More Whole Teacher – Tamas

Tamas Lorincz

We Are The One Percent –  Tamas Lorincz

No, not that one percent. The other one. There are some 60 million teachers in primary and secondary schools around the world, so with a little extrapolation we can claim to make up about one percent of the population of the world.

Unlike the other one percent (you know, the guys with the power and money), we are the useful one percent who influence and improve the lives of the other 99 percent. At least, that should be our mission.

Instead, we find ourselves:

isolated – we do our own thing in the classroom. We only occasionally get feedback on our teaching or give feedback on our colleagues’ teaching.

demoralised – under pressure of too many conflicting expectations, many teachers feel overwhelmed get away with doing the bare minimum

disempowered –High-level decisions taken by education ministers, politicians and leaders impact all areas of our work, yet we are rarely consulted in the decision-making process, leaving us feeling that our opinion doesn’t really matter.

demonised – If teachers are mentioned in the mainstream media, they will more likely than not feature alongside words such as ‘blame,’ ‘failure,’ ‘crime,’ and other negative terms.

ridiculed – Those who can do, those who don’t ….. You know how the rest of that goes, and it doesn’t make you feel very good about yourself.

despised – Yet more teachers going on strike, yet more disruptions to the working week.  We get two months’ holidays in the summer after all, what are we whingeing about?

blamed – Students are failing? Schools are failing? The system is failing? Reform is failing? Who is to blame? Oh yes – teachers. And let’s make that blame as open and loud as possible. Everyone had a teacher they hated – well let’s just revive their evil image in our readers and constituents and the evil has a face.

Having lived in four countries during my professional life, this is the impression I’ve gained from each of these places.  Great teachers rarely make the headlines. Well, here’s the thing. I honestly and passionately believe that it’s time we took our reputations in our own hands. We need to re-channel and re-create the discourse about teaching and education.

It’s our job – the committed, connected, dedicated and passionate who have the resources, the commitment and the knowledge to do this.

We can do it. We have the biggest influence of any profession. Not everyone is sick or needs a lawyer. Politicians only matter to most of us every four-five years when we try to make a decision about who we will be less ashamed of having voted for in two years’ time. But everyone has had a teacher. In our professional careers, we’ll have taught dozens, if not hundreds, of students. These kids have parents. We have an impact on everyone’s life. Let’s make ourselves the topic for dinner table conversations. Let’s try to get every child talking about what we have learnt together.

We can do it. If what the parents see is the passion for learning, the search for questions, the curiosity that makes every 4-year-old so adorable – they will be on our side.

We have to design ways in which the demoralised, the depressed, the unhappy find their passion or find it easier to leave. We have to create workshops in our workplaces where people talk to each other. We should be like different parts of a factory, where one department has to make sure that the other can work and vice-versa. At the moment I do what I do and you do what you do and we spend interminable meetings talking statistics pretending that we are a community.

Communities are not formed in meetings.  They are created over cups of coffee; they are forged through trust and a shared culture of love for students and teaching.

Isolation is our greatest foe. If we are made to believe that we are alone and are not given the means or opportunities to connect, we will go on being ridiculed, despised, disempowered.

If you are connected, you know how great it is. Now go get out there and help others connect. Show them what you do, show them how you do it and help them find out why they would want to do it.

It is our responsibility to help all teachers so that we all know, unquestioningly, that it is us who is the real one percent.


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The Special Needs Issue – Tamas Lorincz

A First (?) Day — Tamas Lorincztamas

I have thought about this day for a long time.  I feel my heart beating in my throat; I’m not able to breathe deeply enough.  The closed door lies just ahead, and behind it my future.  I hear the bell, again and again.  I can’t put this off any longer. I have to go through it.

It was a journey for me to get to this stage.  My parents insisted I remain with people like me, to make it easier.  But I had greater ambitions.  My hopes were high with what I wanted to achieve and the people I wanted to inspire. All this to be abruptly halted, one minute after the bell, by two pathetic inches.

People turn to look at me and the first impression I have made is the last I had wanted to.

“Open the other door so he can get through,” they all say to each other, to no one in particular.  I wheel myself back a little to give the gathering crowd space.

“I can’t, the latch is stuck,” says another, as I feel myself disappear into the blackness I have occupied so often throughout my life.

Another person tries the latch, then a third, before it finally gives and they are able to open both doors so that my wheelchair can pass.

