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“Creativity is intelligence having fun”

Albert Einstein

My Fanciful Muse


Ah, the Internet is a wonderful thing – where would we EFL teachers be without it? An endless source of ideas, materials, information, as well as supplier of a number of ways of keeping in touch with friends and family back home, you can’t help but wonder how TEFLers of the past managed to survive. It has to be said, however, that it’s also full of rubbish. Not to disdain rubbish – it has its uses too. Sometimes, when your brain is fried, a spot of drivel is all it can cope with.

On the other hand, when your brain has merely been lightly sautéed by a day in your EFL class, and you’re finding that the lack of cultural and/or intellectual vitality in your new location is turning you into a latter-day Madame Bovary, it’s nice to beat the ennui with a meander through the Internet maze in search of something more substantial, stimulating, original, or just plain beautiful.


1789 French Room scene blue by E.K. Duncan

1789 French Room scene blue by E.K. Duncan


One such bout of online wandering led to a corner of the digital world belonging to Evelyn Kennedy Duncan. A mixed media artist, Ms Duncan’s blog, “My Fanciful Muse”, is chock-a-block full of images and writings related to her fascination for antique cardboard theatres, vintage paper dolls, digital scrap-booking, and much, much more. The treasure trove of digital objets d’art include the artist’s own creations – sometimes put together digitally, sometimes the old-fashioned way with scissors and glue – producing delightful scenes with a similar sort of charm and fascination that dolls’ houses hold for many a young girl, but with a great deal more sophistication, and a dash of history thrown in for good measure.


Vintage In Vogue


The trend for ‘vintage’ is one which has touched fashion, home furnishings, and even website graphics in a big way over the last decade or so, to the point that the word itself – vintage – has become an over-generalised label for everything and anything non-contemporary. In particular, 1950’s style in graphic art had a bit of a boom a few years back, with every second website, or so it seemed, decked out with beaming housewives in pastel aprons, suited men with brilliantined hair, Cadillacs, ice-cream sundaes and fonts inspired by Fifties advertising and branding. That particular trend seems now to be in decline, however, that will be of little import to Ms Duncan, as her interest is focused on eras quite a bit further back in time and truly worthy of the ‘vintage’ label.


Not Ironic, Just Gorgeous


Whereas the Fifties housewives have to be viewed through an irony filter to be palatable in our post-feminism age, the characters which populate the Edwardian, Victorian, Regency, Georgian, and Rococo miniature worlds of Ms Duncan are so splendid as to transcend the need for irony. Yes, those bustles and corsets must have been hellish to wear, but my feeling is that we’re not really under any pressure to relate to those powdered, starched, whale-boned characters as representatives of fellow human beings, but only to admire them as symbols of exquisite stylisations of humanity, as they pose in their elegant environments, whether those be parlours, ballrooms, theatre stages or on the staircases of palaces.


EKD Steampunk Queen plum

EKD Steampunk Queen plum


Vintage Inspirations


“My Fanciful Muse” isn’t just a visual feast, it is also an inspiration for the manually dexterous and the creatively spirited, as the elements which compose the scenes – empty rooms, windows, stages, furniture, curtains, and, of course, the characters themselves – can be downloaded and used in your own compositions. For the nimble-fingered TEFLer with free-time on their hands, and in need of a creative outlet, sticking to the digital method of composing scenes might be the best option, as the resulting works of art can live quite happily inside your pc, and travel with you wherever you may roam. It has to be said, wherever you do roam, you’re not very likely to come across too many people with the same hobby, which would make it a wonderfully original conversation piece at dinner.


_1786 French Fashion plate 02 (March 1786)5




Of course, you have to be a dab-hand with Photoshop, its free-of-charge, not-so-poor relative, Gimp, or the easiest to master,, if you want to keep it all in the digital realm. However, if you’re not graphically-gifted, and the idea of learning to use a new program makes you want to reach for the smelling salts, there’s always the option of printing out the images, pasting them onto cardboard and assembling them in the non-digital world, much the way the paper theatres were originally intended to be put together, although it could be argued that possessing a few basic skills in a graphics program isn’t completely superfluous for an EFL teacher; if you include a lot of visuals in your home-made teaching materials, being able to make them to measure from scratch, or to adapt preexisting ones to your specific needs, is actually a very useful skill to have.


