Get Real! Conference, Ancona. Authenticity is…5 things.

Firstly, thanks very much to the team at Victoria International House Ancona/Jesi for organising such a great conference. It’s a privilege to be part of a network of 160 International House schools worldwide that share, collaborate and constantly push themselves to set the standard in English language teaching worldwide.

In case anyone was looking for it (haha), a summary of my Get Real! presentation on Media Literacy can be found here, with a lesson plan and downloadable handouts alongside the slides.

BUT if I listen (and don’t just talk), I find I learn much more than I can possibly teach. Good blueprint to aim for every day, not just on conference day. So after having the honour of learning from colleagues at International House schools in Torun, Brno and Budapest (once, twice…three times, a lady?), here’s what I took back to Rome with me from Ancona:

1. Rule #1 – Be Authentic or Be Forgotten

Authenticity is: educating a person, not just teaching a subject.

What a fantastic theme for a conference: Get Real! I saw it, and I had to be there. This is the real juice of what we do. To quote the conference description: l’inglese insegnato in classe è autentico? Preparerà davvero gli studenti al loro futuro? Il materiale didattico rappresenta la realtà? = Is English taught in class authentic? Will it really prepare students for their future? Do teaching materials represent reality?

Authenticity in materials and contexts, but also in the teacher who is leading the class. Don’t leave your true self at the door. Share your experiences and opinions, be who you are and express who you want to be, and encourage your students to do the same. English is a tool for so much more than getting certificates: discovering identities (including your own), new cultures, friendships, experiences.

I will never just dryly teach a subject; a teacher is an educator who has a personal responsibility to contribute to their students and wider community.

2. What’s sexuality got to do with it?

Authenticity is: being who you are and articulating who you want to be.

My friend, mentor and IH Rome Teacher Training Coordinator Gianni Licata discussed how we need to reflect our society in our classroom materials. Go through your nearest coursebook and try to find any of the following groups: disabled people, single mothers, homosexuals, problem teens. Good luck.

The status quo sells in Saudi Arabia, and despite their friendly salespeople, coursebook publishers have dollar signs in their eyes. For example, why wouldn’t Elton John’s husband be mentioned in a text about his life? (This blog represents my personal views, and not those of International House Rome *cough*) Educate a person or just teach a subject? You choose! Do we expect these 2012 percentages below in Italy to change by sitting on our hands?


You don’t like this. So what are you going to do? Visit Gianni’s website The Unpublished as soon as you can and use the free lesson plan to add your grain of sand to this change.

There might be reasons to fear a backlash from students, parents and colleagues. Nothing’s free, and representing authentic society is no different. NB This isn’t indoctrination, it’s reflecting reality. Looking at a single mother won’t turn you into one. Durr. 

A clip Gianni used during the talk sums it up:

‘It costs a lot to be authentic…You’re more authentic, the more you resemble what you dream to be.’

3. Two ears and one mouth. Listen.

Authenticity is: really listening.

This was an excellent, interactive presentation; thank you Julie Wallis! Hearing is easy, but not everyone listens. Hearing is physical; listening is cognitive. Listening is engaging with what someone else says, and this isn’t easy in the modern world with so many distractions.

To go back to the conference blurb, what kind of world are we preparing our students for? Increasingly, it’s a world in which we are bombarded with sound. What we filter and retain is no joke, because like a drip, drip, drip of water eroding a rock, this content will shape a human personality.

Listening has always been and will always be a key life skill, as it not only allows us to gain knowledge, but is the foundation for a respectful relationship. {My input} Rule 9 in Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life: ‘Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t.’ This is almost always the case, so don’t waste the opportunity to learn something you didn’t know before.

Confidence is the key to improving listening skills, according to Julie: listening.jpg

Julie expanded on this topic: body language, eye contact, mindfulness and being present also contribute to our listening skills. She also referred indirectly to one of my favourite teaching, learning and training tools, Mindset Theory (I have a Mindset section on the blog here). Two key factors, this time related to listening:

  1. You can improve anything with practice.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Make mistakes, learn from mistakes, improve. Make new mistakes and repeat the cycle.

4. Native vs Non-native teachers…still?!

Authenticity is: passport-blind professionalism.

It’s not a valid debate; it’s an embarrassment to all of us in a multi-billion dollar global industry that this is still a live issue. A debate has two sides, but I haven’t heard one convincing argument from anyone arguing that a native speaker teacher (whatever that is in reality…) will necessarily do a better job just because of that label.

I wasn’t surprised to hear from Julie that the NS vs NNS issue reflects racist discrimination described in the EU Charter’s Article 21. I called it the N-Word of ELT in a blog post a year ago because it’s a brand of racism; I don’t see how it isn’t, even when my heart rate slows down. I was surprised, however, to hear from Julie that NNS English teachers are often blocked from government-run PON English lessons in state schools in Italy. That’s reprehensible.

Come on, ELT (starting with you). Competence-based hierachy? Sure. Qualifications, skills, experience and attitude? Absolutely. But hiring someone based on their mother tongue alone is a disgrace, for want of a better word.

So AGAIN the question arises: what are YOU going to do?

As with anything else above, don’t wait for anyone else. Take responsibility and do what you can to inform others, especially customers who seem to be oblivious rather than malicious, or fellow professionals who tolerate these requests. Sometimes, I’m even unrefined in my disappointment (*Jan is not his/her real name. Permission granted to use image. Excuse my native speaker-level grammar):


5. Dancing in the rain

Authenticity is: reacting to the unexpected.

Gianni Licata and I are proud to announce our next two-man talk: It’s Raining on Prom Night. Coming soon to an ELT conference near you.


Thanks again to the team at Victoria International House Ancona/Jesi for giving this theme the space it deserves. Authenticity should be a fundamental feature of our every day. BRAVI!!






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