Five things I learned in 2020

2020 was a wild one, wasn’t it? As I dealt with a tumultuous unpredictability both professionally and personally from March onward, I found myself withdrawing a bit from the digital world: tweeting less, blogging less. But after a bit of distance, now I’m getting back into my online life (though still trying to keep the doomscrolling in check).

Despite everything I was really busy last year with a lot of new projects. In these first months of 2021, I’ve been reflecting on the last year, and realizing that I learned so much! Here are five important takeaways for me.

  1. Being an editor doesn’t necessarily involve much editing. Carole MacDiarmid and I are (first-time) co-editors of an academic volume entitled Pedagogies in English for Academic Purposes: Teaching and Learning in International Contexts (on shelves in August 2021!). With the proposal for the book accepted and the contributors lined up in 2019, in 2020 chapters were submitted to us, and we went through rounds of review and revision before submitting the full manuscript in December. Although the title “editor” for me had previously conjured up images of making a paper bleed with red ink, there was very little work directly on authors’ writing or texts involved! I would describe the role as being a project manager with lots of subject knowledge and expertise. I had of course worked with editors before as an author, but it was great to learn this first-hand.
  2. The dark side of ELT is alive and well. I had a blast teaching a Master’s course called International Issues in English Language Teaching at Saint Mary’s University to a group of language teachers from different contexts around the world. We discussed critical issues in ELT—native speakerism, colonialism, racism, neoliberalism, etc.—and how these influence methods, materials, assessment, policies and instruction. And lest anyone think that these issues are not a big deal anymore (Canagarjah’s Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Language Teaching came out in 1999, that problem must now be solved, right????), my students would tell you differently. These nefarious forces are being battled every day, in ways big and small, in educators’ teaching practice the world over.
  3. The need to move from a monolingual to a multilingual “default” student in teacher education. I taught a Master’s course on MSVU’s TESOL Program this summer (Technology in Language Education) where I had a group of keen and engaged teachers, most of whom were working in primary and secondary contexts here in Canada or abroad. The majority of the teachers weren’t language teachers–they taught various other subjects but were enrolled in the TESOL program and/or the course out of a desire to be able to better serve the multilingual students in their classes. Nowhere in their previous teacher training were they taught how to deal with linguistic diversity in their classes, be it with newcomers or EAL students in their classes in an Anglo Canadian context, or students in an immersion or CLIL setting here or elsewhere. As these teachers shared with me, and as discussed in this recent ACLA/CAAL talk, there is an urgent need to stop training teachers around the idea of the “default” student in their classes being a monolingual Anglophone, with multilingual students being some sort of anomaly. We should acknowledge the multilingual nature of our schools and communities across Canada (it’s not just in large cities!) and center multilingual students and multilingualism and, importantly, provide all teachers with the tools to support multilingual students.
  4. Teaching in an additional language is hard. I mean, duh, I knew this long before 2020. But I led an online professional development course in the internationalization of teaching and learning for faculty in Latin America in Spanish called Innovación pedagógica en contextos de internacionalización. I designed, developed and taught the course alongside two colleagues. I’d done talks and presentations before in my additional languages, but never a whole course. It was great fun and I learned A TON (like the word for the little gear icon, or how to talk about outcomes and scaffolding and Universal Design in Spanish!). Most of all, it gave me tons of additional insight into teaching in an additional language that I’ll bring to Dalhousie’s Professional Development Certificate in English-Medium Instruction as we prepare to expand its offerings.
  5. Everything takes so much longer online. Like practically everyone at every institution everywhere the “pivot to online” occupied a huge part of my year professionally. A major thing I (and many others) have learned is that every part of online education takes longer online: for teachers, it’s designing and building courses, prepping for and teaching synchronously, designing and correcting assessments and exams and delivering feedback. For students, it takes longer to get into breakout rooms for groupwork and carry out those tasks, student assignments take longer to complete online. Online education presents so many affordancesaccessibility and flexibility top among them for mebut we’ve all had to adapt and adjust as we’ve come to the realization about how long things take.

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