February Teacher Interview: Jennifer Verschoor

Hello everyone and again apologies for the limited blog posts.  I have really been quite busy teaching and enjoying my free time.  There is only so much time I can devote to blogging but I really hope that you enjoy the blog posts that Sean and Scott have been publishing recently.  They really keep the blog alive and I would really like to say a big thank you to them.  Again, if you would like to join this blog as a contributor please feel free to complete the contributor application form, ELT Experiences are always looking for authors to help keep this blog alive with some really interesting content and I hope that you feel that you could volunteer.

Anyhow, this month we interview Jennifer Verschoor.  She graduated from St. Andrews Scots School in Argentina. She holds a degree in Literary, Technical and Legal Translation was well as a Bachelor´s degree in Educational Management, English Teaching and ICT in the Classroom validated by Trinity College London. Last year she completed her Master´s degree in Virtual Environments and currently she is studying a Specialization in Education and ICT offered by the Ministry of Education in Argentina.  More information is about Jennifer is available from here.  Nevertheless, let us get started with the teacher interview.

1. Could you tell our readers how you got into English teaching?

2. January has flown by, do you have any aims for the rest of 2014?

3. Do you have any advice for teachers keen to teach in Argentina?

4. What is the best way for teachers trying to incorporate technology in the Young Learner classroom?

5. What developments in English Language Teaching do you expect to see this year?

6. How do you deal with a challenging group of teenagers?

7. What do you remember of your first lesson?

8. How do you see technology complementing more traditional aspects of teaching?

9. Some teachers say that the growing dependence with technology in the classroom could reduce rapport between the teacher and student. In what way do you agree or disagree with this assertion?

10. What are your top 10 PLN/PLE tools that you enjoy using within the classroom?

Jennifer Verschoor Image

Thank you Jennifer for taking the time to answer my questions and answering them in a YouTube video.  If you have any questions for Jennifer, please leave a comment below.

January Teacher Interview: Nik Peachey

Nik PeachyHappy New Year to all my readers and all the best for 2014.  It has been a very busy Christmas and New Year for me as I spent the time in South Korea for 2 weeks to visit and spend time with extended family (a post to added in the near future – I promise!!!) and I have finally managed to sit down to write a new blog post.  What better time to write the first post of 2014 than a monthly teacher interview which involves one teacher who is well known for his contribution to the TeachingEnglish website.  This interview is none other than Nik Peachey!  Now for a short biography about his experiences.

Nik Peachey has been involved in ELT since 1992. He has worked all over the world as a language teacher, teacher trainer and technology trainer. In 2003 he took over and managed the newly launched British Council | BBC TeachingEnglish website and developed it into one of the world’s best web based resources for English language teachers.  Since 2007 he has been working freelance as a technology writer trainer and consultant. He creates custom made face-to-face and online training courses for teachers and has been involved in a number of major training consultancies for ELT publishers, organisations and education ministries around the world. Among teachers he is best known for his free blogs, these include QuickShout and his Learning Technology blog.  In 2009 he published a free e-book ‘Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers‘ which has been read by more than 180 thousand teachers world-wide. In May 2012 he won a British Council Innovations award for Excellence in Course Innovation for the Blended Learning in ELT course he designed for Bell Educational Services. As well as being a qualified teacher and trainer he also holds a masters in educational technology and ELT and is a qualified PRINCE 2 project manager.

Now let’s start the much anticipated interview.

1. Could you tell our readers how you got into English teaching?

Well I guess like a lot of people I got into ELT because I wanted to travel. I had just finished a degree in music and had paid my way through by playing in jazz bands and teaching guitar to kids and in the local prison. My plan was to teach English in Japan and save up enough money to do an MA in composition. None of those three happened. I never made it to Japan, I never did an MA in composition and sadly I never saved any money either. I did a CELTA in Cairo at IH and it really blew my mind. I really enjoyed the teaching and the methods and thought the world was probably a better place with one less would be guitarist.

2. What advice would you give to newly qualified teachers who have just completed a CELTA or equivalent?

The most important thing is to get a job in a good school where there is plenty of support and development. If possible try to work in a school that runs teacher-training courses. You are much more likely to get support in that kind of environment. Also don’t take on too many hours. If you try to do too much it can really quickly burn out your enthusiasm and that soon starts to show with your students.

3. What do you consider are the most demanding differences between teaching monolingual and multilingual classes?

I taught multilingual classes for a couple of years in Singapore and it was great. The students were very mixed and English was their common language. Sometimes I felt they learned more during the breaks just trying to chat and communicate with each other than they did during the classes. Monolingual classes can be much harder work and the use of communicative activities to develop their speaking always feels a bit artificial. It can make it really difficult for them.

4. What would be the perfect teachers’ room?

Well I think I worked in it for a while. It had very little to do with the room and a lot to do with the people in it. Just after I finished my diploma I got some work at IH in Barcelona and was able to start training up as a CELTA trainer there. The staffroom at the time contained some amazing people. Scott Thornbury, Gavin Dudeney, Graham Stanley, to name but a few and the buzz of ideas in the staffroom was fantastic. There was always someone sitting around talking about teaching. Having the opportunity to train up there was fantastic too. I was so lucky and really it only happened by chance.

5. What is your opinion of roleplays in the classroom?  Are they really that authentic?

It really depends a lot on the students. Some students love them and really get into roleplaying. It can help them escape from being themselves and really give them a chance to experiment with language and feeling a range of expression that isn’t natural to the classroom. Some students aren’t so keen though. It has a lot to do with how well you build the rapport with the class and make them comfortable with each other. It also helps if your role-plays are well designed too and your students have the ability to produce the necessary language for them.

6. What is the secret when teaching young learners?

I would say that it’s probably understanding the right degree of control and discipline. I never found that balance. I had classes of kids that were really fantastic and others that were complete nightmares. I’m terrible at being the disciplinarian. Whenever I tried to tell them off I would start to smile and then they didn’t take me seriously. You have to be able to maintain an element of fear I think and I couldn’t do it. They knew I was a pushover.

