The EVE Issues Blog

Reflections on the Africa TESOL mentoring programme

Sarah Mercer

I am strongly committed to empowering women and seeking to ensure greater social equity in all fields, but especially education in its various forms. I was delighted when EVE reached out looking for volunteers and was more than happy to commit to spending an hour or so each week for a couple of months with a mentee.

While the pandemic has been traumatic in so many ways, it has also provided many new opportunities and rethinking about potential for teaching and social connection through digital media. As such, the timing of this project was ideal and very much in line with the zeitgeist. I do hope the organisers feel it is a success worth repeating or developing further in the future.

My partner, Geraldine, has been fantastic and I have learned so much from her. From the beginning, there was an easy openness and authentic curiosity on both sides as we learned about each other and our lives. We took some time to just get to know each other and learn about the things we were passionate about. Then we started to focus on the topic that Geraldine might want to present on – the thing in her professional life she felt strongly about and wanted to share with others. I think it is absolutely vital that the person chooses their own topic and ensures it is something they are committed to and invested in. In presentations, people always talk more convincingly when they are working on something they care deeply about.

Next, we discussed what makes a good presentation. I shared some resources of my own as well as links to things online so she could read, watch, and reflect on what kind of presentation format and style she might want to choose. We considered the notion of personal voice as well as core criteria that are important for any good, powerful, and comprehensible presentation. I think it is essential that mentors guide and empower the mentee but do not do the work for them – such an approach, even if well intentioned, is ultimately patronising and disempowering.

Our next steps were that Geraldine then prepared her first draft, which she practised with me online and on which I gave her feedback. The next draft she actually presented to my students at university in Austria. They loved her fascinating and impassioned talk as well as the animated Q&A session. We then met a few more times and she also developed another completely different talk just to be able to practise her presentation skills. Once again, she presented this new talk to a different group of students to gain additional experience. Together, we compared the two talks and, finally, she chose to do the original talk that she was most personally invested in. Despite some initial connectivity issues, Geraldine ultimately gave a magnificent presentation which conveyed her knowledge, expertise, and passion. I am certain everyone who watches it will be inspired to critically reflect on the libraries and access to books in their institutions as well as the kinds of books we make available for learners.

On the whole, this has been an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience. I truly feel I have learned so much from Geraldine. Her dedication to education and passion for literacy as well as her knowledge of many invaluable resources has been inspiring. It has been a privilege to get to know her and work with her. I am thankful to TESOL Africa and EVE for this wonderful opportunity, and I do hope that such programmes achieve their intended goals and help create greater equity in speakers on the TESOL global circuit.


Interview with Sue Leather and Fiona Mauchline: The Africa ELTA Mentoring project

Last year, EVE and and the Africa ELTA ran a very successful mentoring programme aimed at empowering women teaching English in Africa to become presenters and share their experiences. In this interview, Fiona and Sue, the two EVE minds behind the creation and the development of the mentoring programme, give more details about this enriching experience.

  1. How did the idea of the project come up?

Sue: I had a discussion on Twitter with Harry Kuchah of Africa ELTA . We talked about the representation of women in Africa ELTA conferences. He suggested that I talk to Amira Salama, the Vice President of Africa ELTA, as she had done a lot of work on mentoring women ELT practitioners. After finding that our two organisations had a lot in common, a mentoring project between EVE and Africa ELTA was suggested. Along with Fiona, we then discussed how to organise the programme and started the selection and mentor-mentee matching process. The project fits very well with our overall mission. EVE is committed to enabling the voices of marginalised groups in our profession to be heard, and we believed that this programme had the potential to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to that aim.

Fiona: As Sue said, she  had had a chat with Harry Kucha about doing something with ELTA Africa (or Africa TESOL, as it was then) and he suggested contacting Amira Salama. Sue and I discussed the idea, got in touch with Amira, and the rest, as they say, is history. Although it’s worth adding that Amira already had a fairly clear idea of what was needed, and how she envisaged the project working in terms of what the mentors should bring to the table and how to select the mentees. 

