This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).
The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous installments of DA here.
To celebrate our eleventh installment of DA, we have Bethany Cagnol.
Bethany Cagnol is a freelance business English and ESP trainer based in Paris, France. She is the president of TESOL France, treasurer of IATEFL BESIG and on the conference committee of IATEFL. She speaks at ELT conferences and recently published “Nursing 1″ with Ros Wright (Pearson). She owns two companies in France that provide language training, project management and consulting. She enjoys advising trainers on how they can develop their own freelance status and/or business and often blogs about it .
Chia: It’s so great to have you here on Devil’s Advocate, Beth!
Bethany: Thanks for the invitation, Chia. I’ve been looking forward to this all week!
Chia: It’s an honour to have the president of TESOL France, treasurer of BESIG, and IATEFL conference committee member here on the hot seat!
Bethany: The seat’s lukewarm at the moment. I’m sure that’s about to change.
Chia: Sorry I couldn’t have made the seat warmer for you. I know you’re used to being wined and dined and jetted around the world by these big TEFL organisations that you volunteer for.
Bethany: [ducks for cover] Gosh, you really start off with a good jab, don’t ya?
Being sponsored by the three above-mentioned organizations is a huge perk, yes. I’m very lucky that TESOL France, BESIG and IATEFL have contributed to my attending various events around Europe. The world? No.
But we at TESOL France have a very strict rule about sponsoring Executive Committee members for events. Excom members have to serve on the committee for a year before we sponsor them.
Chia: Sorry, could we define ‘Excom’ before we continue?
Bethany: Excom – Executive Committee
The M is not to be confused with N.
Chia: OOOH! Doh! I thought Excom meant ex-committee member…!
And I was wondering why you were sponsoring people who no longer work for you…Hahaha
So why do people volunteer to be on the Executive committees? It must be all the free lunches you’re getting? Or do you do it because it makes you feel all warm inside?
Bethany: To be honest, yes and no. When I started out with TESOL France I didn’t know travelling to conferences was an option for Excom members. I joined because I wanted to work with Ros Wright. One of my colleagues told me: “If there’s anyone in ELT you should work with, it’s Ros Wright.” That was one of the reasons I joined the TESOL France Excom.
It was only when TESOL France started to grow that sponsoring attendees to IATEFL and other TESOLs in Europe became part of our norm.
And yes, volunteering for these organizations definitely makes me feel all warm and fuzzy but I’m sure we’ll get to that in a minute.
Chia: I had no idea that TESOL France Excom members get sponsored to go to IATEFL and other TESOL conferences in Europe. Wow, it’s even cushier than I thought! That’s on top of getting free trips to places where committee meetings are held, and of course, you get to attend the very conference that you help organise for free as well, don’t you? Is that why most people volunteer to become committee members?
Bethany: We sponsor Excom members to attend conferences because we want them to work for us. For example, TESOL France asks them to scout out good speakers for our events.
Attending conferences also gives them a taste of what a well-run international event is like. And of course it contributes to their professional growth and development. When they come back from the conferences they are so jazzed and motivated (as a teacher and as a volunteer) that they want to help us organize the same high-quality events here in France.
Chia: You mentioned growth and development. That is certainly one of the real reasons why people ‘volunteer’ to be Excom members, isn’t it? Not only do they get to attend conferences and have free trips all around Europe, but they get free business training and get to hone and develop their event organisation and team management skills, not to mention develop a useful network of contacts.
Bethany: Well, before TESOL France, right as I was finishing my MA, I thought about doing an MBA. But I couldn’t possibly pay for one. An MBA costs a fortune. But I still wanted the skills that are (usually) developed during an MBA: I wanted to learn leadership skills, basic business skills, financial skills, project management skills, marketing skills, etc. I got all that and more from being on the committees of TESOL France, BESIG and IATEFL.
And while I developed those skills, and contributed my time, ideas, and experience to the organizations, I met some amazing, incredible teachers. I made some very dear friends like Ros Wright, Debbie West, Eric Halvorsen, Gillian Evans, Laurence Whiteside, Jane Ryder and Christina Rebuffet-Broadus who all work tirelessly towards TESOL France’s cause.
And I met you, Chia! (wink)
Chia: (takes off DA hat) Aw, thanks. I’m glad I met you too…(puts DA hat back on) But I didn’t need to join an Excom to get to meet you though.
So now, the truth has finally surfaced. People volunteer not because they are being altruistic. They volunteer because they are cheap and want to save the money they would have spent on an MBA, get free business training from being on these committees, and meet the right people. Ah hah!
