Image courtesy of Nathan Siemers

Yep, I’m back, but with a caveat. My concern about how we treat each other as ELT professionals hasn’t changed. In fact, that is the focus of this post. While most of my posts are mostly planned out before I sit down at the computer, this is one of those that is just a general idea and I hope that by typing it out, some of my thoughts will start to sort themselves out and will become more cohesive by the end. Either that, or this post will be a disaster.

A lot has happened in the past month with the TESOL conference in Portland and IATEFL in Harrogate as well as the discussions that followed. The major discussion has been focused on the session presented by Sugata Mitra and one given by Russ Mayne. Surprisingly, those are not the issues I want to discuss here. Instead, my focus is on how we conduct ourselves with interacting with others within our field (or with people in general). I feel we have become too comfortable with the ‘snark’ remark. Biting, sarcastic responses have become so commonplace, there are those who feel it is now expected in order to make a point. Well, I for one feel we are heading down a dangerous path.

I am not perfect. I hope no one ever feels that I think I am perfect or better than anybody else. I am a living, breathing person with feelings just like everyone else on this planet. Just because I have more education or experience than someone else does not make me somehow more important than them. Regardless of how I have been treated, I do not need to reply in kind and ‘make them pay’ for their actions. I am also not a fan of the use of satire to make a point. It only pushes people away instead of inspiring meaningful dialogue. It muddies the issues and only hurts people. There are much more effective ways of expressing your disagreement without having to put others down. The number one rule in my classroom is to respect one another. I feel there is a decided lack of respect for those who are working hard to make a difference in the ELT community and within their own classrooms.

Another thing that worries me is that we are allowing this to happen, maybe even endorsing it by doing two dangerous things: putting others on pedestals and sharing things that others have said or written that are disrespectful to others. Again, you can disagree and even believe that others are heading down a dangerous path, but name calling and foul language is unnecessary. We can also admire what someone has done and give them credit, but to allow others to be above others almost like celebrities, we are saying to others around us that there is a hierarchy and we are not worthy to be a part of that. Worse yet is that some of this is happening not because of the content, but as a means to gain recognition in the eyes of those we see as more important than others.

So what do we do? It is always easy to point our what is wrong, but it is a lot more difficult to find solutions. Well, I don’t have a lot of ideas, but here are some that come to mind:

  • Turn off the auto-retweet. Sharing a person’s blog posts just because ‘a person of importance’ has written it shows that we think more about of the person than the content. First, read it. Follow that with a dose of critical thinking. Then share if it is worth sharing. Yes, the person is important and a sure way of showing that is to read what they have written before posting it.
  • Tune out those who yell or complain the most. On many occasions, I have decided to unfollow someone on Twitter in order to stop the frustration that builds each time I read another thing from them that intentionally hurts others. No, I am not advocating ‘sticking your fingers in your ears’ in order to only get information that you agree with, I am merely talking about the manner in which it is presented. If a person is constantly disrespectful to others in how they interact with them, I will ‘put them on mute’ and walk away for a while, maybe forever.
  • Stop accepting everything that is put before you by the most ‘famous’ authors, presenters, etc. in the field. They often have great material, but even they would want you to examine it with a critical eye. If they don’t, well, that says a lot about how they feel about themselves and you in particular.
  • Promote those who are struggling through things in their own classrooms. We are quick to share material that may get us a lot of retweets, but there is so many amazing material being shared by those we are hammering away at things without much recognition.
  • Along those same lines, don’t be so quick to dismiss others who are excited about what they have achieved in their classroom when you feel they are ‘doing it all wrong’. Yes, there is a place to help them see where what they are doing may not be ideal, but congratulate them on seeking out ways to help their students. Discouraging them by pointing out their errors isn’t always necessary. If a student in your language classroom writes a paragraph on a topic for the first time, are we quick to point out the fact they didn’t have a good topic sentence or supporting evidence? No. We are likely to tell them what they did well and congratulate them on their achievement. They know it isn’t perfect, but they just want to be acknowledged for what they were able to do on their own. As we build a trusting dialogue, we can help guide them to become better writers. This shouldn’t be any different for those we interact with online.