I haven’t inspired awe, I have attracted pity.  The students look at me with a mixture of curiosity, doubt and a bit of fear. They have no idea what to do with me.

When did the word ‘special’ become fraught with so much derision?  I am not ‘special.’ I am not ‘unique.’ I do not have special needs and I am not ‘differently abled’. I’m just not able to move my legs.

This…..inconvenience, hindrance, even idiosyncrasy, will mean, inevitably, that I will have to deal with the humiliation of the door, and others like it, everyday.

I remember all too clearly the trauma of my last school, where I had to fake sickness before class performances to avoid being carried down the stairs to the auditorium.  Where I had to wait until lunchtime to go to the toilet because the only one fitting a wheelchair was near the basketball courts outside.  I could go on, and on and on and on, but it gets boring, as you can imagine.

I wheel myself into the middle of the room.  The students clearly have seen nothing like it before. Surely, a teacher isn’t supposed to be in a wheelchair.  There’s going to be a lot to get used to.

“I bet you’re wondering how you’re going to get me to sit on a whoopee cushion,” I say to the faces staring at me.  I wait for laughter.  Slowly, it comes.  The students lift their eyes from the ground to look at me, seeking my permission to laugh properly.

“A funny teacher!” says a boy in the back of the class, as if he’s just discovered oil. The rest of the class, fortunately for me, agrees. I have plenty more of these at hand, enough to last a year probably.

So I settle in.  I don’t know what the rest of the year holds in store. More laughs, I hope. And maybe some of the students may grow to dislike me, to complain about homework and grades, and realise that I am not so special.  Quite normal, actually.

I dedicate this post to every teacher who overcomes their own personal obstacles to bring the joy of learning to classrooms around the world. I wish there were more of you to teach us all. For further insight you might wish to read Dorothy Lepkowska’s November 12th, 2012 article from the Guardian, Where Are The Disabled Teachers?

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Connections and Influences – Tamas



English for Bogans*  By Tamas Lorincztamas

* Bogan: an affectionately derogatory term used by Australians, and my wife, to describe those who enjoy heavy metal, flannel shirts and/or spray-on jeans.

When you are a teenager the world is just one big battleground. You’re trying to make sense of the world and your place in it, and everything just seems to be one big mess. Like me, you may have had a hard time understanding everything going on around you; you may have felt hungry, frustrated, angry. Nothing seems right, everyone is out to get you.

Now imagine you are a teenager living in a small industrial town in rural Hungary in 1986, where life itself seems at a standstill. The statue of Lenin in Lenin Street on Lenin Square is gathering thick dust but you are marched there four times a year to say thanks for the dust-covered city you live your dust-covered life in. You’re doing OK at school. Not the brightest star in the sky, but not the dimmest either. Your English teacher has just given you a 3 (an equivalent of a C) and told you that you would never learn English. Well, she told Patrick really, the English-named alter ego you were supposed to assume during lessons.

In November of 1986 my father went on a business trip to Yugoslavia, and he came back with a present. I could not believe my eyes. Eddie ( was staring at me from the cover of “Live after Death” – my first ever Iron Maiden album.


The number of needles I had to replace on the record player! For a while I screamed along without knowing what was being said – well Patrick would never learn English, would, he? – rolling about on the carpet with a broomstick for a guitar.

Later, I collapsed with the sleeve containing the lyrics, and started following them as the music played.  Did he really say that? And that? Hey, wait this is unbelievable! Somebody get me a dictionary!

That was the beginning of me, and the end of Patrick. At school, a new enthusiastic young teacher came who believed in us. She pushed me, encouraged me. Eddie and I spent hours reading lyrics, searching for references (no, I couldn’t Google or Wiki it).

The intro of the album was a Churchill speech from 1940:

“… We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island…”

I started to put this into context; to understand the connections. The usual cast of heavy metal images and feelings were followed by another important connection: the “Flight of Icarus”:

“His eyes seem so glazed / As he flies on the wings of a dream / Now he knows his father betrayed /Now his wings burn to ashes to ashes his grave”

I knew of Bruegel’s powerful painting  “Fall of Icarus”, and juxtaposed in my mind the painting with the Iron Maiden song. And then came the explosion and my being catapulted into a hitherto unknown world.

