Last month, I was stuck at Guarulhos Airport São Paulo for six hours, waiting for a flight back to London. The wait was actually a very pleasant one, because I spent it in the company of Cleve Miller, one of the driving forces behind English 360. Cleve had missed his connection to New York and had even longer to wait than me.
During a long and enjoyable sushi lunch, we shared information about various things to do with the wider world of ELT.
One of the things I told Cleve about was the Hornby Trust.
AS Hornby wrote what was to become known as the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English a very long time ago. He then made the extremely generous decision to place a sizeable slice of his earnings from the project into a trust fund that would finance teacher training. More than half a century later, hundreds of English teachers worldwide have benefitted from his generosity and continue to do so.
Cleve, an American, thought it was very amusing when I told him that Hornby was ‘embarrassed’ by the amount of royalties he received. I hope this is true – it was how someone who knew Hornby once described to me his reaction to the riches which were suddenly thrust upon him. Cleve thought that this response was ‘SO British’.
Even though the Trust is well established and well known, I think it deserves a twenty-first century honourable mention, so that’s what I intend to do here. So – for those of you who don’t know much about it – a bit of background.
The Hornby Trust, in association with the British Council, funds an MA scholarship scheme for English language teachers and teacher trainers from countries in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. There are ten scholarships a year in total.
In addition, and possibly of greater importance because of the vast number of teachers who benefit from it, there are regional summer schools and workshops for teachers all over the world.
Hornby was born in 1898. He studied English at University College London, graduating in 1922. In 1923, he went to teach English Literature in a small provincial college in Japan. When he got there, he realized that what his students really needed was language training, and he threw himself enthusiastically into this work. News of the young teacher’s good work in language development spread.
Eventually, he was contacted by Harold Palmer, the director of the Tokyo Institute for Research into English Teaching (IRET). Palmer invited Hornby to work with him on a vocabulary research programme. They worked together at IRET for many years and Hornby took over the department when his mentor left. The work he did there led directly to the compilation of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.
What I love about the Hornby story is that it hinges on a chance meeting and subsequent collaboration. I think these things happen to lots of us in ELT and probably in other fields too. These meetings often cause massive changes in career and work options. It should make people rejoice that having a clear career plan from an early age and sticking to it isn’t the only – or even an advisable – way to go about your working life.
Even if he wasn’t actually embarrassed by the money he was making from the project, Hornby clearly felt that the teachers who bought the book deserved to benefit from his good fortune, so he set up the Trust.
By doing so, he set a standard of altruism that most of us who make a living out of writing ELT materials are unlikely ever to match. But I think that more of us should nevertheless try to follow his example and plough something back into the business that has made us a good living.
ELT conferences, both national and international, are a great place to meet and share ideas with people who do similar work but who come from different backgrounds. Contact with like-minded people from other countries can have a really profound effect on the work that teachers do. And teachers who don’t have the wherewithal to fund a visit themselves, should at least have the chance to apply or compete for grants to help them do it.
And let’s face it – conferences these days are a lot of fun. Attendees may write their reports about the talks and workshops that they attended, but their strongest memories are more likely to be the parties and other less formal social events that they were at. And quite right, too!
IATEFL UK has a series of grants available to its members, so well done to that organization for making sure they continue. I was also very pleased to discover recently that there’s a Headway Scholarship Trust, funded by the Headway authors themselves. John and Liz Soars choose a different country every year, and the local OUP people there find four or five teachers who get the chance to come to the UK for a summer school.
There are many millions of English teachers in the world – more than eleven million in China alone – so these might seem like very small gestures. But they are important gestures nonetheless, and more are needed.
I look forward to a time when I feel I’m making enough money to start the Smart Choice Fund. I would love to be able to sponsor future generations of teachers to attend conferences and help them have a memorable time
at karaoke nights at talks and workshops well into the 2020s and 2030s. :)
You can find out more about Hornby here – http://bit.ly/iORfrK