A fireside chat with Sandy McManus

He’s been the most famous/ notorious online TEFL figure for around five years, and the age of Twitter doesn’t seem to have calmed him down at all. In this exclusive TEFLtastic interview, Sandy shows his sensitive side

Only joking! He does give some suprisingly serious answers though…

“When, why, and how did you first start your first blog?

I’m referring you to something I had printed in the EL Gazette a few years back…

“I first turned my hand to blogging in January 2005. Having returned from the Middle East, I was appalled at what I was witnessing in the UK’s private EFL scene. Hourly rates were actually lower than in the late 1990s; ‘professional’ language schools treated their main resource, the teachers, with contempt; and there was (understandably) a high level of pessimism among the teachers. There were also lots of classroom stories that I thought should see the light of day, so I decided that a blog was in order.”

Well, that was more than five years ago, and I’ve been blogging ever since, apart from a brief hiatus or two last year (more about that later).

Let me get one thing straight at the beginning here, though. In real life, I am not Sandy McManus. He is a creation of his author, in the same way that Dickens created Bill Sykes, and Shakespeare brought Shylock to life. Sandy’s an indivisible part of the nutty Tefl scene, of course, but it’s important not to confuse the author with his creator.

And why did you change blogs so often??

I wouldn’t say I’ve changed them that often. My first blog, Tefl Trade, was hosted on blog-city, but I had to quit because I suffered a couple of setbacks – very nasty letters from lawyers, and such. So I shifted over to blogger / blogspot, and the present Tefl Tradesman blog is now on its third version, I believe, there having been a hiatus or two last year, due to another nasty piece of TEFL excreta pursuing me – not quite successfully, though. Take a look at http://sandymcmanus.blogspot.com to see how close he almost got!

Could you give us a brief history of TEFL Blacklist for those that missed it?

Well, it’s still up there in cyberspace (http://teflblacklist.blogspot.com ) actually, but in a state of suspended animation, I believe. I started the TEFL Blacklist about four years or so back, but after a year of dishing the dirt on a wide range of Tefl shysters, I passed the reins on to another keen blogger (whom I had and have never met, BTW – just cyber-acquaintances). The move had to happen, really, as a certain ‘headmaster’ from Japan was becoming a real pain and threatening to ‘pay me a visit’ (he’d worked out my place of employment) and perform some sort of unorthodox surgery on my skeletal frame – the details are quite unnecessary, I feel.

Actually, I usually laugh off such threats / promises, as it’s all reactionary guff from bullying people who feel annoyed at having the tables turned on them for the first time. But I just thought “ah, fuck it” and was about to close the blog down, when an offer to prolong the life of the TEFL Blacklist popped into my inbox. So, I couldn’t turn down the idea really – giving my creation an extended lease of life sounded attractive, and of course, the blog was popular and, in my view, serving a very good purpose

What has been your greatest blogging moment?

I guess there have been several, but it’s not like running in the Olympics, where you strive to pick up a medal or three. For me, it’s always a great thrill to know that some shyster school is feeling very uncomfortable and has decided to set a bunch of lawyers on me. I think that comes from having a strong sense of injustice, since when I was a kid in fact. I used to stand up to bullies at school, and protect my mates from them too, so I guess it’s just in my genes.

Of course, positive and encouraging feedback is still important to me, but knowing that I have done my bit to right a wrong is the best feeling, I reckon. I guess I should have been a detective or a lawyer – the extra income would have certainly been very welcome!

On an individual level, though, I like to look back with perverted pleasure at having helped to out the infamous Tefl perv James Fraser Darling, along with setting myself up as Paul Lowe’s personal nemesis. However, it’s important to note here that I could not have done none of that without the information that I got from concerned Teflers out there, and that flow of info needs to continue if The TEFL Tradesman is to carry any real punch.

What’s your motivation to blog now?

