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Autobiography of David Nunan

My first day as a teacher is almost my last. It is 9.05 on a hot and sunny January morning: the first day of the new school year. I caught the wrong train, and in consequence, I’m five minutes late. I scramble up the stone steps into the Victorian school building after students and teachers have entered their respective classrooms.

The secretary in the school office directs me down the corridor to my classroom. I know which classroom is mine by the cacophony inside. As I approach the room, a tall, ruggedly built man in his mid-sixties comes down the corridor from the opposite direction. His face is lined, weathered and set in granite. The look is unadulterated fury. He reaches the door, wrenches it open, steps inside, and pulls it shut so violently that the entire building shakes. On the other side of the door, silence is instant.

I hesitate outside the door. A rumble begins and grows into a crescendo. The granite-faced man is bawling out the kids behind the door. I am in a quandary. Then, as no other option presents itself, I open the door and step into the classroom. The room is chaotic. There are upturned chairs and desks, and books are scattered across the floor. The man pauses in his oratory, sizes me up, and then points to an empty chair in the corner.

You,” he says, “Sit over there.”

I do as I am told.

When he has finished reducing the adolescent boys to psychological rubble, he turns to me.


And who are you?

“Please Sir,” I reply, “I’m the new teacher.” My chance of ever establishing discipline among this rag-tag rabble was about as good as earning the respect of the granite-faced man – who, I finally figure out, is the headmaster of the school. Turning back to the boys, he shrugs his shoulders, says, “See what I have to put up with?” and marches out of the room leaving me to contemplate my future. After a short pause, the boys gleefully resume their interclass warfare. My entreaties for order are ignored.

The year that I begin my teaching career is 1972. The other momentous event of that year is the election of the Whitlam Labor Government. Labor was returned to office after two decades in the wilderness. It was event that shook the fabric of Australian society. My arrival at Tempe set off a couple of damp squibs in the staff room, but that was about all.

My parents could not afford to send me to university. In order to get there, I had to get a scholarship. I managed to get one of these from the New South Wales Department of Education. In consequence, I was indentured to the Department for five years. This was fine by me. Well, at least it was at the time.

Having majored in English, I was eager to embark on a twin career as teacher and author. My game plan for the next three to five years was to initiate high school students into the mysteries and joys of literature and, at the same time, to write the Great Australian Novel.

The author, media commentator and critic Clive James once remarked that quite commonly those who make a splash at university aren’t much heard of afterwards. I wouldn’t know about that. I was all but invisible at university, and it took me years to achieve overnight success.

I was quickly disabused of my desire to teach literature, and gradually disabused of my intention to write the great Australian novel. In the 1970s, Tempe Boys’ High School was a dumping ground for immigrant kids. Before I had any hope of introducing them to literature, I had to teach them English. I became an ESL teacher by default. I had absolutely no idea how to go about this, but was lucky enough to find two trained ESL teachers on staff who were kind enough to help me on my way.

The Head of the English Department quickly became a role model and mentor. A small, balding, softly spoken man, Mr. Quinn was able to command respect from even the most thuggish student. On many occasions in that first year, he would glide into my classroom where I had been reduced either to impotent rage or tears, and produce order from mayhem without so much as raising his voice. To this day, I do not know how he did it. He carried with him a quiet authority that even the most brutish boy recognized and respected.

Every so often there would be a knock at my door, two burly police officers would appear and haul one or more of the kids out of class. One of the most insubordinate and troublesome boys in the class was a large Yugoslavian boy called Bruno. One day, driven to the limits of my endurance, I had the school secretary send an official notice to his parents warning of suspension if his behavior did not improve. The following morning, halfway through the second period, the door to my classroom was flung open, and a giant of a man strode into the room. Grabbing Bruno by the throat, he hauled him out of his seat, growled, “Me Father! Me fix!” Then, with an almighty swing of his hand, he sent Bruno flying across the room. He hit the wall, and ended up in a crumpled heap on the floor, where he lay without moving. His father strode out of the room. Bruno was very silent the next day, and obeyed directions, if somewhat sulkily. At the end of class he stayed behind, lingering at his desk. Then, as I was bending down to stuff my books into my bag, he came up behind me, produced a knife, and stabbed me. Then he dropped the knife and fled from the classroom.

Even though the stabbing turned out to be superficial, doing more damage to my sweater and shirt than it did to me, it sent me into shock. I picked up the knife – it was one of those small paring knives with a sharp point – and put it on the desk. Then I sat down. I started to shake all over. A nerve in my cheek began to twitch, something it continues to do from time to time to this day.

Once I found that the stab wound did not require stitches, I decided I needed to report the incident. But instead of heading to the front office, I continued to sit at my desk with my head in my hands. What was I doing at this school? What good was I to these adolescents who were destined to be factory-floor fodder?

Instead of reporting Boris for what was undoubtedly a serious infraction, and one that should have landed him in juvenile court, I decided to find out what made him tick. Not surprisingly he failed to turn up for class the following day, and Friday, but did show up on Monday. He avoided any eye contact with me, kept his head down, and appeared to be doing his work. At the end of the lesson, as he was leaving the room, I touched his arm and asked him to stay behind.

At first, he was truculently silent, but when it became clear that I had no intention of punishing him for what was clearly a serious offense, he began to relax. We sat down on opposite sides of a desk, and he began to give me a window on his world.

He was born in a small town on the Adriatic Coast. He and his family had immigrated to Australia four years ago. His father worked in a factory in Botany, an industrial suburb close to the airport. His mother was a hospital cleaner. His older brothers also worked. He and his sister were still at school. His father wanted them to leave school and get jobs so that they could contribute to the family income. His mother, on the other hand, wanted them to go as far as they could with their education. This was obviously a source of conflict within the family. His father solved family conflict with his fists.

“And what do you want to do?” I asked. “I want to be a doctor,” he said. This brutish looking boy who was disruptive and aggressive. Who beat up other boys. Who took a knife to his teacher. He wanted to be a doctor. “But I never will,” he said. And then he hung his head. Defeated at fourteen.

I owe Bruno a great deal. He taught me the very first, and, in some ways, most valuable lesson I was to learn as a teacher – that unless I knew my students, unless I knew what filled their heads and hearts in the world beyond my little classroom where the roof leaked in winter and our lessons were punctuated by the 747s taking off from Kingsford Smith Airport, I had little hope of fulfilling my responsibilities as a teacher. He set me on a path to penetrate the hearts and minds of the other boys in this most fractious of classes. And gradually, as they let me into their lives, they also let me teach. Conflict and aggression were never entirely absent, but being able to connect with most of the boys in the class made a huge difference to their attitude towards me.

As my connection with the boys grew, my relationship with the headmaster deteriorated. He was set to retire at the end of the year after 45 years’ service with the department. His parting gift to the profession was to bring me to my psychological knees. And he succeeded. His relentless persecution took it’s toll, and in October, just weeks short of the end of the school year, I resigned and retreated into myself. Back then I was suffering from what an unkind uncle called “lack of guts”. These days it’s called a nervous breakdown.

One Friday afternoon, some weeks after I had resigned, there was a tentative knock on my apartment door. When I opened it, I was astonished to find five of my former students standing there. They had tracked me down halfway across Sydney. We looked at each other for a minute, and then one of the boys said. “Please come back, Sir. We need you.”

I didn’t go back. But the course of my life was set. Whatever else I did, teaching would be something that defined me. And my growth as a teacher was firmly rooted in the belief that my students’ interest, needs and learning preferences should constitute the cornerstone of everything I did in the classroom. Later, it was also to be the basis of much of my research. For that, I have Boris to thank.

For the record, I was a lousy teacher in that first year after graduating from university. I doubt that my students learned anything of much value. I spent hours planning my lessons, and often abandoned them within minutes of entering the classroom. Many of my lessons were confused (and no doubt confusing). Often, I prayed for the bell, signaling the end of the lesson, to ring.

The Great Australian Novel lay dormant all that year. By the time I got home from school and had completed my lesson plans for the following day, I had no energy for creative writing. I tried writing on weekends, but quickly discovered that writing was not like gardening or quilt-making. It was not a diversion that could be quarantined to the weekend or whenever else a little spare time presented itself. It was something that had to be practiced every day.

Now that I was unemployed, I had more time than I knew what to do with. However, rather than steaming through a first draft of my novel, I was struck down with what is often a fatal disease for a budding author – writer’s block. Someone once said that writing is easy, that you simply stare at a blank sheet of paper (or word processing screen) until drops of blood appear on your forehead. I sweated buckets of blood, but the words just would not flow. I found every excuse under the sun to avoid a confrontation between myself and that blank sheet of paper. I needed money, so I took a series of part-time jobs: cleaning restaurant toilets, delivering orange juice, window cleaning door-to-door, and laboring on building sites. This last job was illegal, as I did not have a union ticket with the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation – one of the most closed union ships in the country. When this fact came to light, I was offered two broken legs for my trouble. I declined the offer and disappeared. I think that I was only saved from physical violence by one of the men I drank with at my local hotel, the Beauchamp at Taylor Square. His name was Ray, and he had some kind of official position with the BLF.

At this point in my life, I was stuck in a kind of limbo land. I had no money and needed to work. But the piecemeal work drained my energy and blocked me creatively. I became depressed, drank heavily, and dabbled with drugs. I was at one of the low points in my life, when I met someone who threw me a lifeline. It happened at a party one night, thrown by one of the few co-teachers from Tempe Boys’ High that I had kept contact with. His name was Alan. He had recently returned from living and working in London.

We hit it off immediately. When Alan heard about my desire to make it as a novelist, he mentioned that he had recently purchased a terrace house in an inner city suburb, and would be happy to provide me a room, rent free, so that I could concentrate on my writing. I was overwhelmed.

Alan was going back to London for Christmas and he suggested that I accompany him. I jumped at the opportunity. Alan had graduated from Sydney University with a cohort of students who were to change the way that the world looked at Australia and Australia looked at the world. These days, in Britain, Australia and in other parts of the world, Germaine Greer and Clive James are household names. There were others. Less well known perhaps, but extremely influential nonetheless. Hanging on to Alan’s coattails, I met many of the ones who had settled in London. It was a remarkable introduction to the world beyond Australia’s shores.

