Thursday, March 16, 2017

Blogger Unblocked

This is going to be a bit of a messy blog post, I think. The four-day delay, by the way, had two causes. I didn't post on Sunday or Monday due to a last-minute decision to travel to Waterloo and Toronto to blow off some steam during March break. The additional two-day delay has been due to writer's block.

A comment I got on my last post left me feeling paralysed. Don't get me wrong! ALL comments are welcome here. But that one forced me to say out loud something I know about myself but am not terribly proud of. I'm glad that anonymous commenter prompted some introspection on my part. I haven't reached resolution, but today I am ready to share with you the thoughts I'm working through.

Maybe I'm not the only person on earth who sometimes feels they are comprised of more than one personality. I was born a people pleaser and remained a painfully conscientious child until adolescence. That's when rebel Kelly pushed her way out of the shell and tried to find her voice. It wasn't always pretty, a fact to which my dear mother can attest. But even during those rebellious years, I had secret corners of my life where a certain teacher could still bring out the good kid in me. That kid was so good that other kids often pressured her to stop being such a keener. (And stop setting the darned curve so high, will ya?)

Today the two personalities reside inside me and compete for air time. I'm proud of the rebel, the revolutionary, the strong woman who has on occasion fought to right an injustice or walked into the CEO's office uninvited to protest an unfair policy or illegal practice. I'm not as proud when zeal verges on bootlicking. But I understand how Goody Two-Shoes came to be. I have compassion for her because I know how her perfectionism, OCD (yes, I've been professionally diagnosed) and the disease to please came to be part of her survival arsenal.

The advent of PBLA has brought out at least two instincts in me.

First, it pings my injustice radar. Something is rotten in Denmark. We are being asked to comply with requirements that put undue stress on us, all of which may or may not be of value to our particular clientele, and which require us to do more than can be accomplished on the clock. We are already a group that is easily exploited for our kind and caring hearts. Our "donated time" has been taken for granted for years. Most teachers also dig into their own pocketbooks for supplies, realia, etc., or spend free time sourcing realia and otherwise working to take their lessons from what is minimally required to enriched. Many of us are at our wit's end trying to meet the artefact quotas without resorting to fudging, without compromising our personal integrity.

Some of the other personae that PBLA awakens in me, none of which clashes with my usual work persona, are: the keener, the problem solver, the fixer, the sharer, the rescuer. When I figure out a shortcut or innovation, when I create a tool, when I hear of a misunderstanding whose clarification means less stress/work for us, I just want to carry that gift out to every teacher across Canada who is struggling with PBLA.

I feel bad when I learn that the beneficiaries of my standing up and speaking out feel betrayed when the other me gets her airtime.

So that's where I am. I have to say that being the fixer is a lot less lonely. When I share, I get instant gratification knowing a resource that otherwise would have languished in my file cabinet is going to be used by another teacher. An idea is going to save someone time. Being an advocate for suffering teachers considering leaving the field due to unrealistic expectations that they are not finding a way to fulfil has not, so far, brought with it any rewards. Very few other teachers have been willing to join their voices in solidarity with mine. It's lonely in the rebel constructively critical camp. I KNOW there is an entire back channel buzzing with criticism and desperate cries for help, but that barely reaches me.

So that's where I'm at.

I hope you're enjoying March break and are treating yourself to some precious and very needed down time. πŸ’š πŸ’š πŸ’š


  1. Ah, Kelly, you are far from alone. Your words ring true. My experience has been very similar. I feel like the upper echelons of our chain of command are hopelessly out of touch with the front line instructors, or worse, know, but do little more than offer platitudes such as "don't try too hard" and "change is often difficult". We are divided, and we are being conquered, because as hard as you fight for us (you've got a few other foot soldiers out there), it's not enough. Speaking out labels one a trouble maker or cage rattler, whatever. And after spending so much time trying to provide a quality educational experience for our learners AND include the mandated requirements, frankly, who has the energy. See, I'm so bleeping exhausted that I've given up caring about correct punctuation.

    You'll know I've totally lost it once I start using emoticons.

    Stay strong.