My motives have changed a little, or perhaps evolved would be a better choice of word, since five years ago, and they now fall into three main categories. Firstly, and as before, I really enjoy ‘dishing the dirt’ on the Tefl shysters and revealing the racket that is the appallingly insecure UK Tefl scene. Secondly, I have met so many odd characters in EFL (teachers, managers, school owners) that they truly inspire suspended belief and deserve to be the subjects of, if not tre creators of, a high degree of absurd humour. Thirdly, I enjoy lampooning some of the more eccentric approaches to methodology (NLP, dogme, HLT, etc) and their advocates (Mario, Scott, etc ). In truth, I do have a good deal of respect for all of these people and the approaches, but I can not fail to see the ridiculous side too. I guess it’s just the prankster in me!

Oh, and I just enjoy writing- that’s probably the most important thing, and the whacky EFL scene has allowed me to give full and frank expression to my creative juices- or ‘critical slime’ as someone once said. Hell, it’s fun, and during the not infrequent periods of enforced downtime that I’ve had to suffer over the past five years, I’ve really missed it.

Which blogs do you read most often (TEFL and otherwise)?

My own, of course, plus yours (when you’re not peddling those awful worksheets!), Six Things, Kalinago, Ken Wilson’s, – hell, any blog that offers (i) a quirky approach to what is a very old job, teaching; and (ii) is well written and ‘handled with care’. In contrast, I really can’t abide the techie or preachy educational type of blog – I get enough of that shit at work!

Do you have any hope at all that TEFL bloggers can change anything?

Hopes, yes; expectations, no.

Have you ever published anything more serious?

Oh yes, loads of stuff – some under my real name, and some under various pseudonyms. Most of it has been for the EL Gazette, plus Guardian TEFL (remember that?), ET Professional, and certain things in regional newspapers, in different countries, when I’ve been working abroad. But nothing of the ‘research’ type!

How do you tie together your demands for TEFLers to be paid more and treated better with spreading stories of incompetent and worse teachers?

Quite simple – I refer you to the well-known story concerning the peanuts and the monkeys.

Would you say you are a good teacher?

I’m a bit like the Alice In Wonderland character – when I’m good, I can be very good; but when I’m bad, I’m fuggin’ awful!

You have a wife and children, a decent wage and an easy route out of the UK. Why still the negative image of TEFL? for comedic effect?

Yep – because it’s fun, and I reckon I’m good at it!

Best and worst countries you have worked in and why

The worst just has to be the UK, and for so many reasons. But I’m sure I don’t need to repeat all that here, do I – low salaries, lack of job-security, and so much more. The country I liked most, but which is not particularly the best one to be peddling EFL, is Spain. When the kids are off my hands and the wife has stopped nagging me to get a decent job, I’ll probably set up shop in some small town in Galicia, just teaching one-to-one stuff to people with lots of money to invest in their language skills.

Why did you start TEFLing, and do you regret it?

My first Tefl contract was issued by Inlingua, I’m rather ashamed to say, in 1989. I had studied in Spain, and wanted to return there, as I had a Spanish girlfriend (OK, maybe more than one) and I loved the country. Of course, I have had many regrets, but as a working class student of the ‘mature’ variety, graduating at the ripe old age of 30, there was little choice. Let’s face it – it was either that or go back to mowing lawns for a living.

Advice for someone else thinking of taking the first TEFL step

It’s an excellent way to really explore the world, especially when you’re young, but if/when you come home, you have to quit the Tefl scene, as in the UK it’s a joke. However, if you enjoy your teaching, you should consider training as a proper teacher (PGCE, etc) and work in a real educational establishment. Otherwise you really need to find an alternative career, to avoid falling into the dreaded ‘Tefl trap’.”

Not nearly as controversial as we may have hoped, so I’d like to invite questions for Sandy from the audience (with no guarantee that he’ll answer them or indeed that he’s reading!). I’ll start the bomb rolling with the first comment below.