  1. What does the project consist of?

Sue: The project is about mentoring women teachers in Africa to become conference speakers.  The selected participants received mentoring offered by EVE mentors for three months. The aim was to equip the participants with the necessary skills to present at international conferences, as well as online and local professional development events. Upon their successful completion of the mentoring programme, the participants would be added to the Africa ELTA list of webinar speakers where they can share and showcase the knowledge and experience gained from the mentoring programme. Each mentee was matched with an EVE mentor.  The idea was for each mentor to offer mentoring for 6-9 hours spread over three months: September, October and November 2020.  In reality, we are sure that mentors spent more time than this with mentees, as they became more and more invested in their success. 

Fiona: The short answer is ‘of mentoring women from various African countries to give presentations at both online and face-to-face ELT events’. The longer answer is ‘of mentoring women from Africa in ELT who want to not only give presentations at online and face-to-face events but to really make a difference and bring about change in their communities, through various passion projects like libraries and empowering local women, and although they could probably have done this without mentoring, because they are incredible individuals with unimaginable drive and tenacity, everyone needs a voice to say ‘You can do this’, from time to time. That voice is called ‘mentor’, in our little project.’

  1. Who are the people involved in the project? How did they get involved?

For Mentors: Among EVE supporters, there were a number of women who had volunteered to be mentors for Women in ELT and The Fair List. Of course, we knew these women, as they are well-known ELT professionals. We contacted them, inviting them to take part and 90% of the women we contacted said ‘yes’ immediately. We then meticulously matched them up with the mentees, based on profile and the mentees’ objectives. The mentors were: Charlotte Giller, Amanda McLoughlin, Grazzia Maria Mendoza, Sarah Mercer, Sarah Mount, Deirdre Nicholas, Briana Rogers and Marjorie Rosenberg. For Mentees: Africa ELTA ran a competition for female teachers throughout Africa. They were told about the mentoring, and given the task of writing why they thought they would be a good candidate. The Africa ELTA board then selected eight teachers from various countries in Africa.

Fiona: From ELTA Africa, Wonder Woman herself, Amira Salama – one of the most inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside. Pure respect. From EVE, Sue and me. 

The mentees: eight women from six countries in Africa (Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sénégal, Cameroon). They were selected from over 130 applicants, all of whom had to give details of their context, hopes, needs, projects etc. They were selected based on merit, and before we started to look for mentors, to ensure that their needs were the driving force.  The mentors: eight women who, as Sue mentioned, had previously volunteered to be mentors when I was drawing up a list for Women in ELT and The Fairlist, a couple of years previously, and whose experience and professional interests matched the mentees’. We had initially intended to have five mentors and mentees, but when potential mentors were contacted, although a couple were unavailable, the enthusiasm from those who were available meant we could open up the number of places. The mentors were in Honduras, Spain, Austria, the UK, and Laos. Add to that the six countries the mentees hailed from, plus Egypt and Canada (and the UK again) where the organisers were, and Alex Popovski (EVE committee) in North Macedonia, who provided the Zoom room for our meetings, and we covered fourteen countries. A ‘small, global, regional’ programme. A programme for the now and for the future. 

  1. What were the main challenges and how did you overcome them?

Sue: The main challenges were logistics: time and technology, but everyone involved was generous and flexible, and the meetings went ahead without a hitch. 

Fiona: I think we, the organisers, were lucky once the programme was up and running. Our greatest challenge was finding a time that suited (nearly) everyone for the monthly check-in meetings. But the mentees and mentors did have some communication issues, thanks to tech limitations, but by using various platforms and using a busy whatsapp group to share resources, pretty much all challenges were overcome and then some. Rather than just working as eight pairs, there was a genuine team spirit and sense of Sisters are doing it for themselves/We are family, I’ve got all my sisters with me. Apologies to any gents reading, but girl power really is a thing. Call it determination and cooperation.

  1. What are the next steps?

Sue: We’d like to run the programme again with Africa ELTA as they are such good partners. We also hope to be able to replicate the programme in other regions. We are actively looking for partners to do this, as we feel that the project works best when there is an effective partnership. We will also be looking for suitable mentors.

