Thursday, March 31, 2011

In Search of: The First TEFL Blogger

Okay, okay, I've been credited as, and even have taken credit for being, the first TEFL blogger.

I can't continue this masquerade any longer.

So of course, there weren't really any blogs, until about 2004, and if you wanted to write something about your experiences you basically had two choices: you could post some stuff on somebody's message boards, or you could make your own dedicated website.

(I used the wonderfully crude free one at Angelfire to start my own website about English teaching, back at the beginning of 2003.)

Now, as I mentioned in another entry, I know Harry Hutton had posted some stuff about English teaching in the Gaza Strip on a dedicated website he had as early as 2000 -- but then, like most of us, he switched to a blog in 2004, and I don't think that original website exists now.

As is also well-known, Simon Barnes' I HATE ESL website existed as early as 2001, but came and went many times, and changed into ENGLISH DROID. (Recently resurrected here.) In a sense it was not a "blog" however, as he wrote satirical article involving fictitious characters, rather than stuff about his real experiences.

Now, there was another guy who posted stuff about his experiences as a teacher in Japan -- the original site went under the name "I am Japanese School Teacher" and "Gaijin Smash." it's hard to follow the web-train now, because he lost his original domain name after getting involved with Tucker Max's ill-fated Rudius Media blog network.

(That might make him the most widely-read English teacher blogger, not that he made a dime out of the deal. I can go ahead and admit that he beat me out in applying for a position there -- thank you once again, Cruel Providence!)

He, I think, started posting stories as early as 2003 -- definitely in 2004. I think most of his fans were not English teachers, as I never saw him mentioned much, but rather fans of anime and Japanese culture and all that.

He's married to a Japanese woman, has a baby, and maintains a Wordpress blog called GAIJIN CHRONICLES at and, after the recent ongoing tragedies in Japan, deserves a visit and probably a donation.

But, as for English Teacher Zero:

Dating back to 2000 -- an English teacher in Thailand has maintained a website that discussed dating Thai women, advice about nightlife and other aspects of life in Thailand, and a rather extensive amount of information about teaching in Thailand. (Including, at one time, reviews of specific schools, which were so influential at that time that a former employer of mine actually contacted him for ways he could improve the school, or at least the review of the school.)

It has changed considerably over the years, and now seems to be heavily focused on advertising and Thai holidays in general. His readership, it seems, was mostly fans of Thailand and its particular charms, rather than English teachers, although he was often mentioned (and castigated) on ESLCafe back in the day.

He did however, frequently post "columns" which were very much in the spirt of blog posts, and had MAINTAINED THAT WEBSITE CONTINUOUSLY since 2001.

So, English Teacher Zero, the first English Teacher blog was:


Thursday, March 24, 2011


The first confirmed American death in the earthquake in Japan was an American English teacher working for the JET Program.

She is described in the article as "passionately dedicated to her students and fascinated by Japanese culture since childhood."

Strangely, I don't think I know a single English teacher who has died in the line of duty. (Maybe that's not the right term, but you know what I mean.)

One English teacher I know was in Phuket during the tsunami there in 2005; he wrote a lengthy blog post about it but I can't find it online anymore, in a quick search. Fortunately he had to wake up early to get an insulin shot, and noticed what was happening, and managed to get himself and his friends up onto the roof.

It was Christmas morning at 6.00am, and I'm absolutely sure that had I been there, I would have been so drunk I would have drowned like a rat.

There's a story in Russia about an early English teacher -- around 2000 -- who died after falling into an open manhole while drunk. I heard different versions of the story -- somebody who claimed to have known him said that he had slid down a hill on ice and fallen into the foundation of a building site, where he got stuck and froze to death.

Given the number of open manholes, neither story is hard to imagine. I partially fell in one myself one night -- only my leg went in, fortunately not at an angle to snap in half. I emerged unscathed from that one.

Man, black eyes and fat lips? I've seen plenty of those, all over the world. Mostly the result of drunken stupidity, but occasionally legitimate street muggings.

I got my lights completely punched out not just once, but twice in a ROW one memorable evening at a crappy nightclub in Russia back in 2008. Strangely not even so much as a lasting headache later -- but two big ugly black eyes for a week.

That was not nearly as painful as the events of my first bar fight, in which my foot was stomped on and swelled up like a pumpkin. I refused to try to take care of it properly, and limped for months.

Then, of course, there was the time the dog bit me, in 2004. At a house party, I let the family dog out, and went out to try to get it back . . . and mistook a street dog for the family dog. This was the result:

This resulted in series of rabies injections, and an unpleasant week of sobriety. The scar has faded, but girls reading my palm occasionally mention it.