Tamas_image2“Day after day, day after day, we stuck nor breath nor motion As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean…”

It was Iron Maiden who introduced me the Rime of the Ancient Mariner,to Romantic poetry, and to English literature. The dust was blown off the Lenin statue as it fell face down and I realised that the world was not that scary after all.


I was reminded of this life-changing experience at last week’s Metallica concert in Abu Dhabi for a few reasons:

1. On the bus to the concert I met an Iraqi dentist who lost his father and several family members and friends in the wars since 1981, the year he was born and he said: “We live what Iron Maiden and Metallica sing about. It’s about us.”

2. I was listening to 15,000 people from all over the world. As singer James Hetfield James Hetfield put it: “This is the most colourful gathering of the Metallica family. You guys come here from all over the world.” As everyone was singing along to every single song, I couldn’t help wondering: have these four musicians done more for English language learning than any of us ever will?

3. The band’s passion for their audience after 30 years is astounding. They feed off the love of their fans and they fuel this love with their passion. It’s a symbiotic connection that keeps both sides going the entertainer and the entertained, the teacher and the learner.


My main task as a teacher is to find out what my students and colleagues are passionate  about and  fuel that passion. Create links and channel their passion to learning. This is why I love Barbara Bujtas’s learners planting seeds and making tennis ball Pacmen as part of an English lesson.– Tamas Lorincz

Find out more about how iTDi Mentor Barbara Bujitas links her passions to learning on her Facebook group Barbi’s Classes. Read more work from Tamas on his A Journey Into Learning blog. Connect with Tamas and other iTDi Associates and Mentors by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDI Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development Courses.




Challenges in Teaching – Tamas

Towards Babelfish – The Challenge of Researchtamas

Research has changed the world and advanced our capabilities immensely. Research brings us closer to maximising our potential as humans. Most people agree that academic research on language learning and teaching is important. Understanding language and the processes that take place during and around its acquisition is fundamental to developing effective teaching and learning methods and tools.

Research will eventually help us design Douglas Adams’s Babelfish, a device worn in the ear offering simultaneous translation. (Apparently, US Soldiers are already using something pretty awesome in Afghanistan. All the wonders we have the military to thank for!?)

Yet as it currently stands, most research about language learning does not serve the purposes it should.

My very naive idea about reforming research centres around three problems:

Problem 1: Academic research versus classroom-based research

Farrell quotes Sagore, who claims that despite its importance much academic research is “not necessarily helpful to teachers on the front line.” (Farrell: 95) At the same time the overall validity of research conducted by teachers in their own teaching environments is debatable and usually dismissed by the academia due to its inconsistencies. This seems to be an impasse which leaves the field of understanding language learning and teaching bereft of great opportunities for learning and discovery. The efforts of teachers tackling their day-to-day activities in the classroom and making an effort to better understand should be encouraged and acknowledged.

Tools and methods should be designed and made available that make classroom-based research more reliable and accepted by the academia.

Problem 2: Research information is scattered and uncoordinated

We pick and choose the research we use quite randomly. And we can do so because the research findings are all over the place and it takes an awful amount of investigation to identify the sources and wade through them.  The complexity of each aspect we study (language, learning and teaching) make it such a vast realm that unless we provide researchers with maps, compasses and goals, they will end up going around in circles and having little understanding of what they are doing. This again leads to much irrelevant and unreliable research and missed opportunities.

Different universities have reputations for being the hotbed for certain aspects of research already. I believe it would greatly benefit the field if we had different institutions involved in studying different aspects of language acquisition to become coordinating bodies for their particular field. They could then attempt to structuralise the research available and encourage researchers to investigate certain aspects of that particular field. By establishing partnerships with international institutions, these universities would open up the possibility of research taking place in as many contexts as possible, for the benefit of as many English language teachers as possible.

Problem 3: Studies are inaccessible

One of the reasons for inaccessibility is the disparity of information I mentioned above. Another reason is financial. The costs of buying academic books or publications are prohibitive to many, and limit how much high quality research takes place. In many parts of the world libraries can’t afford the books needed even for the most basic research. This leads to even more ill-informed and unreliable “research” conducted by researchers with little or no understanding of what they are supposed to be researching.

As much of the research conducted by academics and students is funded by public bodies, the findings of that research must also remain in the public domain, and be freely available electronically so that even teachers and professors working at the most remote corners of the world have equal access to knowledge that is already available and should form the basis of further research.

