(Though I hasten to add that I don’t claim to be anywhere near as luminous!), and I started my ELT career in IH London in 1975, where my initial training cost me just £65.
After teaching for a few months at IH Hastings, I was lured overseas to Egypt, where a new IH affiliate had just opened in Cairo. It was here that my real development as a teacher started in earnest. Coincidentally, the audiolingual/oral/situational blend of methodologies in which I was first trained was starting to yield to the Communicative Approach, and the sense of possibility that this offered was quite intoxicating. Suddenly, real communication – which until then had been confined to the margins of the language lesson – was both valued and prioritised. This was serendipitous, because Egyptians are naturally communicative, and the approach seemed particularly well-suited to their learning style, even if some of the coursebooks were less so. Situating the content of lessons in the lives and culture of the learners meant becoming an amateur program- and materials-designer, to a certain extent – and this was in the days before there was unrestricted access to photocopying, or, of course, the internet. It was the experience of making do with little, but achieving maximum results, that sowed the seeds of what later became Dogme.
I live in Barcelona, Spain, which is where I came after ten years in Egypt. I was initially recruited by IH to set up their Diploma (then DTEFLA, now DELTA) program, which I taught for ten years. It was the experience of in-service training, and working alongside my colleague Neil Forrest, that really helped push me into the Dogme camp. Concurrent with my development as a teacher trainer, ELT was experiencing an exponential growth in publishing. In 1986, during a brief stint in London before I headed to Spain, I was present in the bar at IH when John Soars was showing off the very first mint copy of Headway Intermediate. Headway and its simulacra were to dominate EFL for the next twenty years – and still do. There were times when it felt that we were training teachers simply to teach Headway. The spirit of the communicative approach – so heady in the mid-seventies – seemed to have been traduced. Dogme developed as an antidote to this materials- (and grammar-) driven approach.
Now I work for an MA TESOL program run by the New School, New York. I teach online, with two months’ face-to-face teaching in New York in the summer. The experience of teaching online has been enormously interesting. I’m lucky I get the face-to-face teaching as well, but I have to admit that my initial doubts about the quality of online teacher education have largely dissipated. And the fact that I can combine this work with extensive travelling is a real plus.
Apart from Egypt and Spain, I have also taught briefly on MA courses in Vermont (at the School for International Training) and in Wellington, NZ (at Victoria University). But my centre of operations is still largely Europe, and the Mediterranean in particular (I calculate that I have taught courses or given workshops in fourteen of the countries on the Mediterranean littoral).
Perhaps the most interesting was advising on curriculum reform for the Palestinian Authority, as part of a team that was put together by Macmillan ELT. This involved meeting with the curriculum team from the Ministry of Education and travelling to schools all round the West Bank, including schools in the refugee camps (unfortunately the Gaza Strip was off-limits). The courage, tenacity, good humour and sheer inventiveness of the teachers was inspirational, matched only by the energy of their pupils. I would like to go back.
A glance at my bibliography would suggest that my main interest is grammar – I have written (or co-written) five books with the word grammar in the title. In fact, this is misleading. I’m really more interested in teaching – in methodology, in fact – and grammar teaching just happens to be part of that. So, too, does the teaching of vocabulary and of discourse, both of which I have written about. The focus of my articles for my work on TeachingEnglish is methodology, though. Specifically, what is the relation between current methodology and the 'coursebook culture' which has been the target of the Dogme movement? And, what are the alternatives? Is a materials-light, and technologically-trim approach like Dogme really viable? And does Dogme live up to its claim to be a socially-responsible alternative? That is, is it 'critical'?
As I said, I’ve written a number of books about language including one which is called just that: About Language. My latest book is called Teaching Unplugged, and was co-written with Luke Meddings, co-founder of the Dogme movement. It’s published by Delta Publishing. You can access a full list of publications by going to my website: www.thornburyscott.com. I’m also the series editor for the Cambridge Handbooks for Teachers, and four titles I have edited personally are now in print, including Ben Goldstein’s excellent Working with Images.
When I’m not working I’m often between flights, in some transit lounge on the way to the next conference. You’ll spot me in the corner, reading the London Review of Books. If I’m lucky, I’m at my other home, an hour up the coast from Barcelona, with my partner, cooking for friends and taking long walks in the woods to collect pine cones for the fire.