemed to be desperate of something ) even before the actual event starts. Probably it is the time for us to start posting very critical comments to individual presenters’ page and hopefully they (the presenters) will notice the problem – if they are modest enough. This may be what the readers of your blog should do – (if anyone bothers – ) as if “return of the Jedi”. (hahaha, just because you put the pic on the front of this thread!) You already noted Scott and Jeremy (I knew J is far from academic anyway); but I found myself your each post is very amusing (sorry if it sounded a bit rude-) .. I loved it.
    I also feel very guilty of some involvement of IATEFL group…BTW why IATEFL is like this, this year? Liverpool one (2 years ago) was actually very informative…what is happening.. It is a shame if they are not able to gather any notable presenters.


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