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.

July Teacher Interview: Daniela Bunea

Daniela has been a teacher for 18 years now, educating generations of Romanian students of different ages, as young as three and as old as nineteen. She is an enthusiastic teacher and loves her job. Her main subjects are English as a Foreign Language, Information and Communication Technologies, and Counselling. She is also responsible for the development and implementation of EU projects in her school, Colegiul National Gheorghe Lazar in Sibiu. Having attended numerous professional development seminars, workshops, courses, conferences, summer schools in Romania and abroad, face-to-face and online, both as a trainee (mostly with Comenius, Minerva, Pestallozi and eTwinning scholarships) and as a trainer (she is a licensed teacher trainer and a certified live online tutor, and has worked with the European Commission in Brussels, the Uniscan Educational Group in Bucharest, and the Teachers’ House in Sibiu), Daniela has continually improved her teaching and strenuously facilitated her students’ learning. Concurrently she has authored elective curricula in her school, published articles in printed and/or online books and magazines, created entertaining children’s books, devised worksheets for teaching English (published and supported online at elsprintables.com), and coordinated teams of teachers and students for varied projects (Comenius, eTwinning, Leonardo da Vinci, Mondialogo, Spring Day, Oracle, Junior Achievement Young Enterprise). Her students have proudly participated in numerous English language and ICT contests and won various prizes. You can read Daniela’s blog at http://questsandtreks.edublogs.org/.

 

