Reading “Teaching Unplugged”
After reading Scott Thornbury’s blog post about his forty years in the ELT profession, I thought, rather than post a large reply to his post, I would write a personal blog post about my journey in the ELT profession. It was incredibly interesting to learn more about Scott Thornbury’s decision to teach as a way to travel as well as being taught the International House method of teaching the grammar of English in ‘contrived’ ways. Nevertheless, I thought it would be a wonderful chance to share my own journey of becoming an English language teacher as well as the changes that I have noticed in the English teaching industry.
When I first started teaching, it was back in December 2005, after completing a degree in International Business. I travelled to South Korea with my family fresh off the plane with a rejuvenated sense of teaching Korean young learners. All that was required when I arrived to become a professional English teacher was to have the following:
- A university degree
- Be a native English teacher
Fortunately, I met these requirements and at the time I didn’t even need a certificate, such as the CELTA, to teach English. I was so happy and keen to jump into the classroom.
I suppose this was the first thing that I noticed in the English language teaching profession was this ownership of the teaching of English, and the backwash was that institutes would only be allowed to recruit teachers from countries which were from either America, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa – which is the inner circle of language native speakers of English. This had the unfortunate drawback that non-native speakers did not have the opportunity to teach in South Korea – but this is another blog post. These days, from my personal observation with the South Korean English education system, they are more adaptable with regards to non-native speakers of English – especially for those teachers who are Korean themselves. However, there still remains some issues of recruitment with non-native speakers of English from those countries which were not mentioned above.
After a year, I joined a four week intensive CELTA course at the British Council in Seoul. I had to go to their centre and go for an interview before being accepted on to the course but it was highly competitive and I was the only Brit on the course. It was a joint interview with a fellow non-native English teacher and it was so nice to see the British Council accommodate non-native speakers of English on the course. It didn’t seem such an exclusive course for just native speakers of English and we were able to share ideas of teaching English to adult language learners. We were introduced to the British Council/CELTA method of teaching English – much like Scott Thornbury’s IH method – where we taught small elements of language items and grammar through a context. I was very keen to put this into practice with my learners at our small school in a rural town of Korea but quickly realised that this was not so transferable towards young learners and I wanted to teach at an adult institute and I moved on to Wall Street English in Seoul.
I was so enthusiastic and keen to teach English via this newly discovered communicative method that I was quite popular among the learners. My basic stages in all my lessons were:
- Introduce the topic and elicit possible vocabulary
- Introduce vocabulary for main activity
- Undertake the main activity (reading, listening, etc)
- Provide feedback and end lesson
I perfected this method so well and gave space for Korean language learners to communicate, that my lessons were rather popular. I noticed an improvement in their fluency and keenness to speak with each other in English – a marked improvement from Korean young learners but a different kettle of fish. After a few years, I returned to the UK.
My initial impressions of English language teaching in the UK was different to my views from South Korea. I felt like I had just started out again as a teacher. I was used to monolingual classes with students who were intrinsically motivated rather than groups of students where I had to try to encourage less motivated learners in class. I was a bit wet behind the ears and jumped in with both feet. It was the first time that I had taught alongside non-native English teachers. This was one development that I saw in English language teaching from two different perspectives.
Soon after completing a few years experience in the UK, I decided to take a post-graduate course at the University of Sussex in English Language Teaching. I decided to do the one year full-time course with a dissertation at the end of the academic year. The first academic term was incredibly challenging but I pushed my knowledge and understanding of second language acquisition for language learners. It was here that I was introduced to the concept of World Englishes and the ownership of English – which is still a hotly contentious issue. At the end of the academic year, after completing a Diploma level course as part of my MA course, I decided to research teacher and learner uptake of Dogme ELT. It was under-researched at that point in time and I found a new passion in language teaching. I had only discovered the book “Teaching Unplugged” after receiving a copy to review on my blog just a month or so before I had to start my research. I met with many teachers, posted a lot on Twitter and was keen to practice much of the lessons in the book as much as possible. I completed my dissertation with a mark of 80% and was so happy. I also volunteered at the IATEFL in Brighton that year and met up with the likes of Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings. It was so nice to feel part of a group of language teaching professionals who were keen to strip back to basics with English teaching and it was then that I noticed a change in the air where teachers were becoming more experimental in their teaching practice.
After completing the MA course, I gave a talk at IATEFL Glasgow a year later on Dogme ELT to highlight the results of my research and, still at this time, it was a popular discussion in the ELT world. However, since then, the discussion of Dogme ELT has quietened down a little bit more but there are the occasional posts from other bloggers but it has focused now more on culture in the classroom and translation has had some kind of resurgence – with a recent book by Philip Kerr “Translation and Own-language Activities“.
Finally, last year, the assessment of English, particularly those that are involved in certain professions, has stoked some interest by some academics and I was asked to attend a round-table discussion on the testing of English and the replacement of the Common European Framework (CEF). In the classroom though, the CEF is rather popular and many coursebooks now align towards the CEF with “can do” statements. It is an interesting development for teachers and something which kind of constricts learner freedom in language education where students are expected to acquire certain nuggets of knowledge and not beforehand. However, there is the understanding that language learning is an unexpected and emergent phenomena which is completely unpredictable.
A talk about Dogme ELT at IATEFL Glasgow
So, where have I seen language teaching develop? Well, we had a resurgence in the communicative method when I started out – but this could have been going on for years before I started teaching. There was also some interest and enthusiasm for more experimental and eclectic forms of teaching – Dogme ELT – but translation and own language use in the classroom is becoming more accepted in the classroom. As a side note, I once asked in the CELTA where we stand in relation to translation and all I got was a lot of stares from the other trainees and trainers on the course. I never felt that comfortable with translation in the classroom again. There is finally some focus on standardising English teaching through the CEF and it is becoming less flexible. However, there is some interest in teaching cultural aspects of language rather than grammatical items and I hope that in the future language teaching develops on to more cultural specific areas and the sharing of cultures through a common language.
I hope this answers your question Scott: “What’s changed since you started teaching?”
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