1786 French Mens Fashion - 1 (Dec 1786) 4




If you do decide to invest some time in learning to use Photoshop, The Gimp or, the good news is that, although it’s true that the Internet is full of people trying to get you to sign up for paying services, to buy commodities, spam you and sell your personal data for profit, there’s also an impressive number of good souls who create and offer free tutorials, many of which on video, to accompany the eager learner through step-by-step lessons on just about any skill you can imagine. I always get the impression that those involved in IT and digital graphics and art are particularly generous with their time and talents, and Ms Duncan is no exception. Not only does her blog offer a variety of tutorials on how to create similar objets d’art, she also graciously answers queries and clears up perplexities, and, most generously of all, offers the images on her website, whether sourced by her or painstakingly created by her, for free download, with the only proviso being to include an attribution and a link if her images are used on your website or blog.



On Dit - The Latest Gossip by EKDuncan

On Dit – The Latest Gossip by EKDuncan


For the arty-farty among us, digital artistry is an awfully convenient option when the TEFL lifestyle can keep you on the move, travelling as light as possible, for years on end, and certainly one to explore if the urge to get creative ever grabs you.

As you can see from the images on this page – included with the kind permission of Ms Duncan (see here for terms of use) – her Regency theatres, Rococo ladies, and Gothic paper dolls are truly charming, and her blog – overflowing with hundreds more images – an obvious labour of love and dedication. Here’s hoping that you get inspired to go looking for your own digital art niche, and for a way to express all that pent-up creativity.

And if you’re not at all arty-farty, but just love vintage, then you’re going to enjoy going for a wander through the pages of “My Fanciful Muse” just for the sheer pleasure of it. Click on the loveseat below to see for yourself.






“Rewards and punishment is the lowest form of education.”




So, there you have it – David Cameron, the British Prime minister, has come up with a very cunning plan to enforce the integration of ethnic minorities in the UK (perhaps it’s just me, but enforcing integration, in my mind at least, sounds about as effective as obliging people to have fun). The idea in question consists in ‘encouraging’ (his choice of verb) the process of integration by ESL testing the spouses of immigrants to the UK two and a half years after their arrival in the country, and if they haven’t shown signs of improvement during this period of time, well, it looks like the idea as it stands at the moment is to ask them to leave again.




It has to be said, the threat of deportation certainly would encourage you to brush up your language skills – especially if your spouse and children weren’t being asked to pack their cases. I told you it was a cunning plan – it makes your threat of not handing out a chocolatey treat look very ineffectual indeed.

ESL testing threat 3

The plan has just been rolled out, so it remains to be seen whether the women (this proposal is aimed primarily at Muslim women who, according to Cameron, do not get a chance to pick up the language ‘naturally’ through daily contact with English speakers because of social isolation) who fail the test will indeed have their children torn from their arms, and be frog-marched to the airport – I have my doubts, frankly.




There is much which could be said of such a policy, not least of all regarding the stereotyping of all Muslim women as oppressed, however, even from a purely professional point of view of those actually involved in EFL and ESL, it is rather perplexing. The experienced EFL or ESL teacher, had he or she had a chance to have a chat with Mr Cameron before announcing such a decision, would probably have asked him several rather reasonable questions, and perhaps pointed out a series of potential flaws in the idea, such as the following:

A budget of £20 million has been allocated to supply English classes to these women. The women in question, however, number 190,000. While £20 million sounds like a huge sum of money, it only works out at just over £100 per person, or, put another way, assuming that the women can be grouped together in classes of 20 (geography could play a huge part in this, as the women presumably live over the entire national territory), and are offered one class a week over the two-year period, it comes out at just under £21 an hour to cover all costs. Text books and/or other materials will obviously be required, leaving what for the teacher before tax? Maybe £19 or thereabouts – before tax? Or perhaps even less?