  • Could you please let our readers know how you got into teaching?
Deep down, I have always wanted to become a teacher – I have two younger sisters and when we were growing up I always liked to help them with their homework. Even before that, I remember “teaching” my dolls about order in the room – insisting on proper places for things… However, getting into university – to obtain a teaching certificate – was not an easy task in the ‘80s under Romania’s communist regime, the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu. This dictator constrained the population to live at a rather low standard of life, without any degree of freedom. After graduating secondary school I just went to work in one of the factories in my native town Sibiu. Romania’s economy was characterised by generalised “socialist” (state and cooperative) ownership, excessive centralisation, rigid planning and low efficiency back then. After a year, the December 1989 Romanian Revolution fell upon us, the dictatorship was pushed down and a democratic political system was re-established. Since then I would say that we as a people have encountered both numerous incentives and varied obstacles. We have experienced a decrease of population because of migration and the decrease of birth rate, plus a decrease of accessibility of health services accompanied by limited social policy for the elderly. We are however part of important international organisations like NATO (2004) and the European Union (2007). Back to 1990, it was then when – at the advice of some friends, who were on the same ‘wavelength’ with me as far as the future possibilities in Romania would be – I applied and got accepted at the prestigious Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, at the Faculty of Letters. I graduated 5 years later with a BA in Teaching English Language and Literature. I have been teaching English as a Foreign Language ever since.
  1. How would you describe Romanian language learners?
Romanian language learners, like language learners everywhere I imagine, can be either demanding or unmindful. I have taught in just a few schools in my life, four to be exact, and they were all good schools with the first type of students. Romanian language learners as I know them are interested in and keen on learning English, motivated and pragmatic, hard-working and studious. Starting learning English at a very early age, at pre-primary level sometimes, and being supported by concerned parents cannot but help spur their pursuit and enthusiasm in many cases. English does open doors for them, doors that were not even foreseen 30 years ago or so, when most students learnt Russian or at times French at school. Nowadays the Romanian language learner is learning English as part of a set of key competences necessary at the beginning of the 21st century. Of course they study a second foreign language as well, usually either German or French, thus developing their abilities for communication and intercultural understanding. In my experience, this competence is better fostered through eTwinning projects. eTwinning is part of Comenius, the EU programme for schools. The portal went live in January 2005, and more than 200,000 European teachers are registered users today. eTwinning is a
virtual meeting point for the exchange of information between European schools and provides numerous tools and services tailor-made for schools to find partners, resources, advice, help, information, and to build eTwinning projects in partnership with each other. I have been involved in a plethora of eTwinning projects for six years, and been an eTwinning ambassador for more than three now. My students have collaborated with many peers across Europe, and each year we plan, implement and develop collaborative projects with European schools, being rewarded in terms of competences gained and skills developed. Students plan, then actively launch into learning, then present their work and reflect on what has been achieved. There are always final products, which are arrived at by creatively employing critical thinking and problem solving skills. It is creativity, passion and the fact that each student is a composer – this is what eTwinning is for us.
  1. What are the teaching opportunities available in Romania?
At pre-universitary level, teachers in Romania do not have an array of job opportunities to choose from – when they obtain their Teaching Certificate, they can apply and take an exam to work in a state-owned or private school as a full time teacher. As for English language teaching and learning, there are additional prospects over the 12-week long summer holiday, and not only for Romanian teachers, but especially for native speakers I would say – Scots, English, Americans come to Romania and usually teach conversational English to teenagers in summer camps (I also know of native English speakers teaching drama). The incredible diverse Romanian landscape and the relatively intriguing political history here do appeal to many. I have known many such teachers. They are confident and friendly, customarily well-organised, and consistently open-minded team players. They offer Romanian students real-world learning experiences while working on project topics, which can vary widely. And they gain a valuable insight into Romania, its people and its culture.
  1. Could you tell us of a memorable lesson?
The lessons I consider memorable are mainly those during which I guide the learning process in such a way that students find out knowledge and how to do this and that through hands-on activities. I believe my students acknowledge them as being memorable too as it is about these lessons that they talk about at home in more detail – parents keep saying this during parent-teacher conferences/meetings. Project work is one of many students’ favourite, and I prepare and deliver countless project-based lessons. One example would be the celebration of Consumer Day on March 12th this year. It was a special day, when my sixth graders did our 2 English classes with three teachers and Mrs Rusu, the librarian in our school. The students had been asked to bring to school ads from newspapers and magazines, and wear T-shirts with ads on them. They also took to school bags with ads on them, and brought pictures of ads in the city on sticks or stored them online. We started the lesson by showing these to everybody on the big screen in the library, helped by their ICT teacher, and then I got the ball rolling and we talked about the advertising business and the effect ads have on everybody. Of course, there are other kinds