Fiona: For the ELTA Africa mentees, some are already going international. Also, one of our mentees has set up and runs a community library, so a next step for anyone reading is to send books (initially contact Prof. Sarah Mercer, who is curating the books).  For EVE, as Sue explained. more programmes. We’re hoping to continue working with ELTA Africa and to expand to other regions. The tentative plan at the moment is two programmes this year, one run by Sue and one partner association, one run by me and another partner association. So watch this space. 

If anyone reading would like to be a mentor, or If you think your organisation members may benefit from this programme, contact us via the EVE website or at We really appreciate all offers, and kindly ask you to bear in mind that selection will be rigorous and will depend on mentees’ needs and objectives. 

From equality to equity: the case of Equity ELT Japan


Equality in ELT in Japan was founded in July 2018 with the goal of achieving speaker parity for women at ELT speaking events such as conferences, forums, and chapter presentations. The website began as an online directory of knowledgeable female educators to be used by event planning committees when choosing invited presenters. A page dedicated to a list of male allies, as well as another listing resources and references that explain why gender parity is important and how one can better support work-inclusivity have also been added.  

Equality in ELT Japan has not only promoted more speaking opportunities for women but it has also strengthened their networking opportunities, created more awareness of sexism within the ELT industry, and elevated awareness regarding the lack of equity and opportunity for those who are not white males teaching English in Japan. In addition, in conversations with men interested in being listed on the ‘Male Ally Page’, many remarked that the page has initiated dialogue regarding many issues, including the lack of gender parity in all sectors of the English teaching profession, inequitable hiring processes, sexism in the workplace, and an understanding of the balancing act that many female English teachers in Japan perform on a daily basis in both their professional and personal lives.


To date, the website has been utilized by the Japan Association in Language Teaching (JALT), has had an impact with promotional material for publication companies and booksellers, and has influenced conference and forum lineups. As the popularity and awareness of the webpage has increased, the committee has also grown from a two-member to a five-member team, leading to greater diversity in our perspectives about how to progress forward. 

We are aware that there is a need for reflection and improvement. Change is constant and we, too, are learning and evolving our own thinking. Over the past two years it has become clear that more needs to be done to not only better support female speakers but also others who are often overlooked in ELT. Due to this, we have decided to change from Equality in ELT in Japan to Equity ELT Japan. While our goal still remains focused on gender parity, we realize that equity is intersectional and in order to achieve parity, we also need to be supportive of the intersections that cause disparity such as nativespeakerism, racism, ableism, and homophobia. We hope to be able to provide platforms and support for those affected by working together to provide opportunities for networking and advancement with the field of ELT. 

Upcoming event

One initiative is our first ever free online forum that will be held January 28-30, 2021. With this three-day event, we will highlight the website’s name change, and host over 20 sessions centered on professional development that seek to raise awareness of realities experienced by those marginalized in the field and also offer career support for anyone and everyone seeking a vibrant, friendly networking group committed to positive change within ELT. We hope that this forum is the first of many to come, driving a move towards equity in all areas within the industry. 

While the Call for Papers has closed, if you would like to attend and be a part of this forum, please visit our webpage to register at  We look forward to meeting you on Zoom at the event.

We hope that 2021 brings everyone health and happiness, 

Ellie, Gretchen, and Tanja

Eleanor Smith is an assistant professor at Aichi University, with research interests in effective classroom practices for developing awareness in social justice issues and critical thinking, intercultural communication, and gender issues. 
Gretchen Clark is currently an assistant professor of English at Kyoto Notre Dame University. Her research interests include ELT pedagogy, NeuroELT, and how social justice and critical thinking operate within language teaching.
Tanja McCandie has been involved in education for over 20 years, either as an English teacher, working as a publishing rep, and/or teacher training. She’s taught in Canada, England and Japan. She’s working with Cambridge University Press and MEXT as a teacher trainer while also teaching classes at the university level. 

Seasons Greetings from all the team

What a year! The EVE team would like to thank all our supporters and to wish you all a peaceful end of year and a brilliant 2021!

(in alphabetical order)

New Year? Yes Please! Here’s to better times ahead for everyone. 