7. What was your first lesson like?

I remember my first lesson on my CELTA course. It was in Cairo with a group of Arabic speakers. I told them they could call me Nik. They looked a bit confused and embarrassed, which I assumed was because they usually call their teachers Sir. I later discovered it was because Nik in Arabic means f__k! I can’t remember my first unobserved lesson. I think the fear blanked it out. I’m sure it was probably really awful. My poor students.

8. What advice would you give to language teachers keen to get involved with technology and language education?

Well my first piece of advice is to make a start. Lots of teachers ‘umm’ and ‘ahh’ about it and are like children trying to get on a ‘merry-go-round’. They don’t know where to start and are worried about leaping on in the wrong place.  The easiest way to start is by setting things for students to do as homework. That reduces the pressure on the teacher and the worry that something will go wrong and they will be humiliated in front of their students. Try setting a video task for students such as something from http://lyricstraining.com/ or http://www.eslvideo.com/ . Students enjoy watching video and these have built in tasks for them. Get them to do the tasks for homework, then follow it up with some kind of in class work. It could be a discussion or looking more carefully at the script of the video.  The next step would be to start some sort of blog or online site where you can collect together links to activities and sites for them to work on at home.  All these things are pretty safe for the teacher and help build some learner autonomy.

9. How should the teacher keep learners motivated in the classroom?

This really is one of the most difficult things and really the key to success. The answer is probably different for everyone. I try to be understanding and keep things light in the classroom. Try to keep things fresh and change things around a lot and try to make learning fun. I’m really interested Dan Pink’s research into motivation. You can watch his TED talk here http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

10. Finally, what New Year resolutions or plans have you set for yourself during 2014?

Well this year I’ve set myself the goal of starting to write a series of books on technology. I’ve been writing about and training teachers to use technology in education for years now and I’ve always wanted to do a book for teachers. I’ve been approached by publishers a few times but I don’t want to do a book on technology that’s limited by black and white paper, so I’ve decided to try to raise the money to fund my own production of a series of eBooks. I want them to have video and colour images and links that go directly to the web. Most of all I want them to be cheaper than paper books and more portable. I have loads of books about teaching, but when I need them, they are always at home on the bookshelf, not where I need them. An eBook can be much more portable and accessible. So that’s my New Year resolution. I’ve started a fundraising campaign at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/digital-classrooms-online-video so you can go along there and find out more about the project and help me to keep my resolution. That would be great.

Thank you ever so much for your answers Nik!

Christmas Teacher Interview: Hugh Dellar

Hugh Dellar photoIt has been a wonderful year here at ELT Experiences and what better way to celebrate Christmas, than a special interview with a highly recognised teacher, author and fellow blogger: Hugh Dellar.  I first met Hugh at a BELTE Conference in Brighton a number of years ago and where he was giving a talk on the use of translation in language teaching.  It was a very engaging discussion with some practical ideas to incorporate inside the classroom – some of which I have used in the classroom.  If you look at some of the more recently published material authored by Dellar, you will see his influence of translation and language learning within some chapters of “Outcomes“.  Anyhow, this month’s teacher interview is with Hugh Dellar.  Let’s start!

Hugh Dellar is a teacher and teacher trainer at University of Westminster, London. He has been teaching since 1993, predominantly in London, but spent three years in Jakarta, Indonesia. He gives teacher training and development talks all over the world. He is the co-author of the Outcomes and Innovations series, both published by National Geographic Learning, as well as the online teacher development course, Teaching Lexically. Along with Andrew Walkley, he is also the co-author of a forthcoming methodology book, due to be published by Delta Publishing in 2014. He blogs regularly at www.hughdellar.wordpress.com, is on facebook at: www.facebook.com/hughdellarandrewwalkley and is also part of the team behind the ongoing Exploring Frequent Words in English series on YouTube.

  • Could you tell our readers how you got into English teaching?

It was a lucky accident, to be honest. I did English Literature at university and graduated in 1991. I was singing in a band at the time and we were making just about enough money to scrape by on, though I was also doing all manner of temping work (building sites, factory work, all sorts). My band died a death in early 1992 (though we’re now playing together again after a twenty-year hiatus!) and I was sort of drifting around wondering what on earth happened next. I decided that I’d like to get out of London and go see the world, so I got a job in a pub, worked six days a week, twelve hours a day and saved up a few grand, planning to go off round the globe. After six months of doing this, an old mate of mine who I knew from being around the music scene in my teens arrived back in London for a week and we went out for a drink. He had traded in working in Our Price music stores for the life of a peripatetic EFL teacher and had been off in Iran, Ethiopia and Indonesia. He asked me what my plans were, and after I explained the plan, he suggested teaching. I said I hated teachers and he retorted that this was the best possible reason for becoming one! Sold on this twisted logic, I enrolled for a one-month CELTA course at Westminster College and in April 1993 entered our noble profession.

  • What advice would you give to teachers who would like to travel and work abroad?

If you want to do it, go do it would be my basic advice! You’ll have an amazing time, though it may also sometimes be hard and full of steep learning curves, both in professional and personal terms, and it’ll change you in all manner of positive ways. I literally picked a country I knew almost nothing about before I went there – Indonesia – and hopped on a plane and turned up. In retrospect, I’m not sure this was the best way of doing it, and I guess doing a little bit of research in advance (much easier now than it was then, of course!) both about the city / country you want to go to and also about the school would be sensible. What else? Get networked in before you leave. Find out about local teaching organisations. Add local teachers on Facebook if you can. Find other local like-minded people. But if you’re a young teacher and web-savvy, you probably know all that already. Read as much as you can in advance, ground yourself in the core literature of the field, but then just GO! Be prepared for all manner of madness: you will meet weird characters, you may well be faced with odd moral quandaries, you may go off the rails on occasion – and you’ll certainly know people who do; you may find your teaching situation less than perfect sometimes, but you’ll have the chance to learn a new language – seize this! You’ll have the chance to learn more about another country and culture and you’ll learn huge amounts about yourself. I envy those yet to experience the great rush of it all!