Looking back, I am struck by the way that chance encounters have played an important part in the evolution of my professional life. One of the more significant was my meeting with Dorothy Economou. Several days after returning from abroad, Alan asked me to drop off some shirts at his local laundry. The laundry was a family concern run my Dorothy’s parents. On the day that I dropped off Alan’s shirts, Dorothy was helping out.

Dorothy was one of those extraverts who can extract one’s life story in an instant. As she sorted through the shirts and issued a receipt, she had extracted from me the story of our trip as well as my hopes, dreams and desires. When she discovered I was a teacher, and had some experience as a language teacher her eyes lit up.

Are you interested in doing some teaching?” she asked.

“Maybe,” I said. “Tell me more.”

Dorothy had a part-time job as an instructor at the Institute of Languages at the University of New South Wales. The Institute ran an extensive extra-mural program in foreign language teaching for the University. They also ran intensive English programs for immigrants with professional qualifications. Dorothy taught in this program. However, she wanted to go back to Greece for a month with her latest boyfriend to visit her grandparents and was looking for someone to cover her classes. Was I interested? I was.

The following morning I showed up at the Institute of Languages and was interviewed by the Senior Instructor, Maggie Gray. Maggie was a diminutive woman, but she had an indomitable spirit, as I was to learn. If crossed, she would eat people twice her size for breakfast. Apparently there was something in me that she liked. She handed me on to Ted Dowding, the Director of Studies, who offered me a temporary part-time job for a month. I would make some badly needed cash. But best of all, I would be back in a classroom.

Having gotten the job, I began to panic. Dorothy took me to the Union bar, where we sat in the sun and drank red wine to celebrate my success.

“There’s only one small problem,” I said.

What’s that?” asked Dorothy.

“I haven’t got a clue how to teach adults. And I don’t know all that much about teaching English.”

Oh, don’t worry,” she said dismissively, “It’s all in the book.

The curriculum at the Institute of Language was based exclusively on a coursebook series called Situational English. The series was written for the Adult Immigrant Program by a committee based in Canberra, Australia’s Federal Capital.

That night I sat up late studying my set of Situational English. There was nothing situational about it. Despite the title, it was pure audiolingualism.

“This is a book – pen."
“This is a pen – these."
“These are pens.” And so on and so forth ad nauseum.

The book spelled everything out for the teacher in great detail. This included a complicated system of hand gestures. In full flight, the practiced Situational English teacher resembled a concert conductor on speed, flinging arms in all direction. “I go shopping every Saturday,” followed by a hand flung over the left shoulder was a signal to the students to intone, “I went shopping last Saturday.”

“I can do this,” I thought, and went to bed. The following morning I woke late (was this becoming a trade-mark?), rushed to the campus, and just made it to the class in time. I clutched my copy of Situational English, and looked at the class. They looked back at me.

I conducted most of the lesson with my nose buried in the book, peering over the top from time to time to see whether any students remained in the room. To my astonishment, not only did the students remain, they remained in their seats. They listened intently, and did exactly what I asked them to do – even when it was idiotic. Had I tried this on a Tempe Boys’ High, I’d have had a revolution on my hands. Instantly, I fell in love with adult students.

Later, I was to have classes of adults which were every bit as fraught as the adolescent classes on which I had cut my teeth. Classes that consisted of warring factions of pre- and post-Allende Chileans, Croats and Serbs, xenophobic Swiss students who refused to share a class with Vietnamese refugees.

The teaching schedule at the Institute was truly bizarre. While we had a ‘home’ class (and mine was Dorothy’s) where we did the bulk of the teaching, we were also rotated around the other classes. These rotations did not articulate with either time periods or sections of the textbook. On Friday afternoon, the schedule would be posted on the noticeboard. We would stand in front of it and scratch our heads. My schedule for Monday might look like this

09:00 – 09:45 – Class 3 Situational English Book 2 Lesson 4 Exercises 2 – 5
10:00 – 10.30 - Class 6 Situational English Book 1 Lesson 8 Exercises 7 – 9
01:30 – 02:10 - Class 1 Situational English Book 3 Lesson 13 Exercise 14

The consequence of this crazy schedule was that we had to finish the assigned exercises in the time allocated whether the students had mastered the material or not. And we couldn’t move on if the students got through the material quickly. I would have to orchestrate my teaching so that I finished Exercise 5 at 9:45, because Joe, or one of the other teachers would arrive on the doorstep at 9:46 ready to launch into Exercise 6. Our days were spent rushing like loons from one part of the campus to the next.

Late afternoon, those of us who had no evening classes would at the Union Bar for a beer or a glass of wine. Our other favorite hangout was an off campus bar called the Decline of Civilization as We Know It. We used to sit in the dim recesses of The Decline and speculate about the crazy timetabling. In every other respect, the Institute was a marvelous place to work. It was well resourced, the classrooms were bright, airy and comfortable, and we were reasonably well paid. However, the timetable was nuts. Whenever the conversation flagged, we would speculate about its origin. Bets were evenly split between the belief that the timetable officer was a closet junkie (“I mean just look at the schedule!”) and the notion that it was all about control. Certainly, we had little control over our own professional lives although that was a bout to change.

I have to say that I fell desperately in love with my students. The students in my home class (the one I had inherited from Dorothy) were a fascinating mix. They came from all over the world. Bushra and Jalil Beydoun were a married couple in their late thirties from Lebanon. Inga and Peta were sisters from Sweden or Iceland or somewhere equally exotic and remote. They were possibly the two most beautiful students I had ever taught. Another husband and wife couple was Jaques and Bridget from France. They were in their mid-twenties, and both could have been movie stars based on their looks alone. Van and Phan were painfully shy Vietnamese sisters who sat quietly at the back of the classroom and never spoke unless addressed directly.

At lunch time, we would sometimes gather on the roof that led off the student bar to drink wine and cook steaks on the barbecue. Jalil was a great talker and would dominate the conversation. He was a little round man, with a full beard and horn-rimmed glasses. As he talked, he would blink earnestly, and nod his head. He was a committed Marxist, and would give us a serious lecture on this or that aspect of social justice. In class he was quiet and earnest. Despite the fact that English was his third language, after Arabic and French, he was not a ‘natural’ language learner, and had quite a struggle to improve. His wife, Bushra, on the other hand, seemed to pick up the language with little effort. Over time, I got to know them and we became good friends. I used to visit them in their little apartment in the Inner-Western Suburb of Ashfield, and Bushra, who was a brilliant cook, would whip up fabulous Lebanese spreads, which we could wash down with large quantities of cheap Australian red wine.

Long before Dorothy returned from her trip, I had grown heartily sick of Situational English. The arm-flailing routine and rote drilling was boring, and seemed to have little effect on the ability of students to communicate in English outside of the classroom. This struck me forcibly one day when we had been practicing the question pattern:

Is this your pen(s)
Are these your book(s) ?
" " pencil(s)

The teacher was supposed to do the usual hand-flapping and parroting: “Is this your pen? – book” The students were meant to parrot back, “Is this your book.” “pencils.” “Are these your pencils.”

In order to make the exercise a little more meaningful, I passed a small cloth bag around the class and had students drop a personal object into it. They then took turns extracting an object, and going around the class asking “Is this your watch?” – or pen, or bracelet – until the owner had been identified. Not a particularly revolutionary technique, I have to admit, but it beat the hell out of Situational English and the students seemed to enjoy it. Within a few minutes they were engaged in the task, and intoning “Is this your …” and “Are these your…” effortlessly and fluently.

At the end of the class, I walked over to the parking lot. Jalil walked with me. When I took a set of keys from my pocket and unlocked the door to a rather shabby Toyota, his eye lit up. Like the other students, he was used to seeing me arrive and depart from class on my bicycle. He looked at the car, he looked at me, and he said, “Teacher car?” I groaned. “Jalil, what have we been practicing for the last hour? ‘Is this your car?’, ‘Is this your car?’, ‘Is this your car?’ And, no it isn’t my car. It’s a friend’s. I’m dropping it off at the garage for him.”

The following day, one of the Vietnamese twins was absent. During the morning break, I took the opportunity of talking to the twin who was present. I’d had little luck in finding out what made the girls tick. Now was my chance. The girl look panic-stricken as I approached her. “So,” I said, “how are you enjoying your English.” Trembling, she leapt to her feet and headed for the door. “I’ll ask my sister,” she said.

Getting useful data from students was not always easy, although any data I did manage to get was always instructive. As I got to know the twins, I began to appreciate the cultural divide that separated eighteen year old orphaned twins who had known only war and trauma, and a young man in his early twenties who, by their standards, had grown up in relative comfort and security.

On another occasion, in order to break the relentless monotony of Situational English, I created a little role play to follow the rote drill that was supposed to inculcate the pattern Do + you + like + hamburgers ? they ice cream Does + he + + chocolate she Pepsi they

During the drill, students chanted responses to cues.Teacher: "Do you like hamburgers?" (gives thumbs up)
Students: "Yes, I do like hamburgers.""
Teacher: "Do you like chocolate?" (gives thumbs down)
Students: "No, I don’t like chocolate".

In the role play, the students were supposed to be at a party. They were to circulate around the room alternately taking the part of host and guest, and asking other students about their food and drink preferences. As the students carried out the role play, I monitored their language, and assisted those students who were having trouble with vocabulary or the structure of the day.

I thought the class went very well, and as it was the last class for the day, I invited those students who had the time to join me at the Union bar for a beer, soft drink or a glass of wine. Three or four of them joined me, including the Beydouns.

“So, how was class today?” I asked.

They all nodded their heads appreciatively, although I wasn’t sure whether this was for the drinks, which I had treated over their protests (they always wanted to treat the teacher) or because of the brilliant idea I had had in constructing the little role play to contextualize the language they were learning.

