The Secret DOS

The Little Emperor Strikes Back

Ready, aim, FIRE!

In my last diatribe, I threatened you with a rant about lesson plans, aims, objectives and assessment. The time has come. Lesson plans appear to be the bane of many teachers’ lives and for this I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the monsters of CELTA and DELTA who appear to believe that the best way to encourage teachers to plan is by forcing them to do so in a way that is entirely at odds with what teachers do every day. For the professional Scylla and Charybdis, a lesson plan must have about thirteen columns and show what a teacher is up to alongside another column showing what the students are up to alongside another column laying out which TV channels you’re planning to watch tonight alongside another column that contemplates possible solutions to the middle east, interspersed with thoughts about how to tackle the global energy crisis. They take roughly a month to write and cover about an hour of teaching. Their sole purpose, it seems to me, is to remind the TEFL wannabe who exactly is in charge here. Continue reading


28 May 2018 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | , | 1 Comment

So, what you gonna do?

I am tempted to embark on a little series aimed at possibly doing something useful and helpful. The focus of the series will be on planning. I will create a new tag just for this purpose and I will call it PLANNING. At these hours of the morning, I am awash with originality.

The series is, ironically, completely unplanned. But it tries to be methodical. It currently consists of my decision to set out the components of planning. And because I woke up earlier than planned and no longer read newspapers, I have already written my first two things. These are what you will read beyond this point. I begin, dear readers, by talking about syllabuses and schemes of work. I plan to move on to talk about lesson plans, aims, objectives and assessments. I welcome your disagreement…we all have things to learn.  Continue reading

17 May 2018 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | | 4 Comments

What did you do in the war?

I got home the other day and my child asked me how my day had been. I stopped swigging from the vodka bottle and looked quizzically at this curiously polite container of DNA and microbes and lied, “It was alright.” I knew I was being asked because of a recent rant about how when I come home, nobody bothers their arse enough to put down their tablets, lumber out of their rooms and acknowledge my presence. But then came a second question: “What is it that you do again, exactly?” Again, I removed the glass teat of the Smirknov bottle from my mouth and wiped the tears from my eyes. I stuttered. I hesitated. I slid down the wall and buried my head in my arms. My Other Half hurried the adolescent interrogator out of the room, “Go now! You don’t need to see this. I’ll deal with it. Go back to SnapCrap or FaeceTime.” As I heard my nemesis clump back up the stairs, the questions echoed around my head, surfing over the very waves of vodka that I was trying to drown it under: whatisitthatyoudoagainexactlywhatisitthatyoudoagainexactlywhatisitthatyoudoagainexactlywhatisitthatyoudoagainexactlywhatisitthatyoudoagainexactlywhatisitthatyoudoagainexactlywhatisitthatyoudoagainexactlywhatisitthatyoudoagainexactlywhatisitthatyoudoagainexactly Continue reading

13 May 2018 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | 3 Comments

What’s the f***ing point?

Fear not, mes lecteurs: despondency has not overtaken me in a repugnant Audi A8 that flaunts utter disdain for the rules of the road while expecting all the other suckers to follow them to the letter. This post will not be about soul-searching angst (hmmm…it might be….) or depressed reflections on the state of the world (hmmm…it might be…). What it will be, I hope, is a potentially (and uncharacteristically) helpful musing on the value of a syllabus, and a method -for those who feel it might be useful- for how to come up with lesson aims.

What’s prompted this sojourn into teaching methods and an abandonment of the trademark vituperative scorn that people come here to read? Well, for years I have had to shoulder the cross of teaching observations and time after time, Annelise, I have noticed that writing lesson aims is not as much of an industry-strength as I think it should be. People really seem to struggle with it, despite now being the glorious summer of the House of Outcomes.

Continue reading

06 May 2018 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | 4 Comments

Turns out “Nimrod” isn’t actually an insult

Boy, oh boy. The grass is always greener, they said. Look before you leap, they said. Better the devil you know, they said. Unfortunately, they interspersed this wisdom with an awful lot of bullshit which meant that I didn’t pay no heed to them. Marry in haste, they said…

The long and short of it is that The Secret DoS finds herself -or himself- in new environs. Which means different ways of doing things, different views, different practices, different values, different people. And Her Secretness, while not at all hesitant to embrace change and squeeze the difference out of it as if it were a well-used tube of toothpaste, is struggling with some of the demands that she is facing. Hell…who am I kidding? She ain’t struggling at all. She’s struggling to keep her can of whup-ass in her bag and her sharpened stilettos out of people’s eye sockets. But with the sheriff looking over her shoulder all the goddamn time, that ain’t such a struggle.