  • There are assumed differences between English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English Language Teaching (ELT). Would you be able to explain the differences between EAP and ELT that you have experienced?

Having taught both, I often think the differences are overemphasised personally. I guess the big difference is that there still tends to be a greater focus on skills in a broad sense within EAP: referencing and quoting skills, note-taking skills, summarising skills, argument and discourse structuring skills, and so on. I don’t see these skills as existing outside of language, and simply see these as areas that can be explored and explained in conjunction with a focus on the language that might best help students realise these skills. EAP practitioners can sometimes be fairly dismissive of EFL, seeing it as simply trivial chat about hobbies and food, but at heart both areas are – or should be – about the development of language. I worry a lot about the new generation of kids coming into British universities who’ve basically not learned any General EFL, but have been obsessively groomed towards getting IELTS 6.0 and entry onto a foundation course. They arrive being able to churn out weird variations on basic templates, but totally lacking the kind of social, everyday language they’ll need to survive during their time abroad, let alone to socialise and make friends. Personally, I think it’d be good if EFL incorporated slightly more of a focus on academic language, and if EAP recognised that students don’t only need to perform academically, but also have to live! I’d also like to see an end to the nonsense of ‘teaching critical thinking skills’ that you sometimes get in EAP. I find this whole discourse often tends towards a kind of anti-Asian racism and is predicated on very dubious claims. If you want to raise awareness of discourse features and genre norms, fine, but let’s be honest and make it clear that this is all we’re doing! In my experience, a lot of my Chinese students have proved quite capable of having some very critical thoughts about some of the critical thinking exercises they’ve been asked to do over the years!

  • What makes the perfect learner?

Didn’t they tell you? Only the Buddha is perfect! I don’t believe in the perfect anything, so I’m the wrong person for this question. I think any learner can become a better learner, though, and that teachers have a real role to play in fostering this. Students need to accept responsibility for revising and recycling what they study in class and need to have good ways of doing this, whether that be using vocabulary cards or apps that help with this or whatever. Teachers need to advise them on how best to do this and to have their own opinions about how best to revise – as well as to test and recycle in class as much as possible. Students need to understand that language is more than single words and grammar structures; they need to be adept at recognising words that go together and they need to have a system for noticing and recording new items they meet. They need – perhaps above all – to read as much as possible, ideally books which are graded and written for learners at their level. They need to practise speaking when they can, they need to not worry too much about making mistakes and they need to be good at focusing and prioritising their time. Oh, and they need to be be aware of the fact that it’s a long, long road and that they will almost certainly never get to the end of it. And, as I said, we need to guide them through all this, advise on how best to study outside of class, warn off certain habits and encourage others.

  • With a recognition that English is used as a Lingua Franca between different L2 users, is there a growing responsibility for teachers to better equip language learners being able to translate or interpret?

I think teachers have a basic responsibility to foster linguistic awareness and this inevitably impacts on how students view translation. Students will inevitably translate from L1 into English, and most students come with an assumption that a word in L1 equals a word in L2, which any teacher worth their salt knows is rubbish. We need to constantly make students aware of collocations, chunks, fixed expressions and the like, and to use translation of whole sentences from English to L1 and then – crucially – back into English – as a way of making students more aware of the way the patterns in different language differ. This is something I’ve blogged about a bit myself and something we’ve tried to encourage in OUTCOMES as well. Ultimately, though, we also need to recognise that if students don’t know the most normal, natural way of expressing an idea then they’ll be forced to fall back on translating word by word from L1. In short, the best way we can help students translate better is to teach more common and useful language.

  • What is your opinion of standardisation and assessment in language education?

I’m a big fan of the Cambridge suite of exams. I think that if someone has passed FCE, say, or CPE, they’ve clearly attained a certain level of competence and have been benchmarked in an appropriate way. I like the fact these exams are tests of whole language: basically, the more language a candidate knows, the better they will probably do. They’re NOT tests of discrete grammar items or single words. I’m happy that they’re still the main way we assess and define competence at the moment, though I note that Pearson are gearing up for an assault on these exams as they launch their own alternatives, which they’re branding as the only real exams calibrated against the CEFR.

In terms of classroom levels, I think the way most published materials has been measured against the CEFR has been very cynical and all too often has little to do with what the CEFR actually says about outcomes and desirable goals. I understand why this happens, but don’t think it’s something teachers should be uncritical of. I also think the CEFR in itself is problematic in a world in which we tend to think of levels as things that can be packaged up and sold as fixed-hour courses that students can move through, as some levels of the CEFR clearly require more time than others, whilst something like C2 remains essentially unobtainable even for many natives!

  • In your opinion, what is your favourite method of teaching?

Given that my co-author Andrew and I have a book coming out soon on Delta Publishing with this title, I’d have to say Lexical teaching, obviously! However, I’m old enough to know that there are many routes to the same destination and certainly don’t believe I have a monopoly on truth. In the end, I am in favour of any teaching that provides an input-rich environment for students; that has a principled approach with regard to what input is chosen, when – and why; that engages the whole person and allows space for learners to express their own thoughts, feelings, and ideas; that develops linguistic awareness; that recycles and revises input; that doesn’t posit structural grammar as the be-all-and-end-all of language learning; and that brings the world to the class, and encourages students to see how what they’re learning is connected to the wider world. Do all of this and you’re almost certainly teaching well.

  • What advice would you give to language teachers keen to get involved in EAP?

