Devil’s Advocate vs Bethany Cagnol on Volunteering for Teaching Associations

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.

When you think ‘TEFL conferences’, is this what comes to mind?
Photo by Chia Suan Chong


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.  😉

Is the Sheriff also the Ex-Con?
Photo by @dfogarty at


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.

Teachers getting jazzed up by Fish at the closing of IATEFL Glasgow 2012
Photo by Mike Hogan,


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!

Yes indeed! Not only is it cheaper than an MBA, you get to meet Rakesh Bhanot too! Now, how swell is that?


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.

Er…girls…when I said ‘carry your own weight’, I didn’t quite mean ‘carry yourself in weight’…
Photo by @VictoriaB52,


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!

A cheeky girl decides to go on a tangential angle
Photo by @sandymillin,


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).

Cagnol and Hogan (2012) speaking at the BESIG Paris Summer Symposium
Photo by Chia Suan Chong


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….

As this bird’s ego gets bigger…
Photo by @cgoodey,


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.

…and they keep coming!
Photo by @sandymillin,


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.

And when the ladies stood under the lime tree under the street lamps, the men would stop…
Photo by @acliltoclimb,


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?

Volunteering at IATEFL conferences is warm and fuzzy
Photo of IATEFL Brighton 2011 by Mike Hogan,


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.

How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not a cash cow?
Photo by @mk_elt,

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…

Bethany: Sigh 😉

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.

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

31 thoughts on “Devil’s Advocate vs Bethany Cagnol on Volunteering for Teaching Associations”

  1. Wahey. This was brilliant. Maybe the best yet AND you got the Mammoth in there. Nice!

    What you should add is a photo of you fighting each DA victim. There’s one with Lindsay and one with Dale. You could have a gallery.

    Interesting points. Nobody does things for nothing. There’s always a reason. I do have to say that of all the organisations and associations I’ve approached over the years that TESOL France is one of the few that was approachable. even more, they want more people, new blood, fresh ideas and from what I saw of the lengths that Bethany went to in order to find speakers housing, my god, it sets a standard. Sadly, I’ve never been to any events as before I worked weekends and now I’m too far away but from what I’ve watched online it is very down to earth. It’s about the people and not stuffy speakers promoting books. All this is down to Bethany and Ros.

    Yes, they get a lot out of it. They develop skills, make contacts and learn new things but why not? They get paid NADA. I used to be an examiner and had to travel, sometimes fly and it’s not fun. Spending a whole day on a train to work for 2 hours. Not enjoyable, especially if travel time isn’t paid. these guys are giving their weekends and weekdays/evenings so as freelancers these are time they could be making money so not only aren’t they making any but probably losing it too.

    If you can find a volunteer anywhere in the world who gets nothing out of it possibly they are crazy or it’s not useful. Volunteering is to help the volunteer and those being helped too. I recall meals on wheels, working in retirement homes and other strange activities at school. I didn’t want to do them. I got nothing out of it cos I didn’t put anything in. That’s the difference. At uni I did, I put a lot of effort in and ended up doing more hours volunteering than at uni. Yet, I developed skills and really had a great time.

    Whatever people think I know that TEFL needs more people like Bethany and you Chia. How about we make a super TEFL association where volunteers get paid. Speaking of that, I had the same conversation in Beijing after the games. For me volunteers don’t get paid but some of those did. why? They said volunteer means you chose to do the job it doesn’t mean no money. Hmmmm.

  2. Thanks Chia and Bethany for choosing this topic, and talking about the pros and cons so well. What seems clear from the discussion is that the whole system is built on barter. The industry needs people to do the sorts of jobs outlined in the discussion (organise conferences, newsletters etc) but can’t afford to pay them in traditional ways (ie with money), so instead offers benefits (travel to conferences, networking, recognition, warm-feeling etc.). It works well and most people are happy.

    The only time it doesn’t work well is when the “volunteers” outstay their welcome. I am sure we all know people who fall in love with the prestige which comes from being “in charge”, and find it difficult to let go. Often they justify it by saying that no-one has come forward to replace them.

    So for me the true test of a good volunteer is the ability to say “I’ve done my bit – now it’s time for someone else to have the chance”. As the saying goes, there is no success without a successor.

  3. Hi Chia and Beth

    Thank you, Chia, for asking some really good questions about volunteering in ELT. It made me think about my motivation for standing for the post of president of IATEFL in 1995.

    So many things Beth says – I agree with them all, even though they were not necessarily on my agenda at the time. Here’s what happened to me, and my thought processes….

    Some time before, Catherine Walter, who described herself as a rank-and-file member of IATEFL said to me that I should stand, also a rank-and-file member. At the time we were both primarily textbook writers, and even in those days (the mid Nineties), a much reviled species (!). Catherine’s point was that we were important to the profession and needed to put something back into it. That was the first motivation.