    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by here and leave me these words of encouragement. They mean so much to me. You are right when you say it's not enough. We are being conquered. I just take heart knowing that truth usually wins out in the end. If I wait long enough, the wheat will settle out from the chaff. Until then, teaching life is, well, certainly interesting.
      Solidarity! Kelly

  2. I have been upfront about my rejection of the premise AND format of PBLA and especially of the divisive "Train the Trainer" delivery model.
    PBLA is a pile of clumsy nonesense. It is at best a poorly designed experiment based on an invalid construct. At worst it is an example of corruption in our profession, a waste of taxpayer money, and a shortchanging of student expectations. It is publically supported by people who should know better (many of whom privately say they hate it, criticise it, agree that it is poorly thought out, not based on reliable verifiable evidence that it improves the experience and outcomes of students.) Many of tgese people still accept the " extra money" provided. Those seeking to absolve themselves of responsibility for this mess reoeat the mantra "The funders want it." The problems are seeping out in spite of the threatening injunctions that "no negative feedback" will be tolerated.It is common knowledge that there is a threat that those who are not on board are laggards and resisters and may have to be fired (The Change Cycle) Pretty chilling stuff. Hard fior me to understand how academics who know how important Academic Freedom is can stand behind this and not advise review and change. I attended the first "orientation " session of our "training". It was sad - and confirmed my impression of a very anateur effort.
    I continue to teach with passion and dedication to a profession that I love. I am totally committed to being the very best prifessional I can be. Like others I question whether I will be able to "de-skill" in order to compky. Time will tell I guess. Sadly, I doubt it.

    1. This could be a blog post in itself. I wish more folks were as candid.

    2. Claudie,
      So disappointing to see your very negative attitude toward PBLA. Do you not agree that it's important for ESL programming to evolve into more standardized training where the students' input leads to more relevant lessons for the real world? Quite sure you can certainly aim your criticism at the old way of teaching and assessing ESL where many teachers progressed learners based on "gut feeling" rather than actual well thought out tests.

    3. Good Morning Anonymous!
      You may be one of the hundreds and hundreds of wonderful ESLERs I have met in my 17 year journey in ESL: training (CCLCS), teaching, volunteering (my North York Affiliate, TESLOntario Board), conferences, courses,CUPE participation, PTCT courses,and now my online PLN - where I met Kelly! Or maybe we have never met. As a fellow professional I respect your right to your opinion. I respect your right to remain anonymous - as I respect the right of all the other lovely people who have posted here anonymously. (This does however highlight how divisive PBLA has become). I am sure we share the same goals - to enhance the standing of our profession, to contribute to knowledge and research about language acquisition, to improve program delivery, to provide a useful, safe, relevant, positive experience for the learners, and to ensure teachers have a decent wage, decent work conditions , access to professional development according to need, and above all, are treated with the respect they deserve so they can support their families, make a difference in peoples lives, and contribute to Canada. Experience the Joy of ESL! We may differ on how to achieve this and I would be more than happy to chat with you - follow me on Twitter @thespreadingoak and we can DM.
      About standardisation of anything - approach with caution! The 2000 document on PBLA implementation had this to say (p157) "While they may not be appropriate for use in all contexts portfolios can be a valuable learning tool." I agree. I have used them for years and years. )But not the overly prescriptive blunderbuss that this experiment has developed. I have never progressed learners based on my "gut feeling"! (Although Dylan Williams does propose that classroom teachers know their students well and we should find a way to utilise this knowledge. Of course he is talking about K-12). Anyway, I wish you well and look forward to continuing the conversation.
      p.s. I have seen some "well thought out tests". Disappointing. This is the Achilles heel. Leave assessment/test creation to the professionals - especially where there are high stakes consequences. I manage very well with On Target, the LINC activity books and binders, the 5-10 Exit tests (excellent), Peel practice test, etc. I was hoping for an updated version of On Target.

    4. Hi Claudie,

      I am sorry that Anonymous took their comment to a personal level, yet it does expose the confusion that some live in. PBLA will change us all, sadly. But I hope that we can all stay kind. And human. And hopeful.

