The local employment office gave me an aptitude test that said I should teach ESL and I said, “What’s that?”. When they explained, it seemed like a fine idea. I had a BA in English, I went back to school for TESL training and was fortunate to land a plum job with the local Board of Education. I loved the students and revered my co-workers, but I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. The information I received at TESL school wasn’t the least bit useful, but when winter came I was grateful to be working inside.
Every teacher starts with the Literacy class and that is where I started. I loved it. I could have cheerfully taught that level for the rest of my life. But as new teachers started, I was bumped up and up the line. For extra excitement I’d teach Pronunciation for the advanced students in the summer. At my school only students at the Advanced level could register in a Pronunciation course because IPA was so difficult. ??##!! Not much about how English was taught made sense to me.
My moment of brilliance that triggered a lifetime of rebelliousness came in the hall one day as I walked to my regular class. I realized the long ‘e’ sound was in the word Green and short ‘e’ was in Red. Huh. I kept rolling with it. Short ‘a’ was in Black. Long ‘u’ was in Blue! Oh my goodness! If I could find a correlation between sounds and something meaningful, it would help students because nothing told them how pronunciation works. I gave my wonderful students a reading assignment and told them not to bother me.
Over the next 20 minutes the Thompson Color Vowel Chart was born. At first I used it with IPA because that was my training, but it didn’t take long to develop a simpler, more logical phonetic alphabet that any student could use. An entire speaking course quickly sprouted from this solid foundation.
With my revolutionary new teaching system I no longer fit into a traditional education environment and I was asked to leave my beloved job. Fortunately for me, Sheridan College was open to progressive ideas and I got a new job immediately teaching my own program. Pioneering a groundbreaking language methodology was a lonely road. I didn’t find like-minded, game-changing English teachers until I enrolled in social media. On LinkedIn I found Rita Baker, Peggy Tharpe, Judit Tarczy, Teresa Almeida d’Eca, Jennifer England and other teachers pushing the English teaching envelope and developing programs head and shoulders above current grammar-based or applied linguistic models.
In 2012 Radical English met for the first time and the rest is history. We meet regularly on Skype and our most recent f2f meeting was in October 2014 at Lleida in Spain. Radical teachers are much more powerful together than any of us was on our own. Together we are changing every aspect about the way English is being taught. If this sounds like you or something you’d like to be involved in, we’d love to hear from you.