Bethany: I joined TESOL France because I wanted to develop skills and I wanted to know what it was like to work with other teachers. Teaching in France can be very isolating, you know. Others join for many different reasons.
Volunteering for a teachers’ organization can also help expose you to the latest trends of ELT. One good example is offering to be on the conference proposals committee. While you may have to read a ton of abstracts, it can give you an idea of what the latest ELT trends are.
Chia: But you can meet other teachers and learn about the latest trends in ELT from networking online and attending conferences. You don’t need to organise one for that and can save yourself many hours and still profit from the kind of networking you’re talking about…
But of course, being one of the organisers puts you in a certain limelight. You’re on show, you make contacts (very good for networking and getting work, getting into publishing, writing journals, and so on.)
…which brings us back to hidden agendas of these so-called altruistic volunteers again.
Bethany: I don’t disagree with you when you say that some may volunteer to fulfill their own professional agendas. Volunteers should ALWAYS gain something from the experience. I’m a firm believer in it. They should gain experience, knowledge AND recognition. But they also have to prove they are willing to carry their own weight on the team.
Chia: Could you explain what you mean by ‘prove that they are willing to carry their own weight on the team’?
Bethany: Stellar volunteers are those, who in my opinion, *consistently* demonstrate their dedication to the association’s activities and mission. They readily take on tasks, come up with ways to improve the organization and reliably carry out their responsibilities.
And if they can’t fulfill a task they have the integrity to inform the rest of the team that they need to step down or be given a different role.
Chia: I accept the fact that some volunteers do work hard and do a good job, but ultimately, would you agree with me that volunteers do it for selfish reasons and the kudos we give to what they contribute is overrated?
Many of these ‘stellar’ volunteers are only working hard and trying to do a good job because they want to move up the ladder and rub shoulders with the TEFL elite, and doing this by volunteering in an organisation like IATEFL is a lot easier than moving up the ladder in a school, for example. All one needs is to show willing to offer their services and hard work for free.
Bethany: It is true that some volunteer for that reason alone. But luckily, they are the minority, in my opinion. Based on what I’ve witnessed in three different teacher organizations of varying sizes, they are the minority.
And yes, volunteering makes us feel good. And as I stated above, it should.
But contributing to the world of ELT has grown larger these past few years thanks to Web 2.0. Blogging, Tweeting, conversing about latest issues and trends online is also a form of volunteerism.
Heck, you volunteer your time to DA, don’t you?
Chia: I’m afraid I can’t agree with that. People who blog and tweet are not volunteering. They might be spending time volunteering information and sharing it with others, but they are blogging and tweeting about what they want to blog and tweet about. They are not volunteering to do tasks for an organisation that have been decided for them. And most importantly, bloggers and tweeters don’t get the kudos for being ‘charitable’ like Excom members do. So let’s not go off tangent here…
Nice try, though!
Bethany: But before you rope this pony back into the pen, let’s take Shelly Terrell for example. She volunteers hundreds of hours setting up online conferences, doing free, weekly webinars, writing articles, mentoring people. She’s a good example of how volunteers can reach out from afar.
You claim, “They are not volunteering to do tasks for an organisation that have been decided for them.” – Sorry, I don’t agree. Many volunteers of teachers’ organizations take on tasks they want to carry out because they are confident they can.
Chia: First of all, Shelly Terrell gets paid for her webinars and the talks she gives, and yes, Shelly does quite a bit of volunteering as well. She’s investing her own time to build her brand, and she does it very well. And it’s on the strength of this brand that she gets invitations to speak all over the world.
Didn’t you mention something similar at a recent conference in Paris, Beth? About the importance of investing your time to build your brand?
Bethany: Shelly, definitely, is a good example of someone who develops her ELT brand* – and volunteering for an organization does help one promote that. Again, I don’t disagree.
But take The Reform Symposium, for instance. She volunteered her time to help organize this amazing online conference. She invested an enormous amount of time so that hundreds of teachers around the world could get together and gain hours and hours of free professional development.
*For more on developing your ELT Brand, see the article in the next issue of the BESIG Business Issues (Cagnol & Hogan 2012).
Chia: Ah, so you’ve volunteered to do this DA with me so that you can promote your article in the next Business Issues! It all becomes clear! Did you and Mike Hogan use your connections to BESIG (You as the Treasurer and Mike as the BESIG Online Team member) to get your article into the journal? How convenient! See, there’s no such thing as pure altruism.
Bethany: Now now. In our article, we do suggest ways teachers can develop their ELT brand, but this isn’t the topic of this DA.