    5. Ag(South Africanism) Thanks for support Toni but I didnt take the comments personally. I have a few possibilities in mind as to who Anonymous might be - but I'm probably wrong. It is irrelevant anyway because NO ONE in TESL has the kind of power over me to make me care if they are disappointed in Me! (I reserve that privilege for my ballet teachers). I did see it rather as an expression of disappointment that PBLA is not universally loved and lauded, And I understand. People who have put faith in this project, who have invested time and effort in the hopes it will bring positive results must be puzzled and frustrated by expressions of doubt and ctiticism. And at some point they may bring themselves to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that maybe the criticisms are valid, have merit. Too many sensible, practical, normally compliant teachers are raising issues. We are not laggards and incompetents.
      What caught my attention though was your statement that "PBLA will change us all, sadly". I wonder what you mean?

  3. Oops. In spite of careful editing In the previous post I see some typos escaped my eagle eye.
    Corrections: these people; repeat the mantra; hard for me to understand; a very amateur effort; the very best professional I can be; in order to comply.

    1. In the old days I thought we could edit comments. I used to be able to as the blog owner; I recall friends asking me to go in and correct a typo. Now I only see buttons for DELETE and REPORT AS SPAM. No edit button.

    2. Yes, it is annoying. But I will be extra careful then not to post befire I have triple checked. Using my ipsd though and the print is teeeeeeny! ( ok - I left those typos for fun!)
      Looking forward to your next blogpost. The commitment is huge. I could not do it. Kudos to you.

  4. Hi Kelly et al.

    I think you are all right, and no, we are not alone. Although PBLA has some good "features" , (which are features that most effective teachers use anyway), I think there needed to be a skill building/using workbook for students, task sheets, as well as ready made criteria checklists, etc. Teachers can then pick through organized lists to create RWTs to do assessments. We all have to do the same themes at some point or another, so it is not a new thing.
    Without you and other teachers sharing their work, it would be impossible to accomplish what is being asked of teachers. All the work is time consuming and these documents should be in a teacher's manual for each individual level. The program is not practical. Sometimes I feel like I am writing a textbook for myself. Any lesson plan that requires sourcing images, creating rubrics, checklists, original tasks, messing with tables and formatting, laminating, searching for information in our communities ---- it all takes time...PERSONAL, UNPAID TIME, which is not realistic.

    Not to mention the distractions that disrupt the class because of personal issues the students have with each other, students getting sick in the classroom and dealing with that, preventing conflicts in the class, running to get translators to prevent a crisis, printer issues, holidays and the regression of learning, and on and on and on....etc.

    So, my point is, NO. YOU ARE NOT ALONE...LOL

    1. Maria,
      Thank you for adding your voice. "Not practical" is a comment I've been hearing a lot. --K

    2. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. Both are admirable. I do believe that resources are coming albeit too late. And I hope that the funders recognize that instructors have been working very diligently to comply to the expanded role. I am hopeful that they will respectfully acknowledge this reality with increased remuneration for the expanded day and increased responsibilities. I remain hopeful and until then I do my honest best. The learner's and the instructor's welfare have equal weight.

      In speaking to instructor welfare, I would suggest that more training needs to be provided at the funders expense to train us to complete the duties that we are charged with. The slim introduction to PBLA was in no way comprehensive or effective, yet it did prove efficient to meet bare bones requirements. I think effective is the goal, or should be.

  5. Since everyone seems to have a big problem with PBLA, I'd like to know what alternative they propose to make ESL more learner-centered, with standards across the board. Not seeing any ideas, just complaints.

  6. I have seen many suggestions that have been posted. Good ideas that may prompt the funder to send out RFPs to facilitate a more modest and time effective implementation. I would also like to suggest that, Anonymous, your bias is showing. PBLA has problems that classroom instructors are, professionally, trying to solve at the same time as they are trying to live a happy ife that their earned pay is supposed to support. The issues are workload, and unfortunately, misdirected funds (read expensive binders and no resources). I have seen solutions recommended for both of these issues. " A workman is worth his wages" and "the right tool for the right job" come to mind. I have seen people share their views and their names with integrity. It is a good thing to shares ones viewpoint along with ones name.


Thank you for participating in this forum. Anonymous commenting is available, but is not intended to shield those taking pot shots at those of us challenging PBLA. If you are here to do that, please use your name.