    A second one was that our ‘constituency’ was the classroom teacher and not the world of academic ELT. Louis Alexander also encouraged me to stand, and on behalf of teachers and practitioners. He understood the importance of the correct mix in IATEFL between practicioners and theoreticians.

    A third motivation was of wonder, after quite a few years working in ELT publishing, travelling endlessly and making sure my career was sound, that someone might think I’d be a suitable person to stand for election. There’s no doubt that this motivation reflects your scepticism about true altruism. I was flattered to be asked.

    It’s interesting that, in my experience, several of the potential presidents of IATEFL have been very concerned about standing for election. Exceptionally capable people, but in no way confident they were right for the job. So the motivation of being flattered to be asked and considering the personal rewards is often mitigated by straightforward modesty about showing you feel highly enough about yourself to stand up so publicly.

    I was on the IATEFL Executive Committee for four years. For three of them it was a full time job and extremely hard work. The risk about elected positions in a volunteer organisation is that the qualities and profile which make you electable are not necessarily as the same ones you need to do the job. My learning curve was vertical for about eighteen months before I got a handle on all the issues. Maybe I was just slow, but I didn’t automatically assume I was the right person for the job.

    I’ve recently embarked on my second major volunteer role, as trustee of International House. I also thought a lot about my motivation for this – flattery, personal interest, reconnecting with an organization and a world I used to know, standing up to be counted etc. But I’ll tell you who I admire among the trustees – it’s those people who care about IH but are in no way connected with the ELT profession, the lawyers, the finaciers, the ex-diplomats, the academics. This may be where I disagree with you, but there is some real altruism among those who are involved in charitable works in ELT, even if they don’t naturally belong to the profession.

    And finally … sorry to go on … Chia, I said this to you once … my greatest pride is that people like you and Beth, either on blogs or in volunteer positions, stand up to be counted. It makes me feel both proud and relieved that the profession I’ve worked in for thirty years has a stellar future. Thanks.

  4. Hi Chia and Bethany,

    First of all thanks for the post that I’m sure highlights volunteers and organizations and what kind of benefits there are for people who volunteer in ELT organizations. I learned a lot about reading this debate.

    On this note, I think it’s a shame when folks have to think everyone has a selfish motive. I know many who demean the great work volunteers do because they link it to some type of reason that is not noble. The fact is that the work these volunteers do we benefit from immensely and we truly don’t know unless we are that person. I for one was excited about social media and connecting when I began. I didn’t think about being or building “a brand”. I don’t curate or organize projects to spread “my brand” and there are many talks, webinars, Skype workshops I do for free just to help teachers in general. The branding thing came after. When I started blogging, tweeting, and organizing free conferences it was because I had a passion for what I do and I think many volunteers do have a passion for what they do. Maybe that is the reason they volunteer their time is because they like helping others and realize their field is better for it just like Bethany stated in her arguments.

    I think many volunteers may do something because they just love their field and many teachers have a giving spirit and feel they have something to share. Perhaps, that is another reason why teacher organizations have so many volunteers because of this spirit. Organizations do serve a purpose. Before social media, conferences were the main way many teachers gathered and learned from each other. They have linked people and research and they have highlighted and funded important work in our field. Conferences and organizations are also a way of us keeping current with the latest trends, debating them, and discussing them.

    For others who volunteer, the organization is like family to them. I have presented at TESOL France for 3 years and I can tell you that they are like family. They respect each other and look out for each other. I think that can be a reason to volunteer as well. As an English teacher in Germany I often felt alone and when I began to connect with other educators online and in my field, I often volunteered time because it felt like a family and filled that void I wasn’t receiving where I was at. Many of us in ELT leave our homes, friends, and family behind. An organization is one way to develop close friendships and do something for the community as well as learn more about your field.

    Thanks again for the debate!

    1. Exactly. I am in the same boat. I started contributing to TESOL France and other organisations when I finished the MA and then Bethany got me on Twitter. Everyday I learn something new because people post ideas, their lessons, sites etc. They give free webinars, training…It’s impossible to keep up and most of it is done voluntarily. I remember Claudio Azevedo said he used to be a ‘vampire’ taking all these ideas and then finally decided to give back.

      When I was working FT in language schools all I knew about associations was a newsletter or magazine. I think we had ETp and BESIG. These people seemed to be the top of the top but a million miles away. I used to copy their ideas, use their worksheets and drool over their genius. Well, turns out they are just normal people and you can contact them and even ask for ideas. this still blows me away that you can tweet or comment on a famous person’s blog and they’ll write back and give you ideas, comments and support. That’s all from volunteering in a way by doing events, articles and blogs.