There was a particularly scary story about one guy: one of my colleagues found this guy, a teacher from Australia, wandering in a park near his house, covered with blood and delirious. He'd apparently been smashed in the head with something hard enough to crack his skull. He had no memory of it, so nobody knows if it was a mugging or a disagreement.

Scarier than that -- he hadn't signed a contract yet, so the school he worked for refused to pay his medical bills, and his cracked skull prevented him from flying home for medical treatment.

Other than that, we're like the Mafia -- we mostly hurt each other.

One colleague drunkenly tumbled down some stone steps and ended up in the hospital for a week, with a bad concussion. Crazy Bob sprained his wrist one time drunkenly punching me in the back, and ended up with two cracked ribs after some drunken horseplay with another colleague.

Having fun is hard work, you know.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Cartoon About Needs Analysis

Now here's a strange thing -- I posted this in 2004, but I seem to remember having this conversation with Crazy Bob, and Crazy Bob didn't arrive until 2005.

But anyway, the basic idea is a conversation that has been had many times. . .

The point where jargon meets drunken banter is always a cute one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

35 TEFL Career Milestones

(Article from 2005. Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.)

The following is a list of typical career milestones for a TEFL teacher. How many have you achieved? How many will you achieve? Just tick them off, and see if you can consider yourself a full-fledged master of the game, or just another also-ran. (Note: these are in a likely, but not inevitable, chronological order)

* Your first job

* First time you make a kid cry in a children's class

* First time you are late for class

* First time you vow you won't end up like the losers you work with

* First time going to class without any preparation at all

* First temper tantrum with management over late paychecks or scheduling

* First 'relationship' with a student

* First time student breaks your heart

* First time you return to your home country and experience culture shock

* First angry posting about your employers on the Internet

* Second job

* First time going to class drunk

* First time going to class without any sleep

* First time going to class drunk and without any sleep

* Second relationship with student

* Second time student breaks your heart

* First time you vow never to date a student again

* Second time going to class drunk

* First time you vow never to go to class drunk again

* Third relationship with student

* Second vow never to date a student

* Third time going to class drunk

* Third job

* First time you vow to go home and straighten your life out

* Fourth job

* Second time you vow to go home and straighten your life out

* First time you realize you aren't qualified for or suitable to any other job

* Turning 30 abroad

* Fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth job

* First marriage to foreigner

* First child by foreigner

* First divorce

* First realization some of the younger people you work with think you're a sad old drunk bastard

* Second marriage

* Turning 40 abroad and peaceful zen-like acceptance of your lot in life


1 - 8 milestones achieved -- you're pretty much still a rookie

9-15 milestones achieved -- consider yourself a member of the gang

15 -25 milestones achieved -- you're a total pro, baby

25 - 30 milestones achieved --- man. You poor bastard.

Friday, March 11, 2011

How I Spent The Day of Rage

Message on the US Consulate website:

Participants on a few social media networks have called for a “Day of Rage” to take
place across the Kingdom on March 11. The U.S. Embassy cannot verify these calls,
nor do we have information about exact times and locations of possible demonstrations.
However, we take this opportunity to remind U.S. citizens to be alert to their
surroundings, to avoid any large gatherings, and to be mindful that spontaneous
demonstrations can occur anywhere. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can
become confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. If caught unexpectedly
near a demonstration, U.S. citizens should obey instructions from the police and leave the area as quickly as possible.

12.45am -- A colleague knocks on my door, reeking of home-brew and warns me that he had just been walking around and seen a lot of army trucks going by, and that a student had called him warning that "something big" would be happening on the next day.

We live in a peaceful suburban beach-side area; however, the center of discontent is only a few hours drive from here.

We make an evacuation plan in case the protests get ugly. We don't have our passports -- all employees' passports are held in place of the official residence and work permit they give us. We decide we'll drive down to an American compound an hour from here and try to get in there, should a lot of protesters end up dead.

1.00am -- The Internet reports that police have fired into a crowd of protesters. It is soon clarified that 3 people were injured, but the police were firing into the air over the heads of protesters.

1.10am -- I spend some time registering myself with the nearest consulate on the Internet.

1:35am -- I don't keep a "bug-out bag" per se -- but I have bags of things which can easily be assembled into one for speedy exit in case of emergency.

Bag #1 -- Practical things -- flashlight, rain slicker, multi-tool, duct tape. And some rope, I guess in case I decide to do some light bondage with some girl I meet at the airport.

Bag # 2 -- Medical things -- ace bandages, aspirin, antihistamines, disinfectant gel, and a couple of leftover tablets of Cialis from my last holiday. Can use that with the rope in case I meet a girl at the airport.