of ads: there is skywriting, there are ads on the Internet,  etc. So we started talking about video clips. We watched five mobile phones video clips I had prepared, and I was happy that the students realised – when filling in the worksheet prepared for the lesson – that there are three main tricks of the advertising business: catchy slogans, funny jokes and famous people, and that advertising is responsible for a great illusion: the freedom of choice. Still, we must not allow ourselves to be manipulated! We should not just accept everything we see and read and hear as truth! We need to ‘read’ all ads critically, to protect ourselves as consumers. We need to ask ourselves: “Are there not alternatives?” Become a thoughtful consumer and a critical citizen in the future! In groups, assisted by the teacher of Arts, students then tried to draw a few effective ads, by answering these questions: What are you selling and what makes it so unique? Who do you want to sell it to? Why should people buy it from you as opposed to your competition? The posters were amazing! The students drew and/or collated suitable images, and wrote as persuasively as they could – persuasive skills, just like critical skills, are essential for anybody to participate in a democratic society. Some of the groups appealed to logic, others to morality, others to emotions. Some of the students used slogans, others made jokes, another group named a famous person…They enjoyed the two-hour lesson very much! And the most important thing to remember was understanding how we are persuaded.
  1. I can’t believe it is already July, so do you have any plans for the rest of the year?
Being on holiday right now – 12 weeks summer holiday in Romania! -, I am taking the time to care for my personal blog in terms of evaluation and planning, and of the Romanian eTwinning ambassadors’ blog and site, which I organize and coordinate, by refreshing it, adapting it to the new needs that have arisen, putting it to more uses really, even rearranging parts of the site. I am also collecting and editing quite a lot of eTwinners’ articles – as the editor-in-chief – for the annual eTwinning newsletter on project visibility; this will be the third issue. Thereon, I have been invited to a teachers’ conference in October and I am currently preparing my workshop, and during the autumn months I am planning to work hard on the preparations for an eTwinning symposium that I am co-organising in May 2014 – we still need to find more partners and/or sponsors. In September a new school year will begin, so learning units will be planned, shaped, delivered and evaluated; new projects will be born, cared for, and developed, and will have their value measured; latest teaching techniques will be tried out; new tools will be examined and taken up or dismissed – I will gladly, for instance, enhance the significance of using Glogster as a Glogster EDU Ambassador (I was honoured with this title and responsibility just last November); added partnerships with other organisations or with classes of students from Romania and/or abroad will start afresh. Of course people cannot plan everything, novel things will roll in I am sure, but I am confident I will be able to take each and every one of my engagements one at a time. Perhaps Facebook and/or Twitter (I am @DanielaArghir on Twitter) will gain more room in my life, helping me to start building that personal learning network I have been reading about lately; I could start teaching English online, this is one of my shrouded desires, I have only taught online courses – on web-based video, intergenerational learning, and iPad use – so far; in my one-iPad classroom I may spring towards using the device more stenuously. The future will tell.
  1. How would you describe your perfect student?
I do not believe there is a perfect student for me, and this is especially arduously evident when I plan, organise, deliver and assess project work in class. It is then, more than any other times, that I think of my students’ learning as being kaleidoscopic – pursuing this fluid technique to enhance their learning I acknowledge that most of their characteristics are melted and reborn in the process with new facets. I love the “perfect students” when they are confident and adventurous without being disdainful, I adore their diligent working in teams and their bold final presentations, I treasure those many moments when I am delighted with, or even surprised by, their industry and performance.
  1. What advice would you give to new teachers that have just completed a CELTA or equivalent?
I would invite them to come to Sibiu and teach English here! Sibiu was European Capital of Culture in 2007, which entailed many renovation works in the city. Piata Mare  (“The Big Square”) is considered the most beautiful renovation in all of Romania. The Medieval Sibiu counts five defense towers, which are a significant attraction for tourists. Nowadays the inhabitants of Sibiu are proud of their medieval ancestry, and so am I. The medieval period represented a prosperous time, both from an economic and administrative perspective. All joking aside, teachers of English would find here in Sibiu students who possess an appropriate basis for learning according to many criteria, who are open-minded apprentices, and who progress relentlessly. Arriving into the teaching profession is not an easy task these days. I would advise new teachers anywhere to strive to be fluent in their pedagogy, and flexible really – at the moment I think teachers need to be able to readily shift perspectives. Originality would not hurt either. The ability to promptly build on existing ideas would also be of help. I believe this is the kind of pedagogy that leads to motivation and promotes lifelong learning.
  1. Finally, what is it like being taught by you?
I hope my students think of themselves as good pursuers of creativity and commendable developers of their abilities. I hope they think of me as a mentor, a promoter, a challenger, and an awareness-raiser. I have always helped my students find their passion, and promoted confidence, persistence and risk-taking in my classroom. Most of the classroom projects we have developed have shown significant increase of thinking abilities, including creative thinking, and a valuable link from education to relevant, real-life experiences. I have come back to projects I see. In the same way that I foster a classroom environment and pedagogical approach(es) conducive to intrinsic motivation for my students, I do it for myself – my passion has been found, and I will tag on.

