The ABC of ELT

How to survive the teacher apocalypse

I’ve seen a few things recently about costs and education recently.

More and more we are looking at ways to save money. (and there are increasing options to do this too)

The good.

The great thing about this is the potential to open up education to everyone. Education was once something that only nobility and clergy enjoyed, now in many countries across the world basic education is something every one can enjoy (sadly not everywhere) and it is one of the UN’s millennium goals to expand this.

As teachers, finding ways that students (and in fact everyone) can receive the highest quality education and learning is something we should be passionate about. The problem is…there is always a cost.

The bad.

Imagine you worked for a publishing company. You had trained for many years, honed your skill of resource writing, and invested great amounts of time and effort in an attempt to help people. You earn a salary (high or low I don’t honestly know but I suspect it’s not spectacular). Then one day you boss comes in. Education should be free, so we are giving away all your resources for free now.” “great, everyone can use them.” You think, but you do ask the other obvious question, “I’m still getting paid right?” “no, now you are going to write for free. After all education should be free.”

There is always a cost to education, either the student pays it or someone else pays it.

Technology might be able to reduce this cost. After all ebooks don’t need printing, and that saves paper. But writing the books takes time, editing the books takes time, marketing the book takes time. It all costs.

There are some great websites which have free resources, however free online usually means two things.

  • You are being advertised to
  • You are being researched about.

There are exceptions and these factors aren’t necessarily bad…but there are big downsides to both.

A teacherless future?

Sometimes I see teachers wondering if there is a potential future of teaching without teachers. In my opinion there isn’t. Even initiatives like the flipped classroom or promotion of autonomous learning rely on a source to check and clarify with. If you had the option of learning on your own or learning with a teacher, which would you choose? Perhaps more people will take up learning via other initiatives, but many probably wouldn’t take up face to face learning anyway.

Actually let me clarify that. Some people will take the options for teacherless learning and this will certainly replace the half hearted teachers and the “from the book” teachers. After all when we have technology that can read out instructions, listen to someone’s voice and analyse a mistake, offer an instant translation or dictionary definition that has been predetermined to be the easiest to understand, then what need is there for a by the book teacher?

The teachers who will survive the coming apocalypse

To survive a teacher apocalypse will be due to two factors.

1. Students who want to learn in person and face to face

This isn’t so hard to understand, there are only usually a couple of reasons people choose online learning as opposed to offline. The convenience (you can learn anywhere, it brings facilities and experts from all over the world EVRYWHERE) it’s partially the reason that conferences and webinars for English teachers have grown so much. Because of the diaspora of teachers all over the world it’s the best/easiest way to get together. (tied into this is availability, if you can’t teach me at 4 in the morning then someone around the world can)

The other is the cost. Online is always cheaper, I’m not exactly sure why this is always true but not having to hire a physical classroom or conference hall definitely helps reduce costs. (though a teacher still needs a place to teach from even if it is home…)

Other than that students generally prefer face to face, physical materials and the social side. Some people may shy away from this but generally this is true.

2. The teacher gives a reason why face to face and non automated is better.

Whenever a student turns up at our school the teachers try to welcome them and engage them in conversation, even if they aren’t their own student. Why? Well it presents an atmosphere that is welcoming and not just a place of work. It relaxes students and because you never know when you will have to cover someone’s class. Let me ask you, which school would you rather go to, the one where every teacher knows your name and speaks with you, or the one where it’s hard to even make eye contact with anyone (even your own teacher)

But giving reasons needs to go beyond that.

In Linchpin: Seth Godin talks about how the trend of industrialisation was to break work into smaller parts that any monkey could do.

At first this was just manual work but now it is becoming more true of services and office work. The more parts you break the job into the easier it is to do and the more any trained monkey (or in our job recent native speaking graduate with a CELTA/other equivalent qualification course) can do. This means you can pay them less, make more profits and ultimately the quality of the service becomes more standard.

More standard doesn’t mean better or worse it just means…the same. for everyone, regardless.(which maybe worse, certainly people expect lower prices and so choose lower price options)

For some this may be great, for others this may be terrible. But this is happening in ELT

How do you fight factorisation of ELT?

Seth Godin insists that the way to combat this is to go beyond the normal and Race to the top (not the bottom). Provide the best service you can. Don’t think of it as “just a job” which you slip into automatic mode and deliver a substandard lesson to every group. instead constantly try to improve the product you give and the job you do.

It’s a great book and I’m really glad my boss made me read it for professional development.

What does this look like in practice?

  1. Doing professional development
  2. Having freedom to make mistakes in lessons
  3. Not treating work as 9-5
  4. Not thinking of learning as just within the classroom
  5. Experimenting
  6. Welcoming students
  7. Always trying to up your quality
  8. Giving stuff away for free

And a million more ideas that I don’t know for your situation. What you need to do is think “What is the problem here? How can it be improved?”

A teacher like this will no doubt survive the teacher apocalypse, the by the textbook ones will become relics in museums.