Same advice as I’d give to anyone who’s keen to do anything, really: if you want to do something, go do it and see how you get on! If you’ve only ever done EFL, it’s always good to branch out and try other areas of language teaching, whether that be IELTS classes, ERAP, Business English, other ESPs or whatever. EAP is a growth area as British universities increasingly turn to overseas students. We’ve ended up with a situation in the Uk where not enough home students can afford to go to university any more and foreign students are being targeted to fill that gap. Given this, EAP experience makes you more employable and more likely to find a permanent and relatively well-paid post if you’re looking to settle back in the UK.

  • What is your opinion of technology in the language classroom? (Is it really a benefit for the teacher and/or learner or is it a glorified toy?)

That’s a big question – and not an easy one to answer. I suppose my main concerns about the use of technology in class are (a) that it’s often used simply for the sake of being seen to be using technologies. I think actually things like the British Council inspection criteria exacerbate this as they sometimes lead to comments on how little technology they saw in use, with the implication being that this is a bad thing. Conversely, it also suggests that technology in and of itself is somehow inherently good. As such, it’s not great surprise that many lessons that do integrate tech do so for such spurious reasons as ‘students expect to find technology integrated’ or ‘they all live watching YouTube, so I thought I’d use a YouTube clip. This often leads to (b) lessons without a clear language focus or without a clear sense of how the input delivered via technology helps students achieve particular pre-defined outcomes and (c) courses as a whole losing coherence and becoming little more than strings of bitty, unconnected self-made one-off lessons.  That said, outside of the use of YouTube, the occasional PowerPoint and some centres enforcing IWB use, I’m not convinced that most teachers do actually use that much new tech in class.  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it increasingly hard to keep up with what’s out there and I worry that the time teachers have available to focus on and learn more about the basic core of what language teaching is about – the teaching of language – is increasingly being eaten into by a voracious hi-tech industry keen fir teachers to opt in and thus boost their profits.  Having said all of that, though, I think there can obviously be some benefits to the utilisation of tech tools, but only really if their use is based on and informed by greater principles of language and learning. The main area I see tech as benefiting is the world of homework. There are some really great and useful things you can do with a simple user-friendly site like Vocaroo, for example, and just being able to email while classes links to articles or videos connected to stuff that came up during a particular lesson is wonderful.  So to finish by returning to the question: I’d say it can sadly all too often be the latter, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as its use is principled, it can also be the former, though this may have particular pertinence to out of class study.

  • Finally, what teacher-related New Year resolutions have you set yourself for 2014?

Blimey! Not sure I’ve planned that far ahead yet. I guess in teaching terms, it’ll be to get a bit better at using phonetic symbols a bit more consistently as part of my boardwork – it’s been a weak spot for way too many years. I also aim to keep up with the tech stuff that’s coming out, as best I can, and to see what might actually really be useful as opposed to simply hyped!

In writing terms, we’re working on a second edition of OUTCOMES, and also on a methodology book called TEACHING LEXICALLY. We’re also involved in the design of a new app as well, but more on that once it’s ready.

November Teacher Interview: Anthony Ash

Anthony Ash

It has been a wonderful year so far at ELT Experiences with the addition of two new authors and the number of teacher interviews providing such a unique and interesting spin on English Language Teaching throughout the world.  This month we have a special interview from a teacher who is based in Poland.  Anthony Ash (@Ashowski) read German and Spanish at Northumbria University and graduated in the summer of 2010. He did his CELTA at IH Wroclaw. His first teaching job was in Dresden, Germany, where he worked for one year. He then worked for 2 years in Poznan, Poland, while completing his MA in English Linguistics. He is currently working as the Senior Teacher at IH Torun, Poland.

  • Could you please tell our readers know how you got into English teaching.

During my school days, we were often encouraged to consider our future. I always saw myself going into teaching, namely state school teaching. I even did work experience and practicals in British state schools. However, as I reached the mid-point of my degree, I felt the time had come to take a gap year. One day, I found myself in Madrid and decided to stay but I quickly realised my money wouldn’t last forever. Suddenly, it dawned on me to offer English lessons. From there on in I was hooked…

  • What advice would you give teachers who are planning to teach in Poland?

My main advice depends on why you’ve gone into teaching. If you teach because you need money while travelling, you’ll do fine in Poland. However, if you’re  serious about ELT, then you have two choices. You could find an IATEFL-approved school which will encourage your continued professional development. Alternatively, you could end up at a ‘mickey-mouse’ school where the word CELTA means nothing, however, you can still continue your professional development by reflecting on your lessons, your teaching, and doing a little reading.

  • Could you tell us about a lesson that didnt work or failed with learners?  What did you learn from this experience?

I’ve had many lessons or parts of lessons which haven’t worked as I expected. Although it hurts initially as you see it failing before your eyes, I must admit these situations are a blessing in disguise, as they quickly show you how to do things differently next time. For example, I once put together an activity which was designed to get my teenagers talking about their written work. I put 10 strips of paper around the room with sentences from their written work. In pairs, they were to walk around the room, write down the original and discuss how to improve it. What they actually did was walk around the room individually, write down all the originals, sit down at their seats, chose which they thought were wrong and correct them individually and then peer-check. Not at all what I wanted. Why didn’t it work? My instructions were not clear and I didn’t model the task.

  • Tell us about a learner who has inspired you.

I walked into a marketing business in Poznan. It was the first day of the course. All the learners were very enthusiastic, apart from one, who approached me and said in Polish that they hadn’t even studied English before and won’t be any good in class. She made the biggest effort during the course and I stood in awe at watching her go from False beginner to Intermediate in 6 months. She was a contentious learner, forcing herself to learn outside the classroom. Her determination was simply inspiring.

  • Do you have any plans for 2014?

I’ll continue working at IH Torun for the rest of the school year and then I’ll go on holiday – the plan is to tour Italy for 2 weeks with my best friend. I’ll spend most of the summer of 2014 teaching English for Academic Purposes at Newcastle University.