      I’m proud to say we Brits have a history of volunteering. I can show you my scout badges if you want. Well, maybe not, not sure where they are. First aid, cooking English breakfast, orienteering….knots…

  5. Hi Chia and Beth,

    Nice DA, as always, Chia. This one hit a particular button, so I decided to put in my two cents. I see myself in a lot of what Beth, Simon and Shelly said. I do believe some people might volunteer with ulterior motives, even if they are not the main reason, the might be a “side effect” taken in consideration. Be it prestige, being in the limelight or the occasional sponsorship to trips and dinners… it doesn’t matter.


    From what I have seen, from the people I know who are involved in Teacher Associations (and any other kind of volunteer work)… those “perks” are usually proportional to the amount of time and work they put into it. Had they put the same time and effort into teaching, writing or any other activity for which they get paid, they would probably be able to afford such perks on their own.

    So you can throw me on the “warm and fuzzy” team anytime! I do quite a few things as a volunteer – some bigger, some smaller. I helped Shelly and other organize and run the RSCON (Reform Symposium) because I believe education is the key to so many problems of the world we live in today, that if we can help teachers be better teachers, if we can help them get motivated we are helping things in some way. All my life, many times I have reviewed things, done translations, taught without getting paid – when I think the person (or cause) deserves it. And I do it because I believe in helping other that need and deserve help, and I believe that when good things come to you, you have to give something good back. I also believe that if you put something positive in the world, something positive will eventually bounce back. Yeah, call me naive, or warm and fuzzy – you’d think age and experience would have changed that, but it has only gotten worse 😉

    And boy, re-reading the last paragraph… so many “I believe”… I could edit that, but it’s late and I have an early start 😛

    A final comment on the issue of being a (volunteer) member in Teacher Associations… This post is actually very timely. Inspired by how much I have had the chance to experience and learn by participating in conferences, webinars and social media in the past 2 years, I have joined a small group of English teachers in my city and we decided to “wake up” the regional chapter of our national association. It was run by a group of dedicated, hardworking people for many years, but it had been dormant for a few years. We, as a group, feel we have many opportunities and there are many who don’t around here (far too many to explain). So we got together and restarted the chapter. It’s volunteer work, it takes time – and maybe some money as well. Because unlike bigger associations that were mentioned, we will not get sponsored to go to conferences. We’ll even pay our own way – and registration! – to the national conference. We’ll use our cars to go to the countryside to promote and organize events. And we do it because we think give something back. Because we learn things, we meet people and (as Beth said) we feel good about it.

    So yeah, I think there’s people who do things without an agenda.

    Thanks for this!

  6. Hi Beth and Chia,
    and those who have commented before me. First of all, well done on a great debate. I think this is a really good topic and it’s good to get a few issues clear and out in the open. Volunteering is both an opportunity to grow AND also to do some good. As Beth said, and others commenting, there should always be benefit in both directions (even if the benefit the volunteer gets is just the warm fuzzy feeling). In my situation, in volunteering on the IATEFL BESIG Online Team I was able to bring skills such as project management and working in virtual teams with me, but have learned a lot about livestreaming events, running webinars and so on. Some of this knowledge I brought back into my work, helping me to become better at the job I get paid for. Getting more involved in this area in my job then increased the knowledge and experience I was able to put back in volunteering. So there is simultaneous benefit in both directions. Of course, volunteering gets you to various events in nice places, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, the volunteers are often running around making sure everything’s running smoothly for all other delegates than really participate themselves. Anyone who’s seen Bethany running around at a TESOL France event will agree with me.

    Yes, there may be volunteers who are doing it for the wrong reasons, but I also believe they are in the minority and such people won’t get far anyway. By ‘far’ I mean in life, with their professional relationships. You can only fake ‘goodness’ for so long. I, too, generally believe that people who volunteer are intrinsically good and also want to give something back to a group or society from which they have benefitted.

    (Disclaimer: The article on branding yourself that Bethany referred to above is not about building a brand (in order to get ahead) by volunteering; it’s more about the name you build with customers, learners and clients based on the quality of your work. But thanks for the shameless plug anyway Chia & Beth.)

    And thanks to you both for volunteering your time to have and document this debate – and those who commented before me. I’m sure it’ll be useful for those thinking of volunteering to think about with benefits such as warms feelings, feeling honoured, building friends & a network, expanding their skill set, giving something back and then stepping aside when the time is right for more good people out there to lend a hand

    OK Chia, you can take off your Devil’s Advocate hat now and play nice again. It reads so smoothly one could almost forget you were just playing Devil’s Advocate. Good job!

  7. Hi Chia and Bethany,

    One of your best DAs so far. You brought out some good points into the open. It’s good to shine a light on Associations to keep up standards and to show how they work. Overall my impression is now more positive thanks to your DA.

  8. Well, I think I may be suffering some kind of sense-of-hunour failure here. I did not admire this DA discussion. The DA endless reiteration of the entirely obvious point that people sometimes volunteer for reasons that are not 100% altruistic is hardly new or very challenging as a concept. It’s a given. Here, however, it ended up sounding merely mean-spirited.