May all that is beautiful, meaningful, and brings you joy be yours this Holiday Season and throughout the coming year.

Best wishes

Alex Popovski 

New is the year, as new are the hopes and the will for joyful days. This certainly was the strangest year ever, and despite (or maybe because of) all the hard times, we learnt how important it is to be together, no matter how. Wishing all EVE’s friends an extraordinary 2021!

Elaine Hodgson

No matter if you’re celebrating or not, I wish you a peaceful, joyful festive season, and at least a little respite from the strangeness that has been 2020, and may well be 2021. Though we’ve seen challenges, these last 10 months or so, it has been a pleasure to add your events to our calendar, to work with wonderful women in Africa, and to dot the internet with EVE badges. Let’s continue to support each other in 2021.

Very, very best wishes.

Fiona Mauchline

Wishing you the most wonderful time of the year, spreading joy and Season’s cheer! 

May the magic and thrill of the holiday season bring joy and happiness in the year to come! 

Pero Sardzoski 

2020 has been a challenging year for us all, but I hope that you all find some joy and peace during the holiday season. Here’s wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2021!

Sue Leather

I wish everyone a happy holiday season filled with peace and hope. This year has been particularly challenging but we, teachers and educators, have been able to find the necessary strength to keep guiding our learners through adversities in inspiring ways. This was only possible because we found in our teaching communities support, empathy and love. May our communities become even stronger in 2021. 

Vinicius Nobre


Equality policies ELT in events: how organisers can make a positive impact

This year has been quite challenging for the Dmitry Nikitin School, as well as for many other schools and ELT event organizers worldwide. However, thanks to a great number of colleagues who supported us, we managed to run our major ELT event, called #YarConf, online. 

The name of the event originally came from the name of the city where our school is based – Yaroslavl. It started as a small pre-summer school event in 2017 and in just two years it became one of the biggest and the most influential ELT conferences in Russia, making our home town, as we joke, the Russian ELT capital. 

We believe that the key to the rapid success of the #YarConf was the equality policy we adopted at the very beginning, which was new for the ELT industry in the country. At #YarConf we came to an agreement to carefully balance the number of male and female speakers as well as native and non-native speakers. Also, there are always a certain number of places for first-time plenary speakers as well as for presenters who deliver non-plenary talks and workshops.

We are a non-government, commercial organisation which means we have to run profitable ELT events to make ends meet. However, we have never even considered the option of abandoning our ELT equality principles in order to run bigger-budget conferences. Surprisingly, that is why we do have sell-outs before every #YarConf event, even this year. I think the secret of our success is in the special experiences the participants get at the conference: the sense of belonging to a vibrant diverse professional community which shares the same highly ethical principles and trying to change the world (well, at least ELT world), to be a better place. 

We are so proud to be recognised by EVE, as the EVE badge gives us more opportunities to share our experience with a great number of ELT event organisers worldwide and learn from their experiences as well. We really hope that the EVE platinum badge we’ve received will become a new crucial step in creating equality in ELT both in Russia and internationally.

Below you’ll find some photos of the event and a link for the closing plenary. 

Dmitry Nikitin, PhD,

Dmitry Nikitin School, 

Yaroslavl, Russia

Intersectionality – working with and through our diverse multiple identities

In the last 4-5 years I have been working for the British Council in my role as a Senior Education Consultant in our English in Education Systems team working with British Council teams, country Ministries of Education and other partners on ways supporting inclusive practices in schools. I have also had a broader role supporting the British Council’s Diversity Unit as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Accredited Facilitator. I am now a freelance education consultant though my commitment to EDI in education and in the workplace remains as strong as ever.

The focus on gender equality and the so-called NEST/Non-NEST dichotomy in ELT is a really important and significant one and I agree entirely with Silvana Richardson in her IATEFL plenary in 2016 asking why we define the majority of the ELT population by a ‘NOT’. Surely, we want to define everyone in our profession in a more positive way. In this blog I would like to widen out the discussion on diversity thinking about the multiple diverse identities that we all have through the concept of intersectionality.

As with much of our jargon in ELT and in inclusive education intersectionality is a buzz word and perhaps best to unpack and clarify the term.