I would like to do the IH Young Learners Certificate in September 2014 and then go off to do DELTA Module 2 – I’ve just begun DELTA Module 1 this year. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit that into teaching but there’s a DELTA course at IH Buenos Aires I’d like to attend. Maybe 2014/2015 will see me flying off to another continent?

  • How would you describe the role of the teacher and learner outside of the classroom?

Outside the classroom I don’t think there is much connection between the teacher and the learner – we’re not their friends – however, I think the teacher is someone who should be helping learners to become more independent learners outside the classroom.

  • Do you feel there is more pressure these days with learners having to perform in reference to modern communicative approaches to teaching?

Absolutely! When we look back at previous methods and approaches, such as the Direct Method or the Grammar-Translation method, learners were very passive in lessons. It’s unfortunate that such methods continue to be used in the 21st century around the world. Even in Poland I have spoken to learners (quite recently) who had attended courses which were so Teacher-Centered that the learners didn’t even have to say a word in the lessons!

  • What are your opinions of video in the language classroom?

I am very supportive of using technology in the classroom in general – I often use my iPad when presenting new images to my Young Learners and I sometimes let them play language games on it when they have finished early. I think video, unlike an iPad, is much more universally applicable – there isn’t a learner out there who is afraid of videos. I think it’s important when planning lessons to consider the ‘fun factor’ – learning doesn’t have to be a contentious effort, we can learn just as well (if not better) unconsciously, applying language while having fun. Videos can do precisely that – learners become engaged in the content of the video while unwittingly practising their language.

  • What advice would you give to budding language teachers on the CELTA Course?

CELTA is the hard part – it’s all down hill when you finish! CELTA for me was incredibly difficult, full of long nights working on plans and assignments. Full-time teaching isn’t at all like that, it’s a pleasure and great fun.

  • Finally, does a messy board equal a messy teacher?

It depends really. You could have a messy board and a well-organised teacher. Vice-versa is also possible. However, what is probably more realistic is that all teacher sometimes have messy/chaotic work and other times not – it depends on the lesson.

October Teacher Interview: Kieran Baker

Enjoying a well-deserved beer.
Enjoying a well-deserved beer.

Kieran Baker has a BA Hons in Primary Teaching from the University of the West England, Bristol, and an A in his CELTA. He spends much of his time wandering around Cantabria looking lost and dreaming about vintage motorcycles. His mother would say he has far too many tattoos. He is currently starting his second year of teaching (both adults and children) at Hello Cantabria in Solares, Spain.

1.    Could you please let our readers know how you got into teaching?

Jings! I became interested in teaching after considering careers as a florist, a fireman, an actor, a video editor – all sorts of ideas came out of the brainstorm. I’d worked with young people before – mainly in drama activities – and enrolled at UWE Bristol to study a BA Honours in Primary Teaching. Before heading off to University, I went to a children’s summer camp in Perm, Russia (being slightly fascinated by Russian culture, at the time) and enjoyed a truly life changing experience.

Towards the end of my 3-year degree I was truly spent –with the changing face of primary education, forefronted by Mr Michael Gove in all his infinite wisdom, and having had a miserable final placement, I decided not to head into my NQT year and take a different route.

Having worked as an activity leader at LTC Eastbourne during my summers home from Bristol, I enrolled in a CELTA course. A hell of a month, and due to hard work, buckets of coffee and deciding that sleep isn’t REALLY necessary, I ended up with an A, and the next thing I knew, I was walking off the ferry in Santander, ready for my first year of teaching.

2.    What advice would you give those that are wishing to go teaching in Spain?

Firstly, learn Spanish – at least the basics. I very quickly realised that whilst the language business is booming in Spain, your day-to-day life will be far easier if you have a working knowledge of Castilian. Expanding your vocabulary is easy enough out here, but knowing how to ask, request, enquire, respond and comment will make you a far more popular man than I – who moved out here naively with only a few words.

Secondly, get a job in a good school or academy. You hear terrible stories about companies here mistreating their employees. Apply to multiple places, make sure you really like them, and speak to your future employers. If you’re after job security and it’s your first teaching job, go with a big company, IH or similar. My personality doesn’t necessarily suit that so much (at the moment) so I went small and am still happy to be here.

3.    What ELT-related opportunities are available in Spain?

Oh, there are loads. Apart from the private academies (of which there must be thousands), there are multiple other needs – translation, examiners. I ended up teaching a course on CVs in English in Castro-Urdiales last year. Poke your head around and you can find different opportunities. Last year, I ended up getting some concert tickets in exchange for a telephone class – all sorts of surprises can turn up.

4.    Could you tell us of a memorable lesson?

I’ve had many memorable experiences in my brief time teaching. I’ve taught in a gym, using a sports massage table as a desk. I’ve helped Turkish students learn how to play pool, indulged many a class in an idiom or two, eaten raw potato during a taste testing competition in a student pub night, had a one-to-one lesson where we spoke for an hour and a half about motorbikes, and I’ve experienced countless moments where I smile to myself as a three year old repeats a piece of vocabulary correctly or an adult student uses a tense correctly. Things get lost in the hustle and bustle of the weeks and months but I have to say that two of the perks of the job are the good times and the bugger ups.

5.    I can’t believe it is almost the end of another year.  Looking back over the year, what ELT-related things have stood out and why?

I’m afraid I’m not the most up to date on the goings on in education, or in ELT. One of the things that is perhaps becoming more and more important is the need for teachers to be aware of the uses technology in the classroom. The days of textbooks and blackboards are quite possibly numbered and tech will slowly but surely begin to become incorporated into lessons by teachers.

6.    How would you describe your ideal teacher?

Interested and interesting. A listener and a speaker. Understanding of mistakes and understanding of student’s lives and what’s going on with them. Willing to change things if they aren’t going well – staying flexible and realising when a lesson isn’t going to plan, and then swapping things round to see what will work. A results maker and an inspiration instigator.

