The Secret DOS

The Little Emperor Strikes Back

Why I’m no longer talking to teachers about levels

Yes, indeedy. We revisit one of my bete noirs. What constitutes a level and why most of the teachers I am currently working with make me despair and tear out my expensive hair replacements. Who knew that levels were real? Who knew that they were almost exclusively dependent upon how well a student knew (whatever the feck that means) a certain feature of the damned verb phrase? Or that a student who had mastered the present perfect (I retched as I typed that) imply could not be in the same room/building as somebody who was still stumbling around the vast caverns of the present continuous? Is it any wonder that my empty bottle recycling box fills up more quickly than I can empty it?

I have heard some utter nonsense recently. Ah, hell. If you’ve read past the click bait intro, you’re old enough for the adult version. I have heard some utter shite recently. Shite that made me despair for the future. Shite that made me glad that where I live there is no constitutional right to bear arms. Actually, before we go any further, let me put out a warning.

Before you read any further, let me warn you that you are likely to be insulted if you are the sort of dribblingly mindless ingenu(e) who says things like, “Oh yeah. They’re definitely not intermediate! They can’t even use the past tense.” Look, pal, just pack it all up now. People like you are ruining teaching and learning and studying and that sort of stuff. I’d say, “DON’T READ ON”, but I really think you should. The problem is that we work within a fucking braindead biosphere where the reason for your inanity is that the people who should know better (and yes, I’m looking at you, CELTA trainers, DELTA trainers, coursebook pimps etc) feeds you this sort of shite until it’s coming out of your ears (not a good look).

Now, I don’t like to get this sweary, but for fuck’s sake! I don’t know if the bigger problem is that people say this sort of crap or that they think it’s OK to say this sort of crap. Actually, given that people who say this sort of crap are usually incapable of independent thought, perhaps the worst is just that – they mindlessly swallow anything that is put in front of them. I may buy some bottles of bleach and leave them next to the kettle today.

Students aren’t much better. Where I work, we are currently teaching some stellar pupils who are supposed to be involved in language education in their countries. These people -professional integrity prevents me from calling them fuckwits, but buy me a couple of martinis and you will hear me call them by their true name- have recently asked me questions such as, “How quickly can we finish the book and move up a level?” (answer: let me push you and the fucking book off the roof and see how quickly you move down a level or twelve). Or “Why can’t our teachers teach us all the grammar in order?” (answer: because your brain has been replaced by dogturd flavoured jelly). But hey. The hippy part of me says, “Chill your beans, Secretio. They are students and it is our job to manage their expectations and to turn them towards the light and water them with the H2O of rhyme and reason.” So, let’s turn our gaze upon the master gardeners…

“Claudio definitely needs to move down to weak pre-upper-intermediate. He’s really struggling with the book (teach the fucker then, you stupid idiot, that’s what we’re paying you for) and he wrote a whole letter the other day without once showing that he knew how to use the passive form of the subjunctive of the future perfect continuous.”

“There’s no way that Maria is intermediate! She doesn’t even know the word rambunctious. AND [cue killer argument] the other day she spoke entirely in the present tense. [cue Secret DoS’s killer instinct].”

“You cannot take away the coursebook (ummm…I can do what I want…I’m the goddamned boss. I sign off on all of the book orders). The books present all of the grammar that they need at this level and they do it in the most professional way.”

“I couldn’t believe it! The cover teacher jumped three pages and did the reading [collocations that make me violent]. Well, the students hadn’t even done the grammar section about the differences between will and going to [the only important difference: going to scores 9 points in Scrabble; will scores 7], so how could they possibly do the reading. You must never employ that cover teacher again.”

Now…don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against teachers saying this sort of thing. As long as we live in a dystopia where I can subsequently beat them into a pulp with a nail-encrusted baseball bat with no adverse consequences to me, then teachers should be able to say what they like, when they like. Alternatively, if teachers want to say this sort of thing, this is OK as long as they don’t expect to be paid, listened to, or respected. Meet my conditions and I’ll meet you half way. That’s the sort of reasonable DoS I am. Pleased to meet you.