According to Wikipedia Intersectionality is defined as: “the theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual (often used attributively)”.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor and social theorist, first coined the term intersectionality in her 1989 paper “Demarginalizing The Intersection Of Race And Sex: A Black Feminist Critique Of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory And Antiracist Politics.” Intersectionality, also often called intersectional feminism, is a branch of feminism asserting how all aspects of social and political identities (gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc.) discrimination overlap (or “intersect”).

In many respects Intersectionality is usually discussed in terms of the barriers that people face and block their participation and engagement in education and the workplace – whether this is through direct discrimination based on age, gender, disability, sexual identity, religion or belief or race and ethnicity – though of course there are many other types of direct discrimination. Or it may be through other ways of being discriminated such us socio-economic differences and language – especially the denial of the right to use our language of choice either in education, the workplace or more broadly in civil society.

Much of my work is in area of what is often called special educational needs though today the agenda is very much based on how we can move on from special education to one of inclusive practices and that inclusion is for everyone. This involves not seeing and defining people in terms of a deficit to one of the understanding much more of learning differences (rather than difficulties and disorders), cognitive differences, learning/learner diversity and (here is another jargon word) the concept of neurodiversity which is all about how we think rather than what we think. Such differences should be seen as a natural (dare I say normal!) spectrum of ways of thinking that are unique and should be educationally and socially celebrated.

All of this is very much like looking at an onion with multiple layers and peeling off these layers and how these layers build on each other and intersect gives information about who we really are – rather than being locked into a stereotypical view of a person.

Therefore, without denying that barriers exist and may be significant blockers in us realising our potential we can perhaps better reframe intersectionality through positive actions. I like to look at the concept of intersectionality from a positive strength-based perspective – what is it that someone can do rather that what they can’t do? What are the strengths someone has that are rooted in their multiple identities and their experiences? It’s perhaps obvious that nobody will be in a hermetically sealed category of age, gender, disability or any equality area. For example, the experience of someone who is female and disabled in a highly developed socio-economic setting is likely to be a completely different to someone in a less developed social economic setting. This can apply through looking at ourselves through any equality area and how they interact with each other and where we derive our best energy and strengths from.

I don’t have any simple magic bullet solutions on what this means in terms of promoting diversity in our ELT world. However, I do believe we need to do all we can to ensure that when we are promoting diversity in the ELT profession we are moving beyond our stereotypes of diversity and ensure that what we do and how we do it is representative of us all in ways that make sense to us all. This can only, in my view, help us in understanding our very complex world.

Diversity as with inclusion is not an end state. It’s a journey we go on where we can take meaningful steps that at relevant in context. Though it’s the meaningful steps that matter.

To quote Vaclav Havel, “Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.”

Phil Dexter works in-service teacher training and development and, in particular, in the field of inclusive education and special educational needs. Phil was the British Council English for Education Systems Senior Consultant supporting teams across the world until August 2019 and is now a freelance consultant.

Unity through Diversity

On 24 April, BRAZ-TESOL’s Voices Special Interest Group and Brasília Chapter presented the one-day event Unity through Diversity.

The lead-up to last year’s presidential election in Brazil was a very divisive period. The country was still under the effects of a bitter impeachment process whose wounds were still raw, and this spilled over into the rhetoric of the 2018 presidential candidates. Tensions were heightened by middle society’s shift of allegiance from a government that had dominated politics for over a decade towards another – any other – option, resulting in many questioning the state of the country, their lives and the differences they perceived between the past and then, and whether those differences were good or bad.

All over the world we have seen similar stories of political and social crises resulting in divisive discussion and bellicose rhetoric. And while many a true word is said in jest, many a lie is told in anger. When false accusations are flying and mistruths being spread, what is really needed is for emotions to be calmed, for questions to be asked and for listening to begin.

As educators, our job is to spread knowledge, and with knowledge comes understanding. English Language education is literally based on overcoming communication barriers, and aspects of recent history can be attributed to a breakdown of communication that has led to anger and a misunderstanding of others in the global community. The purpose of our event was to make our own small contribution towards promoting dialogue and sharing experiences by giving space to those who had a perspective on life that may not fit the conventional mainstream’s perception of it, and we were honoured to receive recognition from EVE for this endeavour.