“And what did you think of the role play?” I asked, turning to Bushra. She looked highly embarrassed, and after a little pause, said. “No like role play.” My smug inner glow evaporated immediately.

“You didn’t?”

She shook her head.

“Why not?”

No like …...” her voice petered out.

She no like pretend,” said one on the other students. “We no like pretend.

I went home in a state of depression. Not only had one of my students failed to learn how to use the structure of the day, she had also rejected my attempt to inject a little communicative realism into the classroom.

I bought a little notebook and began to compare the language that students used inside the classroom and the language they used outside of the classroom. I also recorded their interests and their reactions to the learning experiences that I provided for them in the classrooms.

Reflecting on these incidents forced me to confront the disconnect between what learners were able to do in the controlled environment of the classroom, and their ability to use the language they had learned to communicate outside of the classroom. It also reinforced the lesson I had learned at Tempe Boys’ High. To be a successful teacher, you had to start with where the learners were at, not with where you wanted to take them.

I was lucky to have found a home, however temporary, at the University of N.S.W. Institute of Languages (or ‘Unswil’ as it was rather unfortunately referred to.) My co-teachers were a diverse, interesting lot who kept my failings to themselves and praised me to the higher-ups. The students were also interesting, appreciative of my efforts, and had fascinating stories to tell. And the higher-up, in the main, left us alone to get on with the job.

At the end of every course, men in suits would descend from the Department of Immigration. These were the men upon whom our next pay cheque depended. They carried shiny vinyl suitcases - the square kinds with clips that were fashionable in the 70’s. Our students were rounded up and herded off to one of the large examination rooms. They were terrified of course. Were they going to be gassed? We assured them that it was just a little test and that it was we the teachers who were being scrutinized. We were the ones who should be terrified, because we were the ones they had come to terrorize.

What is in the test?” asked Bushra.

“We have no idea,” I said. “They may well ask you how long it takes for two flies to crawl up a wall. But I would assume they will want to know if you have successfully swallowed Situational English.”

While the students were taking their test, I talked about it with some of the more experienced teachers.

We have no idea what’s in it,” said Veronica, who had taught at UNSWIL for several years. “We’ve tried to find out of course, but they just won’t tell us. People from Canberra are very secretive. That’s how they keep their jobs. But our students usually do OK, because they’re smart to begin with. Some of the teaching centres out in the West of Sydney don’t do so well.

I had agreed to buy drinks for my students in the Union bar at five o’clock, after the exam had finished. They wandered in, some smiling, some looking shell shocked. Jalil sidled up to me with a cunning grin on his face. He nudged my arm.

“So, how was it?” I asked.

Here,” he said, “You look. You see.

And with that he passed me a copy of the test that thousands of teachers and students had wondered about and agonized about for years.

Before I knew it, the month was up, and Dorothy’s return was imminent. However, several days before she was due to return, her mother called the Institute and said she’d been delayed in Athens and could she please have an extra two weeks. That was fine by me. The following day, she changed her mind. She would be back after all. Maggie Gray called me in to her office and said that they had just won an additional contract. Regardless of whether or not Dorothy returned, there would be a teaching position for me if I wanted it.

One afternoon, I was chatting with a couple of other newly appointed teachers. One of them was Jane Lockwood. Along with Sue Hood, Jane and I would coauthor our first textbook series The Australian English Course for Cambridge University Press. We agreed that while Situational English had its time and place, the time was no longer now, and the place was no longer UNSWIL. Jane had taught at the Pilgrims School in England with some of the most creative teachers in the field including Mario Rinvolucri who was to influence a generation of young teachers.

Jane and I decided to run ‘open door classrooms’. We would mix and match our students, co-teach, and try at least one new idea each day. We would do this in consultation with our students because we knew how important it was to bring them with us on what could be a crazy ride. As it turned out, the students loved it. Jane had a wonderfully warm manner that students could relate to. She got them up out of their seats and used her drama training and Pilgrims experience to simulate authentic interactions in the classroom.

One day, as I was praising the students for their efforts, I was stopped in my tracks by one of them – a young, intense Croatian man who said that it was nice of me to say how good their English was, but when they tried to communicate with people outside of the classroom, no-one could understand them. I realized that I was not doing them any favours by my overprotective attitude. I needed to toughen them up. I began being more critical. I also decided that they needed greater exposure in class to the type of language they were encountering outside of the classroom. So, I began to record conversations and interviews with my friends, and would base one or two lessons a week on this authentic input.

Other teachers became curious and then interested in what we were doing, and within a short period of time, there were about six of us experimenting with different ideas and techniques in the classroom. Looking back, I see that we were part of what was to become known as the ‘communicative revolution’ although we didn’t know it at the time.

One of the most enthusiastic converts to this new way of doing things, was Dorothy, who had finally ditched her boyfriend and returned from Greece. Dorothy was flamboyant in her colorful headscarves. She was also one of the most extroverted teachers I have ever known, so she took to the things we were doing like a duck to water.

We got away with what we considered pedagogical innovation, but what some of the older and more experienced teachers undoubtedly thought of as irresponsible tomfoolery because we had Maggie’s support and because our students continued to excel on the end of term test administered by the men in charcoal suits from Canberra. (This, of course was due less to our innovative methods than to the fact that, thanks to Jalil, we knew what the test contained and would spend the week prior to the test rehearsing it with our students.)

After a couple of years, I decided I needed some formal training. Everything I knew about language teaching to that point had been picked up ‘on the job’. In addition to developing deeper insights into the social and psychological processes involved in learning a second language, I was also anxious to get some formal training in linguistics. Self study had only taken me so far in the area.

In those days, there were no postgraduate programs in TESOL or ELT in Australia. Or rather, there was one postgraduate diploma program run by the University of Sydney, but for reasons that were never made clear to me, this was only available to residents of Papua New Guinea. Given the plethora of courses available today, the paucity in the 1970s was surprising. I had no choice but to travel abroad.

In those days, I never even considered the possibility of studying in the United States. Britain, birthplace of the English language, was the only sensible place to study – or so I thought at the time. Some of the best programs were in the north – Lancaster, Leeds, even Edinburgh. However, having spent one very cold and very wet winter in England, I decided to go as far south as possible and applied to the University of Exeter. I was seduced by the brochures I picked up at the British Council describing Devon as the ‘Riviera of the United Kingdom, and while not exactly expecting swaying palm trees and dusky maidens, I hoped for more than grey skies, incessant rain and snow. I was doomed to be disappointed.

I arrived in Exeter on a damp, grey day. It had rained nonstop for a week, and the place was sodden. The rains marked the end of the worst drought in England for over a Century. The drought was so bad that household water had been turned off, and water could only be obtained from public standpipes in the street. Long after the drought was officially declared over, you could see bedraggled lines of cold, wet, miserable people standing in the rain waiting to fill their buckets with water. The local council ordinance authorizing household water to be turned back on had disappeared into some bureaucratic black hole.

I didn’t have an honors degree. The system in Australia was different from Britain. Only a small percentage of undergraduates – those who planned a life in academia from the very start – did honors, and it required an extra year of study. And, it was by invitation only. I had in fact been invited to read for honors, but the Department of Education which was paying my way refused to let me do so. They needed teachers, not academics, they said. For their purposes, a pass degree would do just fine.

As a result, I was refused entry into the masters program at Exeter, and had to spend a year doing a Postgraduate Diploma in English Language Teaching. If I got A grades, I could then proceed into the Masters of Language Education. Fine, I thought. The Postgraduate Diploma would be a good learning experience. It had lots of the courses I was interested in, including Linguistics, Psycholinguistics and Sociolinguistics. And coming from Australia in the 1970s, I arrived in England like most Australians with a cultural cringe. I was sure a postgraduate diploma from an English University would be a least the equivalent of a masters degree from an antipodean institution.

How wrong that idea turned out to be. The lecturers who ran the diploma were sweet, well-meaning intellectual dolts. Most members of the core ELT department were close to retirement, and had cut their teeth in various parts of Africa. None had anything remotely resembling a doctorate, and their lectures consisted largely of anecdotal accounts of their work abroad – accounts that had little relevance to me or any of my classmates as far as I could tell.

‘Academic’ courses in psychology and sociology were presented by lecturers from St. Luke’s Teacher Training College. The sociology lecturer was a committed Marxist who wore pin-striped suits and natty bow-ties. With these and his thinning hair that was swept back into ducktails, the looked more like a high street banker than a left-wing academic. He sent his children to expensive public schools (perversely, in England expensive private schools were called ‘public’). When challenged on this, he rather sheepishly tried to argue that he had no right to ruin his children’s chances of a privileged future through the imposition of his own left-wing ideology. An argument which I thought was rather lame. From memory, he was the only lecturer I had who was in full, or even partial, possession, of a Ph.D. In those days, in Britain, doctorates were considered unnecessary – something of an affectation almost. However, he had no experience in language education and made no attempt to create connections between the content of their lectures and ELT. We wanted sociolinguistics and intercultural perspectives. We got Structuro-functionalism and Marxism.

The psychology lecturer was a diminutive Scot with a large head, an inflated ego and a great sense of humor. Over the year, I grew to like him, and we got to the point of even having the occasional sherry together at the Gandy Street Wine Bar across the street from our lecture theater. Or first encounter, however, not an auspicious one. On the evening prior to our first psychology class, I had massively overindulged in scrumpy, a poisonous type of apple cider made by the local farmers and sold in plastic jars for 50 pence a gallon. I was sitting at the back of the room when the psychology lecturer bust in, dumped a pile of books on the desk and launched into what he no doubt thought was a witty and engaging overview of the course. It was all too much for me. I got unsteadily to my feet and headed for the only exit which, unfortunately, was right behind the lectern. Before I reached the door, I threw up all over the floor. The lecturer gave me a quizzical look.

"I know I come on strong,” he said, “But I’ve never had a reaction like that."