    Nowhere in this discussion (apart from things that Bethany said) was there any suggestion of the literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours that teacher organisation volunteers put in, hours without which our lives as conference attenders and participants would be infinitely less attractive or productive or enjoyable. On every teachers’ association I know there are meetings, calls, emails, work work work, and though there may some perks they come absolutely nowhere near the kinds of venal motives you, Chia, were ‘humorously’ trying to provoke Bethany about.

    Teacher volunteers are the people that enable me – and people to like you, Chia – to strut our stuff, meet people and have a damn good time. They are the people who help teachers of all shapes and sizes to learn more and develop. Speaking personally I honour their work and their extraordinary dedication – and if they get something out of it too I celebrate that with them. If, however, they use associations as platforms for self aggrandisement or abuse the position they are in (and yes, of course it does happen; humans, you know), then they can be voted off. We are members of teachers’ associations; it is up to us to play our part, but few of us put in the time. Chia, do you?


    1. Hi Jeremy,
      when myself and Chia concieved this DA series, the idea was, as wriiten at the top, to get a debate going not just between the DA and the person in the hotseat, but the wider ELT community through the comments here. It’s great that you and others have felt compelled to comment (whether in agreement or disagreeing). It proves that the concept is working!

      I think that the DA had a tough job in this case though, as the arguments FOR volunteering are overwhelming for all of the reasons listed above and in previous comments. That may be why it seems that the DA was reiterating the obvious argument against volunteers/volunteering, for lack of other angles to take. The role of the DA is one which is actually facilitating the positive aspects of what the other side stands for, in this case. And while to you and I (and other volunteers) all of these aspects may be quite clear, it is also good to get them out in the open for those who may not be aware of the benefits of volunteering – Benefits both for the volunteer and for the community they are helping. And yes, you’re very right that the many hours put in by volunteers deserve special mention and admiration.

      If you (or anyone else reading this) have any suggestions for other topics which could be debated, in perhaps a more balanced way, I’m sure Chia’ll be all ears. I’ll be comfortably sitting offstage and out of the line of fire 🙂

  9. Thanks everyone for taking time to comment, and for spreading more awareness of the issue.

    I’m really glad that this post is provoking thought and debate, and pushing people to consider/become aware of their reasons for volunteering, as some of you have mentioned.

    But most of all, for readers like Chris, it heartens me to know that those not part of teaching associations, or not part of the volunteer committees, are now more aware of the work that our volunteers put into the journals we receive, the conferences we attend, the online resources we have access to, and the communities that we can feel a belonging towards.
    Their hard work certainly deserves our commendation and recognition.

    Of course, as stated in the epilogue, and in the title of this blog series, I was only playing Devil’s Advocate, and not at all voicing opinions of my own.

    As Brad Patterson once pointed out, the phrase Devil’s Advocate came from the times when the Roman Catholic church authorities would appoint someone to argue against the candidate up for canonisation and look for holes.

    Today, we play Devil’s Advocate so as the test the quality of an argument and through an argumentative discussion process, we seek to improve the original position.
    In this case, we’re not seeking to improve the original position, but to publicise and make known the different things that people do when volunteering for teaching organisations.

    So, I do believe that if you find yourself wondering why I’m being hard on Beth, put yourself in the position of the reader who doesn’t know anything that goes on behind the scenes who’s reading this too, and read the debate again.

    What would you now realise about people who volunteer for such organisations? Would you now want to volunteer too?

    I believe the answer is ‘yes’.

    And it doesn’t matter if the ‘yes’ comes from wanting to feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ and to feel good about oneself, or if it comes from wanting to get some experience organising conferences, or if it comes from wanting to feel important and appreciated.
    And it doesn’t matter if one started out with one motivation and ended up with another.

    At the end of the day, that one individual stood up and did something about it.
    He/She didn’t just sit around and moaned about not feeling fulfilled.

    So to put my DA hat back on again (and risk angering everyone again), maybe the philosophers and social psychologists are right in saying that there is no such thing as true altruism.

    Wanting to do good because good will come back to you, or because one can learn from it, or because it provides for personal gratification, is all fine.

    At the end of the day, the good is still being done, and people are benefitting from that good, and THAT is what matters.

    I might not have ‘put time in’ with teaching associations, Jeremy, but I have done quite a bit of volunteer work with children with mental disabilities like autism and Asperger’s.
    I did it because I wanted to meet good people. I did it because I wanted to spend my time productively. I did it because I wanted to feel good about myself.
    I admit all that.
    But that does not make what I have done worth any less.
    Yet, I think it is still important for myself to be aware of why I volunteered…as a human being, I think being aware is key to learning and becoming a better person.