One lesson a week is barely sufficient to make good progress, especially in a class of 20, but with that kind of budget, you cannot possibly offer smaller classes, or twice weekly encounters, because, although EFL and ESL teachers are cheap (apparently), we’re not that cheap.

So, with classes being held once a week, and in groups of 20, what kind of progress would it be reasonable to expect and to test for? Consider that the teachers will be facing the challenge of teaching individuals of different nationalities, different social backgrounds, different levels of education, not necessarily possessing the same first language, different levels of literacy in their own language, who may or may not wish to be there, and who may or may not have the full support of their families.

esl testing threat 2

Keeping in mind the limitations of budget, is it to be assumed that courses for different initial levels of ability will not be offered, but that everyone, whether they know not one single word of English, or whether they already possess a few basic notions, will be placed in the same class?




My calculations were based on the assumption that one lesson per week would be offered, over the two-year period, for a total of 104 hours (anything more and it slashes the available budget per hour to unworkable levels) – however, 104 hours is very little for, say, a native Urdu speaker. For native English speakers to learn Urdu to the US Foreign Service Institute’s level 3, they calculate that 1,100 hours are needed. I’m going to assume that the inverse – a native Urdu speaker learning English – requires the same amount of time, and, although the FSI level 3 corresponds to a professional proficiency level, which is more than what would be required here, I can’t help feeling that approximately ten times less the number of hours would be a lot less time than is actually required to get any sort of worthwhile result. It’s (apparently) a well-known fact that teaching English as a foreign or second language is easy – but it’s not that easy.

What kind of assessment will be carried out? Will all skills be tested? Speaking, listening, reading and writing? If they are, isn’t there the risk that, with the Damocles sword of repatriation hanging over everybody’s head, the teacher is going to teach very much to the test? I know I would, however, I would also be very aware that by doing so, although I might be upping their chances of staying with their families, I’d probably be reducing the utility of the course, and therefore the core aim – helping them to integrate through improved social English language skills – might well be compromised.

Will the cost of the assessment of 190,000 individuals at the end of the two years be taken from the £20 million the budget? If it is, that will bring down the hourly pay of the teacher even further.

esl testing threat 01

Finally, what would occur if the teachers employed in this scheme were not of an entirely homogenized nature – that is, what if some of them were not as good at their jobs as others? When you have so much riding on the outcome – not quite life or death, but to a mother about to be forcibly separated from her offspring, it might seem almost as bad as that – what recourse would they have, if any, if they felt that their poor results hadn’t depended entirely on their own lack of effort or ability?




As an EFL teacher, I always like to think of my lessons as a series of pleasant, sometimes even social encounters, with, at worst, the passing of an exam as the final objective, but ideally, with the satisfaction of being able to communicate with fellow human beings as the real result. I don’t know about you, but I’m not at all sure I like the idea of the teaching of English being used in the way in which this scheme would foresee.



Two-year ban for those leaving Oman companies will be enforced


Possible problems afoot for individuals already working or planning to work in Oman; until now an non-objection letter (NOC) from a previous employer would ensure an employee’s right to work for a new Omani company. Now it seems, according to Omani national newspapers, that the Royal Oman Police will no longer permit company-to-company moves, unless the original employer is willing to lose an expatriate visa from its quota. Otherwise, leaving an employer will now translate into a two-year ban from employment in the Gulf country, basically rendering an NOC worthless.

For those intending to go and teach in Oman, this would mean that, should the job not turn out to be all you had hoped, job-hunting alternative positions within the country would be pointless, and you would be forced to look elsewhere.

For those already teaching in Oman, at the moment it would appear that even if you have completed your contract, you will not be exempt from the two-year ban.