This initiative to Learn a language for under £100 is great and I will definitely follow it, but I suspect other students won’t be swayed in their spending habits. They either have bought a self study audio cd and books or they would have signed up to lessons anyway.

So how will you survive the teaching apocalypse?

 one of the links above is an affiliate link. That means if you click it and buy a book from it I get a small fee.

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

10 Replies

  1. Great post, Chris. Wonderful reflection and thank you for mentioning Edulang and our pay what you want program.

    Here’s a fun etymology for you: do you know where the word “school” comes from… goes back to latin, schola and in greek schole (σχολείο). It actually meant “leisure” at one point as it was only those that were “noble”, as you’ve said in your post, that had the opportunity for “leisure”.

    From the publisher perspective, and a general business perspective, marketing is what has bloated the cost of knowledge (and specifically publishing) — if you look at the big publishers (and there’s a list of 50 in my post on the “cost of knowledge” here ( )a fair guess is that 1/2 of the money invested in publishing is in “selling” and not just “making” publications.

    I believe that’s where you’ll start to see a change in the next 10 years as social media becomes more of the vehicule for recommendation (and marketing). And likewise, I agree with you— there will always be a place for the teacher because, and we will actually become more valuable. Before we “had the knowledge” and distributed it (in a vertical way) to students. In the past 30 years, education has become more communicative, and nowadays we’re really seeing that it’s no longer a vertical distribution process but a horizontal negotiated one… in a horizontal dynamic, a teacher, moderator, trainer or coach is especially valuable.

    Knowledge has less value now because it’s omnipresent, so experts who can help you co-discover knowledge in an efficient and FUN manner is contrarily rising in value 😉

    My 3 cents. -Brad

    1. I love your closing comments there Brad, “Knowledge has less value now because it’s omnipresent. so experts who can help you co-discover knowledge in an efficient and FUN manner is rising in value.”

      I’m surprised that more Publishing companies aren’t adapting as much to the changes occurring. Webinars, blogs and social media sites are all one thing but Edulang certainly “punches above it’s weight” it terms of it’s reach.

      It certainly is an exciting time to be alive.

  2. @MoanaMD

    Chris, I agree with you. A teacher in front of you is another thing that learning with a computer … I’m currently learning English with Edulang and I have a lot of pleasure doing that but having a real person in front of you is definitely a different experience of the language. Long life to teachers 😉

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad that you are finding edulang great too.

  3. Great post Chris… did you see this – ??maybe we should try and become celebrities ha ha

    1. Wow! Definitely a culturally relevant approach there! Maybe we need to rebrand… Badajoz English stars…hum maybe not.

  4. Really thought-provoking post, Chris. It’s true, I often see things online about how educational materials should be free..and wonder where that leaves me as that’s mainly how I make my living. I like to think, however, that I am creating something which is worth investing in for the experience and work which has gone into it.
    Brad’s point about marketing is a very valid one- I’m sure a lot of the cost of a coursebook goes into this (doesn’t go to the author, that’s for sure!), but, up until now, it’s been essential if you want to sell enough to make a living. Maybe this is changing, though.

    1. Thanks Rachel, it means a lot coming from someone in a position like yours of being a material writer.
      I was originally going to call the post “free for whom” and focus on the fact that people who break copyright are costing people money. But I decided to go on the more general teaching point.

      Coming back to the copying point, the internet has sped up copying and spreading pirate material (English tips website an extreme example) and the way to beat this is to offer higher quality (something that can be sacrificed) and a better experience. For example, musicians need to make their live shows more incredible and sell music that isn’t just the music download,
      For materials, there is a point about high quality material (there is a lot of poor quality let material out there made by inexperienced teachers)
      I’ve seen a few people trying to give away material online (that is pretty good) and pay for it through advertising but generally things like online advertising don’t raise that much cash… that’s why I think edulang’s stuff is so interesting, pay what you want means that anyone can get it, and some people Should pay more than others….still I’m not sure that it’s really a clear answer. The danger is that if companies don’t change their models then they will have the same problems as the book publishing companies.

  5. Hi Chris – thanks for writing this (and for the link!)

    These are interesting times, no matter which business you’re in – and I loved what your boss pointed out in the podcast: “people are looking for connection.” The very fact that we’re having this conversation is a massive change from when our own teachers were starting out…

    Money, it seems, only gets you this far. And money’s the factor that’s easy to jinx, spoil, inflate. Effort, time, imagination – not so. That’s what I’m after in my challenge. Not really trying to find a way out of paying for resources – but trying to show that there’s a lot more that’s invested every time you learn a language.

    Keep up the amazing work here!

    1. It is amazing that we can have this conversation and people can join us from all across the world. Very exciting!

      I really love your challenge Wiktor, it is actually similar to the way I have been trying to learn. I must actually add you to my reading list as I’ve noticed I’ve missed a few of your post that were really good (but read some of them now).

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