An Unsung Hero in ELT: Sean Banville

Something really upset me a few days ago and I haven't been able to shake it off.

I tweeted my congratulations to Sean Banville on his Pecha Kucha (PK) presentation in the recent Virtual Round Table and then received a DM asking me why, that didn't I realize that Sean's PK was basically a self-promo.

Shocked at the audacity of this, I retorted with an example of someone else in the field of ELT - someone who like Sean I do not know personally, but who in my opinion, presents with an endless stream of "me, me, me."

This launched a defense of that person initially distracting me from the original DM telling me off.

The more I thought about it though, the more it annoyed me and despite the fact that these few weeks I am a busy hamster spinning in a cage of gridlocked deadlines, I'm taking five to write up this rant.

How many other people in the field of ELT work on a website, nay, 5 websites - consistently and constantly producing free materials for students and teachers for five years?

Not me, and I do my part ;-).

How many are there out there who contribute to this level without convenient connnections through their international institutions or paid publishing contracts? How many produce endless authentic lesson plans simply out of a love a sharing?

Not touring the conference circuit, without a sales and marketing staff, without a publisher to pave the way and get his work out there - and earning.. well, the money he makes from all this boils down to a handful of appreciative teachers who occasionally donate and click on his google ads.

That is to say, virtually nothing.

That someone who I respect highly could think the presentation of his websites shameless pisses me off: Sean is one our unsung heroes and for me, a true VIP.

Visit his sites and let me know what you think:


28 Responses to “An Unsung Hero in ELT: Sean Banville”

  • James says:
    November 15, 2009

    Well said, Karenne. What Sean does is remarkable, and the fact that anyone would question this is frankly bizarre. I think he's earned the right to promote himself as much as he wants.

  • Johanna Stirling says:
    November 15, 2009

    I'm 100% with you on this, Karenne. Sean's work is fantastic. I don't know how he produces so much. We all use social networking for some self-promotion - which I think is fine as long as you give something too (and Sean gives loads). If I think someone ONLY self-promotes then I stop following them, watching their PKs, whatever. Much more effective than getting wound up about it.

  • abracadabra says:
    November 15, 2009

    I recognize I few people on EFL 2.0 and Sean is one of them. Free advertising because of how selflessly they contribute to ELT. There is no such thing as self promotion if it is helping teachers. Thanks for sticking up for Sean!

    I'm going to write a post this week about commercialism and education, particularly language education. Sean does it right and he focuses not on promotion but education..... I'll be using him as an example.



  • Roy Stafford says:
    November 15, 2009

    I agree entirely. I have been using his stuff for sometime, and people like him and Jamie Keddie have pushed me to do may own lesson sharing site and I thank them for that, as it has meant an increased interest on my behalf in my work and that alone is priceless

  • Glennie says:
    November 15, 2009

    Couldn't agree more Karenne.

    Sean's work is quite remarkable. Believe me, people have been awarded OBEs for doing infinitely less.

    It's beyond me how anyone could have made that commment to you.

  • Marisa Constantinides says:
    November 15, 2009

    I recently DM-ed my thanks to Sean for a last minute life-saver lesson I downloaded and taught one of our free classes the other day, the one on Mediterranean Diets, and told him I hoped he was making some money out of all this free stuff he puts out for our benefit.

    I cannot, of course, reveal his response, but cannot see where all this do-goodness that is supposed to attach itself to educators sharing everything freely is coming from. You have to pay for everything else and people get absolutely livid on the mention of their losing two pennies of royalties from books if a teacher takes a free download from somewhere!

    And I do not recall Sean asking us for money in that PK, although I must admit I was fairly distracted as my own PK was right after Sean's....!!!!

    And in whatever we do, aren't we all promoting ourselves, our professional personae, haven't people got jobs out of "freely disseminating information and goodness"?

    And what is wrong with that?

    Why are other people entitled to market their businesses and teachers aren't?

    Unless I am very much mistaken, there was no clause that said you cannot talk about your work during you PK.

    Anyway, well done for bringing this up Karenne, carina, this is a point as silly as the question raised in this article:

    Selling Lesson Plans Online, Teachers Raise Cash and Questions


  • Sean Banville says:
    November 15, 2009

    Thank you Karenne for this post. I don't think anyone has stuck up for me in my life like you just have. You are my hero :-)

    This post is just a quick response to your DMer who accused me of self-promotion.

    Yes, the 20th and final slide was about one of my six free materials websites, but the other 19 slides were about why I thought breaking news is essential in the classroom.

    I initially made all my slides without my name of the name of my sites on any of them. Three hours before my PK, one of the conference organizers suggested I put my name on the slides, so I did. The thought hadn't occurred to me before that.

    I did the PK (a) because I thought it would be exciting and (b) because I was invited. I didn't do it for self-promotion. Had I really wanted to promote myself, I would have really done so with liberal sprinklings of references to my materials (all six free sites).