In the past, if an employer granted an NOC, the worker could go on to pastures new within the country immediately. This will no longer be permitted, and the rule looks likely to include EFL teachers this time round, who, along with other professionals, have usually found themselves on the lenient side of employment ban legislation in Oman.

The only way of knowing exactly how this will pan out in practical terms is to keep an eye on EFL/ESL forums for reports from those affected first by the renewed strictness in applying the law, but it’s reasonable to assume not many employers will be willing or even able to contemplate losing a visa from their quota.





“Children have one kind of silliness, as you know, and grown-ups have another kind.”

C.S. Lewis

“And TEFLers have the sort that often borders on hysteria.”

  • –


Humour and the TEFL Lifestyle

Well, to be accurate, the TEFL lifestyle didn’t suddenly become silly – it has always had elements which were daft to the point of surreal – expectations which include teaching classes of really mixed ability groups (with some students who don’t even know how to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in English and others who, embarrassingly, speak it better than you do), organising ‘workshops’ for a hoard of hyper-active kiddos without so much as a finger puppet in the way of materials, and – true story this one – teaching literature in a department which has no actual books whatsoever. Yeah, you gotta laugh.

A Healthy Dose of Daftness

So, no excuses and no justifications for a little corner of the site dedicated to a bit of nonsense. Money may make the world go round, but a dose of daftness can keep you sane. Well, semi-sane, at least.

Click on the image above or the link below to hop to a page of memes dedicated to the TEFL lifestyle, some choice excerpts from that classic of English language teaching, “Mastering the Idiosyncrasies of the Syntax, Grammar and Idioms of the English Language By Means Of Illustrated Tales Demonstrating the Functions Thereof for Continentals and Other Persons of the Foreign Persuasion”, and any other nonsense examples of our razor-sharp wit which might occur to us.

Yes, I could do with a smile, and I’ll even settle for a wry one, but if it isn’t even slightly amusing, you’ll be hearing from my lawyers in the morning.




“As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.”

– Donald Trump

Yes, well, that’s easy for him to say – let’s face it, Donald Trump has never been an EFL teacher. Thinking big for many EFL teachers often simply amounts to begging their employers for a new photocopier, for EFLers are, for the most part, simple, noble souls, without the ruthless drive and nasty comb-over which apparently characterise the successful entrepreneur, but able to take joy in seeing a student’s face light up as he suddenly gets the difference between Present Simple and Continuous.

Though an odd hair-do might not actually be a compulsory element in explaining the success of high-profile business-people, some sort of compulsion to make money just has to be a vital component in the mind-set of those whose job is, well, making money, and that magic ingredient would seem to missing in many of us teachers.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, TEFLer?


If you actually chose your chosen profession – to teach English to foreign language speakers – it’s probably safe to say that becoming fabulously rich was probably never uppermost in your mind, as EFL teaching has never been an obvious association with Scrooge McDuck piles of glistening gold. Unless, of course, you didn’t dream of being an EFL teacher all through your childhood, and you just sort of stumbled into it. And then couldn’t get out. Although such a thing is doubtlessly a rare occurrence, with the vast majority of us most probably having spent our school and university days and nights feverishly trying to figure out how to break into TEFL, it could just be that a few of us EFL teachers actually had, at some point, a burning desire to make some money.

One thing we can be sure of – those hands do not belong to a TEFLer.

 Harsh Realities


If you were one of those who, when still a child, had envisioned a future life of wealth, power and fame, then the harsh reality of TEFLing must be a tad hard to digest at times. Truth be told, not just the earnings, but the general the working conditions of many EFL teachers have been known to be, to put it mildly, pretty dire.

To add salt to the wound, trade unions are not an option in a profession which, by its very nature, has those who do it constantly on the move from contract to contract, from nation to nation. In order to create an organisation like a trade union, one has to be able to discuss, debate, confer, agree, collaborate and act with others, and in order to do that, one really ought to be in the same place as at least some of the same people for sufficient time to actually develop ideas and take action.