So, to quote The Bible, what’s the news, tell me what’s a-happening. Read on… Continue reading

02 May 2018 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | 11 Comments

What’s the best thing about studying here?

Like most places, we ask our students to complete some sort of survey at the end of their studies with us. It has the usual kind of questions – would you recommend us to family and friends? Was there anything that you thought we could do better? That sort of thing.

One of the questions that we ask requires students to think about the thing that they most liked about studying with us. Before reading on, can you predict what the number one answer is?

OK, now before I get to the anticlimactic reveal, what do you think the number one response should be? Is your answer the same as the prediction about what the top answer actually was?

I was talking to somebody the other day when I heard myself saying that at the place where I work now, just as at the place where I worked previously, when asked to name the two best things about studying with us, the vast majority of answers (where vast really does mean by a long chalk) are about the teachers. Sometimes they name the teachers directly, but other times they say things like the teachers, the teaching, friendly teachers, funny teachers, kind teachers etc.

And yet…I also heard myself saying that this was not enough. The students don’t come to a school because of the teachers, do they? Surely one of the main factors that helps us decide about which place to study should be how effective the study is? Shouldn’t our goal be to ensure that instead of the teachers and the teaching, the number one best thing about our place should be the learning, not the teaching? It was a real lightbulb moment.

When my daughter was looking for a college to continue her education, we were most concerned with finding a place which differentiated itself from all of the others by foregrounding the excellence of the results the students achieved each year. We were working on the understanding that most colleges don’t really have too much to distinguish themselves from each other – teachers are usually student-friendly, the resources can sometimes be more impressive in one place than another, but the key thing I was interested to hear was that each year, the college achieved excellent pass marks and enabled their students to progress on to the desired next step in their lives. The teachers were referred to, but only to say how dedicated they were to ensuring that their students achieved. By now, it wasn’t just the penny that had dropped, but I felt like I was standing under the payout chute of some million-dollar gambling machine in Vegas where the jackpot was being paid out in quarters.

The drive now is to supplant the teachers answer with the learning. For us to stand out from the crowd, we need students to be saying that the very best thing about studying with us is that they learned so much and achieved their goal. This will need a major re-think about how we do what we do. For one thing, I’m not all that sure that most of our students come to us with goals and those that do may quite frequently have utterly unrealistic goals. For another thing, I suspect…no…know…that many of the teachers pride themselves on being the brightest lure of the tacklebox. Why not? They are just being themselves and if they’re so great, they don’t need to do very much. It’s the worst kind of compliment – it both sweetens you up and then leaves you stranded on the couch, too fat, lazy and sickly to do anything to improve. From now on, I am going to regard too heavy a focus on the teaching as an indicator of failure. Can you guess how unpopular this is going to make me with some?

08 Apr 2018 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | 7 Comments

The challenge of teaching is to make the financially viable pedagogical.

1. Don’t waste time yearning for the pedagogical; organisations will always prioritise the financially viable. The challenge of teaching is to make the financially viable pedagogical.

Lots of people see a tension in the interplay of pedagogy with profit.

Not me.

The question facing managers isn’t how to make pedagogical initiatives financially alluring; it’s how to make financially alluring initiatives pedagogical.

The money monsters are in control of the ship. We can lament this and demand that things change, but then we might find ourselves out of work. We will almost certainly find ourselves to be unhappy.

Instead, we have to make the best of whatever the money monsters come up with. If we can do that well, we won’t need to read the warblings of a conceited middle manager because we will have cracked it. We are also likely to say ourselves a lot of angst along the way.

Currently, where I work, the money monsters have issued orders to create a mighty project that will sink our competitors and secure our dominance of the planet. Unfortunately, they are not overly concerned with investing in it. They’ve just stuck together everything they have heard of that they think is Good. It’s like going to a restaurant only to find that it’s one of those places which has a buffet that presents poor imitations of Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, American, Mexican food alongside cheap white containers of brightly coloured ice creams.