In the spirit of respect and acknowledging others who don’t always get the credit they deserve, here are some people who have made a difference in my life online as an ELT professional. This is certainly not a complete list (which is a dangerous thing to do, but here goes):

  • Tyson Seburn: He has been an incredible support to me as an ELT professional and personifies what I am talking about here. Encouraging, yet able to tactfully engage with those who he feels needs some direction. I don’t always agree with him, but through his work in building a trusting professional relationship with me, I feel I can discuss things with him and never feel disrespected. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing. 🙂
  • Baiba Svenca: A gem. She is so encouraging and she takes time to talk with others online while treating them as a real person, something often lacking online.
  • Sheila Stewart: Someone I met on Twitter and then got to know in person. We always seem to be on the same wavelength. Such an advocate for student-parent-teacher engagement.
  • English Online (numerous people): Can’t say enough about this group. Consummate professionals. Follow them all.
  • Vicky and Eugenia Loras (The Loras Network): A fine example of how you can promote your business while still putting others first. Smart, kind, and incredibly committed to improving things in the ELT community and their own classrooms. Well done, ladies!
  • Florentina Taylor: Intelligent, yet down-to-earth. She is someone I feel I could learn so much from. I have a great deal of respect for her and what she is doing, especially in the tricky area of academia.
  • Anne Hendler: Someone who is willing to be vulnerable by sharing what she is doing while encouraging others by thoughtfully reading, commenting, and sharing what others are doing as well. Embodies exactly what I was talking about above.
  • Phil Chappell: Intelligent, yet never pretentious. When he shares something, I jump at it since it is almost guaranteed to be something of depth and importance. On the flip side, he is very approachable and respectful. A valuable asset that AusELT is lucky to have.
  • Sophia Khan: Another amazing person to follow from AusELT (now in Singapore). Kind, smart, and willing to share what she is doing, thinking, and even struggling with in her work as an ELT professional.
  • Lesley Cioccarelli: Incredibly active online and in her local community as an ELT professional. Always has something intelligent and good to share with others. Finishes an AusELT trifecta.
  • Naomi Epstein: Kind, kind, kind. Naomi puts you at ease so quickly and has so many interesting and intelligent things to share. Her blog on teaching EFL to deaf and hard of hearing students is so enlightening. Really worth reading.
There are loads of others who deserve mention, but these are some of those that I feel truly capture the spirit of what I am talking about here. All of them are intelligent, kind, hard-working people who are incredibly supportive and active within their community. They are willing to take on tough topics and even correct others who stray, but do so in an incredibly respectful way. I would be so lucky as to emulate them. Thank you to each one of them. You are an example to us all.

22 thoughts on “Disagreeing

  1. Dear Nathan,
    First of all, THANK YOU and secondly, … oh, how I agree!
    Thanking you, in turn, for all your support, kindness, professionalism and dedication to our wonderful profession,

  2. Appreciate your candor, insight, and bravery, Nathan! You have often helped me find and see the best in people, connections and conduct in these networks. Thanks for your friendship! So glad we connected… however that happened in the first place! 🙂

    Touched by your kind words about my efforts! Thank you… meant a lot!

    1. It is my pleasure, Sheila. I am amazed how easy it was to go from discussing things online to meeting face-to-face. I am grateful for your comments and support.

  3. Well said, Nathan. I’m glad you haven’t handed in your blogging pass. It’s clear that you have important things to share.
    Thank you for the mention. I’m really touched. And thank you also for the nice long list of people to follow. Makes my life richer.

  4. Nathan, this is a very important message I think. The kind of support we give each other is what makes the profession richer, and by excluding people just because they might not be as widely-read, or as experienced, or have the same mind-set, or or or… is a way of alienating them and stopping them wanting to discover more. The list of people you have shared includes some people I have had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with, and others who are new to me. Thank you!

    1. I appreciate the comment, Sandy. Your hit the problem right on the head. Thank you for taking the time to comment and for adding to the conversation. I haven’t had a lot of interaction with you, but from what I have seen, you are another one of those who is active in supporting others in a respectful manner. Thank you.