    So if the DA can make some people more aware, even if it means that the DA is hated as a result and has to seem like the ‘bad guy’, then so be it.
    The DA might not look nice as a result…but I don’t think the DA did DA to feel warm and fuzzy inside…so maybe this is true altruism?

    (I am just kidding! Don’t come at me with your knives! *she runs off screaming!*)


    1. Just want to say that what struck me most about your discussion was not so much the critque of an abstract idea as your observations of the TEFL culture. Irrespective of the debate about “true altruism” don’t we see a shift in our culture away from idealism? Of course all the old idealists (Ghandi included, doubtless) were also motivated by various forms of self-interest, but they were, nevertheless, idealists. Where are the idealists now? Everyone, it seems, is a hard-nosed realist who knows they have to develop a brand and use all the latest social media marketing tools to sell it. Of course some good is being done by people promoting their brands and selling themselves, but gone are the days when idealistic young people packed their bags to travel across Europe to fight the fascists in Spain.

      1. Hi (what should I call you? Torn Halves?),
        Thanks for taking time to read and comment…
        I’m afraid I must say that I don’t really agree with what you said about the shift away from idealism.
        I am a teacher trainer, and I run CELTA courses and also train experienced teachers in special areas like ‘Current Trends in ELT’, ‘Language Development’, etc. And trust me, I see idealistic teachers all the time.

        Some of my trainees are giving up jobs in banking, in law, in civil service, in the business world, and taking up teaching because they want to travel to developing countries and make a bigger difference, they want to have a hand in educating the young and grooming and guiding them for a brighter future, or they want to volunteer for schools that teach asylum seekers or women who have suffered from domestic violence and need English to give them the freedom to break free.

        The school I work for, International House London, is a non-profit making organisation, and we are heavily involved in activities such as seconding teachers to work for homeless charities and organisations like CRISIS who offer English courses to immigrants. We also help prepare them and fund their IELTS exams so that they are better able to contribute their skills to the society they live in.

        If developing a brand and using social media is what would help teachers and students around the world, we should certainly not be biased against the fact that modern technology is being used…and this as nothing to do with idealism…after all, the same technology can be used for many different purposes and reasons…

        There might not be blatant fascists in Spain these days…but that doesn’t mean there are no battles we have to fight every day…

        Idealism is still very much alive…


  10. Hello again Chia. Hi everyone! Thanks for the comments!

    I’ve fully recovered from our DA session, though I’m still twitching a bit…so if I type Q instead of W, you’ll know why. 😉

    Really, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience being in the hot seat. I think everyone will agree that Chia’s DA makes us think. As the guinea pig this time, I was fully aqare…damnit!… aWare of what was going on. Chia let me know when she put on her DA hat and when she took it off. I now know how my students feel when I play DA in the classroom!

    It’s an exercise we should probably incorporate into the IATEFL Conferences alongside the Signature Events and the ELTJ Debate!

    Phil: I’ve given your idea of getting paid a lot of thought. In fact, I know of a couple teachers who are paid by their ELT associations to organize conferences. If the association can afford it, then that’s great! TESOL France, unfortunately, doesn’t have that luxury because we run our events on such a tight budget. For the past several years, members, speakers, poster presenters and stand representatives have attended our conferences without having to pay the registration fee. So we take pride in organizing high-quality events on a shoestring.

    Evan: I couldn’t agree more. People have asked me if I’m going to be president of TESOL France next year. Well, I can’t actually. Our statutes state that a president’s term is a maximum of three years. No chance pulling a Napoleon and crowning myself TESOL France Empress for all eternity. Darn. Seriously, this year has been a major learning experience as I help train those who are interested in moving up the association’s ladder.

    Simon: I’ll never forget when you came to a TESOL France Conference and gave me the “Now Panic and Freak Out” mugs. I think every association head should get a pair. You have been such a wonderful supporter of TESOL France and IATEFL. I totally know what you mean by “learning curve.” It took me about a year to get comfortable with the TESOL France position. I’m grateful the association’s team gave me the support and the space to learn from my mistakes. I think executive committees and the membership should *always* bear this in mind each time they vote and bring on someone new.

    Shelly: OK, maybe the word “brand” wasn’t entirely appropriate [Beth gives a puppy-eyed look], but Mike defined it better than I did in his response. The online community it fully aware of the gazillion hours you put into holding events for teachers all over the world. You are truly an inspiration.

    Cecilia, your post reminded me of something. Before TESOL France, I was a member of the public speaking association, Toastmasters International. They have a nifty leadership track for past presidents who go off and mentor members who want to start their own clubs. I thought, hmm…wouldn’t it be great if ELT had the same system? By the way, if there’s anything I can do to help you with your association let me know. 🙂

    Jeremy, sorry you feel that way. I really did come out the conversation unscathed. Chia, again was just being the DA. I’m glad you have such a good time at all our events. Seeing fellow teachers and speakers enjoy themselves gives me tremendous pleasure (and there we go – back to the warm and fuzzies). I guess this is why I break down sobbing at the end of every TESOL France Conference. There’s always such a strong, hidden force at these events. It’s like we’re all particles at the CERN laboratory coming together to celebrate the energy we provide in our classrooms. I always knew why I enjoyed organizing TESOL France events, but it’s thanks to Chia I was able to reflect so deeply on the subject.