British Council Colombia: Summer Trip to the UK

Sarah Reid at Lake Louise in Canada
I can’t wait to share such an exciting guest post from a teacher who I used to work with at LTC Eastbourne.  She decided to bring her students from her British Council teaching centre over to the UK.  This is a quick guest post detailing how Sarah got on during preparation and developing an overseas trip for Colombian language learners.
Sarah Reid is a Senior Teacher of Teacher Training and Professional Development at British Council Mexico. Sarah has been teaching for more than 15 years in a range of teaching contexts and has just finished her two-year British Council post in Bogota, Colombia. She is currently studying a Masters in Professional Development of Language Teaching. 

It was about a year ago when one of my students asked me, ‘Why can’t we go to the UK with you?’ and I didn’t really have a good answer at the time. But, as I thought more about it, I thought why not? 

British Council Spring Gardens

The Senior classes I teach at the British Council, Bogota, Colombia are the best part of my teaching week. The students are between 15 – 18 years old and I have been teaching them for nearly two years. I’ve seen them become young adults and we have built a good relationship over the years due to their enthusiasm for absolutely anything British and that I enjoy listening to their ideas and dreams to see the UK. We’ve studied a lot of British literature together including, Roald Dahl’s short stories, Sherlock Holmes and George Orwell and completed projects on British music, art, sport and fashion. They have a real passion for anything with a Union Jack or the Royal Family on it and it was definitely time for them to experience it first hand.  

The plans for the trip grew. Suddenly at Christmas time I found myself booking their flights and we started applying for their visa papers. I won’t lie, it has been a lot of hard work coordinating everything and planning what I hoped would be a fun and educational trip. Each week the work was paid off by the fact that the students would come to class and count down how many ‘sleeps’ they had until we went to the UK, and from the second we got to the airport they were really excited by everything. 

Students phoning home

We’ve had a lot of firsts: the first time we cleared Colombian airspace, the first time we flew over the coast of France and we were in Europe, the first time they heard an English accent on the P.A. in Heathrow, the first time they saw a driver on the right hand-side of a car, the first time they met their English families, saw the school, got a pound coin, realised it would be light until late, saw the beach, tried to speak to an English teenager, saw Big Ben, made a friend with an international student from the school and the list goes on. 

Our very first view of London was quite unforgettable. As we flew into the City, it was a beautiful blue-skied summer’s night and we were in a holding pattern circling low over the Thames for about twenty minutes. We had an amazing close up tour of London from the skies and we saw everything from Wembley Stadium to the Olympic Park, to Parliament. These students have been dreaming about this moment for a long time and there were tears on the plane as we landed.  

My own personal favourite moments have been hearing them use new language that I know they’ve learnt from host brothers and sisters, or listening to their conversations about the differences between Colombia and England.  I love that they are making adult observations about their experiences and they can express that one of the most important things they have learnt is that they can communicate with everyone in English not just native English speakers. In fact meeting new friends and noticing differences in how they speak English has really improved their own pronunciation as they have become more aware of common mistakes they make with particular English sounds.

In London, at the British Council ‘English Effect’ exhibition, they were asked to write what they thought was important about learning English: the only boy in the group wrote that he has learnt it is possible to fall in love with a language as it reveals a lot about the culture of the country. What a wonderful thing to say about a language!

LTC Eastbourne

All of us agree that our favourite afternoon activity has been to go into a local primary school and teach Year 6 children how to dance Salsa. The children were all between ten and eleven years old and my Colombian teenagers were really brave to get up and present information about Colombia in English to the whole year group as well as spend the afternoon teaching dance in English. We face-painted nearly two hundred and fifty kids with the Colombian flags and the children shared what they knew of Spanish. We have lots of smiley pictures and I’ve got a sneaky feeling I’ve got a few budding teachers on my hands with my students.

What’s been eye opening? I think that the students have been amazingly articulate in explaining how great an impression that the sense of freedom they have here in England has left on them. This is the first time in their lives in which they have been given a house key and told they can walk home safely or be out alone after sunset. At first they didn’t trust the quiet streets and sleepy suburbs, but now this newly found independence will be the hardest thing to leave behind. 

Two weeks really won’t be long enough, as there is still so much more to show them. London was quite a magical experience being able to see and touch the things we have talked about in class for so long and at one point in Covent Garden one student pointed out that we were standing on the cobbled streets we had tried to describe in a creative writing exercise last year. 