Bag #3 -- Survival rations -- 3 cans of tuna, 2 cans of sardines, a box of Ritz crackers, several liters of bottled water.

I examine these things and toss them together into one bag along with some tough-looking clothes -- black t-shirts, wife-beaters, wool socks, and cargo pants.

Considering the survival rations, I add a bag of mixed raisins and cashews. I saw footage of people trapped for several days at the airport in Cairo; I'll at least be able to eat. Because I assume the Sbarro's and the Krispy Kreme there will run out of food quickly.

Maybe I should add some laxatives to the medical kit, however.

I keep going to the window, thinking I hear people thumping around.

1:45am Can't sleep, so I watch another episode of RESCUE ME.

My God, Dennis Leary loses ANOTHER relative? What are the odds of that, even if they are cops and firemen.

2:30am -- Finally get in bed and fall quickly asleep.

10.45am -- Wake up and check the internet. Devastating earthquake in Japan, huge tsunami. I watch videos of waves covered with debris and flaming wreckage innundating farmland. Trying to think of the last time I checked the Internet and there WASN'T some huge disaster or mass murder.

What could you do to survive that, even if you were prepared? You'd have a little time to kiss your ass goodbye, that'd be about it.

11.15am -- Skype and Facebook filled with people wondering about my safety and the situation here. I go outside and the college is as deserted as it usually is on a day off. The prayer call starts. If anything happens it'll be after the prayer.

12.10pm -- I hear horns honking and jump up and carefully look outside, but it's just somebody's car alarm going off. The guy turns the alarm off and drives away. I walk outside; it's cool and raining.

A couple of students in casual Western clothes pass by and say "Hello teacher."

12.20pm -- My egg sandwiches are sublime as usual and I sit down to watch another episode of RESCUE ME. Dennis Leary trapped in another burning buildings? Well, I guess he is a fireman. . .

1.30pm -- I have a few household weapons -- I bought a pair of nunchucks for $10 in the city -- more for playing with than for any practical usage as a weapon -- and I have a light 16-inch long piece of pipe with duct tape wrapped around the handle.

I decide to go over to the supermarket; I put the piece of pipe in my rucksack, having no doubt that I can easily beat off any angry mobs I might encounter.

1.35pm -- I see a group of people outside the Recreation Center and wonder if it's an angry mob; it's just a bunch of guys playing soccer, however.

1.40pm -- On the 10 minute bike ride to the supermarket, I inhale my chewing gum and almost choke on it; I stop at the gas station and get a lemon-flavored Holsten non-alcholic malt beverage to wash it down. I cough and finally get it all swallowed.

That would certainly have been an ignominious way to die on the Day of Rage.

1.50 -- As usual there's a brisk after-prayer crowd at the supermarket but everything seems as usual.

I walk by the news stand: the headline of the English-language daily reads, "BUSINESS AS USUAL BUT EXPATS WORRY."

The subheads read -- "Foreign Journalists Chase Non-Existent Stories" and "Panicked SMS and email rumours fly"

2.00pm -- I see a couple of colleagues and most of them think that nothing much will happen. I'm sure people in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya said much the same, however.

2.45pm -- Watching tsunami videos on the Internet and listening to Howard Stern. Still no news of any protests, much less any violence.

3.17pm -- Another prayer call. Still no news.

I find the following:

The Gulf Civil Society Forum, a liberal pan-Gulf group, expected a low turnout because the call came from London-based Saudi dissidents who do not have a large following in the kingdom.

London-based dissidents, ha, issuing calls to protest from their hotel suites at the Ritz-Carlton.

and this:

Other Facebook youth activists have called for nationwide protests on March 20.

Shit, so there will be two Days of Rage this month? I'll note that down on my desk calendar.

3.32pm -- I'm looking at jobs on and considering where I'd go if I left here. . .

3.42pm -- Finally a new news story. AP reports that the Kingdom "launched a massive security operation Friday in a menacing show of force to deter protesters from a planned a "Day of Rage" to press for democratic reform in the kingdom.

Illegal demonstrations were supposed to start after Muslim Friday prayers at noon but as the mosques emptied there were no signs of rallies, with security men manning checkpoints in key locations across several cities."

Does that mean the Day of Rage is over, or didn't begin?

Maybe I'll go to the beach and go swimming. . .

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Another Cartoon About A Bad Moment In Class

This happened in Russia in 2002 or 2003.

Several people have asked if he really had that strange little smile on his face.

Answer: da.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Are You Suited To English Teaching Abroad?

(Repeat from old website, 2004. Damn, am I that old?)