This entry was posted in Dogme, EL Gazette, first TEFL job, getting out of TEFL, Guardian TEFL, Humanistic language teaching, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), Teaching English in Spain, TEFL blacklist, TEFL blogs, TEFL career planning, TEFL chains, TEFL heroes- Mario Rinvolucri, TEFL heroes- Sandy McManus, TEFL heroes- Scott Thornbury, TEFL in the UK, TEFL villains- Paul Lowe, TEFLtrade and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A fireside chat with Sandy McManus

  1. Alex Case says:

    First additional question for Sandy- What percentage of the accusations on TEFL Blacklist etc do you actually think are true?

  2. Telling me that Sandy McManus is not a real person is like telling me that Santa Claus does not exist.

    I’m cut up.

    Sandy, who ate the freaking cookies, then?

    Huh?

    By the way: fantastic interview Alex and Sandy or whaddeveryournameis, it was really nice to hear this version of your voice.

    xKarenne

  3. I’ve got a theory about this…..

  4. Sandy Mac says:

    … so let’s have the theory, eh, Darren?

    Sorry to disappoint you, Karenne, but you can always pretend!

    As for your question, Alex, I’d say that about 101% of the stuff on there is true. Teachers who are well-paid and treated OK don’t go on the web spreading lies. Those who get ripped off and treated like shit do – erm, I mean, they tell it like it is, man!!

  5. Tamas Lorincz says:

    Great interview.
    I love the aura of mystery Sandy has created around himself, the honest desire to honour and recognise real professionals and exposing ruthless financiers is a great service he has done for all of us. Every business has its piranhas but few have a Sandy who consistently stirs the waters and does not let the wicked rest.
    We all have stories about these people who ruin the reputation of the rest of the profession, who take advantage of the desperation of the learners and teachers.
    Thanks for the great interview
    Tamas

  6. Tara Benwell says:

    Wow great interview! Karenne, I feel for you.

  7. Troy says:

    Spain!?

    Really?

    Great place to be, but great place to teach? Don’t hear that very often now do you?

  8. Ken Wilson says:

    Lovely interview.

    I must admit I became aware of Sandy McManus (real name Hamish McSporran, apparently) late in life, but then i didn’t read a blog until after I got my bus pass.

    I feel rather proud that Sandy mentioned my blog as one that’s worth reading, and even prouder that he called me a ‘pompous twat’ in the first email he ever sent to me.

    Sandy’s attacks on UK ELT shysters is brilliant and necessary. I sometimes wonder if we should also identify the good people in the business. I suppose this would be open to abuse, as people send in glowing accolades about themselves under an assumed name. Ho hum…

    Anyway, Hamish, you’re always welcome to come and bury the hatchet over a cup of tea in my kitchen in West London. Oh sod it, we’ll go down the pub and get lathered, instead.

  9. Sandy says:

    What, me – the fat old bugger known as Hamish McSporran!? Well, I s’pose at least he is real (apparently).

    Actually Ken, your blog is pants, but in the years that I have spent living in ‘The Orient’ (Whitechapel and beyond) I have absorbed the locals’ practice of deference towards the aged, so I was just being polite.

    And yes, I would love the chance to come and patronise you at your humble abode in Acton, or wherever it is. I’ll bring the ginger biscuits, shall I? They go down very well with a bottle of Mackeson…

  10. My theory is that Sandy is either someone like Michael Swan, or a complete non-entity.

    Of course, some people might say…..

  11. Alex Case says:

    Michael Swan never has any problems expressing his feelings on the b/s in TEFL under his own name. I reckon he’s Mario. Or maybe Andrew Wright- he can’t possibly be as nice as he seems!

  12. Ken Wilson says:

    Acton, ?? You’re mixing me up with the divine Nic Ridley, Sandy. I live in ‘leafy Fulham’, according to the estate agents.

    As for the true identity of Sandy McManus, I would also rule out Michael Swan. And Mario and Andrew. Which leaves us with ‘complete non-entity’.

  13. Sandy says:

    Hey, be careful with your bile, Ken! I resent your use of the word ‘complete’ there. Much better to say ‘total non-entity’, I’d say – it scans much better.

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