Eltabber of the month: Ryan O’Shea

Website: eigenenglish.de exitroute.org

1. What was the best/worst thing about managing a language school?

Sharing success/failing personally.

2. Do you think managing a language schools gave new insights into teaching?

Yes, plenty. Especially with all the practical work with teachers: 1000s of hours of observations, feedback sessions, doing new teacher onboarding, taking about PDP and teaching goals, and running teacher workshops. I got to find out how dozens of other teachers think about teaching and working in the classroom. It was a privilege. But the biggest insight was seeing how teaching was embedded into a business across Germany. That made my own approach to what I did in the classroom much more consequential.

3. What have you been working on since leaving Wall Street?

a. My elevator pitch. I didn’t have one a year ago, but after a year of trial and error I know more about my interests and skills.

b. The workload at WSE from mid 2016 onwards halved, so I repurposed the school and did some cultural work called the “Exit Through the Language
School” series, which involved 24 contributors, set building, actionist performances, psych-fi rock stars, banned paintings, sculptures, readings, and some minor scandals. After that I took a break and then did a cycle trip to Barcelona from Berlin.

c. Coming back to Berlin, I worked on my German and on an ex-colleague’s new business. I then left that project in December and re-entered ELT with my own mix of coaching, TBL, Dogme, some CLL, called EigenEnglish.

d. I also became interested again in the Berlin startup scene and have been trying to figure that out. Finally, going to startup meetups led me to UX design, which led me to service design, which led me to learning about “learning experience design” (LXD). LXD has given me several “Aha!”

4. What about Dogme excites you? Have you got any tips for novices on how to incorporate it into the classroom

a. Coincidently, my project in the LXD course was about training trainers and workshop leaders to have a materials light approach. But I wouldn’t
recommend novice teachers incorporate it into lessons. Novice teachers need to acquire basic classrooms skills and develop a relationship with the target subject that is appropriate for classroom use.

b. But after that, it’s like any skills development process. Do the research, talk to people, think about your learners and the relationship the have with the material you bring in, start to experiment in a structured way, and try again, and again. But don’t be dogmatic about it. Best be light.

c. My analogy is to jazz. Jazz musicians learn scales and chord progressions endlessly before doing any improv. They don’t just jump in. That would be daft.

d. Dogme excited me back in 2004 as it spoke to my interest in critical practice and working with emergence. It was the last thing that I expected to find in ELT and the approach seemed to suit the methodology at WSE. It still excites me because it continues to be controversial, relevant, and part of an community led approach to language teaching that does not serve publishers and photocopy companies. The granular lesson plan and curriculum written prior to the event might have more tricks, more features, but responding on point to a group has craft. It speaks to a sophisticated skill that is immanent to the worker. It’s the antithesis of being an alienated ELT worker. Surely, thinking and acting with critical ability in any situation is what being a skilled professional is all about.

5. What kind of market is there for ELT professionals on the Berlin Startup scene?

Not much in terms of ELT bread and butter. Most conversations are in English and most tech workers would test at B1, at the very, very least. The market could be in training communicative competences for 2018 and not a decade ago. There is certainly a need for intercultural communication skills among monolingual native English speakers. Non-native English speakers understand each other but say they have problems with native speakers, who are in the minority. Maybe native English speakers should reconsider those stock phrases and use fewer euphemisms. Maybe, a bit less “bread and butter” please.

6. What can ELT teachers learn from the Berlin Start-up scene?

a. That’s a great question and could be what my informal research over the past few months has been investigating. The “scene” is like a business laboratory of late capitalism full of success and failure. So, as a worker from ELT, I want to learn about contemporary business fundamentals, the implications of ongoing disruption, and how to organise work effectively and fairly.

b. Startups are just organisations that have not yet become financially self sustaining. Like most companies they offer something that solves a problem or satisfies a need, that usually need highly developed skills to produce or deliver that something, and that depend on sales and networks to become financially self-sustaining. The success rate of startups is famously low, the working conditions are often exploitative, and they pose questions about how work and production is and will be organised.

c. As someone working in ELT, I want to know the answer to those questions as they are relevant to my work. Maybe the learning point for me is how to organise and create and run a self-sustaining economically active organisation, that can resist or adapt to disruption, and distributes revenue in a fair and transparent manner.

7. You’ve been in Berlin 10 years but have only just joined Eltabb. Why join now?

After 10 years there is no better time.

8. What do you hope to get out of your membership?

Connections with people working in ELT in Berlin who want to work on changing the working circumstances of language teachers.

9. What exactly is a teacher owned-coop and how does it work?

a. Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona ( http://www.slb.coop ) is an example of an ELT company that is owned and managed by its workers, and acts to create profit and wealth for its members. SLB’s statutes are on their website and give detailed description of how they work.

b. For me a workers cooperative is a credible alternative to other forms of companies where ownership rights are not necessarily connected with work. For example, a private language school may have several shareholders who never visit the school but influence the conditions of the employees.

c. If anyone is interested in talking about teaching cooperatives or teaching partnerships then I would be very happy to host a meeting.

Who would like to nominate as Eltabber of the month and what question would you like to ask them?

I’d like to nominate Edwina Moorehouse and ask her: What are your favourite three skills you have acquired through ELT, and why having these skills is so satisfying?

Thanks a lot!

Edited by Mandy Welfare