And most importantly, it would be very helpful if all the members of the profession were actually governed by the same national legislation, and not by dozens of different ones. Furthermore, it would be immensely helpful if your members were all in nations in which trade unions were actually permitted by law. Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – none of these nations permit trade union activity. On the bright side, it has to be said that, if you ever did have the urge to become a modern-day Tolpuddle Martyr, finding a destination undesirable enough to transport an errant, bolshy EFL teacher off to might prove to be challenging. Australia? You wish. Ironically – or perhaps not –  some of the least appealing places on the planet are key EFL locations.

Unfair? Too damn right it is! But full-blown protesting is usually not an option in TEFL.


 Every TEFLer For Himself


It’s probably safe to say that the profession has ended up being one of the least regulated in the entire universe, and it’s very much a case of every TEFLer for him or herself.  So, we’ve already established that there aren’t too many life-jackets on the good ship TEFLdom, and many of us get left hanging on for dear life as decisions are made by others apparently with the sole intent of destabilizing even further, and based on a logic which totally escapes us.

The Big Money Picture


Although we teachers will alternate panic attacks with bouts of scoffing over what appear to be utterly nonsensical policies, we usually fail to see the wood for the trees. And by ‘wood’ and ‘trees’, naturally I mean ‘profits’ and ‘education’. Which also goes some way to explaining why there’s a substantial number of EFL managers and entrepreneurs who haven’t worked their way up from actual EFL teaching; you will very often find yourself governed by business-people, many of whom don’t actually know a great deal about EFL teaching, or any sort of teaching for that matter, and even a good few who know very little English.

However, during those industrial-scale eye-rolling and eyebrow-raising moments we indulge in when the latest anti-educational decision filters down from above, consoling ourselves with the thought that we could do so much better, a lot of the time we’re actually wrong. Much more often than we, the teachers, would care to admit, they know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re doing it rather well.

The TEFL Gold-Mine


So, what is the appeal of TEFL for those not involved in the ‘T’ bit of it? That war is good business is a generally accepted fact, however unsavoury the implication of such a statement might be; education seen principally as a mega-business, and not as a contribution to the evolution and development of Mankind, is another concept which might be slightly hard to wrap your ethical brain around, but which is not one relegated to the realm of merely abstract.

According to the GSV EDU Education Sector Factbook 2012  English Language Learning (ELL) accounted for a whopping $63 billion slice of the overall global education-business pie in 2012. Which goes some way to explaining why even those not dedicated to EFL teaching per se have found themselves irresistibly attracted to the business of English Language teaching. In other words, English is not only the language of global business, it is a global business. And it’s one of the healthy ones – it’s forecast to reach the mind-boggling sum of over $193 billion by the year 2017.

Doing The ‘Dirty’ Work


Are you reeling? I know I am. That’s an awful lot of money, however, those who do the teaching are not going to be pocketing anything other than a teeny proportion of that figure. Which is pretty hard to digest, when you think about it, since we’re the ones in the front-line, trying to cram many years’ worth of grammar and vocabulary into a year of foundation programs, create lessons which, miraculously, exclude neither the couple of students who are highly fluent, or the handful who appear to know absolutely no English whatsoever, but who have been put in the same class, or who have to put together activities which are demonstrably effective from an academic point of view, yet are amusing enough to engage a rowdy crowd of kids or teens in a summer camp. Just as well we love teaching, right?


There’s a reason why the summer camp job ad specifies that “energetic” teachers are required.


So, where’s The Money, Honey?


