The 22nd international conference for English language teaching professionals by IATEFL Hungary

Scott Thornbury on keeping yourself inspired (Plenary)

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Scott began by looking at some of the reasons that teachers might get to feel jaded as their career progresses. He revealed his own pet peeve as being the rampant commoditization of ELT, with words from the world of business being drafted in, such as ‘outcomes’, ‘solutions’, ‘value-added’, ‘accountability’ and so on. All of this merely serves to place the humble teacher even lower in the food-chain than they already are. Scott also outlined another reason why many teachers lose their spark. They learn all kinds of exciting and progressive ideas and methods during training, only to find them stamped upon by the authorities that be when they try to put them into practice – for example, no group work because it’s too noisy.

Scott reported on a crowd-sourcing mini-survey he conducted on twitter on the topic of what keeps us teachers going. He classified the responses into four types: 1. Good learner feedback and results; 2. Peer support; 3. External validation eg from your boss, and 4. Your personal intrinsic drive. Very often, 4 is the only source of motivation available to you, so you can you get more of it? To answer this question, Scott looked outside of the ELT world to a motivational book written by a practising surgeon, Atul Gawande, author of the book, “Better”. Scott digested the message of this book into five tips:

  1. Don’t complain. Complaining is a downward spiral. Instead, we should try to ‘keep the conversation going’. A good forum for doing this is to seek out a peer group through the social media and chat with them, seeking positive solutions.
  2. Ask an unscripted question. For example, ask your students something that isn’t just about the lesson – how they feel about different approaches for example.
  3. Count something. In other words, conduct small, informal pieces of action research, such as counting the number of times students ask a question unsolicited.
  4. Write something. Writing helps you to step back and take the longer view. A good way to do this is to take your own initiative and keep a blog.
  5. Change. Try a different way of doing something. Step outside your comfort zone.


Written by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald

Visit Mark and Annie’s blog offering free articles, reviews and a lot more in ELT.


Author: IATEFL-Hungary

The International Association of Teachers of English in Hungary

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