Podcasts: Teflology

In this, my summer of boredom — I’ve been without a job for about four months now and it is the worst thing I think I’ve ever experienced, in terms of mental stimulation — I have taken to listening to podcasts while walking, to make sure I get in at least 30 minutes of activity a day. I started out with Freakonomics Radio, learning things about the “suicide paradox” and whether we should bribe children. They were interesting enough topics, but I found they didn’t really engage me much.

Then, being that I have been pining over my exit from the TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) world for the past several months, I thought to investigate TEFL-related podcasts. Lo and behold, there is a recently-launched podcast called Teflology. Here are some nuggets of wisdom I took away from their first episode.

The three EFL teachers on the podcast discussed an intriguing character called Ranald McDonald. No, that’s not a typo for the mega-conglomerate that sells nuggets and burgers; it’s the name of one of the first EFL teachers in Japan. McDonald wanted to investigate his purported Japanese ancestry and so, illegally at the time, he entered Japan as a foreigner. By some turn of events, he was asked to teach English to some of the native citizens there. Having recently returned from my own stint teaching English in Japan, it was nice to hear about the origins of the eikaiwa (conversation schools) in that country.

Another topic discussed was that of assigning presentations in the EFL classroom. I was somewhat surprised to hear that two of the three self-proclaimed “teflologists” essentially abhorred this concept, stating that nothing new is learned by any party in presentations, and that it is a waste of time. Thinking back to my own experience assigning presentations, I tended to lean toward the side of simply presenting a project, rather than completely new information.

In an elective class I taught on American culture, I had students design a menu for a fusion restaurant, then presenting the menu and its options to the class for a vote on the best new restaurant. In that same class, I overviewed American history and assigned pair projects to research various events, then creating a poster to present. I think it was less about the value of the presentation itself; the presentation was merely a tool to cap off the project, while the research and the poster-making was the real exercise of the target language.

An alternative to traditional presentations, pecha kucha, was deemed a more desirable format. In this model, presenters are granted 20 seconds per slide for 20 slides of information, theoretically in order to avoid walls of text in PowerPoint slides. Pecha kucha means essentially “chit-chat,” and is certainly a tactic I might experiment with, if I can ever edge my way back into TEFL.

Unrelated to the podcast, but I have devised a vague plan for my career, seeing as I am really not excited for the assistant work I am about to start, and TEFL is the only thing that has ever professionally excited me as much as it does. I hope to spend two years doing what I am about to start — assisting special education teachers — and then apply again for TEFL positions in my area. Hopefully along with that, I can pursue a part-time TESOL M.A. or perhaps a DELTA.

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