Indeed, the first question to ask yourself is not, "Which country would I enjoy most" or "Which certificate course would allow me maximum job prospects" but "Am I suited to being an EFL teacher?"

Here is an aptitude test to judge your potential suitability.

Please answer yes, no or sometimes.

1) Are you outgoing and enthusiastic?

2) Do you enjoy being the center of attention?

3) Do you like meeting people. . . and then saying goodbye to them forever soon after?

4) Do you enjoy being stared at?

5) Are the ideas of stability, financial reward and long-term relationships repugnant to you?

6) Do you know what "repugnant" means?

7) Do you enjoy washing your clothes in the bathtub?

8) Does the idea of going out with women or men who like you only because of your passport's color appeal to you?

9) Do you like strange foods cooked in less than sanitary conditions?

10) Are you fond of trying to defend American and British military policies?

11) Do you thrive on loneliness and uncertainty?

12) Do you like cutting up paper into small pieces?

13) Do you enjoy making yourself vulnerable to the whims of rich foreigners?

14) Is the smell of whiteboard markers much like a rare and sensual perfume to you?

15) Is the thought of owning more than one bag of possessions repellant to you?

16) Do you enjoy trying to converse with people who you have nothing at all in common with?

17) Could you easily dispense with such luxuries as a pension or Social Security?

18) Do you drink heavily?

19) Is hot water a luxury you can easily do without?

20) Does the idea of waking up early on a Saturday to try to entertain a room full of hostile nine-year-olds appeal to you?

21) Do you give a crap about the difference between the present perfect and the present perfect continuous?

22) Does the idea of paying $1500 to get a certificate to learn how to do something that you usually can't save money at sound perfectly logical to you?

KEY: For questions 1 through 21, give yourself:

2 points for each "yes" answer

1 point for each "sometimes" answer

0 points for each "no" answer

For question 22, give yourself:

1000 points for a "yes" answer

0 points for a "maybe" or "no" answer

0 - 20 points == It would seem that your are far too sane to enjoy the EFL lifestyle. I'm sure that your local Kinko's Copy Shop or Starbucks would be happy to have you, however.

21 - 44 points == You show some signs of being able to adapt well to the EFL lifestyle. If you were to say, increase your daily alcohol intake and perhaps cut yourself off from your friends and family for a while, you might begin to fit the profile.

1000 or more points == Congratulations pal. You're a natural.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

English For Special Needs (Or: Do I STUTTER?)

So I actually saw THE KING'S SPEECH and liked it pretty well, although of course British films without gangsters or zombies in them usually bore me to death.

Coincidentally, I'm teaching classes on Communication now, about half of which involves teaching the students to do short presentations, and I've got a kind-heated stutterer in my class.

Now apparently he's mostly conquered his stutter in Arabic; but when he tries to speak in English it comes roaring back. I have actually seen this before, with a Russian guy I taught in New York, and once (God help us all) in a Spanish class I took in college.

So with the help of THE KING'S SPEECH I advised the kid about breathing, taking pauses and "bouncing" onto difficult consonant sounds, and with that, along with my logical step-by-step approach to teaching them to do presentations, he's pretty happy with his progress.

(A lot of the teachers apparently just say, "Okay tomorrow you do a five-minute presentation on whatever", without much in the way of preliminaries. Sadistic, that.)

I've never seen any professional literature on the subject of second-language teaching for people with special needs -- uh, not that I've actually looked for it -- but this is definitely a field for the future. Perhaps I'll be a pioneer in it.

(Never mind the people who need psychologists more than English teachers -- and there were plenty of those. Let's stick with talking about specific learning disorders here.)

More than once I've had strong suspicions that I've been teaching people with dyslexia or some other kind of "special learning need" or whatever -- but there have been some more profound and obvious challenges.

There was an individual female student trying to learn English who had cerebral palsy, or something similar, when I worked in Russia. Never had to teach her and of course I was aghast that they would even ask anybody to try; that's WAY out of our pay-grade.

I had a woman in one class in Russia who clearly had Asperger's or some other kind of autism spectrum disorder, and had a lot of trouble communicating naturally -- again, whatever progress she'd made in her native language was lost when trying to speak in English.

Teaching children is hard enough, but when I worked teaching 2-4 year olds at a day-care in Phuket, to be brutally frank, some of the children seemed so profoundly "special need"-ed that 100 years ago they probably would have been suffocated at birth or chained up in the basement.

They just toss them in with the others, but what are they going to do, turn down their entrance money? Not likely. Language Fuck School back in Russia would take money from Martian or deaf-mutes alike and tell them they had trained specialists available. Then toss them in a room with some poor back-packer kid and hope for the best.

So, just another day in the thankless, difficult life of an English teacher. . .