Anyway, we didn’t “use our connections”. Anyone is welcome to submit an article to be published in BESIG’s Business Issues. Julia Waldner would love to hear from you!
But again, if you want to bring writing back into this debate, earlier, you conveniently tried to duck from the fact that your doing the DA is not a form of volunteerism. I think it is. It helps you develop skills and it gives back to the ELT community.
Chia: Nice backhand, Beth. Doing the DA simply satisfies my confrontational personality for a good ol’ verbal punchup. It might make me better at constructing arguments when I finally make it into that university debate team. So see? I’m not doing DA because I have any kind of purely altruistic bone in me either. Just like those TESOL association volunteers! We all have an agenda!
Bethany: But don’t you get enormous satisfaction in the fact that you are helping hundreds of teachers out there? By the looks of all the comments, everyone seems to get a great deal out of your conversations with other DA “victims”. That’s gotta feel pretty darn good, doesn’t it? It’s because of you, your readers think twice before going at an ESP course without a coursebook. It’s because of you, your readers think twice before giving just any language test to their students. I could go on….
Chia: But that’s exactly it. Social psychologists and philosophers like Ayn Rand suggests that pure altruism does not exist.
We operate on a basis of ethical egoism, i.e. we do what is in our own self-interest. And so if the self-interest is to boost one’s ego and feel good about oneself, then that is certainly an agenda too…
But we’re getting off the main point, that being my blogging is not volunteering, in the traditional sense of the word. Being in the Excom is volunteering…and with a much larger (and some might say, darker) hidden agenda.
It’s no longer just about feeling good and boosting one’s ego. It’s about wanting to be in the limelight, gaining a TEFL celebrity status, building an influential network and being recognised as an experienced, well-respected teacher at the top of his/her industry, even though in actual fact, for all we know, the Excom member could be a terrible teacher.
Bethany: Ok dearie, I’ll address the jabs one by one. ;-)
You said, “Social psychologists and philosophers like Ayn Rand suggests that pure altruism does not exist.” - Ok. I see their point. But this is an old argument going back thousands of years.
No one should volunteer for an organization if they end up being miserable. Not too long ago I met someone who was a former member of another teachers’ organization. She said, “I worked so hard for the association, but was never thanked. I was incredibly unhappy”. So it was from that day I decided that those who dedicate their time to these organizations deserve to be thanked and recognized *publically*.
You then said, “It’s no longer just about feeling good and boosting one’s ego. It’s about wanting to be in the limelight, gaining a TEFL celebrity status… “ – I don’t entirely agree. Granted, the Internet (Twitter & Facebook) has helped make the recognition of these volunteers a lot easier. Teachers, who we, as an association, praise for their hard work, can and do become “TEFL celebrities”. But as I said earlier, wanting to be in the limelight, for the majority, isn’t the goal here. It’s the byproduct.
And finally, you said,”….for all we know, the Excom member could be a terrible teacher.” That may well be. But that’s the beauty of being on the Excom. It can help you become a better teacher, learner, leader, organizer, employee, boss, etc.
Chia: Being in the limelight isn’t a goal for the majority? (And earlier, you said that using Excom status to climb up the TEFL ladder isn’t what you witnessed to be a goal of the majority).
The key here is that those with such a goal or secret agenda are of course going to keep it secret and play their cards close to their chest. They will say all the right things about volunteering so that they can develop, give back to the community, form wonderful friendships, but in reality, their intentions are much darker. So of course, you wouldn’t be able to witness it just by talking or working with them.
Bethany: You seem to want to categorize “setting personal goals” or “having a professional agenda” as something that is terrible. It isn’t really. I’m going to bring my mother into this because she taught me to always think through my decisions and to analyze what I could gain from every experience no matter what.
As professionals, we should always think through what we can *give* and *take* from every situation. But my mother also taught me to trust people. I trust they are volunteering for the right reasons – to give back to the community but also to develop into a better person.
Chia: That all sounds warm and fuzzy in this context – setting personal goals, having a professional agenda.
Let me ask you, Beth, if someone in your PLN hangs out with you, acts like they are genuinely your friend and seem really interested in you as a person, but later, you find out that they are actually only doing so because you are the president of TESOL France, because you have great connections, and you can help them to fulfill their ‘personal goals’, would you forgive such a ‘professional agenda’?
Isn’t that what volunteering for TEFL organisations under the pre-text of doing something good for the community really is?
Beth: Thanks for calling my mom “warm and fuzzy”. I agree 100%. I’ll tell her you said that.