    Which brings me back to my suggestion above: Let’s make Chia’s DA an IATEFL event!
    I’ll supply the water guns.

  11. Hi Chia and Bethany.

    Let’s see, where might I be able to get a word into this debate… well I’m going to agree with Chris as someone who has very little volunteering experience to speak of. I’ve been to a few conferences in my time but from what I’ve seen there’s a tremendous amount of organisation that goes into it. Volunteers must really put their hearts into it 24/7 and seeing Bethany at last year’s TESOL France made me realise that. I can only imagine she took great satisfaction from the event’s success, being able to put her feet up at the end of the conference with and well-deserved glass of wine and think “wow, that was a rip-roaring success”. Putting in hard to work to something you care about is a great motivator and the results you get: happy faces, great talks, career opportunities, you name it. There’s no greater motivator than seeing the seeds of your own hard labour sprout and blossom into flowers; any motivation expert will tell you that trumps monetary reward ten times over… Maybe that’s why my mother has spent 25 years putting up with me?

    I’ve enjoyed the whole discussion on this. The imagine you see in the mirror isn’t always the one you might imagine, that’s why it’s important to reflect. The DA series does a fantastic job of that and hits some sore spots along the way.

    Far from make any mockery of volunteering, after reading this DA I am a lot clearer on the reasons why I’d volunteer in ELT. Where do I sign up?


  12. A very interesting topic. But why this preoccupation with ELT? To get a good understanding of the issue (altruism – in general) we need to look beyond our field – indeed beyond our species. So here are 3 answers: a) there is reciprocal altruism (‘you scratch my back today…etc’ – Trivers) b) there is kin altruism (we favour kin above others because they carry our genes – Hamilton) and c) altruism is sexy (the handicap principle – Zahavi / ‘I can afford to be altruistic, ergo I have good genes; vote for me!’ [I mean, sleep with me!]) see also ‘The Mating Mind’ (G. Miller). We cannot understand altruism without Evolutionary Psychology.

    1. So 1)Returning favours/give and take 2)A biological need to protect our family 3)Getting some nooky.

      Seems a bit basic to me and without looking at external factors we’re missing half the picture. I do love how people make obvious theories, add on bells and whistles and sell books.

      How about:
      1)Save it for later altruism where you do something for an IOU you can cash in later or give to a friend.
      2)People with mental diseases who just do anything i.e. help people
      3)Religious people on a mission to do good
      4)People who hate their families or just prefer friends. “You can choose your friends but not…”.
      5)The English gentleman vs the French macho man.
      6)Reversed altruism where you don’t realise you’re doing me a favour but you are
      7)Negative altruism where you intend to be nasty but actually are helpful and kind

      I’m causing trouble Nick, I apologise.

      1. [Just saw this one… for some reason I did not get an e-mail yesterday…]
        …that’s ok Phil – I’m not in the business of selling insurance [or books come to that! 🙂 ]

        Now – a few comments…
        1) Yes 2) Actually, it’s ‘promoting the interests of (close) kin in general’ as they carry some of our genes 3) Yes

        It is basic as in ‘basic principles’; plus my contribution was 9 lines (hence the references). You are right of course that without looking at external factors (the environment) we are missing a part of the picture (how large this is depends on the kind of behaviour / response we are talking about; there are behaviours which are almost completely determined by genes (anyone who has never FELT a pang of jealousy? ever??) and others which are largely determined by culture etc. (e.g. how you react when you feel this pang). BUT first things first; the external factors act upon predispositions which are already there – in the last decades we have learned quite a few things about ‘human nature’ (cf the brilliant ‘Blank Slate’ by our very own Steven Pinker!)
        About the people you mention, I don’t know whether you mean me or the ones I mention in my comment; if the latter, well, what can I say?!? 🙂 We are not talking about John Gray here – Trivers and Hamilton are two of the greatest thinkers in the field of Evolutionary Biology…. Ever!!
        But never mind that now…

        OK – points 1-7
        1) This IS the definition of reciprocal altruism…
        2) People who suffer from mental diseases are often people whose natural / healthy mechanisms ‘misfire’. E.g. paranoia is ‘natural’ and adaptive – it’s all a question of degree.
        3) The reason they give themselves does not matter… It’s the predisposition that matters. We have evolved to be caring / altruistic (in certain ways)… Why is it you will never find a lion ‘on a mission to do good’? 🙂
        4) There are also parents who kill their children. Evolutionary psychology is powerful at offering explanations at the macro level – not that of the individual. E.g. Let us toss a coin – is it going to come up heads or tails? We just don’t know – even if it has come up heads 20 times in a row! BUT – if you tell me we are going to toss a coin 1,000 times, I can bet you anything that at least on, say, 300 occasions it’s going to come up tails!
        5) Another example of the ‘cultural’ influences. But there are ‘Human Universals’ (cf D. Brown). Both the English and the French guy are going to buy the girl the first drink! (…just for fun: YouTube: ‘Comedy for ELT – Chat up Beer’…)
        6) and 7) These cases do not count as we are not talking about accidental behaviour.