  5. After this past month of negativity on the web and in ELT specifically, your post is an oasis, Nathan. Thank you so much for this and for the wonderful mention.

  6. Hiya, @sophiakhan4 here 🙂 At risk of repeating myself, thanks again for the kind mention – and the great tips for new people to follow. The issue that prompted you to write this post in one that has bothered me for a long time in Social Media Land, and not only in ELT but in plenty of other domains. Like you, I tune out (or unfollow) people who I find too depressingly negative, critical or small-minded. I’d rather find solutions than spend forever in a whinge-mire, and I like that you took this slant in your post too. I don’t mind risqué or controversial or a even a few well-placed swear-words (maybe it’s a British thing? 🙂 ) but I have real problems with discourtesy/outright blunt rudeness – or even aggression. Luckily this is rare in our professional discourse community, but ideally it should’t happen at all (at least not unless you really would say this to a person’s face – and in that case, there’s a reason for the phrase ‘take it outside’ – or is that British thing too?) I also appreciate your call to respect all people’s contributions and journeys regardless of age/experience/qualifications. In fact that’s one thing I really love about Twitter (yes, we have a love-hate relationship) – in theory it’s a level playing field – we all have something to contribute and something to learn from each other. Anyone who thinks they have all the answers has stopped learning. Keep blogging 🙂

  7. Hi Nathan and many thanks for posting this. It’s incredibly important to all the online ELT communities, and I hope it gets shared wide and far. I must admit to avoiding reading the recent discussions since I had a feeling it would bring out those kinds of comments from people. Gosh, if only we knew enough to be confident that what X did in her classroom is right, or that Y is so wrong to make that claim. Respectful discussion and debate will keep us all moving forward, yet flaming, or whatever else it’s called, will just stifle all our efforts. Thanks again, and at the risk of sounding a bit new-age, I want to repeat a lyric from my all-time favourite musician, and a Canadian, to boot, Neil Young.

    A little love and affection
    in everything you do
    will make the world a better place
    with or without you.


    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I am actually quite surprised from the response to this post. It was really just a jumble of thoughts that I tried to get into some sort semblance of order. I am happy that it has somehow resonated with people.

  8. Nathan – An on-spot post. I have somehow largely avoided the negativity alluded to since Harrogate, only hearing about it in the periphery of my online reading. I wonder if that has something to do with the suggestions you give and the attitudes you recommend taking.

    I’m glad to have interacted with you over the last few years and certainly appreciate the investment and integrity you demonstrate through your interactions with me (and with others I’m sure). Now if only I could get myself back into regular blogging like you!

    1. Yes! We need you back on the blogging front! I don’t want you extending yourself too much, but I know I speak for others as well when I say your blog is always worth reading.

      Thanks for your comment.

  9. Thanks from me too for the honourable mention 🙂

    I must have missed quite a bit as I’m not sure what might have sparked this post, but understand and agree with your sentiments. My social media use is carried out in ‘fits and starts’ and I have a pretty active personal filter, so I’ve missed other things too. I also filter out those who I find disrespectful, or that post completely irrelevant things using hashtags, etc.

    Plus I often only learn what I need as I need it – I didn’t know you could ‘auto-retweet’! It never even occurred to me that anyone should want to, but I guess it would account for a lot of the retweets I’ve seen. Why would anyone retweet something without first checking what it is?

    Fortunately, there are enough good people who are only there to share and learn to push the disagreeable ones into the background.

    Thanks, Nathan, for all you share, and the support and encouragement you offer to others.

  10. I’m quite new to the Twitterverse and the blogosphere, but even I have come across some jaw dropping blog discussions. Quite surprising. I found your comments about people having much to share regardless of their celebrity status quite true. Since I don’t really know the players on the other side of any of the ponds very well yet, I’ve been reading and following people based solely on content and tone of comments and tweets. It’s quite liberating to be so ignorant of the back stories and pedestals. Thank you so much for the list of quality sharers to follow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s