My course members came from many different parts of the world: Turkey, Egypt, even Japan. There were also some Brits who had taught in Africa and the Middle East. They would exit the lecture hall glassy-eyed after a presentation on Marxist interpretations of current sociological trends. I found some of these talks interesting in their own right, although they had as much relevance to language teaching as the life cycle of the guinea worm. Or so I thought at the time. Years later, I realized that if I’d had the experience or wisdom to connect the dots, these lectures could have enriched my perspectives as a teacher regardless of what I was teaching or where.

About half-way through the course, I tried to organize a revolt with some of the other students. None of them was interested. All they wanted to do was go through the motions and collect their piece of paper at the end of the process. When I inquired about the money they were wasting, most sheepishly admitted that the course wasn’t costing them a cent. The overseas students were on scholarships provided by the British government, and the local students were on grants from the Local Education Authority. One of them, who had just acquired a large, expensive imported Italian car, admitted that he was much better off on the course that he would be teaching in a local school. And it gave him time to pursue his real passion, which was writing poetry. He showed me some of his poems one day. They weren’t bad at all.

The course I was most excited about was linguistics. I had tried to build on the introductory lectures I’d had as an undergraduate with a program of self-study, but I could only get so far into the books I’d bought before bouncing off. Getting under the skin of the subject was beyond my ken. It was one of those Teflon subjects in which very little stuck.

The course was taught by the postgraduate program coordinator, a plump little man with tufts of white hair behind his ears and large teeth. In warmer weather he wore corduroys, cardigans and sandals. When it was cold, which was most of the time, he wore corduroys, cardigans and carpet slippers. He was the perfect parody of an English academic. We students liked him a great deal and called him The Hobbit.

Unfortunately, his introduction to linguistics fell well short of what I had expected from a postgraduate program. In the first few lectures, he stumbled through the easy stuff: definitions of phonemes, morphemes and the like, and some sentence level parsing and analysis. I put up with this because in week six, according to the schedule, we were to be inducted into the mysteries of transformational-generative linguistics. This was what I’d been waiting for. Unfortunately, week six never came. At the end of week five, The Hobbit abruptly abandoned the program.

“Well,” he said, “That just about does it for linguistics. For the rest of the term, we’ll look at comparative education systems around the world.” And, despite protests from me and several other students, that was that.

The other course we were taking met a similar fate. It had a more pedagogical orientation and was intended as a practical introduction to lesson planning, methodology and the like. However, rather than getting us involved in practical hands-on tasks, we were treated to a series of dry lectures on audiolingualism. The lecturer was a tall, sweet natured man with a careful comb-over and a skin condition. His name was Jeremy, and we liked him as well.

In fact we liked all of the lecturers on the course. They were all gentle and sweet. And that was part of the problem. Had they given us something to hate (apart from the courses we were taking from them), we might have had the courage to tell them exactly what we thought of them. I have no idea whether they knew how mediocre the course was and didn’t care – or had no ideas for a cure. Perhaps they genuinely thought that the course was fine. In any event, there was no way that they would ever find out from us. They were protected from the battery of student evaluation of teaching questionnaires, faculty performance reviews, teaching quality indicators and the multifarious other forms of feedback that bedevil students today by simply not having any. It’s odd to think that there was no feedback solicited from students enrolled in a faculty of education, but that’s the way it was back in mid-1970s.

All this changed half-way through the term, when the lecturer burst into the room. His eyes were bright and he was waving a book above his head. It was a slim volume entitled Notional Syllabuses by a British academic called David Wilkins, and it was to have a profound on my approach to language learning and teaching.

By the end March, the course pretty-well fizzled out altogether. Although, officially, the terms still had several more weeks to run, we were to be given the time to complete our dissertations. These were more like long essays on a chosen subject than empirical studies. The lecturers more or less disappeared and left us alone to get on with it. I decided to more or less disappear too. I retreated to the library. This was always a safe haven in troubled times. You could usually find a book that reinforced your prejudices when you were feeling down, and one that challenged you to think when you weren’t. And it was well heated to boot.

Although I had been accepted into the masters program for the following autumn term, I decided to cut my losses and return to Australia. There was little point in recycling leftover lecturers at vast cost. My money was dwindling rapidly. By cutting short my stay I would be short of the masters degree that I had come to England for in the first place, but at least I wouldn’t have to swim back to Australia.

Before I made the irrevocable commitment to return to the Antipodes, two things happened that changed the course of my professional life. The first was that the School of Education recruited two bright sparks on the educational scene – Richard Pring from Oxford University and Mike Golby from the Open University. I met Mike in a wine bar one night, and told him of the less than satisfactory year I’d had. He suggested that I do a masters degree in curriculum studies under his supervision rather than in language education. I considered the offer and decided to accept it. This was one of the wisest professional decisions that I ever made. I stepped sideways out of language education for a year, and learned all about curriculum planning, implementation and evaluation. As the curriculum option was brand spanking new, I was the only graduate student in the program. I had Mike Golby’s undivided attention – at least for the weekly tutorial. During the rest of the week, I had the freedom to read, to write and to visit schools.

At Mike’s instigation, I attached myself to a primary school that was run by one of A.S. Neill’s acolytes. Neill was the celebrated founder and principal of a school called Summerhill. This school was based on principles of experiential learning, and student-centred education. In fact, it embraced these principles and pushed them further than they had ever been pushed before. The primary school where I worked as a teaching assistant was also modeled on these principles, and I was able to experience them first hand. Even though the context was a total contrast from the experience I’d had as an instructor of adult immigrants at the University of N.S.W., the educational experience itself was very similar, and reinforced my commitment to the concept of learner-centred education.

When it came time for me to do my thesis, Mike suggested I do an ethnographic study of a secondary school that was going through the process of comprehensivisation. At that time in English, the government was forcing grammar schools, which were designed for the educational elite (those students who aspired to tertiary education) and secondary modern schools (designed for students who aspired to clerkships, apprenticeships and jobs as shop assistants and hairdressers) to amalgamate. With the help of a former graduate student, Mike found me a position in a school that was going through what in effect was an educational shotgun wedding. I spend the better part of a term ‘under cover’. I was ostensibly a teaching assistant, supposedly on an exchange visit from Australia. In reality I was observing, and occasionally teaching class, interviewing teachers, students, administrators and janitors, taking notes in staffrooms, libraries and other public places, sitting in on staff meetings and the weekly student assembly, and assembling a considerable amount of data on the comprehensivisation process. I rather doubt that in this day and age, with university ethics and approval committees to be dealt with, whether such a study would be possible. However, it gave me my first taste of what it was like to collect, agonize over and interpret a large body of naturalistic data. While my investigation sank with barely a ripple, the experience itself did not, and it became an important part of my training as a neophyte researcher.

The second event that had a significant effect on my professional growth was being employed by the Bell Educational Trust. Founded by Frank Bell, the BET had a series of schools in the south of England. On concluding my master’s thesis, I needed a summer teaching job to replenish my dwindling finances, and managed to get one at the BET’s school in Norwich, Bowthorpe Hall. The school was staffed and run by a group of young, energetic and innovative teachers. I was staggered to find that the Principal, Dave Allan was just a year older that me. He seemed to have a tremendous amount of experience and skill and had already obtained his masters degree. I could not believe that he’d packed so much professional experience into such as short period of time. We hit it off immediately, and Dave went to a great deal of trouble to have my student visa converted to a work visa. We hit it off immediately, became firm friends as well as colleagues, and remain so to this day. We would spend hours drinking pints of Adnam’s and Abbot Ale in the back bar of the Beehive pub, sharing teaching ideas, arguing the educational toss, talking cricket and football and debating the merits of Old versus New World wine.

Dave was an inspirational teacher who seemed to have an inexhaustible fund of ideas for every conceivable teaching situation. On numerous occasions I observed him step into a class at a moment’s notice to replace a teacher who had called in sick. Within minutes he would have the class completely absorbed in a simulation, problem-solving activity, or translation task – whatever fitted the objectives of the course. He seemed to be able to pull these lessons out of his back pocket. And they always worked.

The six week summer term went by in a flash. My home class consisted of a group of English literature majors from Germany, Holland, Italy, France and Spain. The core text for the class was Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe. This was my first opportunity to teach literature since graduating from university in Sydney. Eventually, this kind of teaching would come to be known as Content Based Instruction (CBI). Back in those days, we didn’t have a name for classes that drew their content from other school or academic subjects, but they seemed to work just as fine without a label. We did vocabulary extension exercises, detailed grammatical and discourse analysis; we did readings and workshopped key scenes from the play, we watched the brilliant but harrowing film version starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. In the evening, the students would come back to Bowthorpe Hall in their own free time to do further work. Then we would all pile into cars and drive off into the centre of Norwich to a wine bar or pub, where we would stay until the landlord kicked us out. This, I decided, was what teaching was all about (the bonding – not the drinking!).

On the last evening of the summer intensive course I take my students to our favorite wine bar. We drink and chat and then there is the inevitability of saying goodbye. I am in love with all of them. It’s just as it was back in Sydney with my immigrant students, although at least with them there was the prospect of maintain contact. Tomorrow, these students will scatter to the four corners of Europe. In time, I will learn to be more dispassionate, to keep a distance, but at this relatively early stage in my career, I was very much involved in the emotional as well as the academic lives of my students.

For weeks, I have been passionately involved in all aspects of these students’ lives. I watch the students drinking and chatting. Anselm, the reserved, highly intelligent young Frenchman. Esther, the Spanish beauty who is interested in liberation politics despite the fact that Spain is still under the dead hand of Franco. Theo, the reed-thin young man from Amsterdam who revealed to me one day that he loved “chess”. One lunch time, I find him in the rose garden at Bowthorpe Hall and producing a folding chess set invite him to play. He looks at me in surprise and announces that he doesn’t know how to play. It is “jazz” he is passionate about, not “chess”. We compare notes on Coltrane and Miles Davis. I try to interest him in Gustav Mahler without success. He reveals that he is also interested in bird watching, and one Saturday I drive him to the North Norfolk Broads and The Wash so that he can engage in his passion while I sit on a freezing pub bench and drink beer.

And so they go never to be seen again, although I do receive a postcard or two. I learn that this is the essence of teaching: success is measured by the fact that one’s students move on and no longer need you.