        J. Heidt (‘The Righteous Mind’) says that in most cases (when it comes to moral judgments) we get a gut response FIRST and THEN our rational brain tries to find reasons / justifications… I have the feeling this is the case here…
        But, hey, as I have already said, I’m not selling insurance. Phil, let’s have a coffee together some time so we can chat about these things at length… 🙂

        1. Wow! You really took Phil on there, Nick! Fantastic! Didn’t think this would become a platform for a debate on evolutionary biology/psychology (see, I got it right this time!)


        2. Great stuff Nick.

          Misfire? Love that. Helps explain witches, women in the old days who committed adultery and crimes and just legitimised lobotomies and institutionalisation. There is always a social part in that whatever the government or society says is right is right i.e. majority rules. Therefore, if you are normal but others aren’t then you are classed as wrong.

          Yes, the macro level indeed. As humans and not animals we are more individuals and think I guess and so it seems logical that it would be harder to generalise anything. But then again a lot of animals do show their emotions, do demonstrate caring, help and we even have gay penguins.Evolution? Perhaps? Is it just out of survival i.e. ‘stick together and we won’t die’ or is there more? It would be nice to think so. Yet, that would mean giving them more rights and stopping feeling superior as the top of the evolutionary ladder.

          Not sure about all of us having evolved to be caring though. Divorce? Abuse, fights, being in a relationship just because you don’t want to be alone or society scorns 30+ year olds who are single. I have a heck of a lot of single relatives and don’t forget the mid life crisis where us men realise we have lost our lives to nappies and yearn for freedom. We are still animals after all. Get down beneath all that socialisation and you get down to Neanderthal urges. I see a lot of that here with kids and people just arrived from Africa who go from living in a hut or very very undeveloped places to walking round shopping centres.On the evolutionary scale they are below us it would seem and may explain the large number of horrendous acts you seem to see them accused/guilty of on TV. There’s also witchcraft and I even got a flyer for an exorcist last week. This stuff for them is real and part of their culture it would seem. They haven’t evolved past it or perhaps it is the best of what has. Dunno but there’s some serious social tension on that front.

          French guy buy a girl a drink? Hahahah. I used to love getting the train in France as all the boys used to sit while their girls stood, same in China. Never happen in England. Well, I used to get told off for not giving away my seat. I got hit once thus I ‘evolved’ and just never ever sat down, even on empty trains. Then I just started walking everywhere.

          Wahey. Not mentioned a single researcher or book or anything but just used ideas, observations and thoughts. This was my point a way back. I had an amazing teacher once who said “I teach you, you understand and remember and repeat but the knowledge is still mine. Only when you have used it, played around with it and then created your own version will it truly be yours. At that point come back and we will continue”. This was in another context but very fitting for learning in general.

          Another fantastic video I watched last night was very much about teaching and very dogme. It was actually about being a stand up comedian, bit similar perhaps.

    2. Thanks for this, Nick. Good to see some social psychology references here. The discussion of whether there is such a thing as true altruism or not might be an old debate, but certainly one that is still worth its salt in creating debate.
      I like the term ‘ethical egoism’ because I think it describes a lot and is fairly comprehensive and balance in its view of the issue.

      Thanks once again!


        1. Oops…evolutionary psychologists, social psychologists…
          I’m a sociolinguist…gimme a break, Nick!
          ; )
          Just kidding. Totally take on board what you just said. Won’t make that mistake again… : P


  13. Beth, you’re so right about the DA format, and you understand why it works.

    Actually, in a way its already an IATEFL event – the ELTJ debate has in its most successful years been between fellow travellers AND brilliant speakers who understand that in a formal debate You have to argue positions you don’t quite agree with, but you do it in a way which is stylish and clever to challenge orthodoxy or opposing positions. I think Chia and you did this really well.

    Jeremy, of course you’re right in upholding the huge efforts of all the people who have welcomed you, me and many others around in Teachers Assocations (TAs) around the world. They all go ‘the extra mile’ and beyond. But that wasn’t Chia’s point. that was the DA’s point. I like this blog because it makes me think, more than many (and I’m not having a go at you, because yours is also one of those that does the same).