So let me be clear. I don’t give a shit how well the students have mastered the verb phrase and I think you’re a fucking idiot for thinking that this is what defines a level. To be utterly candid and less bashful, I think you’re a fucking idiot for saying that students are pre-intermediate or intermediate or upper intermediate. This sort of drivel marks you out to me as somebody who stumbles through life without ever actually realising anything original yet who thinks that they know more than anyone else. What the fuck does pre-intermediate even mean?!?!?! Are we all pre-dead? Are you pre-unemployed (as justice would dictate)? I’ll tell you what it is: it’s fucking pre-posterous. I hyphenated that word because I thought you might be too fucking dim to get the joke otherwise.

What defines a level? There are no fucking levels other than, “Impossible to Understand”, “Understandable with patience and support” and “Pretty Good, But If We’re To Continue To Make Money Out of Them, We Need to Find Their Weaknesses And Exploit Them.” None of it has gone jackshit to do with the verb phrase. The vast bulk of students on this planet will fall into either of the first two categories. People in the second category are as capable of fouling up the verb phrase as people within the first. And you know why? BECAUSE THEY HAD FUCKING IDIOT TEACHERS LIKE YOU FOR MOST OF THEIR LANGUAGE STUDYING LIVES! Be grateful that they don’t spit on you every time they see you because that’s what I tell them to do every time I am forced to participate in the farcical placement procedure.

OK…the coffee is hitting all the wrong places this morning and, while I am aware just how offensive I am being, I am also aware that I am now deleting lines that are more offensive still and which make even me shudder. Let’s wrap this all up with some quick questions and answers:

How do students progress beyond one level? That you have to ask means that you have no right to be a teacher.

How can coursebooks help? Well, rolled up, they can hurt like hell and leave few bruises.

What about lower and upper levels? Fuck off.

How do people learn? By making shit loads of mistakes and having someone help them realise this. You are not the person to do this. You are a mistake that someone else made.

But students want to do the book. Yep. You’re to blame for this as well.

Levels are real. You are an idiot.

But students want to make progress. No shit! God help them with this objective while they have the likes of you in there dictating what make progress means.

My students don’t complain. Yep. Dead men tell no tales.

Who the hell do you think you are? Honey, I am the Secret DoS. Say hello to my leetle fren’.




09 Nov 2018 - Posted by | Rants and ramblings


  1. Oh YES !!!!!! Made my fucking day. and it´s only 7 o´clock… Things can´t get better than this !

    Comment by Connie OGrady | 09 Nov 2018 | Reply

  2. Bravo!

    The CEFR levels measure a person’s proficiency in an L2 on the assumption that learners progress from ‘can’t-do-much’ to ‘can-do-it- all’ as described by a scale that is statistically determined, hierarchically structured, and linear. It’s led to the emergence of more finely-grained scales including the Cambridge English Scale and the Pearson Global Scale of English. In the Pearson Global Scale, 2,000 can-do descriptors (“Learning Objectives”); over 450 “Grammar Objectives”; 39,000 “Vocabulary items”; and 80,000 “Collocations” are now tagged to nine different “levels of proficiency”.

    This kind of measurement pervades the ELT industry, and speaks to just how far the commodification of education has come. The linearity of these can-do measurement scales is completely contradicted by research findings of SLA; to view language learning as a linear progression from one “level” to the next, where courses, materials, and exams are designed for each level, is to sacrifice the truth on the alter of profit.

    Fuck levels; fuck the CEFR; fuck Pearson; fuck the whole greedy lot of them.

    Comment by geoffjordan | 09 Nov 2018 | Reply

  3. Superb – it’s funny ‘cos it’s true.

    Comment by Jamie C | 09 Nov 2018 | Reply

  4. Great article!

    Comment by Stephen Dodd | 10 Nov 2018 | Reply

  5. That’s why we are doing Project based Learning! No levels!

    Comment by Stephen Dodd | 10 Nov 2018 | Reply

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