This brings up my number one problem. Who benefits from all the research conducted by BA and MA students? Would it not be great if all the efforts of thousands of under- and post-graduate students could contribute to a better understanding of our discipline? What I see at the moment is thousands of trees cut down to archive works that will never be read. I don’t have a solution for this problem but I feel that the millions of hours spent on going though the same processes could be put to much better use.

Learning belongs to all.  As teachers, we owe it to our students to have a solid understanding of how language is learned and how best to teach it.  As citizens, we must work towards free access to knowledge so that we may give our children a more promising future, and finally install that device in our ears that will render our language teaching jobs obsolete.


Credit: NoSalt


Farrell, T (2007): Reflective Language Teaching – From Research To Practice Continuum, London


Learner Autonomy – Tamas

Spreading What We Do      Tamas Lorincz 

With the realisation that the factory model of education lets students down and forces teachers to provide an education which is irrelevant, learner autonomy has become a key issue in education.

English Language Teaching has for a long time been at the forefront of using methods of teaching and processes in learning that rely on the learners’ experiences, personality and culture.

Here are some of the things pretty much all of us do to encourage independent learning:

  • Our students discuss topics that are relevant to them.
  • We talk less to allow our students to express themselves.
  • We get students to work individually, in pairs and in small groups.
  • Our students play games and use technology to learn to take risks, to experiment with the language and to understand the world.
  • We choose materials according to its relevance to our students. We rearrange, extend, omit, re-configure materials to suit us and them.
  • We start our courses with a needs analysis instead of following preconceived ideas about what our students need.
  • We provide students with choices.
  • We ask open-ended questions and don’t expect one correct answer.
  • We praise individual achievement and encourage taking risks and learning from failure.

If you’re not doing these things, think about why you aren’t, whether you should and how you’re going to.

But of course the situation is not as rosy as it may sound. The next step is to break through the restraints of the EFL classroom and promote the advantages of learner independence across subjects, so that it can become an integral part of a school’s ethos.

It has been my experience that EFL teachers are considered a bunch of weirdos, running with scissors and playing silly games, who know nothing about ‘real teaching’. I’m sure many of you have had the experience of being told that your students are too noisy in the classroom for serious learning to take place.

I very strongly believe that every subject can be fun. Putting the students’ enjoyment of learning back into the system is the greatest challenge, and while English teachers have a lot of forums for learning about this, teachers of other subjects usually don’t.

Here’s something that you can do to support your colleagues’ efforts to foster learner autonomy:

  1. Team up with a teacher of another subject you get on well with. Invite them to your class and talk to them about the experience and what is happening there.
  2. Have a look at what they are teaching and find the fun in it – you can do it, I know. You have probably already done it. (We have all taught some maths, science, history, geography in our English classes.)
  3. Offer to teach some of their lessons. Yes, I believe that you can teach anything if you are a teacher. The less you know about the subject the more empathetic you will be towards the students who struggle with it. (I have always found this suggestion by Neil Postman* very intriguing.)
  4. Make sure you regularly discuss with the other teacher what is going on in the class. Tell other teachers, school administration and parents about your experiment. Discuss the results, the difficulties and the ways to go on. Make the experiment transparent, and make sure students have a chance to describe the experience, too.
  5. Don’t wait for external appreciation: probably no one will care – apart from the kids in that class and the colleague you have helped. But surely, that’s the reason why you are a teacher in the first place.

The key prerequisite is an open and friendly relationship with another teacher. This might take the longest to create. Before you break this idea to another teacher, spend some time sussing them out. Let them complain to you about their job, encourage them to tell you about their challenges, have a coffee every now and again. Don’t lecture or be very direct, that puts people off. (This is the toughest part for me. In situations like this I tend to barge in and scare people off. Tact is just not my strongest quality 😉 but I’m sure you are much better at it.)

In conclusion, I believe that we are doing the right thing in our classrooms to encourage our learners to be more autonomous, and that it’s our task to help others find the merits in what we do. There is no English teacher I have met who would not claim to be an advocate of learner autonomy, even if there is little sign of it in their classroom.

That’s not because they don’t want it, but because they don’t know how to be independent themselves. We need to help teachers to become autonomous in order to raise independent thinkers and learners.

*Postman, N. (1996)  The End of Education Vintage Books p.115