Several positions are on offer at Bowthorpe Hall for the Autumn term. All of the teachers from the summer intensive program, most, like me, newly graduated from M.A.s in different parts of Britain, are eager to apply – all except for Martin who has been accepted into the doctoral program in linguistics at the University of Leeds. Dave encourages me to apply for one of the posts. I do so and secure one of the positions, to the envy of those who don’t.

Not long into the autumn term, however, I begin to have doubts. It this what I really want - preparing students for First and Advanced Certificate English examinations? The excitement of the summer has evaporated as rapidly as the fleeting Norfolk sunshine. I reflect and decide this is not what I want, not why I traveled half way around the world, spending two years and a great deal of money on advanced degrees. I scour newspaper advertisements for positions abroad. All of the plum jobs seem to have been purloined by the British Council and these are specifically earmarked for British nationals. I get to third interview stage for one position at the University of Kano in northern Nigeria before the Council discovers that I am Australian, and I discover that Kano is in the grip of a severe outbreak of Spinal Meningitis. We part on amicable terms.

I know I want a university position, but where? Something impels me back towards Asia. I spend a day in the Norwich Central Library scouring back issues of the Time Higher Education Supplement. One position catches my eye – Language Instructor and Curriculum Development Officer at Chulalongkorn University Language Institute, Bangkok. The position was designed for me. I fire off an impassioned and inappropriately lengthy application, and a week or two later receive a phone call from Dr Ajarn Paninee the Associate Director of CULI. I have the job. All I need is a work permit from the Thai Embassy in London.

This proves to be impossible. It would be easier for me to obtain a knighthood from the Queen of England than a work permit from the Thai Embassy. All permits are quarantined for British nationals which is fair enough, but it means that I will have to return to Australia, my country of origin, and apply from there. I sell my zippy little Italian Fiat way under market value, give away most of my other possessions, and end up with enough cash to fly back to Sydney, where I sponge on friends and otherwise cool my heels for a couple of months until my work visa comes through.

It’s always a challenge setting in to a new country. In a developing country such as Thailand, on local terms conditions and salary, without being able to speak a word of the language, it’s triply tough. Landlords assume that I am on a fat foreign salary. I want to live in the local area up on Pahonyothin Road. They insist on escorting me to the expatriate enclaves on Sukhumvit Road. Eventually a wealthy landlady takes a shine to me and offers me a house in her compound for the derisory housing allowance that I have been offered by the University.

The job turned out to be the perfect one for me. I had several hours of teaching a week, but my main job was to lead one of the teams of curriculum developers and materials writers working on what at the time was a radical new English language curriculum for all undergraduates in the University. CULI had just been created through an amalgamation of faculty-based English language teaching units. It was one of the first universities in the region – probably in the world to do so – and was very forward thinking. The curriculum blueprint was created by Dr Frank Johnson, an Australian academic and consultant whom I was to meet and work with many years later in Japan. The curriculum blueprint was based on ideas that were significantly ahead of their time such as individualization which, in some ways, did not sit happily with Thai educational culture at the time.

The project was sponsored by the British Council under the directorship of Frank Frankel, who had been seconded to CULI for the purpose. Frank had just completed his doctorate at the University of Manchester and brought to the project ideas that I had encountered in my own graduate studies in England that were to have a significant effect on my own professional development. These included a discourse rather than sentence-level approach to language, and the incorporation of learning strategies into the overall course design. Also significant was the adoption of an EAP/ESP rather than General English orientation. These ideas led to materials that were highly innovative. As we developed these materials, it occurred to several of us that the system may not be ready for them. And so it proved to be.

It also quickly dawned on me that there was no way I could subsist on the local salary I was receiving from the university. I started taking private students during my lunch hour and after office hours, and was also offered part-time teaching work at the British Council. This was ironic given the fact that in England I had been denied employment by the Council on the grounds of my nationality. However, as I earned more from my two evening and Saturday morning stints with the Council than my full-time salary from the University, I was not about to complain. The course was fun to teach. The textbook was Strategies, a recently published series that incorporated some of the latest ideas on communicative language teaching.

At this time I also came across an academic text that was to have a profound impact on my own thinking as a teacher and researcher. This was Teaching Language as Communication by Henry Widdowson from the University of London. The book was an eloquent articulation of all the ideas that we were struggling to incorporate into the CULI course. I had plucked the book from the shelves of the CULI library as I was on my way to the Department of Immigration to deal with a visa issue. I know that I’d be spending several hours sitting on a concrete bench waiting to be dealt with and wanted something to read. The three hour wait passed painlessly as I read Widdowson’s book right through in a single sitting.

Although I greatly enjoyed the curriculum development and materials writing, I was frustrated by the fact that I was not doing any research. When I had completed my master’s thesis, I was determined to build on the skills I had developed. Since then, however, I had done nothing in the way of data collecting. I decided to keep a journal documenting the curriculum development work I was doing. I had no idea of what it might evolve into but thought that it might provide me with the data to document and illustrate the process of curriculum innovation. What we were doing was highly innovative, and it occurred to me that the CULI experience would make an excellent case study.

Over the next few months I kept observational notes and reflections in a notebook. I wrote a page or two each day, and before long the entries ran to several thousand words. I was just at the point where I was beginning to think that the notes could be turned in to something productive when misfortune struck. I was on a crowded bus on my way home after work one day, when I was jostled from behind – not an unusual occurrence on a Bangkok bus crammed with people. When I got off the bus, however, I discovered that someone had cut the back out of the bag I had slung over my shoulder with a razor. The contents, including my wallet and my ethnographic field notes were gone.

I was distraught by the loss of the notebook (the wallet didn’t matter so much – I didn’t have enough money to make it worth stealing). The notebook, however, was another matter. Months and months of work, countless hours of reflecting and writing were gone. My foray into the world of research came to nothing.

After eighteen months, I decided to return to Australia and do a Ph.D. Although I still had six months of my contract to complete, I was tired of the constant struggle to make ends met. The CULI experience had been a great one. However, I felt as though I had learned as much as I was likely to on the project.

I would need a job to support myself while doing the Ph.D. For several weeks, I dropped by the Australian embassy to check out the positions vacant in the Australian newspapers that were air freighted up to Thailand each day. I sent off several applications but received nothing in reply, not even a rejection notice. Then one evening I was having dinner with an Australian friend, Denise Staley (later to become Murray), when she mentioned that a College of Advanced Education in Adelaide was advertising for a methodologist to teach on a new Graduate Diploma in ESL. I applied, and this time, was rewarded with a response. I flew to Adelaide for an interview and got the position. I was not until I had actually taken up the position, however, that I discovered that I was to be more than a junior lecturer, cutting my teeth on my first real academic position – I was the founding coordinator of the entire program. I felt a fraud, and completely out of my depth. Students and colleagues would quickly discover just how inexperienced I was.

My intention had been to register for a doctoral program as soon as I returned to Australia. However, life got in to the way. Reestablishing myself in what seemed to have become a foreign country in the years that I had been gone took some doing. It was strange experiencing culture shock in one’s native land. There was a car to buy, and a ramshackle old house that would need a great deal of tender loving care. Not surprisingly, however, the greatest suck on my time was the graduate diploma. Luckily the Principal of the College as well as the Dean and the Head of the English Faculty were all highly supportive. I had a term to create the program, and to recruit other faculty members to teach courses on introductory linguistics, phonology, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, cross-cultural communication. I was able to purloin the ‘fun’ courses for myself – methodology, classroom observation and the like.

I spent hours and hours in the weeks prior to my first classes researching and writing up the most meticulous classroom notes. Although the 1980s had arrived, the notebook or even home desktop computer had not. If I wanted anything typed, I would have to write it longhand and hand it in to the typing pool to be typed up.

I never have, and never will, see myself as the ‘lecturing’ type. I wanted my classes to have the same experiential feel as my language teaching classes. I devoted a great deal of time and effort in devising experiential activities and would, I hoped, model for the students, the principle of ‘learning by doing’. Those students who wanted their lecturers to stand at a podium and have content delivered to them would be disappointed by my approach. But I was sure that they would receive such input from some of the other teachers.

At lunch time, on my first official day at the college, I rather timidly entered the large staff common room. At one table, a large, jovial bald-headed man was telling a risqué story in a voice that boomed all over the room. On the table in front of him was a 4-litre cask of red wine from which he replenished his glass from time to time. When he had finished his story, he beckoned me to the table.

Mike Bruer,” he said in his booming voice and shook my hand. I introduced myself. Mike insisted that I have a glass of wine, and then took me around the room introducing me to other faculty members. I was being inducted into the culture of the common room in the kindest possible way.

Although he acted the buffoon, Mike was an erudite individual with a wide range of interests. A fellow member of the English Department, he had a large airy office that was crammed with books. He lived in a modern house in the Adelaide Hills, with spectacular views over the city, and also owned a winery – wine was another of his passions.

Because the course I was developing was the first of its kind in the state, the first cohort of students were among the best and brightest from the language teaching community in South Australia. Some work with adult immigrants, others worked in the state and private school systems. All of them had considerably more experience than I, which did nothing for my confidence. Most of them had also traveled and taught abroad. Again, however, I was lucky. They were a good natured and forgiving group who embraced the concept of experiential learning and compensated for my shortcomings by devising their own learning experiences.

One day, I finally found time to walk up the hill from the College of Education to Flinders University, which crowned the hill and which, fittingly, looked down on the College. The impetus came when I discovered one of my colleagues, who was just a little older than I, had registered for a PhD.

The start to my life as a doctoral candidate was not auspicious. I was assigned a supervisor who might well have been dubbed the invisible man. He was never in his office, even during those times that, according to the note on the door, he was available for consultation. After a couple of weeks of frustration, I looked up his home number and did the unpardonable – called him at home. Even then, it took numerous calls over several days before he answered the phone late one morning. As I introduced myself, I heard a curious splashing noise.

“Where are you I asked?”


"In the bath," he replied.