    My websites' backing? This would be my wife's never-ending patience and sacrifice to let me spend hours a day in my web endeavors. Karenne is right - I have nothing to do with publishers, nor do I tour conference circuits. I make all of the materials myself. There is no one else in the BreakingNewsEnglish spare room in my apartment. I absolutely love making the materials and sharing them. I also love the correspondence and the people I meet. The e-mails of thanks I get from students and teachers around the world make me feel I'm doing something worthwhile. Many people have asked me why I don't charge for my materials. The reason is quite simple - I don't want to.

    Financial reward? Yes, there is some but nowhere near enough for me even to work part-time. I have a full-time job working 40 hours a week.


  • Moomin says:
    November 15, 2009

    My turn...

    Thank-you Karenne for your post and hats off to you for standing up for something you felt was wrong. People are often apathetic about such things - your enusiasm is refreshing.

    Secondly, Sean I'm comparitively new to ELT but I visit your sites often for inspiration. You go ahead, self-promote (on purpose or not!) and please continue to inspire us.

    Just a thought Sean, a friend of mine is a designer and has a 'buy me a coffee' (think there is a beer one too. This is a really nice way of DONATING as one might do in real life to say thanks for a favour. Maybe something like that might make us feel less guilty about using your material every so often :)

    Very best wishes both of you
    Emma x

  • shelly terrell says:
    November 15, 2009


    Thank you for being such an advocate in our field! You are truly a blessing for speaking your mind to right a wrong.

    Sean is one of the hardest working people in ELT I know. On Twitter he is always promoting other educator sites and rarely promotes himself! Everyone I know uses his lessons. As educators making a great product and developing lessons we need some self promotion in order to continue to make great lessons. If we do not respect this as a profession, then we can continue to expect crap because no educator will spend the enormous amount of time it takes without any kind of announcement. I am all for quality lessons and would like to say personally to whoever it was that I practically begged Sean to do a Pecha Kucha specifically on his Breaking News English! I am a huge supporter of his work and get thrilled when educators discover it and are thrilled about it!

  • Anonymous says:
    November 15, 2009

    Well Said! Lets stop putting down our colleagues and congratulate the few who choose to find tangible solutions instead of just complaining why things can not be done. I offer a double congratulations to Sean!

  • Anonymous says:
    November 15, 2009

    Thank you so much, Karenne, for speaking up on behalf of Sean, whom I have come to admire greatly in the past few months after having read most of this tweets. I think there are some people on Twitter who exploit this network shamelessly to promote their latest products, which bothers me much more than somebody mentioning one of his websites at the end of a talk. I haven't seen the video, but from what I've read in the other comments in this blog I gauge that there was nothing wrong with Sean's Pecha Kucha talk. I greatly appreciate that you use your blog to support other people in your field and defend them if they are unfairly attacked by others. Well done!!!

  • Marie-Therese Le Roux says:
    November 15, 2009

    On the Web, our every move is self-promotion - for better or worse. When we contribute, it makes an impression. When we build together, it makes an impression. And when we break others down, that also makes an impression. Our actions speak for us. Our actions promote us.

    Thank you to Sean, Karenne, Shelly and all those who are contributing and building. Inevitably, actions promote you. That's not your fault!

  • Giselda Aparecida dos Santos says:
    November 15, 2009

    Congratulations Karenne for your courage and determination in defending a friend - it's very rare nowadays. Sean, keep on doing your great work and see this episode as a "fuel" to your job. My portuguese grandma always told me: "Ninguém atira pedras em árvores que não dão frutos" = Nobody throws stones in trees that don't give fruits.

  • Eva Büyüksimkeşyan says:
    November 15, 2009

    Hi Karenne,
    As I twitted, some people dare to share and collaborate and produce, whereas the others just watch and criticize. I think we shouldn't bother with them. It's my 3rd month on twitter and blogging and I've learned so many invaluable things from remarkable, creative, extraordinary educators and Sean is one of them.He produces and he shares and on the web he is not alone.

  • venhi says:
    November 15, 2009

    What's wrong with self-promotion? A good idea is a good idea anywhere it comes from.

    Unfriendly competition is everywhere and I am glad you expressed your disdain for it in this post. It is a hindrance to innovation, particularly in a profession that relies so heavily on community.

  • Valentina Dodge says:
    November 15, 2009

    We'll shout our praise and echo your spot on points and retweet Sean's brill lesson plans all we want.
    Even if it were self-promotion, who cares, this stuff is free and offered by hard-working individuals who dedicate their time to sharing.

    Viva Sean and Karenne!
    And the creative commons license on the work of EFL (40-hours-a -week) professionals around the world.

  • Janet Bianchini says:
    November 15, 2009

    Thanks Karenne, for highlighting this story.

    I echo the sentiments of everyone here in defence of Sean. I think he is an amazingly dedicated person who shares so much to help us teachers make our lesson planning less time-consuming with easily downloadable materials on all kinds of interesting topics.