Presentations were given that tackled issues related to gender, sexuality and disabilities, while others addressed diversity, empathy and projects being undertaken to fill educational gaps in these areas. Emerging from these was a consistent theme that although there are a lot of individual differences across a cross-section of Brazilian society, most share the common goals and values that make up productive members of society, i.e. a desire to be free to love those close to you and to make a positive contribution to the world.

Beneath stereotypes, generalisations and polarisations are real human beings engaged in, as Thomas Jefferson put it, the pursuit of happiness. Exactly what makes us happy varies from individual to individual, and it is precisely this that contributes to the rich human tapestry. While watching cricket, listening to jazz or stargazing may seem unfathomable as a form of pleasure to some, equally can be any other pastime – depending on the eye of the beholder. Regardless, people are not condemned for their ‘harmless’ tastes.

Yet for some reason, when applied to some fundamental aspects of human experience – such as ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality and ability – that can’t be changed, the logic does not always hold true. The irony is that when stronger labels are applied, barriers formed from ignorance or lack of understanding obstruct empathy and compassion for others who actually do share basic human core values by virtue of being human, as if being identified as a particular minority would nullify these values.

Communication brings understanding, which strengthens relationships, which creates community. Discussing, celebrating and embracing the differences among us results in a greater unity because it gives us insights into alternative views, lives and experiences, making us better educators. While the day was a step in the right direction, it was only a step in the long journey towards a more equitable world. But as more and more people begin to follow this path towards equality, the journey ahead becomes less arduous.

About the author:

Peter Leamy: With a B.A. in Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington and CELTA, Peter has been involved in EFL in Brazil for 15 years and currently works at the Rio Branco Institute and TREE in Brasília. He is the president of the BRAZ-TESOL Brasília Chapter and co-founder of BT’s Translation SIG.

Searching for equality in ELT

There are two main issues that have preoccupied me during my professional life.

The first is, does it really matter if the person giving a plenary or a keynote at an international ELT conference is a man or a woman?

Your reply will most likely be: No, it doesn’t matter, as long as the speaker is a professional. However, for many years, I wondered whether there were no female Big Names in ELT precisely because the vast majority of plenary and keynote speakers were, and in many events still are, men. Women are under-represented at the top of the tree even though ours is a profession where most practitioners are women.  I don’t mean to say that conference organisers actively discriminate against female speakers. Maybe they just don’t think about it, and I do see that as a problem, because there are many women on the organising boards of these conferences. 

The second issue is a passport-related one.

I arrived in Spain 16 years ago, and soon afterwards I started offering my services as a teacher of English.  Although I had considerable experience teaching a range of levels and ages, was in possession of a post-graduate degree from a British university, had served as a Cambridge Oral Examiner in my home country, Argentina, and was already a published ELT author, I found I lacked what apparently was ‘the most important qualification’: I wasn’t a Native Speaker. ‘You have a fantastic CV but you’re not ‘a native’ was the mantra I kept hearing. And I wasn’t the only one! However, I have also discovered that native English teachers could also be discriminated against. Some employers demand specific accents: British as opposed to American or Scottish or Irish, not to mention African native speakers of English.

In due time, I joined TESOL-SPAIN and I must say I have been very lucky to find a group of like-minded fellow members and Board members, male and female, native and non-native, who actively work to eradicate discrimination in all its forms.

For many years, even when gender balance was not an issue in ELT, TESOL-SPAIN Annual Conference Coordinators tried hard to ensure equal representation in the line-up of their plenary speakers.  In recent years, we have extended our efforts to ensure that this balance is also present in our line-up of keynote and general speakers for our Annual conventions as well as in our regional events. 

In 2018 and 2019, we received an EVE (Equal Voices in ELT) awards for our Madrid and Oviedo Annual convention line-ups, for which we are deeply grateful.