We made an appointment to meet in his office later in the week, an appointment he cancelled and rescheduled. When we finally got to meet, almost a month had passed since my first registration. The meeting did not go well. I had always been interested in spoken language development, and wanted to look at the application of speech act theory to language development – something which at the time had been under researched. My supervisor had just read an article on Esperanto and artificial languages and thought I should do something in that area. At the end of the consultation, I walked down the corridor to the Faculty office to withdraw my candidacy. I wondered if I could get my fee back.

While I was waiting to be attended to, a slightly built man with graying hair asked me if I was being attended to. When I told him what I wanted, he asked me to follow him to his office. He led me down the corridor. On the door to his office was the sign “Professor Jonathan Anderson, Head of School.” He sat me down, listened patiently to my story, and then said the he would take over as my supervisor.

As Flinders University had no Department of Linguistics, I had registered in the Faculty of Education. This was not a problem as far as I was concerned. The Faculty had several members with applied linguistics backgrounds and interests in language education. Jonathan himself had a psychometric background and worked in psycholinguistics with a special focus on the assessment of reading. He had recently developed a computer program based on communication theory to analyze cloze test responses.

When I told him of my interest in investigating spoken discourse in general, and speech act theory in particular, Jonathan’s first question to me was: “What’s been done in this area?

“Very little,” I replied – which was why I wanted to work in the area."

It’s a good idea to stay away from under-researched areas. Find an area with a well-developed research tradition and take it one step further. That’s the way to get a Ph.D."

While it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, I soon came to realize that Johnathan knew exactly what it took to get a Ph.D., and that it would be sensible to follow his advice.

One day he introduced me to Michael Halliday, who had taken up the Founding Chair of Linguistics at Sydney University, and was destined to education a generation of linguists and language educators in Australia and beyond. I considered him to be possibly the greatest linguist in the world, and was astonished to find that he was a mild-mannered, almost timid looking man with a mind as sharp as a razor. I read everything he wrote, and became interested in the work that he and his wife and collaborator Ruqaiya Hasan were doing in cohesion and discourse coherence. Here was an area that had a tradition, although not a particularly long one, so there was plenty of scope for me. It also allowed me to pursue my interest in discourse, although it meant I ended up looking at written rather than spoken discourse.

In my study, I investigated the discourse processing operations of junior secondary school students. ‘Discourse processing’ was operationalized as the ability to identify cohesive relationships in academic texts. I used two different texts in the study. One was on a topic familiar to secondary school students, while the other was on an unfamiliar topic. The familiar text was grammatically more difficult than the unfamiliar text. Instances of cohesive reference, conjunction and lexical cohesion were deleted from each text, leaving a gap. The reading texts thus became modified cloze exercises.

Three groups of subjects were used in the study: a group of first language speakers of English, a group of second language speakers and a group of what in Australia was called ‘second phase’ learners. Second phase learners were longer terms immigrants who had attained general conversational proficiency. One of the hypotheses I was out to test was whether speakers who had attained general language proficiency would be able to transfer their language skill to academic language. (This was to become a hot issue in the 1990s in the United States when legislation was passed to cut financial support for language instruction to immigrants who had attained general conversational proficiency.)

Results showed that the native speakers significantly outperformed the other two groups and the second phase learners significantly outperformed the second language speakers. The study thus supported the hypothesis that academic English took significantly longer to develop than general conversational English.

The familiar text was significantly easier to process than the unfamiliar text, despite the fact that it was linguistically more complex. This seemed to indicate that background knowledge could compensate for linguistic knowledge.

Finally the study showed that conjunction, which marks logical relationships in texts, was significantly more difficult than referential and lexical cohesion. This was the case for all three groups, indicating that the discourse processing operations of all groups was possibly the same.

I encountered the usual practical challenges in carrying out doctoral research. In the first place, I had difficulty locating subjects. I spent several weeks negotiating access to one school with a student population profile that matched the needs of the study, only to have access withdrawn several days before data collection was to begin. When eventually I did manage to collect my data, my supervisor informed me that a group of researchers in the United States was investigating almost the identical question as I was. If I were to make an original contribution to knowledge, I would have to get my thesis in before they published their results. As I had a full time job, I abandoned sleep for several months, and completed the Ph.D. in a little under two years. I then had to obtain a special dispensation from the University in order to present the study for examination in less than the minimum qualifying time for a part-time Ph.D.

Other challenges included data analysis. This was a formal experiment, and the data required statistical analysis. I’d been required to do a course on statistics during my masters degree but at that stage statistics made little sense to me, and besides, it had been several years ago. I had to give myself a crash course in ANOVA, correlation and, most difficult of all, factor analysis. As this was a time before SPS and other convenient statistical packages, I also had to perform some of the calculations by hand. For others, I had to go through the laborious process of manually entering statistical analysis programs into the University mainframe. Jonathan Anderson, my supervisor, had devised a computer program for cloze tests giving item difficulty and facility data for each test item, and I also ran my data through this program. It took me several weeks to enter the data into the computer but the results were worth it.

A final challenge in these pre-personal computer days, was writing up a 150,000 word thesis longhand and then having it typed up. I look back with sympathy and a certain amount of embarrassment toward my supervisor who had to read successive draft chapters in my barely legible handwriting.

At about the time that I was submitting my dissertation a great deal of upheaval was occurring within the Colleges of Further Education sector in South Australia. For economic reasons, the consensus was that there were too many colleges, and that at least one had to go. The one with the most vigorous and viable programs, which was also in the high-growth southern part of the city was the campus to which I belonged. The most moribund campus was in the old industrial northern part of the city. Common sense dictated that the northern campus should go. Political expediency dictated otherwise. The northern campus was in the political heartland of the Labor Party – the ruling party in the state. It was therefore decided that the southern campus should close. In the event, none of the campuses closed, and they were eventually all amalgamated into what was to become the University of South Australia. However, the government had to be seen to be doing something, and so they shuffled programs around which was about as effective as shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. No money was saved – in fact the shuffling about cost money. However, at the least the government could claim that it was ‘doing something’.

My program was one of the ones to me moved. And as Sod’s Law dictates, it was moved to the northern campus. (The logic was that moving the most vibrant programs there would help resuscitate the moribund campus.) Instead of a five minute commute to work, I have had a one hour commute. In this day and age, a one hour commute is probably the norm. However, in those days, and it Adelaide, it was excessive. One of the charms of Adelaide was its relatively small size and the accessibility of work and leisure facilities. However, I had just lost two hours out of my work and leisure day. I began to look around for other jobs.

Once I had submitted my doctoral dissertation, the waiting began. The examiners had been given six week to report back. The six weeks came and went. The wait grew to eight week. I took to calling my supervisor on all sorts of pretexts. Eventually, on hearing my voice, Jonathan would say wearily, “No, the reports aren’t all in yet.” It turned out that one of the examiners had failed to furnish his report, and was not responding to requests to do so. Until that report was received, the University’s hands were tied. Three months came and went. Utterly convinced that I had failed, I took up watercolor painting. If I didn’t get my Ph.D. I would move out of academia all together. I would teach literature in a private school by day and paint by night.

Then one day I was sitting my office when the phone rang. I picked it up. “Is that Dr. Nunan?” asked Jonathan. Then he laughed. “Congratulations!” I put the phone down with a trembling hand, then jumped on my motorcycle and took the one hour journey south to my former campus. I wanted to celebrate this, the most important moment in my academic life with people who had acted as my mentor.

Having bluffed my way through the setting up and running of a new graduate program and completing a Ph.D. in a ridiculously short space of time, I was mentally exhausted. Since returning Australia from Bangkok, I had not taken any time off, and had accrued a substantial amount of leave. I decided to take four months off during the following academic year. I planned to return to England to teach at the Bell Trust and decide where I wanted to take my professional life.

At this time, I came across an advertisement for a position that looked too good to be true. The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, which ran a large national English language education program for adult immigrants was establishing a National Curriculum Resource Centre to develop curricula and materials, promote applied research and run teacher education workshops. It looked like the ideal position. I put in an application, although I was not very hopeful of the outcome. There were many professionals in Australia who had had a great deal more experience than me in adult immigrant education. However, there were two things in my favor: I had a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics / Language Education (a comparative rarity in those days), and what I lacked in depth of experience, I made up for in breadth. I had worked as a teacher, researcher, teacher educator, curriculum developer and materials writer in Australia, English and Thailand.

Several weeks after submitting my application, I was flown to Canberra for an interview. A short while later I flew off to English to begin my sabbatical leave. I was given a light but interesting teaching load. Specific Purposes / needs based syllabus design, individualization and technology had gained traction in the years since I had worked at the Bell Trust. Peter Strevens, on of the ‘fathers’ of English Language Teaching had also taken over as director of the Trust. Under Strevens’ leadership, the Trust had become a much slicker and more professional organization, but it had lost some of the homely ‘family’ feel that had characterized it under founder Frank Bell.

I had barely adjusted to being back in England, when I received a call from the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs offering me the position of Founding Director of the National Curriculum Resource Centre. The timing was perfect. It would take several months for the appointment to be confirmed and for me to negotiate a three year secondment from the College. The generous amount of free time I had in England would enable me to develop a workplan for the Centre. (The DIEA officials did not seem to have much idea of exactly what they wanted other than the Centre was intended to give the Adult Migrant Education Program a great sense of professional coherence and direction, so I would have pretty much a free hand.)

I started making notes on what I had learned and what I believed about syllabuses, curricula and materials design. These notes eventually became my first published book, Course Design: Trends and Issues, and was a blueprint that was to guide the development of the NCRC. Looking back at it now, I see how much the slim volume was influenced by my own practical teaching and curriculum development work as well as the conceptual and theoretical work of people such as David Wilkins and Henry Widdowson.

When I returned to Australia, I had to plunge myself immediately into the challenging task of establishing the NCRC. Just as when I returned from Bangkok to establish the Graduate Diploma program, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. At least with the diploma, there were models and precedents from other institutions, and I had actually done a similar diploma of sorts in England. In the case of the NCRC, I had only the foggiest idea of what was required. I decided that the first thing I needed to do was take a trip around Australia to meet the heads and senior officers of the various state Adult migrant Education Centres.