Well….as I’ve developed with the PLN, I find it’s now my responsibility to help bring others into the fold.
One good example is the TESOL France Executive Committee. The newer members get introduced to the PLN who come to our conferences, they are invited to give talks, they are welcomed at the dinner tables, etc. So, in a way, I choose to help introduce my fellow Excom members to the PLN and show them the benefits of not only volunteering for TESOL France, BESIG and/or IATEFL but also the benefits of making friends who can help them down the road.
Chia: But it’s all in the intentions, you see.
To use my metaphorical analogy earlier, if someone befriends you because their intentions had been genuine and they really like you as a person and want to be your friend, if you do introduce them to your network of professional contacts and help their career along the way, that’s one thing.
But if someone befriends you with the intentions of exploiting your status and network from the very start, that’s a totally different agenda.
Bethany: And again, I have to go back to what my mother taught me. I will trust them. That’s just who I am.
I know some may throw the “naive” card at me, but I really prefer to go through life trusting people.
My mother taught me it’s better to trust people. But she also helped me develop a pretty good BS detector.
Chia: You are lucky to have such a great mother. Bet she didn’t teach you those things with any secret agendas…
Bethany: Her agenda was wanting me to develop my own definition of success and to know how to achieve that. Thanks to TESOL France, BESIG, and IATEFL, I do feel successful and very happy as a volunteer and as a professional.
Chia: And by nurturing your PLN and the new volunteers in return, you are developing your followers…a leader needs followers. In helping others, you are creating a following, which in itself will grow and give you (i.e. the volunteer in the higher position) even greater status and more limelight. Clever!
Bethany: Now now. Nah…on Star Trek, maybe. To all my followers: resistance is futile!
Chia: Mwahahaha! I’ve got Bethany Cagnol to finally admit her secret agenda!!!
Bethany: Yup! That’s what it’s been this whole time.
Chia: Beth, you have managed to come out of this DA looking like a kind, trusting and positive optimist that you clearly are! And the DA now just looks like a cynical old grump…
Bethany: Well…I can fix that. We do have a position for you on the TESOL France Executive Committee if you want.
Chia: One, this Devil’s Advocate doesn’t live in France. Two, the DA doesn’t want clingers trying to befriend her with secret agendas…she’ll end up trusting them and then feeling betrayed in the end. And three, I am afraid the TESOL France President’s positivity might actually cause the DA to lose her edge and actually become a better person.
Bethany: But the friendships you’ll make will last a lifetime (hint hint nudge nudge)
Chia: I’ve got you, Beth…what other friendships would I need?
Bethany: Let’s look at it this way. If I hadn’t volunteered for TESOL France, I wouldn’t have gotten up the nerve to give a small workshop for the membership.
If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to apply for the phenomenal conferences hosted by IATEFL Poland, TESOL Spain, and IATEFL and TESOL International.
If I hadn’t gone to those amazing events I wouldn’t have taken on the organization of the TESOL France conferences. I wouldn’t have developed a sheer hunger for professional development and volunteerism.
If I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have made the incredible friends I’ve met along the way…
And if I hadn’t done any of this I wouldn’t have met you Chia.
Ok….I’m actually tearing up now. (sniff).
Chia: Great 3rd conditional personalised lesson you’ve got there, Beth!
Well, I’m certainly glad that you did the conferences you did and that I fell in love with the person I fell for because both of those two things have resulted in the wonderful friendship I have with you today! (Warm and fuzzy feeling…like being wrapped in the fur of a woolly mammoth)
Bethany: Cue cheesy music Chia!
Chia: Cue picture of Woolly mammoth (There, Phil, I’ve said it twice!)
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy ‘conference-organising’ schedule to be on DA today Beth…you’ve been a star…
Bethany: Thanks Chia. You’ve really made me think long and hard about all this and this has been an incredible experience.
Chia: I’m glad you enjoyed it. Now, how about introducing me to some of your influential Excom friends?
Bethany: Oh honey….I can’t wait for you to meet them. They will love you! Can’t wait until your Plenary in November at the TESOL France Conference!
(how do ya like my shameless plug of your plenary
Chia: Sigh, secret agendas and shameless plugs…
Epilogue (by Bethany Cagnol): Bethany’s views are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was only playing DA, and of course believes in the many positive reasons Bethany has given for volunteering. Bethany may have appeared to have been completely and utterly ass-whooped by Chia during this DA session, but rest assured they are still friends who are not adverse to the occasional rowdy debate over a glass of read wine (Bordeaux, preferably) or under Chia’s comfy duvet at 2am.