    In particular, I really love the Breaking News lessons as they are always so topical and they save me having to do a lot of fiddly cutting and pasting. Long may they continue!

  • Barbara Sakamoto says:
    November 16, 2009

    I first came across Sean's famous people site when I was searching for something to use for a lesson revolving around Brad Pitt (in response to "What would YOU like to study?").

    I was mighty impressed with the entire site, and have recommended it to my adult students for self-access listening practice.

    That was all well before I "knew" the man behind the many and varied free lessons. How much more wonderful to discover that Sean is just as nice as he is talented. It would take a pretty large twist of locational luck for us to end up sharing a cup of coffee one day, but I look forward to bumping into Sean online. He totally "gets" the idea of sharing with and supporting others.

    Definitely one of the good guys!

  • Neal chambers says:
    November 16, 2009


    I think you understand the ludicrousness of this more than anyone because you understand business. There is a real world out there. And to be successful you have to self-promote sometimes. And I personally think sean has earned the right to promote himself and talk about the advantages of his lesson plans because here is the real deal: you have the right to choose. Sean presented about news in the classroom and it's perfectly fine for you to use that information to teach news in the classroom with or without his materials (which are absolutely free so why are we complaining?)
    I think in times like these we need a supportive community. One capable of constructive feedback and criticism. One capable of applauding those among us that have worked hard. Every great inventor, leader, thinker had to self-promote. It's the way messages get out.
    Personally, I think Sean should be selling something. I like his stuff! I'd rather give him money then a big book publisher. Wouldn't you?

  • Sue Lyon-Jones says:
    November 16, 2009

    Spot on, Karenne!

    Sean not only works incredibly hard on his sites but provides amazingly high quality lesson materials for free. Having watched Sean's PK, it didn't come across as self-promotion to me, although I can understand why it might have awakened the green-eyed monster amongst those who fear the competition!

    I think when something like this happens it serves as a reminder that not everybody gets the "share the knowledge" vibe.

  • Johanna Stirling says:
    November 17, 2009

    Funny, and great, thing is that Sean has got far more promotion arising from this negative comment than he ever would have through self-promotion. Thanks to you, Karenne and everyone who has commented and Tweeted ... and a bit of divine justice!

  • elizabeth_anne says:
    November 17, 2009

    Thanks for the link to the Virtual Round table :-)
    (better late than never?)

  • nicky says:
    November 18, 2009

    May I chime in as well with a heart-felt "You go, girl!" If all this blogging and twitting business is to be at all valuable, the first thing we have to do is cut out all this cutthroat behind-the-back-talkin' two-bit gossip nonsense.

    I, like 90% of TEFL teachers, have used Mr. Banville's stuff. Impressive in its sheer quantity, and though at times it shows through as a bit formulaic, the volume of suggestions and ideas that he throws out there means you can pick and choose.

    That said, I haven't peeked over at his sites for a while, but will shortly...ah, the ironies of web promotion...

  • EnglishTeacher365 says:
    November 19, 2009

    I met Sean a couple of years back in the UAE and found him to be one of the more self-effacing 'names' in ELT.

    I use his materials in class almost every day, and have never thought to pay him a penny for his efforts, so the least I can do is state my support for him.

    Keep it up, Sean!

  • Chris Cotter says:
    November 19, 2009

    Self-promotion? I'm sorry, but I really did a doubletake there.

    Yes, Sean, shame on you for providing thousands of pages of material. Shame on you for offering the thousands of pages for free. Shame on you for spending time on your websites so teachers who don't get enough time to prepare can offer quality lessons to their students. Shame on you for offering quality materials so students everywhere can more quickly realize their dreams and goals with regards to English. Shame on you for sticking on a final slide that mentioned one of your websites. 

    Chris Cotter
    English Language Teacher and another peddler/shameless promoter of free content...

  • Hall Houston says:
    November 21, 2009

    Another fantastic post, Karenne. I had visited Breaking News English before, but I was unaware that Sean had several other sites as well.

    Not to change the subject, but this might make a good series of blog posts, Unsung Heroes of ELT.

  • Anonymous says:
    November 23, 2009

    I didn't know about Sean's website, thank you for the links. I am amazed that anyone who so freely shares ideas in the web, should be criticized for promoting themselves at the same time. As a new teacher I am really appreciative of the generosity of experienced people like him and yourself!


  • Tara Benwell says:
    November 25, 2009

    Hi Karenne,

    I just came across this post via a Google search as I was writing up my TN Site of the Month award for December (for guess who). I've featured Sean before but I thought one of his other sites deserved recognition too. Love his stuff and recommend it all the time. Strangely I never thought of him as an unsung hero until now. I always thought he was a celebrity in ELT land! I guess you two will be competing for "Site of the Year" on TN for 2009. :)

    BTW-I think the term "sharing" can easily replace "self promotion". We all do it differently depending on our roles in ELT. As abracadabra said, we're all just teachers helping teachers.



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