Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

Ooooooh dear…. everywhere you look, there seems to be negative news.

Here in the UK, the banking crisis, the savage government spending cuts that are only affecting the poor, the terrible weather, and lesser disasters such as the worse than useless performance of the England football team at Euro 2012.

Andy Murray was supposed to lighten up the mood by winning Wimbledon. He didn’t.

Another gallant British loser at Wimbledon…

Factor in international news – the financial panic in most of Europe, the horrors taking place in Syria and the nightmare possibility of Mitt Romney becoming US President, it seems as if the bad news is constant and never-ending.

What can you do?

Covering your eyes and ears and sticking your head in the sand – a clever act of contortion if you can manage it – is not the answer. But deciding that the world is going to hell in a handcart and that life is just too awful isn’t the answer either.

Life has to go on. We all have to keep our shoulders to the wheel, our noses to the grindstone and our heads above water …

OK, no more idiomatic nonsense, I’ll stick to image-free words and thoughts from now on.

At times like this, you have to make your own personal list of reasons to be cheerful. Try to think of five and think about them all day. And tomorrow, think of another five reasons. They aren’t hard to find.

I have a lot of personal family reasons to be cheerful these days, so I won’t bore you with them. Except one, which I’ll talk about at the end.

Here are my five reasons to be cheerful.

1       The weather

Fulham High Street, earlier today…

OK, this is just for people based in the UK. Readers from other countries can skip this.

Spring and summer 2012 have been a washout. It has rained almost every day and we have had to endure the wettest April and June since records began. That’s what it says on the Met Office website – as far as I can remember, May was quite wet, too.

Now we’re in the middle of July and things haven’t changed. Temperatures in some parts of the country are lower than they were on Christmas Day 2011. Must be awful if you’re on vacation, planning a picnic, looking to get a suntan, sitting on your balcony, putting the washing out to dry etc etc…

My goodness, we have short memories, don’t we?

On 16th April, the Environmental Agency wrote the following on their website:

Seventeen counties in South West England and the Midlands have moved into official drought status, after two dry winters have left rivers and ground waters depleted. Public water supplies in these areas are unlikely to be affected yet, but the lack of rain is taking its toll on the environment and farmers, causing problems for wildlife, wetlands and crop production.

The Environment Agency is urging businesses, water companies and consumers all to play their part by using water wisely, to help conserve precious water supplies. In the Midlands, we have rescued fish from the River Lathkill in Derbyshire after it dried up, and the Rivers Tern, Sow, Soar and Leadon reached their lowest ever recorded levels in March. We are warning that the drought could last beyond Christmas.

Apparently, there was a very real worry that some reservoirs could dry up completely. Some areas would have no domestic water supply at all.

Well, this sure as hell ain’t the problem any more. Did anyone notice the news at the bottom of page 99 last week? All our reservoirs are now full to capacity! Yay!!

We needed this rain. It may not feel like it, but full reservoirs are slightly more important than a washed-out holiday.

2       Roger Federer

Federer in action at Wimbledon

Earlier this month, like many Brits, I was kind of hoping that Andy Murray would end ‘76 years of hurt’ and become the first man from these shores to win the Wimbledon Singles title since Fred Perry in 1936. In fact, 1936 was the third year in a row that Perry had won the title.

Murray didn’t win, of course. He lost to Roger Federer, truly a master of the sport, possibly the greatest tennis player of all time.  I am so glad to have had the chance to see Federer play because he’s an artist. In ten years’ time, when all male tennis players are three metres tall, serving at 200 kilometres an hour and the game has lost its soul, we will look back with joy to think that we saw this Swiss genius in action.

Most of us have only seen Federer on TV, of course. Frankly, that is not a problem. The match with Murray was incredible to watch. Good sport is always incredible to watch on TV these days, because the technology is amazing. Another reason to be cheerful.

In fact, although people seem to find plenty to complain about, the fact is we’re living in a golden age of television – The Wire, The Sopranos, The Simpsons, House, Mad Men, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Lost – if there isn’t something in there that excites you, then TV isn’t your thing.

The Wire – the best of a good crop in TV’s new golden age

Oh, and there are some quite decent British TV shows, too!