7.    What do you believe is important when learning a foreign language?

Real life situations. Using texts that are realistic, audio recordings that contain a range of accents and speakers. Not teaching unnecessary topics or ideas. Relating classes to the learner and responding to what they want. And time. Take your time – both as a teacher and a learner. Learning a language cannot happen overnight.

8.    What is your opinion of the use of technology in the classroom?

Haha, I should have read all the questions first! Let me expand upon my earlier points. I like technology – I believe it has a really important place in the classroom. IWBs, projectors, tablets, online courses, interactive software – I think these can all be great tools for a teacher, and that is how they should be seen: as tools, not as essentials. If a lesson benefits from the use of technology, great. If not, don’t use it! It’s far simpler to write on a normal whiteboard than have to configure your IWB every time you wish to add a new piece of vocabulary. And that is where I believe the flaws lie – technology makes simple things complex, and when things go wrong, you always have to have a backup. With technology you need a Plan A and B every time – in a non-tech lesson, you need an idea of the second one but it’s not necessary.

9.    What advice would you give to new teachers that have just completed an undergraduate degree and want to get into English Language Teaching?

Work out what you want from it – are you using TEFL to travel for a few years, or is it something you possibly want as a career? I know I go back and forth all the time – teaching is damn hard work, if you want things to go well. But let’s say this question is for someone in the same position as me just over a year ago: Learn your grammar beforehand. Remember that planning is for your own benefit, as well as for those who wish to observe or assess you. Get to know your students. Use common sense. If something isn’t going well, stop, and take a step back. Modify your practice to suit your learners. Say yes to opportunities – you might enjoy teaching young learners. Don’t expect to ever make a fortune. Go abroad. Live a little. Mess up, and make up for it.

10.  Finally, 2014 is approaching fast – what sort of plans do you have for next year?

I wrote 2014 instead of 2013 on the board whilst writing the date during one of my first lessons back in Spain – it does seem to be on my mind. First, I want to get my Spanish up to a level I’m happy with. Next, I want to consider doing some extra training in TEFL – I don’t know what yet but I’d quite like to go somewhere different and complete a course.  I want to travel next summer, and steward some festivals – I think if I do a summer school, I’ll get too burnt out – I’m feeling the results of non-stop work for 12 months. That may change – I did enjoy my summer experiences. Generally speaking, I want some travel, some learning, some professional development and lots of fun (which mainly involves saving up for a motorbike and racing around the Picos on it!)

September Teacher Interview: Bethany Cagnol

Bethany Cagnol has a BA from the University of Virginia, USA, and an MA in TEFL from the University of London. She was the 2009-2012 president of TESOL France and organized many of its conferences. She is currently the IATEFL BESIG Treasurer and on the IATEFL Conference Committee. She owns two companies in France devoted to project management, language training and language skills assessment.

1. Tell our readers how you got into teaching.

Like many of the trainers you’ve interviewed, English teaching found me.  In 2002, fresh off the boat, while in line to get my French work visa, I met an English teacher who referred me to a language school looking for trainers for the Chateau de Versailles. I had already taken a TEFL Course at the University of Virginia, but only had a few hours of one-to-one teaching experience. I was interviewed for the position and within one month was teaching at one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world. It was definitely a pinch-me moment. And I very quickly grew to love this profession.

2. What advice would you give those that are wishing to go teaching in France?

Um… don’t? Sorry for being blunt, but the private industry training market in France isn’t at all what it once was in the 70s and 80s.  It also depends on one’s visa.  For example, it’s next to impossible for Americans to obtain work in France without being married to a French citizen or having a EU passport. The hourly wages have steadily decreased and companies have grown pickier.  Moreover, language schools are no longer seeking trainers for full-time contracts.  Therefore, the trainer is at the mercy of the market, which means juggling several part-time contracts for an hourly wage of €20 an hour (before taxes) and some as low as €12 an hour. Transportation is reimbursed less and less, forget about lunches, and the trainer has no sick leave or holiday pay.  Today, it is very very difficult to survive as a freelance trainer in France even for those who have started their own companies. The supply, currently, is higher than the demand I’m sorry to say. 

3. Could you tell us about the first time you taught a lesson?  How did you feel?  What did you do?

I was a colossal disaster, a nervous wreck and only spoke Tarzan French.  I had planned my lesson down to the minute.  I had cut up pieces of paper of this and that, but none of it went according to plan.  Only one trainee arrived on time. The others trickled in, so I, like a dummy, waited until everyone arrived.  Once we got started, my trainees were lovely, but a bit surprised I didn’t speak French.  They then proceeded to ask me to translate some very specific vocabulary related to their work. Can we say: deer in headlights? Since these were the days before smartphones and online dictionaries, we spent the entire lesson flipping through an enormous bilingual dictionary.  I then remembered I had prepared an activity and desperately tried to freight train through it in the last 15 minutes of class.  What a disaster! But this first lesson taught me that nothing goes according to the lesson plan. And, heck, it never should, in my humble opinion.

4. What has been a memorable lesson you have taught?

Gosh, there are so many.  Is this blog suitable for children? Many of the most memorable lessons involve some pretty unladylike vocabulary due to all the false friends in French and English. 😉 I think the most memorable lesson was when I taught a group of 17 multi-level nurses. I invented a speed-dating-like activity in which they mingled around the room but had to pick a strange characteristic from a hat and act it out (e.g. you like to smell paper; you untie the shoes of your partner, you count the buttons on your partner before saying ‘hello’; you’re afraid of the English teacher, your partner smells bad, etc.).  The nurse who picked “you like to collect DNA from your partner” got the biggest reaction. And yes, he collected fingernails and plucked hair from his fellow nurses’ heads.  We all ended up in stiches (pun intended). 