As for the NEST/NNEST issue, TESOL-SPAIN is particularly worried about the situation in Spain, where it is common for non-native English speaking teachers to be discriminated against, in favour of native English speaking teachers, regardless of their respective qualifications, even for positions in official government  organisations.

Back in 2014, the Board issued the following position statement against discrimination:

In compliance with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, TESOL-SPAIN stands in opposition to discrimination against teachers on the basis of their national, ethnic or linguistic background, religion, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, in terms of hiring, promotion, recruitment for jobs, or employment conditions.

With respect to the common, long-standing notion, unsupported by research, that a certain ethnicity, accent, or national background gives a person an advantage as a teacher of English, TESOL-SPAIN firmly believes that all teachers should be evaluated and valued solely on the basis of their teaching competence, teaching experience, formal education and linguistic expertise. Therefore, TESOL-SPAIN does not condone job announcements that list “native English,” “native command of English,” “native-like fluency,” “standard accented English,” or similar, as required or desirable qualities.

There’s still a lot to do to achieve equality in the workplace at all levels, but we feel that if teachers’ associations, researchers and teachers all work together , we can make the change and set an example to other sectors. We are educators, and we can fight against discrimination at all levels through education.  

Annie Altamirano

MA ELT & Applied Linguistics

Teacher, teacher trainer and author

Former President of TESOL-SPAIN, current Vice-president of TESOL-SPAIN.

Unity Through Diversity

Cíntia Rodrigues

Last April, the Brasilia BRAZ-TESOL Chapter and the Voices SIG joined forces to deliver one impactful event about diversity in Brazil: Unity Through Diversity. The event was accredited by EVE and we were honoured to receive a Bi-Purple EVE awards. If you don’t know what that means, follow me and I will explain it later, but let’s first talk about this amazing day.

I was the plenary speaker for the opening and closing sessions. I started the day with a plenary called “What’s your story?”. I got the title from Varinder Unlu when, last year, the Voices SIG had the pleasure to team up with  the IP&SEN (Inclusive Practices and Special Education Needs) IATEFL SIG and Varinder gave one of our PCE (Pre Conference Event) sessions at 15th BRAZ-TESOL International Conference. I found what she said about each of us bringing many different stories into a classroom simply brilliant and decided to create a plenary from this starting point. The focus was  the importance of bringing diversity to light and guide the audience to reflect upon their own privileges, understand a bit more about empathy, value differences, and end up by introducing the idea of diverse leadership.

After the opening plenary, there were two moments of co-current sessions divided into 3 main topics: gender issues, lgbtqia issues, and special education needs. To close the event, I mediated a panel in which we showed NGOs and other social projects to help people learn English in Brazil and had the chance of listening to four major Brazilian English institutes presenting their philanthropic projects.

Have you ever been to an event solely focused on the topic ‘diversity’ ? This was my third and all  of them shared a few features:

1. Talks/workshops about gender issues and feminism, LGBTQIA+ issues, ethnicity and colour and Special Education Needs and inclusion

2. A small audience that already connects and is sensitive to most of the topics discussed

3. Speakers that are invited and encouraged to talk about a certain issue. Call for papers tend to be very unsuccessful in this type of event.

A question some people might ask themselves: if it is a conference about English teaching, why is it relevant to raise matters such as gender, sexual orientation, prejudice, so on and so forth?  

Have you realised I opened and closed the Unity Through Diversity event? A Bi-Purple EVE is for single-plenary events that show parity over the current and previous events. While it was fantastic to receive this award, having only one plenary speaker wasn’t a matter of choice.  

I am 100% sure there were many very knowledgeable people in Brasília who could have delivered a plenary and organisers contacted them. However, all of them said they did not feel comfortable or prepared enough to deliver a plenary on diversity. After participating in some of the workshops I am sure they would be prepared for that, but they don’t feel comfortable. Why is that? There could be many different answers for this question, but one sounds stronger: Brazil is a very conservative country and we do fear losing our jobs, especially if you work for a regular school. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to work for people who are proud of the topics I speak about.

