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Infiltrating the World of English Language Teaching



Looking back, I seem to have spent my adult working life infiltrating worlds and institutions that I have fundamental issues with in order to try and change them or, at least, provide an alternative.


In this monthly blog, I intend to write about lessons learned and insights gained from building up a chain of language schools with educational rather than business goals, infiltrating traditional educational systems to encourage them to be more student centered, setting up an association for teachers who had previously gone under the radar of existing associations, infiltrating Facebook, establishing MA programs in Japan, going bankrupt . . and much more 

Education vs Business

Like many other teachers, I have often been appalled by the exploitation of education by for-profit businesses. It seems to me that many of the goals and attitudes that are often normal in the business world are inappropriate in the world of education. Education is about supporting others – supporting our students; supporting the professional development of other teachers; and even supporting our competitors. Goals such as profit, market share, business growth, manipulation of people through clever sales strategies etc. are not educational because they are inherently self-centered. 


I don’t mean that educators are ‘good’ people and business people are ‘evil’. Many of my best friends work for companies that have conventional business goals. In a way, in the educational world, we are spoilt. It is easier for us to avoid getting caught up in the rat race and the values of the law of the jungle, and easier to focus on supporting others. There must be many many people in the business world who are envious of that. I certainly left the world of business to become a teacher a few years after university for that reason. Most people in business as well as in education are just trying to do their jobs as well as they can and support their families or single lifestyle.


My issue is with those at the top of education businesses who have the power to shape the polices and culture of their businesses and who choose to focus on goals such as profit and business growth, not with those who just do their best to implement those policies and often try and make them more human.


The importance of culture

I have to admit that I owned a large company that grew very fast, though, generally speaking, we were breaking new ground, so I hope we weren’t putting others out of business. Also, our competitors were almost always profit-oriented education businesses. Actually, we could have been much larger, but growing bigger seemed an empty goal and, among other things, would have meant staff would have become numbers on a piece of paper rather than human beings. I realized this when we started to have problems with some of our teachers in schools far away from our main office, and I found that I hardly knew the teachers.


Our focus on educational rather than business goals also meant we were often surviving by the skin of our teeth and ultimately went bankrupt. Many have said we could have achieved more if we had had a more business-like approach and accumulated profit. It is certainly true that some of our failures, such as with publishing journals, probably could have been avoided. But, we would have had a different culture that would have permeated through to all our teachers and staff and everything we touched. It would have fundamentally affected our priorities and the projects we chose to focus on, and would have corrupted our vision. And, we would have had less trust and credibility in the world of education.


Trust and credibility

That trust and credibility enabled us to achieve many worthwhile goals that would have been out of reach of an education business with a business culture. We started with just me with no money and ended with just me with no money, but, in 28 years, we taught English to about 100,000 students in the Hiroshima area with our trained teachers using student-centered methodology; we trained tens of thousands of teachers around East Asia; we had about 200 teachers taking MAs through us at any one time for 15 years; my books that are rooted in student-centered psychology sold about 2,000,000 copies and influenced a lot of schools and teachers; we started a free association for teachers (ETJ) that now has about 10,000 members; and we broke down lots of barriers that, at first sight, seemed impenetrable.


So, where did the income from all this go? We put it back into doing more things and breaking down more barriers and also put it into just simply  surviving so we could keep going and do more things; and then lost what was left when we went bankrupt. Was it worth it even though we ultimately failed? Of course it was. And Language Teaching Professionals, which I set up after the bankruptcy, has been able to make it possible for ETJ, the Expos, teacher training and much more that was worthwhile to continue.


  Dialogue of the Month


Nobody will Buy a Play Called Omelet


Language Target: Describing Trends

Mrs. Shakespeare: The price of paper is going up!

And the price of books is coming down!

We’ll never pay for those new curtains.


I know! I’m writing more than last year,

but I’m making less money!

Mrs. Shakespeare: Maybe your new play will help.

But I don’t like the title!Nobody will buy a play called “Omelet”!


It’s a very good title!

Omelets are becoming very popular.

Mrs. Shakespeare:

Yes, but not plain omelets.

They’re going out of fashion!

Shakespeare: Well, how about “Ham Omelet”?
Mrs. Shakespeare:

That’s better than before.

But something is still wrong.


Dialogue and illustration from ‘Communicate 1’ by David Paul (Compass Publishing)


Available in Japan at the ETJ Book Service


Available internationally here

2 Responses to Infiltrating the World of English Language Teaching

  1. Amazing, I’m really looking forward to this blog. I think again a big well done is in order to you for all the work you have done to help people like me become better teachers through your events and network. I also find you methods to teaching and business inspirational and rewarding.
    Keep up the great work matey!
    You started by yourself and no money, you haven’t ended yet matey and you have a lot of priceless friends 🙂

  2. Can’t wait to hear more of this!

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