So, if it isn’t the actual teaching which makes the money, which aspects of ELL are the cash-cows? Well, although the situation varies from region to region – for example, high taxes in European countries can make owning a independent language school not much more profitable than teaching in one – the main money-spinners in the ELL market are:

  • ELL publishing (market leaders include Pearson, Oxford University Press, Macmillan)

  • International educational providers (such as EF or Kaplan)

  • Testing / assessment (Ielts, Toefl, PET, FCE, etc.,)

  • Assessment preparation (big guns, such as British Council, and countless independent bodies globally)

  • Study-holiday providers (EF, Bell English, English UK, etc.,)

  • Course providers, both on- and offline (Berlitz, Rosetta Stone, Linguaphone)

  • Language schools and centres (British Council, International House, and many, many smaller players)

  • App and program creators/sellers (FluentU, Busuu, Nearpod, etc.,)

  • EFL/ESL teaching certification (CELTA and TESOL being the most obvious)

The Online Teaching Meat Market


A special mention apart has to be made of the blooming online English language teaching market. Doing away with the need to transport actual flesh-and-blood teachers to actual schools, there’s a proliferation of bodies which either offer online courses with ‘their’ teachers, or which offer platforms to freelancers, on which you get the opportunity to undercut the competition by lowering your pay-per-hour to levels which, post-tax, won’t cover the cost of your dinner. If we want a very clear example of what the commodification and globalization of ELL can do, in terms of just how far the teaching profession can be devalued, then this market sector just has to be the winner. Of course, for those who own the platforms and virtual schools, the limited outlays and running costs make this a very profitable field.

Now, realistically, as individuals, being worthy rivals of the Big Boys, such as Kaplan, isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Nor would launching a rival EFL/ESL teaching certification be the brightest idea in your ‘make-a-Tefl-fortune mind-map, so cross it off right now. Keeping our feet planted firmly on the ground, let’s ponder which areas can we reasonably focus on, should we wish to participate a bit more substantially in that 193 billion dollar growth foreseen for ELL over the next year or so.

A Piece  Of The Pie


Although material writing and opening your own private English school still remain as options to teachers wishing to branch out professionally to fields outside the classroom, it should be kept in mind that a huge chunk of the ELL mega-growth is forecast to  lie in the digital realm, so if you happen to have a buddy who happens to be an IT whizz-kid, you might want to stay chummy with him, because great ideas which take ELL on-line in effective, user-friendly and engaging ways are potentially superb money-makers for those able to come up with ideas and for who make them happen. An IT expert may or may not also have expertise in the ELL sector, but it’s more likely that he or she doesn’t – likewise, a brilliant, creative English teacher may also dabble very effectively in IT, but it’s not awfully likely that they possess the sort of top-notch coding skills required to create apps and programs. Conclusion? A collaboration for the mutual benefit of both parties makes perfect sense.


Fancy a piece of the pie?

Back to the online teaching malarkey for a moment – nothing wrong with cutting your teeth in someone else’s online ‘school’, however, there are platforms out there that you, as an individual, can use to set up your own virtual classroom. is just one example (the choice lies greatly in cost – some platforms are really rather expensive if you’re just starting out, but lets you have unlimited teaching sessions free of charge, if you keep each one to a maximum of 40 minutes), but there are many more out there, such as WizIQ, which you would probably want to take into consideration only after you had built up a bit of a user base due to its starting price of $33 a month.

Union Makes Strength


Of course, it’s always easier said than done, and coming up with brilliant and innovative ideas can’t be that simple, otherwise we’d all be doing it all of the time. It also has to be said that contemplating what can amount to a career-shift, if not an actual full-blown career change, is a decidedly daunting prospect, however, exploring one’s options carries no financial costs, and, if the aim is empower yourself as a professional in order to get a little bit more of what you deserve, it’s definitely worth the mental-energy investment required.

There’s a great deal more to be said on the topic, and we’ll certainly go back to it in future, however, in the meantime, if you do have any great entrepreneurial ideas, why not share them with a trusted colleague? It shouldn’t be forgotten that one of the reasons teachers get shunted off the money-making playing field of their own profession is that many of the aspects of TEFLing – the short-term contracts, the high-mobility of colleagues, the trans-continental moves – do not facilitate cooperation and collaboration among peers. Perhaps, ultimately, partnerships with fellow teachers, mutually supporting and encouraging one another, is the way to go – after all, it is the digital age, and collaboration across distances really shouldn’t be an issue.

All the best!