5. How would you describe the role of the teacher and learner in the classroom?

This is an interesting question and I think my answer has changed significantly over the years.  As a newer teacher, I felt my role was to manage the group and help the learners obtain as much knowledge as possible about grammatical structures and vocabulary.  I was married to lesson plans.  Today, it’s quite different.  I always start the semester off with detailed needs analysis. I still plan lessons in advance, but now I give a lot more control to the learners.  My ESP classes are more subject-based than structure-based. I still hold the reigns, but very much enjoy stepping back and letting the learners take control of the lesson to guide it in a different direction. I find this approach gives the students room to grow at their own pace, but also nurtures fertile ground for future lesson ideas and approaches.

6. What are your opinions of translation in the language classroom?

I let the learners decide if they wish to incorporate translation in the classroom. I remember being an A0 beginner in French and my teacher refused to use English no matter how much I begged. I’m an auditory, lexical learner; I like to learn the music of useful expressions in chunks.  But our coursebook was 100% grammar-based, gave us no indication of what we were saying and didn’t have an English glossary. I was utterly lost and incredibly miserable. So again, I think the trainer and the learners should discuss the option of translation and, ultimately, the learner should make the choice.  I don’t think translation should ever be banned (by the teacher or the language center). That’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ to it!

7. What advice would you give to newly qualified English language teachers?

Don’t be surprised if it all goes terribly wrong at first. Classes will go haywire, lesson plans will stink, and you will get incredibly frustrated. Give it a year to get your sea legs. Join a teachers’ association now!  Learn the local language. Don’t throw anything away. If an activity doesn’t work with one group, don’t toss it! Try it with another. As you explore the profession don’t ever forget to ask for help from your fellow teachers.  Use your colleagues to share ideas, seek advice and don’t hesitate to vent. But vent in a reflective, solution-oriented way. Be ready to change your lesson plans, question your approach and even your philosophy as a teacher for the benefit of your learners (and your sanity)!

8. Finally, what is your opinion of coursebooks in the classroom?

Again, like a previous question above, my answer has changed significantly over the years.  As a new teacher I was grateful for coursebooks – especially ESP coursebooks. I remember being lowered into the deep cave of teaching scientists; the coursebook and teachers’ notes I used were like a carbide lamp giving me the light I needed to navigate the harrowing passages of such a complex industry.  I use coursebooks less and less in the classroom, but I still do consult them for ideas and information on my learners’ specific field. Today, the Internet is my coursebook and I bring it with me to every lesson and encourage my learners to do the same. 

August Teacher Interview: David Harbinson

David been teaching English in Daegu, Korea since September 2007 and began his teaching career straight after finishing university. He spent a year teaching English to elementary and middle school children at a private academy, before moving on to Wall Street English in 2008. David spent two years as the Program Manager of the Daegu branch, but recently stepped down so he could focus on other things. He currently teaches at WSE on a part-time basis and in 2012 completed an MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL with the University of Leicester in the UK. He investigated the motivation of adult Korean language learners for his MA dissertation.

1. Could you please let our readers know how you got into teaching?

I started teaching EFL in 2007, almost immediately after I graduated from university. During the first two years of my undergraduate degree, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but between my second and third year, I spent 3 months travelling in Australia, Thailand and Vietnam. I loved the experience so much, that as soon as I landed back in the UK, I was already thinking about my next trip. One night in January 2007, I was supposed to be writing my dissertation, but got a bit sidetracked looking into what jobs I could get that would also allow me to travel and live in other countries. I came across this thing called “TEFL” which sounded intriguing, and after a couple of hours of research, I had decided that was something that I wanted to do. The following day, I went to the careers office at my university and found out that the university offered the Trinity TESOL course during the summer. I finished up my university degree and then went straight on to the TESOL course. Two months later I was in Daegu, Korea, in my first job.

2. What advice would you give those that are wishing to go teaching in South Korea?

I would start by saying research is key. It is relatively easy to get a job teaching English in Korea if you are a native English speaker; all you need is an undergraduate degree and a clean criminal background check. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy to find a good job. Quite often I hear of teachers with ‘horror stories’ about their jobs in Korea. Therefore, it’s important to find out as much as possible about the job before you accept anything. I always recommend asking for the e-mail address(es) of at least one current teacher and one non-native teacher. If you can speak to them on the phone, that’s even better. A lot of the time you need to use your intuition. If something doesn’t seem right about the school, don’t be afraid to decline the job offer and move on to the next. If a school is taking too long to reply, or they are being vague about some of your questions, then that could be an indication of potential future problems. I remember when I was applying for my first job, I was in the UK and so eager to get over to Korea, but I read up about potential poor experiences from various online sources. I did quite a few telephone interviews and was offered a number of jobs, but none of them felt quite right. The academy I eventually worked for was fantastic, and I couldn’t have wished for a better first job in Korea. The final thing I would mention, especially for people who have never lived in another country before, is that the culture in Korea is a lot different from the culture in the UK and the US, for example. It sounds obvious, but I’ve met a few people in Korea who complain about things which are ‘done better’ back home. This always astounds me. As an example, one of the things that you will probably have to get used to is doing things (in Korea) last minute. You might only get told about a meeting or something that you have to do at the last moment and be expected to do a good job. While you might not be used to that style in your own country, it is typical of many things in Korea. The opposite side of this is that when you want something doing, it usually gets done quickly. You can order something online on Monday, and expect it to arrive the next morning.