If we can just do something about Fox News and other wildly inaccurate news providers, TV will indeed be a reason to be cheerful.

Actually, TV news in the UK DID get better this year. The live-screening of the Leveson Inquiry was a major reason to be cheerful. This is what happened….

3       The humbling of Rupert Murdoch and his cronies

Murdoch faces the Leveson Inquiry; at first arrogant, by the end just a little desperate…

I don’t know how much coverage the Leveson Inquiry has received in other countries. It’s an ongoing public inquiry into British media ethics after what became known as the phone hacking scandal, which initially focussed on the work of journalists from a Sunday newspaper called The News Of The World.

Lord Justice Leveson, the man who was asked by the government to set up the inquiry, widened its scope beyond phone-hacking to include allegations of illicit payments to police by the press, and further investigations into other aspects of the British media, particularly the relationship between the press and government ministers.

Prime Minister Cameron, who gave his consent for the inquiry to be set up, must have been astonished when he himself was called to give evidence. He had to do it, along with several other ministers and ministerial advisers.

Robert Jay, QC – Leveson inquisitor…

The undoubted star of the inquiry was (and still is at time of writing) a quietly-spoken barrister called Robert Jay, who has done most of the questioning. This small, bespectacled man is not only brilliantly prepared, extremely bright and articulate, he is also as persistent as a Rottweiler hanging on to a postman’s trouser leg. No one can get away with an airy generalisation for an answer.

I hope I’m not the only one who has enjoyed seeing all kinds of people, including Rupert Murdoch himself, looking desperately uncomfortable in the face of Jay’s calm, methodical questioning.

4       ELT professional development

OK, this one is just for English teachers. Anyone else can skip to number 5.

I’ve been involved in ELT for 40 years, so of course I’ve seen a lot of changes. But I honestly believe that the business of English teaching is going through a golden age at the moment. There are some terrific educators around and some great new ideas.

What makes things extra special is how available and accessible these educators and ideas are.

As recently as ten years ago, if you wanted to see an ELT ‘star’ talk about their work, you had to go to a conference, or to some special presentation arranged in your area. If you couldn’t afford to attend conferences, and you didn’t live in or near the cities where the presentations took place, that was that. No chance for that kind of professional development.

Conferences are getting better, and being there is still the best thing. But it is no longer the ONLY thing. Live-streaming has made it possible to at least sample the flavour of some of the bigger conferences on your computer screen. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes easier for smaller conferences to live-stream, too.

And between conferences, there are webinars and Eltchat. Personally, I think webinar technology has a way to go to be completely riveting, but all these things help bring people together and make teachers feel less isolated, especially the ones who don’t feel they have sympathetic colleagues.

ELTchat on twitter is also brilliant for helping teachers feel connected to the wider ELT community.

The most famous dog and owner in ELT

A special mention here for my friend Shelly Terrell, who manages to provide free weekly webinars about all kinds of ELT-related matters, no matter where she is. In April, I was at a party in London with Shelly and others. At the appointed time, Shelly took herself off into another room and did the webinar she had promised. What a trooper!

For information about Shelly’s webinars, go here – Http://Bit.ly/ELTLINKs

5       My daughter Anya’s blog

Anya’s blog

And blogs! Another reason to be cheerful. I’ve always been a disorganised, eclectic reader, and this is true of my professional development. I prefer reading snappy articles in magazines like English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher rather than the more worthy stuff in English Language Teaching Journal. Sorry if this makes me sound a bit superficial or if is upsets anyone who prefers to read the heavier stuff, but it’s the truth.

Following blog trails is completely random and exciting. And they open your mind to new ideas from young, enthusiastic teachers as well as crusty old gits like me and … well, you know who the other crusty old ELT blogger gits are.

But my favourite blog at the moment – surprise, surprise – is written by my daughter Anya Hayes.

Anya had a baby son this time last year and like all new parents, she and her husband Ben had to deal with the sudden changes and demands that these new circumstances require. Anya has also been setting up in business as a Pilates teacher.

She decided to blog about it all – the mix of parenthood, work and the other changes in her life.

I love the way she writes – I know, I WOULD say that, wouldn’t I?  But the main thing about Anya’s blog posts is that they cheer me up, and I hope they do the same for other people who read them.