The challenge facing this particular DoS is how to make some sort of pedagogical paella out of the stuff on the menu. Thank the Lord in Heaven above that I now have a team of mighty marvels. I have complete faith in their ability to distinguish shit from shinola and will watch from the sidelines as their pragmatism illustrates that despite what Einstein may have said, you can polish a turd.

21 Jul 2017 Posted by | The Secret DoS's Little Red Book | Leave a comment

You don’t need this…

So, we’ve recently completed a whole day of training. Well, seven hours of it. Or was it development? That’s probably a more revealing question than it may first appear. I suspect -by which I mean “I hope”- that the Senior Managers who contracted the trainee/developer, would say it was development – that is, would have recognised that we are all experienced managers who are deserving of input that keeps us at the cutting edge of our game. But considering that I would say that our trainer spoke to us for approximately six of the seven hours and told us thing after thing after thing after thing, I have a sneaky feeling that we were being trained. The difference? I think development is more of an accumulative process – it recognises that there is already an existing body of knowledge and experience and seeks to stretch out the boundaries of what is already there. Training, it seems to me, assumes that something is missing and tries to plug the gap.

Oh, but does it matter? Well, there’s the pragmatism of telling people things they already know for seven (or six) hours. Then there’s the emotional reaction people might respond with if they think that they are being told something that they don’t need to be told. Then there’s the wistful sigh of a lost opportunity.

On the other hand, there’s also something to be gained from everything that ever was, is and will be. Consequently, I am reassured that I left the training –it’s going to be training from hereon in- with some things worth pondering over. These are currently they:

  1. How do we avoid training people when what they really need is development? Genuine question.
  2. Who gives a shit about the difference between a leader and a manager? Semi-rhetorical question.
  3. That said, what is the difference between a leader and a manager? Genuine question.
  4. That said, why the hell do I care? How can this sort of thing ever help me or mine? Semi-rhetorical question.
  5. Why do I shiver whenever people speak about my people? Did Moses ever feel the same way? Semi-rhetorical question.
  6. Should I explore the assertion that the company line must always be held, even if that means sacrificing authenticity and integrity? Genuine question.
  7. What the hell is authenticity? Genuine question.
  8. Have we gone too far in our attempts to stamp out discrimination? Genuine question.
  9. What is it about training consultants? Semi-rhetorical question.
  10. How might the whole affair have been done more productively? Genuine question.
  11. What do I need to do differently? Genuine question.
  12. What are my standards of work? Genuine question.
  13. If the workers change, but not the work, do things get better? Genuine question.

That’s more than enough for now. If I still had anybody reading this blog, to answer each question…no…to address each question…at the rate of once a week, and assuming that corollary questions would also pop up, my loyal reader would have something to distract them from what currently passes as news for a few months. It would also help me scratch the damn itch I have to write something even though I have very little these days to say.

If you can bear to put up with my assholery, you’re welcome to come along and stare aghast at my arrogance. Buckle up, tovarisch, and let us go forth.


04 Apr 2017 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | 2 Comments

You don’t have to be mad to work here

And so we come to the end of another year of teaching. And for some reason, hopefully entirely unconnected to me personally, mental health issues are rearing their heads at work. At times it seems like the entire team is batshit crazy (and I should stress -baddaboom- that I actually mean that in a loving sense rather than my usual haughty dismissive judgemental tone).  In all seriousness, I have never been more aware of the high levels of stress, anxiety and outright depression than in the recent past. Do you want to hear my views on the whole business? Well, if you read on, you’re going to whether you want to or not. Continue reading

09 Dec 2016 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | 7 Comments

I’m an asshole

Passive aggression…how could I have blogged so many posts without dedicating an entire one to this phenomenon of the modern workplace? It’s quite a fascinating phenomenon, actually. It’s such a widespread tactic that people employ and where I have the pleasure of working, I can think of at least a quarter of my team who regularly employ it as a means of dealing with things they don’t like. Continue reading

08 Nov 2016 Posted by | Rants and ramblings | Leave a comment

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