While I was in England, DIEA had found me a secretary and a small, interim office in the AMES centre in Adelaide. Initially they had wanted me to relocate to the East Coast – either Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra, but that would have meant considerable upheaval for me and my family. I pointed out that as it was a national centre it should not really matter where it was located, so I might as well remain in Adelaide. Thankfully they agreed.

Mary had all of the qualities of a perfect secretary.. She was calm, and unflappable. She was also efficient. In a morning she had booked a round-Australia trip and set up meeting with Heads or Deputy Heads of each of the state adult immigrant organizations.

I was away for ten days, and in that time had meetings in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, and then back to Adelaide. The trip drove home to me the vastness of the Australian continent. The flight from Brisbane to Darwin took most of a day, and we had to stop at Mt Isa to refuel and pick up additional passengers. The flight from Darwin to Perth was an overnight on stopping off in Port Headland.

The Adult Migrant Education Program had, some years before abandoned its centralized curriculum based on the audiolingual series Situational English (which, as I mentioned, I had used when I had first started teaching in the early 1970s) in favor of a decentralized, needs-based model. Each teaching centre was supposed to develop its own curriculum based on the needs of the students. There was no set textbook, and teachers were supposed to develop or adapt their own materials based on their assessment of student needs. It was too much to ask. Curriculum design and materials development are highly specialized activities that take years to master. Although all teachers in the AMEP were required to have formal teaching qualifications, many were young and relatively inexperienced, and their qualifications were not necessarily in the areas in which they were required to teach.

In many centres, the result was chaos. Teachers did their own thing. This ranged from the use of commercial textbooks, to the persistence of traditional grammar instruction or audiolingualism on the part of some older teachers. Most centres and teachers had built up their own extensive files of photocopiable materials that had either been created, appropriated or adapted from other sources.

Some teachers used variations on or combinations of the various ‘designer methods that were popular at the time: the Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Community Language Learning, and the luridly titled Total Physical Response. Wackiest of all was a course called All’s Well. This was based on a series of cartoon animals, was truly bizarre and was totally unsuitable for adult immigrants and traumatized Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees. It was developed from a French approach called SCAV (the Structuro-Global Audio Visual method), and like most designer methods was justified by a lot of pseudo scientific quackery.

So, the major challenge for the NCRC was to give coherence and direction to a disparate national program by showing teachers how to implement a needs-based, learner-centred approach, an approach that many were skeptical about, if not actively opposed to. In effect I was going to have to offer help lead teachers to the other side of a street that they did not want to cross.

The bureaucrats in Canberra who were funding the AMEP, including paying the teachers’ salaries, couldn’t see what the problem was. “Just tell them what to do.” they said. “Their salaries are paid by the taxpayers and so they’re accountable to the taxpayer through us.” Bureaucrats and teachers are from different planets: correction - different universes. The folks from Canberra were, in the main, intelligent, hard working and committed. However, they were never able to comprehend the fact that you don’t tell teachers what to do. Not even if you do pay their salary.

In the beginning, as with the development of the graduate diploma program, I felt diffident and unsure of myself. It was déjà vu all over again! In some states, there was a confrontational attitude on the part of some teachers – a militancy that was partly professional (when it comes to our students, we’re the experts, so don’t tell us what to do!), and partly industrial (how about giving us a living wage and decent working conditions?). Thankfully, the attitude of these people was not the norm, but in the early days of the Centre’s life, they made several of my workshops extremely challenging.

Luckily I had great support from several of the AMES state directors, including the key states of N.S.W., Victoria and South Australia. Coincidence or not, these three directors had also been on the interviewing panel that had appointed me, so I guess they had a vested interest in my success. The heads in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory were also very supportive. It was only in Queensland, in those days a maverick state in all respects, with a confrontational Premier called Bjelke-Petersen, where I had some challenges winning around the AMES director. But in the end, he was also supportive.

I also had support from some of the key architects of the ideas behind the program, particularly from Geoff Brindley, who, more than anyone, synthesized and articulated the need-based, objectives-driven philosophy behind the AMEP nationwide. These ideas were, in some ways, ahead of their time. Today they don’t seem particularly radical, but in the mid 1980s, when they were not well understood by many teachers, they aroused considerable controversy. Geoff and I eventually developed a workshop showing how to implement the ideas at the classroom level. We took this on the road, doing presentations around the country, and this went a long way towards gaining widespread acceptance of the philosophy.

As I developed an agenda for the Centre, I kept notes on the development of a national agenda for adult education predicated on the teacher as the central agent of change. In order to gain greater insights into the process, I interviewed teachers and then conducted a number of national surveys into the process.

I began attending the TESOL conventions in the United States, and met key figures in the field including Kathi Bailey, Jack Richards and Mike Long. At that stage Jack and Mike, along with Richard Day, Dick Schmidt, Craig Chaudron, Fred Genesee, and a number of other notable researchers and writers were at the University of Hawaii. It was a formidable group, and when they invited me to present to their graduate students, I took the opportunity.

I stayed with Jack at his apartment not far from the university in Manoa, a few blocks from Waikiki Beach. At the time, Jack was writing a textbook series for Cambridge University Press with two of his graduated students. This would ultimately be called Interchange and was destined to become one of the biggest selling series of all time.

While I was staying with Jack, I started analyzing and writing up the data I had collected on the AMEP teachers as agents of their own curriculum development. One morning Jack looked at what I was writing and because interested.

What do you plan to do with this?" he asked.

"I guess I’ll publish it through the NCRC publication program," I replied.

"This stuff warrants a wider audience than simply Australia," said Jack. "Why don’t you offer it to an international publisher?"

He went on to tell me that he and Mike Long were about to launch a new series with Cambridge University Press called the Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series, and suggested that I give them first refusal.

Back in Australia, I completed the manuscript and sent it to Jack. Several weeks passed, and then one morning I received a call from Cambridge. It was from Peter Donovan, English Language Teaching Director for CUP. He had just read my manuscript and was very excited. "Please don’t offer it to anyone else." He said. "We’ll get back to you."

Get back to me they did, with a contract I couldn’t refuse. Thus was born my first international publication, which appeared as The Learner-Centred Curriculum.

On the same day as The Learner-Centred Curriculum was put under contract, I received a letter from Chris Candlin and Henry Widdowson inviting me to contribute a volume to a new series they were editing for Oxford University Press. The topic they had selected for me was ‘syllabus design’. Exhausted from having just completed the Cambridge book, and fearing that there would be too much overlap better the content of the two books, I sent Chris and Henry a note politely declining the offer. My friends thought I was crazy. Rejecting an offer from Oxford University Press – one of the top academic publishers in the word? Even crazier was the deluded notion that you could say ‘no’ to Candlin and Widdowson.

Late one night, a week or two after declining the offer, my phone rang. It was Chris Candlin, calling from Lancaster in England. I had only met Chris once or twice prior to this, and only for short period of time. I had not appreciated the fact that he didn’t take no for an answer.

Although they were on similar topics, writing these two books represented totally different experiences. As series editors, Jack Richards and Mike Long had a ‘hands off’ attitude towards their authors. There was no attempt to impose a philosophy or a ‘house style’ on the series and each book in the series is quite different. The OUP ‘Scheme for Teachers’ on the other hand, had a very clearly articulated philosophy and style. Each book was to follow a similar format, and each was to be pitched at a particular level. It wasn’t exactly like painting by numbers, but the constraints did make the book difficult to write in a number of ways. Syllabus Design was one of the first books in the series. Tony Wright’s volume on Roles of Teachers and Learners (one of my favorite books in the series, by the way) was about to be published, and I had the page proofs. This at least gave me something of a model to follow.

The major problem with the template we were working with was that the books were divided into three sections: theory, practice/illustration, application. Theoretically, the distinction looked fine, but there were problems when it came to application. For example, in section 1, I would write a piece on a now largely discredited approach to syllabus design and point out the shortcomings and criticisms. In the second section, I would then have to illustrate an approach that had already been discredited.

Another challenge was the fact that the series editors themselves did not see eye to eye on the nature of the subject I was writing about. Henry Widdowson saw ‘syllabus’ in traditional terms. It had to do with the selecting, sequencing and articulating of content. Chris Candlin, on the other hand already embraced the notion of ‘processes approaches’ to the specification of syllabus input, and was comfortable with the notion that in a communicative curriculum, a neat separation between language content and learning process was not always possible. As the author, I was caught between these two intellectual titans as they argued the toss between content and process.

I was torn between both perspectives. I could see both points of view, although my own recent experiences inclined me towards Candlin’s ‘process’ perspective. These men had been instrumental in creating our field. I was a nobody. What was I to do?

I noticed that the three of us were due to speak at a conference in Miami. I arrived at the conference hotel with a duty free bottle of Glenfidich and left messages for my two editors.

We met the several days later in my hotel room. The bottle of scotch quickly disappeared. Both men were remarkable drinkers. The only evidence that they had taken alcohol was that, after the second glass, I became invisible, and they began contesting epistemology, royalty splits and other issues way beyond my ken. I lay back on the bed, legs crossed, and let them thrash out the various issues they had to deal with.

The bottle of duty free scotch did the trick. Henry and Chris dealt with whatever issues they had that were bothering them. I was left alone to get on with my book, which I did. The ideological differences between Henry and Chris on the nature of syllabus design forced me to confront aspects of language and language teaching that I had barely considered. Having to work out, articulate and defend my own position made the book a much better one than it would otherwise have been. The fact that it is still in print 20 years later, underlines that fact.

Despite the fact that The Learner-Centred Curriculum was written and commissioned first, Syllabus Design was the first to appear in print. At the time it was due to appear, I was running an intensive workshop on course planning, and wanted to use the book as the core text. OUP agreed to courier thirty copies of the book from Hong Kong where it was being printed. The day before the workshop, a large courier package arrived on my desk. Thrilled at the prospect of seeing my very first internationally published book, I tore the wrapping off the cover only do discover that the printers had sent me thirty copies of Tony Lynch’s Listening book which had been published in parallel with Syllabus Design.