Lastly, one of the things that I have noticed from the moment I started talking about minorities issues is that my audience would mostly consist of people who are part of a minority group or also talk about similar issues. I spoke to a few people to try and understand why they wouldn’t spend a day at an event on diversity and I heard many different answers. The two responses that struck me the most were: many people believe that once they do not belong to a minority group, it is not their issue and they might not feel a sense of belonging; some people believe they already know a lot about it (do they? I am sure I don’t).

I was given some suggestions to change this scenario and joint events with other SIGs to attract a different audience is one of them.  I do believe it would work, but I will close this blog post just like a closed the event on 26th April, 2019 – by making a pact!

If you are reading this post and got to the end of it, I am sure you are also sensitive to this topic/cause; therefore, I would like to propose a pact here: Next time you go to or know of a conference on the topic of diversity only, you will try and convince someone who is not sensitive to the topic to join you. Let’s spread the word to make sure we will reach out to a larger number of people to build a more inclusive environment inside our schools!

Some participants of Unity through Diversity – 2019

Cintia Rodrigues is a Pedagogical Coordinator, a teacher trainer and a Cambridge Speaking Examiner for Seven Idiomas. She holds an MA in Applied Linguistics, a BA in Linguistics, CELTA, and CPE. She’s also a founding member of Voices SIG.

The future of ELT: moving ahead

This blog post takes the form of an interview between Alex Thorp, Lead Academic for Language at Trinity College London and Ben Beaumont, Trinity’s Head of TESOL Qualifications. In this post, we’ll be looking at developments Trinity College and Regents University have made to the ‘Future of ELT Conference’ (FoELT), supporting gender balance and promoting equality in ELT.

Ben: Alex, before we start, can you tell me a little bit about the ‘Future of ELT Conference’ and its beginnings.

Alex: The first future of ELT event was hosted by Regent’s University in 2016 and was live streamed with contributions by Scott Thornbury and David Graddol amongst others, and from 2017, Trinity College London and Regents decided to work together to run the annual event. The vision was simple: to offer very high quality CPD to English teachers, working with both world-leading figures and local experts, exploring central themes relating to the future of ELT. The objective is to help teachers improve their skills and practices through easy access to professional teacher-training. This is why we’ve insisted on keeping the ticket price as low as possible.

Ben: And although the content was academically rigorous, there were some challenges with the earlier conferences.

Alex: Yes. All three of the FoELT events to date have been very successful, although for the first and then the second event, comments were made relating to the gender balance of speakers, where, for example we had just under 40% female presenters in 2017. This was deemed something we could improve upon given that we are representing the future of our profession. This is one reason why, in 2017, we incorporated a panel discussion, chaired by Jackie Kasteen, on the changing role of women in ELT.

Ben Beaumont receives one of the EVE of the Year Awards from Fiona Mauchline

Ben: And so what did you and the rest of the organising committee decide for the 3rd and future conferences.

Alex: Essentially, we wanted to ensure that there was at least a 50/50 balance in the sexes of presenters, notably plenaries. This is not always easy, as following the call for papers all applications are blind read by an academic panel, but actually, it’s been a fairly straight forward path as the relevance and academic rigour of applications on the whole are fairly equally balanced.

Ben: Great. And how has this carried on into this next conference, the 4th ‘Future of ELT Conference’ on 15th June 2019?

Alex: Well, we’re delighted to say that we actually have women presenting in all 4 plenaries. We’re delighted to have Penny Ur talking on teacher education, Lynda Taylor addressing assessment in EAP, Annamaria Pinter talking about YLs, and Renata Wilmot looking at technology in ELT. The level of expertise and experience these four distinguished professionals are bringing to the event is exceptional, which may explain why it’s practically a sell-out event.

Ben: Wonderful. Great to see how things are changing. And do you have any tips for conference organisers with regard to gender balance and equality in general?

Alex: Actually, just to be mindful of the requirement to be gender balanced. It’s very easy to fall into a trap of lining up presenters and plenary speakers that are familiar names, and albeit with a lot to offer to an event, without being aware of gender balance. And what we’ve found at FoELT, is that ensuring there is a gender balance has not only enriched the event, but helped us bring an ever wider range of profession-leading voices to our English teaching colleagues.

Ben. Alex, thank you very much.