    I’m sorry, I hate being critical and contentious, not least towards you. But I found your parting shot to Chia to be unkind. We are all lacking in our best intentions, in volunteer work as much as every other aspect of our lives. But the DA format has allowed me to think about my own motivation for volunteer work.

    Well, thank you Chia (not DA) for being smart enough to do that. Makes me feel I still have so much to learn, even so much to contribute to ELT.

    Final words? Dale, last sentence. I’m really proud you and I are in the same profession.


  14. Thanks for the great dialogue. From what I’ve observed volunteering has all kinds of motivations mixed into it, at times the least of which is the desire to serve others. Volunteering is a great way to meet and make new friends, to keep boredom at bay, to stretch your boundaries and to expand your life experiences. I volunteer on Texas Death Row by visiting some of the inmates. I’ve received alot more from them than they have from me and I really feel that’s the way it should be. As an ESL teacher, I feel like we should all give some of our teaching time away free, just as a restaurant should sometimes feed the poor. I volunteered to teach English to a group from Iraq who had come to the USA seeking religious asylum. I realized what sincere and sweet people they are. I remembered at that point to not confuse a culture of people with its government. It was a great experience getting to know them.

    1. Hi Julie,
      Thanks for taking time to comment.

      I was very touched by some of the volunteering that you do, especially working with inmates on Death Row, and indeed, I often feel like we get a lot more out of volunteering that the people who are supposedly on the receiving end. And there are so many different ways of volunteering too.

      Some choose to use their position to raise awareness of causes. When I was an TV actress in Singapore, I was the ambassador for the Breast Cancer Foundation, in addition to attending many National Kidney Foundation events. I would never dare say I dedicated that much of my time to it, but I did want to use whatever fame I had at that time to make people more aware of the diseases, and to encourage people to donate to the charities.
      I admit that in return, people knew of the work I was doing and my reputation got a boost from it. It wasn’t a motivation but a side effect, but a nice one.

      Some choose to give time to the causes. When I moved to the UK, I spent a year at summer camps and weekend clubs with children who had mental disabilities. The experience took me on an emotional roller coaster ride and made me look at things that I had taken for granted very differently. I gave what I could but I honestly think that the children I worked with will not remember me. And that’s fine. Because I didn’t do it so that people would know I did.

      And in both ways of volunteering, I got a lot out of it…some in ways that are more subtle and not necessarily obvious to the rest of the world.


  15. OK. My last rant.

    I was always told that teaching was a noble profession and we shouldn’t be in it for the money but to have an impact on lives….Well, when you have to pay for courses, take badly paid jobs is the suffering worth it? I’ve met teachers who volunteer, I’ve done it myself. I also know teachers who’ve put their own life aside for their teaching. Several of my professors were like that i.e. no partner, kids, dog. For them, teaching is such a huge part of their life that it’s all there is. They do extra hours and ‘volunteer’ on all occasions to meet the image they have of a teacher.

    Others take free courses just to get a cushy job with long holidays. The work the bare minimum. They volunteer to take on nothing and moan about what they have to do.

    Which is the norm I wonder?

    Teaching comes with ‘extra hours’ in the form of prep, marking or whatever. It’s part of the job. Then, if you enjoy the profession you volunteer to get involved with more or take on new responsibilities. This is volunteering in my book. If you say no you may not look professional. I’ve seen bosses pull this ‘noble teacher’ card to just milk more work out of teachers but also because some expect that level of commitment. So, is it wrong to say no and just do what you get paid for? Can we choose to or not volunteer and if we are forced to do these things then surely it’s just wrong.

    1. Hi Phil,
      No, don’t make it your last rant! I love your rants! Your rants are what keep this blog going!

      You’re right in saying that nobody should be forced to volunteer…coz wouldn’t that just negate the meaning of the word ‘volunteer’?
      Nothing wrong in just doing what you’re paid to do…especially when you do it well and do your best at it.

      I think many in our profession could have chosen a different career path and be earning a lot more money and be climbing the social status ladder, but decided to be a teacher instead. These people clearly love giving in the way that teachers do.

      I often meet teachers and trainers who have the most wonderful hearts and care so immensely for the progress of their students, putting them in the centre of everything they do, even if it means that the students/trainees take all the credit for the progress they are making…not realising it was only made possible by this teacher/trainer (M.L., you are the most amazing teacher/teacher trainer I’ve ever met!)

      These teachers/trainers are just as noble in my opinion.


      1. Speaking of that, the most popular post on my blog which I get hits form due to Google searches is about teaching as a noble profession. It’s incredible, many people search for the full phrase, others for the main words.

  16. I’m British. One of my ambitions for my post-retirement future is to be healthy enough to be able to volunteer in a charity shop! I have a friend in Greece who believes that in a ideal world, the State would take care of everything so we wouldn’t need to volunteer. Perhaps the different attitudes are influenced by culture and environment. But I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the great debate about altruism between Joey and Phoebe in Friends 5.4.

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