Simon Greenall

1st October 2016

Simon Greenall is a long-time member and past president of IATEFL. He very kindly agreed to be the first individual member featured on the blog.

Tell us a bit about you and your teaching career

I left university and went to work as a lecteur in the Université de Lyon 2, France, where I taught for six years. I belonged to the Faculty of English and the Continuing Education Department, and worked with undergraduates as well as mature students with specialized needs, such as learning English to be better equipped for the job markets, business English, legal English and even English for petro-chemical engineers and Galenic Pharmacists. For some of these courses, as the director of studies, I had to write specialized material, although it often transpired that many of these students already knew the specific lexis of their specialism but just wanted to be a member of an international linguistic community.

What inspired you to join IATEFL initially?

I returned to the UK in 1982 with a couple of book commissions and began work as a textbook writer. But I was very conscious that even after six years teaching, I still had an enormous amount to learn. IATEFL was and still is the highest profile and most accessible association for teachers this side of the Atlantic.

So for me, IATEFL was the fast track to developing my very limited knowledge of language teaching and to learn about teaching contexts beyond my own country-specific experience. This was essential not just for my own work but for my awareness of the international dimensions and requirements of ELT.

How long have you been a member? How has the organization changed over that time?

I suppose I must have joined in 1983 or 84. The first IATEFL conference I attended was at Strawberry Hill in London. It was small but very active and busy, and most notably with the same welcome as the vastly larger IATEFL conference offer today.

IATEFL came into existence at a time when ELT had yet to develop into the extensive industry it is today. At the time, English still wasn’t the international language it is today, but the professionalism showed by those early volunteers for the association was very apparent.

Over the years IATEFL has grown bigger and better in so many ways. In the same way that teachers are now professionalized by qualifications and students by the need for standardized assessment, IATEFL kept pace with the process of professionalization. It couldn’t have survived otherwise. But what I like especially about IATEFL is that its spirit of commitment to quality education and its friendly, relaxed support for its members and associates is the same as it was on a much smaller scale all those years ago. That’s an incredible achievement for such a large association with such an international and culturally varied outreach.

How would you summarise your experience of IATEFL?

As a rank-and-file member I saw IATEFL as essential to my professional development. As a young textbook writer, I gave presentations at the annual conference almost as a rite-of-passage and on one occasion attended by as many as four people.

As president of IATEFL from 1997–99 I achieved an overview of international ELT which would never otherwise have been possible. I met so many different people from teachers to publishers to other textbook writers to ministry officials and exam specialists. It also directly led to my work in China which has absorbed most of my time since I stepped down as president. No one in China knew my name or my books at that time, but they did know about IATEFL and my work as president. When my publishers suggested I might be suitable to join a team preparing a course for Junior High, Senior High and universities, my Chinese colleagues approved my appointment with enthusiasm. Thanks to IATEFL!

Are you a(n active) member of a SIG? What made you choose it? What do you get out of it?

I’m no longer an active member, but nevertheless I belong to the recently formed MAWSIG, the Materials Writing SIG, which despite a slow start, has become very active and, I believe, extremely helpful to people at any stage of their writing career.

Do you work with any other teaching associations or organisations? What makes IATEFL different?

No, I don’t belong to any other teaching associations, although I’ve attended conferences and done training in about fifty countries around the world.

In the 1990s, the British Council conference in Italy was the biggest event apart from the IATEFL annual conference. It was superbly organized and made a huge contribution to ELT in Italy and in the region. It was the first time I spoke to audiences of over 1000. TESOL was and remains an essential date in the ELT/ESOL calendar, although for my taste, it’s too big and impersonal now. TESOL Greece was a conference I attended regularly, and the friendliness of the organizers and participants was something I appreciated greatly. Conferences all over the world are motivated by the teachers’ pleasure in meeting professional colleagues and learning from them.

IATEFL has been fortunate to benefit from all the positive aspects of these and many other conferences I and other volunteers have attended, and I hope has avoided some of the negative aspects as well.

Can you share one activity, tip or resource that you’ve learnt about thanks to IATEFL? Why did you choose it?

Not really a tip or a resource, but I learned that what makes you suitable to be elected president of IATEFL was nothing to do with the skills you had used in the job. I discovered managerial skills which I didn’t know I had, and developed a great deal of self-confidence, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the daily issues of management and lose sight of the big picture. This was invaluable for everything I’ve ever done since.

Do you have any interesting stories to tell related to IATEFL? For example, from an event you’ve attended, a person you’ve met, or an idea you’ve used in the classroom.

I wish I could think of something funny, because I have the impression that alongside the hard work, there was a great deal of laughter and great fun to be had with people who were at the top of our profession.

One idea which disappeared: while I was president, we decided to carry out a makeover of the IATEFL brand, introducing its logo and its mission Linking, developing and supporting English Language Teaching professionals worldwide, both of which are still in use today. We also started to take a stand to our associates’ conference in the hope of raising membership. Jill Stajduhar, the Executive Officer at the time, asked for some publicity material for the back of the stand. We negotiated and developed a map of the world, not the usual Mercator Atlantic-centred one, but a Peters projection, Pacific-centred one, with the strapline: Join IATEFL and look at the world in a different way. I thought it was great, but we could only afford to print a hundred, which got sent to our associates, and then the whole idea got forgotten.

Why would you recommend joining IATEFL?

Friendly, efficient, committed, professional, highly organized – these are both the qualities of IATEFL’s teachers and volunteers and of the association itself. Long may it continue to perform its essential function in ELT!

Simon Greenall is a long-time member and past president of IATEFL. He very kindly agreed to be the first individual member featured on the blog.