At about this time, Chris Candlin invited me to lunch. During lunch he announced that he had been offered, and had accepted the Chair of Linguistics at Macquarie University in Sydney. He also said that the Department was planning to bid for a new key centre of research on language teaching and learning. The problem was that the proposed budget was extremely modest – something in the order of $150,000 a year. At that time, my own Centre’s budget had grown to the order of around $1,000,000. Given the overlapping agendas of both Centres, it made sense for us to think in terms of an amalgamation. I was thrilled at the prospect of come to Macquarie as Associate Professor of Linguistics and co-directer the new Centre with Chris.

It seemed like the perfect arrangement. Although I had enjoyed the challenge of establishing the NCRC, developing a workshop program, setting up a research and publishing program and founding the journal Prospect, I was anxious to get back into graduate teaching. The position at Macquarie would enable me to work with a dynamic team of academics creating postgraduate programs, and taking on doctoral students.

While the challenges of moving the Centre and the family from Adelaide to Sydney, selling and buying houses, getting children into school were considerable, the move went smoothly enough. The biggest challenge was keeping the agenda of the Centre moving ahead as it was transported half way across the country. In the course of the move, the National Curriculum Resource Centre was transformed into the National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research. Several staff from Adelaide, most notably Gerd Stabler and Jill Burton, relocated with me from Adelaide. We were also lucky enough to recruit some of the top people in the field of applied linguistics such as Geoff Brindley and Ken Willing as well as some younger people who were destined to make significant names for themselves: Jenny Hammond and Anne Burns among them.

Chris set a punishing agenda. In no time at all, we had several master’s programs and a diploma in language education up and running. We won contracts for several significant national research projects, we massively expanded the original NCRC publication program, we set up a language school, we took on M.Phil. and Ph.D. students (before I knew it, I was supervising 14 of them!). On top of all of this, we expanded the work that the NCRC had been doing for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs for the past five years.

NCELTR’s success was built on Chris Candlin’s indefatigable energy, the talent he was able to assemble and the moral and financial support given to the Centre by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Before long, we had a thriving publication program and a national master’s program. These were pre-online course days, and so those of us teaching on the graduate programs spent most weekends flying around the country. In my spare time, I wrote books, and took on numerous consultancies, the most interesting of which were in the Sultanate of Oman in the Middle East and KANDA Gaigo Kakuin, a two-year college in Tokyo.

When I moved to Sydney at the beginning of 1989, the agreement was that the directorship of NCELTR would rotate. That never happened. Chris became, and remained Founding Director of NCELTR. It never really bothered me that much. It made sense to have a Chair Professor as Director. Chris had the status and determination to get us what we needed in order to succeed.

We were fortunate in being able to recruit a remarkable group of people who were in the early days of their academic careers. I was Associate Director and Director of Research and Development. Geoff Brindley and Ken Willing headed up the Research section. Jill Burton was Head of Professional development, working with Jenny Hammond and Anne Burns. In addition, as we were formally part of the School of English and Linguistics, we were also able to draw on the services of a formidable group of academics including Ruqaiya Hasan, David Butt, Colin Yallop, and many others. Arthur Delbridge, Emeritus Processor and father of the Macquarie Dictionary would drop by from time to time. It was a really good place to be at that time, and everyone wanted to work there.

Working with colleagues in the Linguistics Department, we developed a new masters program in applied linguistics. Geoff and I developed and co-taught the research methods and curriculum development courses. The course was taught in several modes – part-time ‘drip feed’, full time intensive and also part-time intensive. In the part-time intensive mode we taught courses over two intensive weekends. Many students preferred this mode as it enabled them to engage with the subject matter intensively. Because they had less time to read and reflect on the readings, they did not get the breadth of content coverage. However, they were able to explore the subject matter in greater depth. It was an interesting experience delivering an identical course through different modes and experiencing the way in which the different delivery modes changed the nature of the course.

We also took the masters program on the road, running it in part-time intensive mode in Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart. This was part of our brief as a national centre, but it was also exhausting. Most semesters, I was teaching Tuesday and Thursday nights, then either teaching the part-time intensive mode in Sydney, or flying off on Friday to one of the other states. In between times I was running the R&D sections of NCELTR, teaching on a new graduate diploma that Anne Burns had developed, doing my own research and writing. In the five years that I spent at NCELTR, I wrote Understanding Language Classrooms, Language Teaching Methodology, Introducing Discourse Analysis, Collaborative Language Learning and Teaching, Research Methods in Language Learning, and Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Along with Jane Lockwood and Sue Hood, I also wrote me first textbook series The Australian English Course, as well as the first three levels of ATLAS, the first of my large international series.

My professional career seemed to move in five year cycles, and by the early 1990s I was ready to move on. After five years, I felt that I was ready for a full professorship, and applied for one that was currently being advertised at James Cook University in North Queensland. I got an interview, but that was about all. Not getting the position was a significant career move. I realised the minute I landed in Townsville that this place was not for me. After three days of seminar presentations, meetings with faculty members and a grueling formal interview at the hands of an 18 member interviewing committee that included everyone from the Bishop of Northern Queensland to the local butcher, I was put in a taxi, and dispatched to whence I had come. It was an interesting experience, but not one I wanted to repeat in a hurry.

Shortly afterwards, I noticed an advertisement for the Chair Professorship of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I submitted an application and called a friend, Jack Richards, at that time Chair Professor of English at City University of Hong Kong, for a reference.

Why are you applying to Chinese U.?” asked Jack. “Why don’t you go for the position at Hong Kong U.?

“What position is that?”

Chair Professor of Applied Linguistics and Director of the English Centre.

“I thought that position had closed.”

I’m not sure that it has. Let me call a friend I have at HKU. I’ll get back to you.”

Within an hour, Jack had called back with the news that HKU would entertain the notion of a eleventh-hour application. I switched my application from Chinese University to the University of Hong Kong. I was not desperate for the position, and as a consequence, relaxed, enjoyed the rounds of interviews, social engagements and interviews. I was back in my hotel after the final formal interview when the phone rang. It was Iain Davies, Professor of Dentistry and Acting Director of the newly formed English Centre. Ian had been a member of the interviewing committee and was calling to offer me the job. I thought for a nanosecond and then accepted.

Although the position had been advertised as a three year contract with the possibility of a three year renewal, Iain said that he would speak to the Vice Chancellor about the possibility of turning it into a tenure track position. “Fine,” I replied, although it didn’t really matter to me. I had no intention of staying through more than one contract renewal, which would give me six years in the position. As it turned out, I was to be in the position for almost 14 years.

As Director of the Centre, my approach was to work with colleagues to create a vision based on a philosophy of what a Centre in an English medium university ought to be, hire the best people I could, and then get out of their way so that they could get on with their job. The Centre’s staff was an interesting mix of locals and expatriates who combined youthful enthusiasm with experience. A number of published authors were on staff. These included Bill Littlewood and Alastair Pennycook, both of whom would go on to be chair professors in their own right, Bill in Hong Kong and Alastair in Australia.

As usual, I was nervous and tentative about taking up the Chair Professorship. At NCELTR at Macquarie we had simply made up our own rules and systems as we went along. I had served on one or two committees, but had never bothered mastering the intricacies and medieval ways of university faculty boards and the like. At the University of Hong Kong, I was a member of Senate and several other committees, and had to figure my way around the University Statutes, Boards of Studies and so on. As the English Centre taught courses across all faculties in the University, I had to do the rounds, meeting Deans, Associate Deans, Heads of Departments, and find out who mattered and who didn’t. I have never had much stomach for university politics, which is a blood sport - nowhere more than Hong Kong, where money and politics rule.

The major writing task I had to complete was the fourth and final level of ATLAS. Textbook writing was extremely hard work. It also demanded high level skills from syllabus development through to task and exercise design, dealing with editors who often had very different visions from the author. All of the pieces had to fit together.

Jack Richards’ Interchange series had recently appeared and indications were it would be a runaway best-seller. Jack loved nothing more than to pretend that coursebook writing was a breeze. However, privately he admitted just how demanding it was.

Jack had written several series, but for me writing a major international series was a bit like running a marathon – an activity when once completed, you say to yourself “Well, I’ll never do that again!” When I finally finished Level 4 of ATLAS I dusted of my hands, thinking that was that. However, when the publisher approached me to do another series, and another, and another, I found it difficult to say “no”. In any case, I had invested so much time and energy honing my textbook writing skills on ATLAS that it would have been a waste to refuse.

When I moved to Hong Kong, I was also on the Board of Directors of TESOL International. This required frequent trips to the States for Board meetings. And then, the year after I rotated off the Board, I allowed myself to be talked into running for President. In order to run, I had to have the approval of the University. The Vice-Chancellor made it clear that while he would sign the release to run, all of the work would have to be done in my own time and on my own dime. The University did not hold language teaching in particularly high regard, and would not provide any teaching or administrative release time.

Despite the work involved and the incessant travel, the experience of being TESOL President was a fantastic one. I got to meet hundreds of TESOL professionals around the world, some of whom became lifelong friends. I also learned how to read a budget, to appreciate the intricacies of fiduciary responsibility, and how to run a three day Board meeting.

I moved to Hong Kong at the beginning of 1994. I never imagined that 14 years later I would still be there. It is a seductive place with boundless opportunities for linguistic and cultural research. It also offers easy access to other countries in the region.

In 2007, I stepped down as Director of the English Centre and was granted the title of Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics, which enables me to maintain my connection with the University and to continue doctoral supervision. I also took on the position of President of Anaheim University, an online university, where I had spent 11 years establishing the Graduate School of Education. My work as Senior Academic advisor with GlobalEnglish Corporation continues, as do honorary positions at the University of Stockholm, Chulalongkorn University Bangkok, the University of NSW, and Shantou University. These attachments, along with a busy writing and international speaking schedule, keep me, as of this moment, as busy as ever.