Anya’s baby is called Maurice, or Mo for short. When you know this, the title of the blog should make sense.


I hope you have taken some positives from my reasons to be cheerful, and I’d be really pleased if you add your own reason(s) in the comments below. Together we can banish the blues caused by a combination of terrible weather and even worse governments.

 PS – My next blog post will feature the blogs of some ELT people I have encountered in the last couple of years, all of whom have something interesting to say. And I’ve asked them to identify a blog that they like reading, too. So two for the price of one, in all cases.


Comments on: "Reasons to be cheerful – numbers 1 to 5…" (9)

  1. Debbie said:

    Lovely post Ken! You look happy now I know some reasons why you look so. Memoandjoepilates is SUPER! Love the way she writes, funny, and Mo will smile when he can listen to what his mom wrote, this kind of diary. I wrote letters even before my daughter was born, still remember her face when I read them to her, and when she was able to read I gave her all these pink letters. Now, we blog together. This is a reason why I am cheerful.
    And yes, the fact that I am learning like never before because of the generosity of so many teachers is another reason that makes me cheerful.
    Thanks for sharing this post, great sunny day in Buenos Aires

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Thanks, Debbie. I think I am happy most of the time anyway, but I’m aware that there’s a lot of negativity about, and I feel a personal need to shake it off, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to work and function as a member of this family and society in general.

      This doesn’t mean that we should ignore all the terrible things that are going on, and we should strive to be part of positive change where we can. My wife Dede and I are both throwing ourselves into the campaign to fight the closure of our local hospital.

      Starting local is the key!

      Here’s a link to an article about potential hospital closures in West London – http://ind.pn/nvmAu5

  2. Thank you for being so positive – I was feeling a bit grumpy about the weather and needed a reminder of how nice it was back in April/May. Anyway another reason to be cheerful (and this is general cheerfulness about how things were not necessarily better in the ‘old’ days): my son just had braces fitted. As a parent with rather “British” teeth I think it’s brilliant how dentistry has moved on and how kids no longer get bullied for having braces (it’s almost the opposite in fact – the ‘in’ crowd all have braces!). So now I have a red-headed teenage son with braces and I don’t need to worry about him being bullied in the way my red-headed braced friend was back in my days at secondary school.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      That’s a REALLY big thing to be cheerful about! I know I’m an incurable optimist, but I DO feel that each new generation of children has at least a chance of being more tolerant than the last about a whole raft of things, from ethnicity to sexual orientation to size to colour of hair. The battle won’t be won until no one is ever singled out for being different in a negative way.

  3. As someone who has recently become a parent, your daughter might be interested to know, unless she already knows it, that “anya” means mother in Hungarian.

    • Thank you, Árpád! Yes, Anya visited Hungary some years ago when she found this out. Also interesting that her mother’s name – Dede – means ‘young brother’ in Chinese. Dede and I did a joint presentation in Beijing once, and I started by saying: ‘My name is Ken and this is Dede..’ The looks on the teachers’ faces were priceless. 😀

  4. Thank you Ken for your blog. You brought quite a few smiles to my face! I am happy that the sun is shining at the moment, looks lovely outside (everything lush and green thanks to the rain 😉 and I am truly grateful to be able to do work that I truly love and enjoy doing 🙂

  5. If it isn’t inappropriate to quote the British punk Ian Dury in the current circumstances, Australia really does still have some ”reasons to be cheerful”.

  6. Philip Prowse said:

    Hi Ken

    Great post from JALT!

    Back in July you wrote: I prefer reading snappy articles in magazines like English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher rather than the more worthy stuff in English Language Teaching Journal.

    Not to try and make you change your mind – perish the thought and I love ETp and MET- but for those who don’t read ELTJ regularly here’s a chance to do it free!

    Free articles in English Language Teaching Journal

    The October 2012 issue of English Language Teaching Journal is a special one looking back over developments in ELT over the last seventeen years under the editorship of Keith Morrow. To mark this event three articles are available free on-line at http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/current This link takes you to the contents page which will show you that the Editorial by Keith Morrow, Key Concepts in ELT by Graham Hall and Review of ELTJ reviews 1995-2012 by Alan Maley are all available free to read as HTML or a PDF. Just click and read!

    All best


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