The English Effect at the British Council

With only one more week to go our days are jammed-packed with activities and new experiences for them. The students have all started to make plans to study in the UK or come back to meet their host families again. They are already using Facebook to keep in touch with the new friends from Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Korea that they have met in school. I’m so pleased for them that everything has worked out well and they’ve achieved their ambition of coming to the UK. Through the whole trip too, I’ve been reminded at how fantastic England looks in the sunshine and what a really special country we have and should be very proud of. It will be difficult for them to leave and I expect a lot of tears on Sunday morning, but without a doubt they will all come back for more.

Thank you Sarah for sharing your experiences of developing, organising and providing an overseas trip for your Colombian language learners and I hope they really enjoyed their few precious weeks in the UK.  Do you have any questions for Sarah?  Have you organised an overseas trip to the UK?  If you have, what did you learn from that experience?  Are you currently organising an overseas trip and need some advice?  As ever, post in the comments section.

June Teacher Interview: Cindy Chasseloup

This month, we have a special teacher interview arranged and conducted with the help of Mary Glasgow Magazines.  So a big thank you to their team for interviewing Cindy Chasseloup who has been a state English teacher in France for a number of years.  Cindy has a number of years experience as a teacher (as well as a language learner) in various countries such as the UK, Canada and is currently resident in France.  It is such a wonderful opportunity to interview a non-native English teacher and I hope to interview more NNETs in the future – so if you would like to be interviewed please drop me an email.  Nevertheless, let’s start with interview with Cindy.

Tell me how you got into teaching.

Being a teacher was the dream career I had in mind since I was a teenager. At school I had a yearning for languages and it was only after my graduation in college that I decided to be an English teacher. To be really sure that I was made for teaching, I spent a year as a French assistant in a school in Basingstoke, England. That experience helped me understand that I was not keen on teaching according to mainstream teaching methods. I enjoyed being creative and genuine when preparing lessons. It helped me being and remaining enthusiastic and cheerful when sharing them with pupils. On the other hand, I realised that I did not really like being taught what to do since it felt like I had to conform to something that did not belong to me! I felt it was difficult to motivate pupils when you did not give yourself body and soul in what you were doing.  When I came back from England, I decided I needed more time to explore the English language so I passed my master LLCE degree. Then, I went through the French competitive exam for teacher called CAPES that I passed. Yet, instead of being a trainee teacher the next school year, I postponed it and applied to be a French assistant in Canada. That teaching experience was completely different since I was teaching students at UVIC university and was given complete credit for the preparation and planning of my lessons. At the university, my supervisor gave me the possibility to use all the rhetoric and didactic methods I had learnt while preparing the CAPES exam. That experience helped me understand that each learner is different and needs to gain self-confidence thanks to a teacher who is reliable and trustworthy. In the end, I came back to France and after a year spent as a trainee teacher in a high school, my career as an English teacher in secondary schools started off.

 

Could you tell our readers about France and potential teaching opportunities?

In France there are drawbacks but also advantages when you’re a state teacher.  Let’s start with the drawbacks:

  • You cannot pick the school and place where you’d like to teach! If you’re lucky enough you will remain in your hometown or province but most of the time you’re too young and do not have the necessary points required to be allotted in a very popular area and school. In the end you usually end up hundred of miles away from home for a few years!
  • You cannot pick the grades you will teach. Most of the time, when you start your career, it will be in a secondary school. Usually, only experienced teachers have access to high schools.

Now, the advantages: 

  • You have a general and national curriculum to follow but you are free to use whatever material you feel like having. You have a freewill and even if we have some recommendations to use some educational methods rather than others, you are still able to decide what you will do in your class.
  • The headmaster gives you an administrative mark but it is your academic supervisor that will assess your educational skills when S/he visits your class once every 7/10 years.
  • You do not have to use a textbook, every other materials are welcomed as far as your lessons make sense and are educational.
  • You can also do some cross-curricular activities with teachers from other subjects and realise some wonderful projects. Team work is highly beneficial but you are not bound to do any if you don’t feel like it.

You are using magazines instead of a textbook.  Could you tell our readers more about this?

