What I have been up to
Notes for friends and former colleagues

Since the early seventies I have been living and working in Germany, or West Germany as it used to be called. Starting off as a modern languages teacher first at Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate, Kent and then at the Whitley Abbey Comprehensive School in Coventry, Warwickshire for a few years, I went to work in Germany for a year as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. At that time West Germany was suffering from an acute shortage of English teachers and various regional state governments were offering incentives to leave Britain to work in their schools on short-term contracts. The pay was double the British salary and the number of teaching hours was half those required at my last school.

After a year at the Gesamtschule Scharnhorst in Dortmund, I joined a research group at the Teacher's Training Department at the local university and worked for a couple of years developing experimental English teaching materials. The seventies were not only a time of changes and questioning of first principles in politics; the mood for change was evident in all areas of society. The leftwing radicals of the 60's were leaving their German universities and colleges and entering the professions in their thousands. So too in the teaching profession. There was a growing demand for modern teaching materials and the establishment publishers were slow to recognise what was happening.

One publisher anxious to break into the lucrative school text book market approached me to become their fulltime author for a new English course which could incorporate (some of) the newer methodology being discussed and developed mainly by the younger more radical teachers. By the mid-seventies I had married my wife Carmen and we had had two sons. With this kind of commitment, finances had to be regulated properly. I had to give up my teaching work to make time for writing. The publishers had been used to dealing with amateur gentleman authors in the past with their own independent means of support. Amid much grumbling they grudgingly advanced a little money for me and my young family to survive on, provided my wife Carmen went back to teaching as soon as the children were a little older. Writing the course took a little longer than I initially thought. In the end I had written all or most or much of a dozen textbooks. Then offers came in both from publishers based inside Germany as well as outside. I suddenly possessed a surprising new career, that of professional school textbook author.

After a decade or so writing teaching materials, I had rather hoped that publishers would start to request ever more original materials in order to sharpen their public profile vis-a-vis the rivals in the market place. Not so. The process of monopolisation present in all other economic activity did not forget the school book market with its safe sales figures in the millions annually. Small independent publishers were swallowed rapidly in the eighties and a faster rate in nineties. By the end of the century, eighty-five per cent of the market was dominated by a giant duopoly. The rump of the competition made the mistake of trying be as similar as possible to the market leaders instead of striking out with a unique unmistakeable identity. So their fate is in no doubt. And the conformism of the school teachers, the leaden weight of educational bureaucracy see to it that any tiny islands of independent thought still remaining in the German educational system are fated to remain exactly that - isolated islands.

Luckily I am always able to find a number of publishers who wish to produce English learning materials, some for Germany, some for the new markets of Central Europe, some for the mass markets via mail-order firms or bookshops. These are areas in which one would naturally expect to find a heavy degree of monopolisation. Their honest avarice and hardheaded business approach is actually quite refreshing after working with educational publishers who pretend to be old-style gentlemen but whose methods are fundamentally no different from the big concerns.

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