3. What teaching opportunities are available in South Korea?

I have only worked at private academies, called hagwons in Korea, since I first arrived in 2007, so I only have experience with these. I think that most of the ELT jobs in Korea are working for these academies. The majority of hagwons operate between the opening hours of 2-4pm until 9-10pm, so you will be teaching students who are being taught in an afterschool setting. Hagwons typically offer the least amount of vacation each year, usually 10 days along with 12-14 national days off. There are also opportunities working in public schools (at all levels). I don’t have experience working within public schools, but from what I understand, the number of vacancies in public schools are slowly decreasing as the Korean government wants to have more non-native English teachers delivering the curriculum. They typically offer a bit more vacation each year, and you will be working with a Korean co-teacher. Both hagwons and public schools are good options for new and inexperienced teachers. Then there are university positions. Some teachers in Korea regard these as the best jobs, and they can be highly competitive. It would be almost impossible for a new teacher to land one of these jobs, and even experienced teachers who are outside of the country would have a hard time getting into universities to teach English. The pay is often comparable, or sometimes even slightly less, than hagwons, but some of the university positions offer up to 4 months paid vacation a year. Many of the people I know who have been in Korea for a long time work at universities.

4. Could you tell us of a memorable lesson?

Working at WSE, I feel I am very fortunate in that I have some really great students. The majority of the classes I teach are in very small groups of just 2 or 3 students, so I really get to know my students. Over the last 4 years, I have had so many great lessons, and this is mainly down to the students, who are so eager. I’ve also had my fair share of lessons that haven’t gone so well. I think one of my most memorable lessons happened one Saturday a few years ago. It is memorable not because of the lesson itself, but of something that happened outside. I work on the sixteenth floor of a building in downtown Daegu. The class was with two students and both of them seemed very tired. At the beginning of the class, one student had asked me what the expression “pigs might fly” meant, which I explained. We started the lesson and both of the students seemed tired and not very interested in the lesson. We struggled along for about 15 minutes. Then all of a sudden I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. It was a helium balloon shaped as a pig floating by the window. I guess a child had let go of it from the street below. Both students and I cracked up with laughter, especially considering the student’s question from earlier. You couldn’t have timed it better. Anyway, the “flying” pig relieved a lot of the tension in the class and the rest of the class went by perfectly. The whole thing taught me the importance of humour in the classroom, and even difficult classes can become easier with a bit of laughter.

5. I can’t believe it is August and we are almost heading into the remaining four months of the year.  So do you have any plans for 2014?

I have just started experimenting with WordPress and using it as an LMS (Learning Management System). I‘m currently using a plugin called LearnDash. Over the next few months, I hope to develop a website using LearnDash to offer online lessons and quizzes for English language learners. On the personal side of things, my wife and I are expecting our first baby in November, so I am sure I will be pretty busy at home.

6. How would you describe your ideal young learner?

I don’t have a great deal of experience working with young learners, so my opinion may not be the most informed. But I think that for me, the best young learners are the ones who are willing to try and speak, even if they are wrong. I’ve noticed that children tend to pick up languages a lot easier than adults, and if they try, they soon find that they can use the language well. One of the reasons that I left my first job in Korea was that students were going to school at 8 in the morning, working all day and then coming to the academy to study until 10pm. That last class of the day could be a real struggle as the students arrive exhausted and unwilling. So, if I ever were to go back to teaching young learners again, I think it would have to be with students who got enough rest during the day.

7. What do you believe is important when learning a foreign language?

I think there are a lot of important factors when learning another language, but for me the most important one is time. It takes so much time to learn a language, whether it’s your first or second. Every now and again I see an article on the internet about how long it takes to learn a foreign language, and while some of the estimates vary, the majority agree that it takes a really long time. Learning another language is not like any other subject, you can’t just memorize a load of facts, you need to allow yourself time to acquire language. One of my favourite quotes is from Zoltan Dornyei, who describes a language class as the only class where students are forced to “babble like children”. The reason is that learning language is a natural process. I am a big fan of Noam Chomsky, who believes that the ability to learn a language is innate. So when it comes to learning a new language, the first thing you need to realize is that it is going to take a lot of time. Once you can understand this, then you can set yourself appropriate goals, and you won’t get disappointed when you can’t speak English like had you expected after six months’ intensive study.

8. What are your opinions of electronic dictionaries?  Do you love or loathe them?

I neither love nor loathe electronic dictionaries. I think that they have a place in the learner’s ‘toolkit’, but think that learners need to know when and how to use them. I very rarely use, or allow, my students to use their dictionaries in the class because I like to get them to try and explain the meaning, and together we can figure out the meaning. However, I have found on a few occasions that I think I have figured out what the student is trying to say, only for the student to come to me after the class, with a different word in their dictionaries. I think there are some times when getting the right word is essential, and if a student can do that in a few seconds with their dictionary, I don’t see the harm. However, when they want to use their dictionaries in class to find out every single word they don’t know, it begins to hinder fluency.

9. What advice would you give to new teachers that have just completed an undergraduate degree and want to get into English Language Teaching?

If teaching English is something that you would like to spend at least a couple of years doing, I would strongly recommend taking a good TESOL course. The CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL seem to be the two brands that are most easily recognized around the world. In order to complete the course, you need to do a minimum of 6 hours observed teaching, which, if you have never taught before, can be invaluable. For some countries, especially in Europe, I think that the TESOL certificate is essential, whereas in South Korea, for example, it’s not necessary, and some employers won’t even know what it is. It is quite expensive, around $2000, but very worthwhile in my opinion. It could be much cheaper than travelling halfway across the world just to find out that you are not cut out for teaching. I’d also recommend the book “The Practice of English Language Teaching” by Jeremy Harmer. I think that this book is fantastic, and includes so much useful information. I have three copies; one for home, one for work and one that I keep in my car – just in case.

10. Finally, what is it like being taught by you?

You’d have to ask my students to find out the real answer! But the one thing that I always try to do is spend a few minutes at the beginning of my classes getting to know the students. About their jobs or future career plans, and most importantly why they are studying English. Then, using that, I try to adapt the class and tailor it to their goals and personal situations. At WSE it’s very easy to do because of the small class sizes. So, I like to think that my students leave the classroom feeling as though they have gotten something out of it that is very relevant to them.