  • It is true that I’m not into textbooks. I’d rather use other resources, such as Mary Glasgow Magazines which are very attractive for teenagers since they are colourful and deal with the youngster interests. I would use some articles as a support to the sequence (for example POP STAR sequence, we started the first lesson with an article ‘stress on stage’ which helped the students understand the topic and the goal of the sequence).
  • Sometimes I ask them to read some articles during the holidays and do the games as a way to revise their lessons.
  • I can also ask them to read an article so as to debate in class and it leads to a communicational project. For my beginners, I sometimes ask them to read the articles and I myself prepare a questionnaire to check their understanding. It is perfect for the revisions. There is another thing I like doing with my students. I ask them to choose an interview in Mary Glasgow magazines and to write another interview themselves. It is very funny! They get to present celebrities and people they like.
  • Some other time in class, it is an efficient manner to make them more aware of some cultural and historical notions while playing rapidity games with the articles captions or headlines.
  • The variety of the topics and the various activities offered in these magazines really suit me. It gives me the opportunity to include them in some educational projects and to explore different teaching paths. I like the idea of getting the pupils to achieve something at the end of a sequence. (through acting/cooking/drawing/making things/ interviewing..)

How do you prepare your lessons when you use magazines in the classroom?

What is important for me is to know in advance what it is coming up. The digital previews sent by Mary Glasgow are very useful for that. I can prepare my lessons according to the subjects, which are coming soon. For example, this time I have chosen to work about pop stars. I introduced the theme through an article in Team called ‘Stress on stage’. They had to write about how they would feel on stage. After that, I asked them if they knew any ‘talent shows’. For my beginners, I am going to use the article about pack lunches. It is ideal for my theme about food. I am also going to complete my lessons with some activities. I saw that there were more things on the website. 

What are your favourite subjects?

I love teaching about sports and this year, I am spoiled! My intermediates are very sporty and are loving the magazines too! Earlier this year, there was an article about Andy Murray who was talking about his problems before the Olympic games. I asked my students to imagine which kind of advices they would give him. They get to use the structure “should” and other modal verbs. It was a perfect exercise for them and a lot of fun for everybody. I also got to introduce the structure like “If I were…, I would..”. It worked very well. The subjects about internet and technologies are very appealing to them as well. I wish I could teach more about Australia or New Zealand but I sometimes miss some materials about those countries. I love the news articles at the beginning of Mary Glasgow magazines. They are always very updated. It is very quick for me to get them talk about those for some prompt discussions at the beginning of the lesson. They don’t realize how much they learn vocabulary from those. I also love the cultural articles. It is hard to believe but some did not know that there were red buses in London. Some themes are coming back every year but it is actually good for them as reminders. They are very excited when they can say “Oh Madame, we have already seen this last year…”

What is the most memorable thing that has occurred during your teaching career within the classroom?

It was on my first day of teaching! At that time I was a trainee teacher. Due to my experience with the Canadian education system, I was not aware that French kids would really be hostile to English and teachers in general. On my first lesson I suddenly realised that students were not going to be standard pupils that would kindly do and listen to what I would tell them to. That first hour of teaching was really chaotic; students were chatting, doing whatever they wanted to do, the lesson was so noisy that I ended up with a major headache! I felt bullied! I was so disappointed and wanted to give up teaching after all! It was so far from what expected, I did not manage to get them to learn and do anything I had prepared for them! The bright side of that memorable moment was that I became aware of the fact that you had to make students want to learn, listen and speak and do English. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to achieve this! Hopefully, I had a wonderful tutor who made me understand the reasons of the students behaviour. He helped me get that mutual respect and discipline are essential when it comes to teaching. Standard students may exist but they are blended up with others in heterogeneous classes. The challenge is to captivate each individual in the class so as to get them work as a team that will be willing to communicate and learn together in English.  Since then while preparing lessons, I always keep in mind that each pupil is different and that learning difficulties should not prevent students from enjoying learning a Language.