The Burning Questionnaire: Adam Simpson


Adam Simpson (known as @yearinthelifeof on Twitter and for many months the owner of the only avatar not visible on Tweetdeck, making him ELT’s greatest mystery man) lives and works in Istanbul and is an integral part of the online ELT community. His previous blog was A Year in the Life, but has been succeeded by the highly popular Teach them English. Adam contributed one of ELTpics blog Take a photo and… ‘s most visited posts in early 2013, and now he’s back with a Burning Questionnaire….  I give you……. Adam Simpson!


What is your full name, and where did it all start?

Adam John Simpson.

Current estimates suggest somewhere in the region of 13 billion years ago, which, quite frankly, is accurate enough for me. At a point around 4.5 billion years ago a certain star was formed and then lumps of rock started to accumulate into a big lump of rock which then managed to form a stable orbit around said star. The relative abundance of water, among other factors, allowed for the chemical reactions to occur which enabled protein strings to form, leading to amino acids, enzymes, protein strings and then DNA. Things kind of just took off from there. Either that, or six thousand years ago God wiggled his fingers and…

What music do you listen to while driving/cooking/contemplating your navel?

Image by Victoria Boobyer for ELTpics

Image by Victoria Boobyer for ELTpics

Driving is rubbish and I try to avoid it at all costs. If and when I drive I listen to dub reggae. It’s important to consider the profound effect that music has on your emotional state, and this is particularly the case whenever you take control of a four-wheeled death machine. Dub reggae is great for putting me in a becalmed state which enables me to engage the ‘thousand yard stare’ necessary for surviving on Turkish roads. You need to focus on what the idiot(s) in front of you are doing and know exactly when they are going to endanger your life: dub reggae helps.

When cooking I leave it to the choice of the radio DJ. I nevertheless shout at the radio if I dislike the message of a particular song or find the lyrical content banal. I’d certainly encourage everyone to adopt this approach, as the worst thing about audiovisual entertainment is that it turns you into a passive receptacle: think about what you’re watching or listening to and respond appropriately, especially when no one else is in the room. Engage with the entertainment. Regardless of the fact that it won’t hear, this is a healthy action fro your mind. This, basically, should serve as a warning to anyone who finds themselves in a room with me when that bloody Lenka starts singing ‘as cold as a cold thing, as hot as something hot, as big as a really big thing, as obvious as obviousness.’ It perturbs me to think about that crock of nonsense polluting ‘comparatives’ lessons for decades to come.

I’ve long since discarded ‘delivery by stork’ as a valid theory of reproduction. I know why my navel is there and so spend little time contemplating it.

What’s the most satisfying – or frustrating – aspect of your job?


On the last day of every class I write each person’s name – mine included – on a piece of A4. I

Image by Ian James at ELTpics

Image by Ian James at ELTpics

tape these to the walls and then require every person in the room to write something nice about each other. Please consider doing this, as it’s a magical experience. The papers I’ve collected with students comments about me are my prized possessions. 


Assessment is horrible. Learners have an absolute right to get feedback on their progress and this is the role that assessment should play. Anything more – or less – than this is just complicating matters, as is so often the case.

Writing or teaching? Why?

Writing has helped me become a better teacher. When you start blogging, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone is actually going to read your posts. When you realize that you have an audience, it suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. I have to teach well so that I can write about my experiences. The more I write about my experiences, the more I reflect on my teaching. It’s a virtuous circle.

A teacher from your schooldays:

I’d like to briefly talk about a character by the name of J.T. who is still going strong, although now in his 70s. I met him at a point in his career when he clearly felt that he’d burned out. I learned as much about what not to do as a teacher as I did about good practice, but the fact that he was aware that his star was flickering out made him all the more compelling a classroom presence.

What was the first thing you learnt as a TEFL teacher?

Learn your students’ names and use them as much as you can’, followed very quickly by ‘It’s better to teach half of what you planned to properly rather than all of it too quickly.’ I had some very great teachers guide me in my early days. Fortunately, I’m still in contact with nearly all of them.

What motivates/inspires you most?

Learning stuff and helping my kids learn stuff

Do you ever cry in the cinema?

Toy Story 3

Your favourite meal? Where? And perhaps with whom?

Image by Vicky Loras at ELTpics

Image by Vicky Loras at ELTpics

The one cooked by someone else, with my wife, anywhere

A dream?

Quite possibly

Having said that, I’m starting to lean more towards the theory that we’re part of a controlled experiment.

Favourite book?

World War Z by Max Brooks

You’ll learn everything you need to know about what it means to be a member of our species from this book.

Favourite film?

Image by Sandy Millin for ELTpics

Image by Sandy Millin for ELTpics

Nearly all films are rubbish

People tend to think that just because there are loads of them made all the time that a lot of them must be quite good. They aren’t. I like Andrei Tarkovsky’s work and would probably go for ‘Solaris’ or ‘Stalker’. People really miss the point with films, thinking that they have to be taken from point A to point be in a linear path that makes total sense and is full of action and clear explanation. Thinking about it, The Mirror is pretty amazing, too. Having said that, if you ask me again tomorrow, I might choose ‘Die Hard’ or one of Jason Statham’s films.

Day or night?


You – should – get a lot more perspective on your place in the scheme of things when the sky isn’t full of sunlight.

A sport?

Rugby League

Headingley rocks on a Friday night when the Rhinos are in town.


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