Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Category: teacher interview (Page 2 of 3)

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. 

May Teacher Interview: Peter Clements

Peter with a praying mantis

This month’s teacher interview is with a teacher that I currently work with at LTC Eastbourne.  Peter Clements has been teaching English since 2007 with experience in Yangsan, South Korea, as well as in the UK.  He has worked at 4 different language schools in the UK.  He is currently in the early stage of his career, but he hopes to start his next adventure abroad this coming September.

He has some very interesting takes on the language teaching and learner expectation and is a wonderful contribution to the monthly interviews. I hope Peter joins up on Twitter or starts a personal blog on his experiences in language teaching. Nevertheless, let’s start with the interview!
Tell me how you got into English language teaching.

My interest in teaching English started at university. I studied modules in language teaching and learning, and undertook an equivalent to the CELTA over the summer of 2006. TEFL started off as my summer job – I used my qualification to work at summer schools during breaks in my studies. For a while I felt that secondary school teaching might be the right career path for me. I decided to do a PGCE back in 2009, but I hated every minute of it! My experiences on that course nearly turned me off teaching forever. If I hadn’t taught at a summer school that year after dropping out of the PGCE, I’d probably be in a boring office job right now… Instead I took a job on a great summer programme based in Edinburgh (ISIS Education and Travel). I loved every minute of it, and it kick-started my career as a language teacher!

Could you tell our readers about the countries you have taught in?

I’ve worked at three different summer schools in England, and I’ve spend two years working in a high school in South Korea. I’m currently teaching at LTC in Eastbourne, which offers short courses to foreign groups all year round.

You have been teaching in the UK for a short period and could you please tell me a bit more about any advantages and/or disadvantages to this?

I’d say the biggest advantage is cultural immersion for the students. You can teach students about English history, culture or customs, and they have the chance to go and explore it for themselves outside the classroom. I find students here are often highly-motivated… but then they do pay a lot to be here! I deal with groups who stay between three days and four weeks. I’d say this has its ups and downs. For shorter courses you can’t really expect a lot of improvement in their English ability, the focus is more on encouraging students to practice their speaking and to learn about British culture. For our Young Learner classes we don’t follow a particular course book, instead we do lots of task-based or topic-based learning, which can require a lot of planning for the teacher.I’d say the biggest advantage of teaching in the UK is to have mixed nationality classes. On occasions we get groups at the school who request classes with students of the same nationality, and it’s really hard to prevent them using their L1. I love it when classes are mixed – not only does it necessitate the use of English but it is a great opportunity to develop student’s awareness of other cultures. 

Can you tell me a memorable activity or occurrence that has occurred from your classroom?

Actually, I had something happen recently that really made me chuckle. Our class were doing the ‘sinking ship’ scenario – the classic lesson where they have to choose which people they would save from a sinking ship and bring to a desert island to live with. They were a mixed nationality upper-intermediate class, with most students being either Austrian or Thai. I wish I had recorded some of the discussions that ensued – the Thai’s were advocating the need to save the Buddhist monk to preserve harmony on the island, whilst the Austrians insisted that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a good law enforcer and, despite his high protein diet, would be happy to agree to food rationing on the island if necessary! I’m a big fan of using drama in the classroom and allowing students to be creative. I’d really recommend any teacher flicking through ‘The Minimax Teacher’ (Jon Taylor) or ‘Being Creative’ (Chaz Pugliese) for some great student-centered activities with a creative focus. I’d say that some of my most memorable lessons have been built around concepts from these books.

It’s already May but do you have any plans for the next 12 months?

I’m looking to get abroad again come September. I didn’t save any money when I lived in South Korea as I spent it all on Kimchi and bad beer. That means I need to work somewhere I can not only have a great experience, but earn a few bob too. Ideally I’d like to teach in Europe next (Germany or Spain), but I might spend another year in Asia first. I guess I have no plans really. I’m just mentioning a load of places I want to go!

What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of classroom project work are?

Generally, I’d say its student centred and it involves group work which helps make things communicative. Also, with project work there can be a lot of other skills-practice apart from just learning the language – planning, problem-solving, task management, etc. You can learn a lot about your students, their characters and their learning styles by observing them during project work.A massive disadvantage to group work is that if students don’t buy into the project topic or if they aren’t interested at all in it can be like flogging a dead horse. Also, project work in groups of mixed nationality speakers can be quite a high order task for some students. You have to monitor project work well to ensure group are progressing, and support where necessary.

How would you describe your perfect student? 

That’s hard to say as every student is different. I think there are some common traits I’ve noticed in the most successful students I’ve taught. They have all been self-motivated, they have all made great use of metacognitive learning strategies and they have all seemed to be able to laugh at themselves when they make mistakes. I’m actually quite a bad language learner – I get frustrated when I can’t do or say things perfectly, I hate not being able to express myself and probably take myself a bit too seriously. I really try to discourage these traits in my own students!

What advice would you give to any budding teachers keen to gain more experience abroad?

Firstly, ignore critics of the TEFL industry. I’m always meeting people who tell me that teaching abroad is a glorified gap year, or it’s for people who can’t get a real job, so on and so forth. Sure, teaching English is a great opportunity to see the world, but that doesn’t mean it will automatically be easy. Many people underestimate how difficult it can be to live for a long period of time in another country, so just be sure to give that some thought.I’m not greatly experienced in the industry compared to others, but I’ve had a fair few teaching jobs now – some of which have been dire! The best advice I could offer anyone starting out in TEFL is try to get the best you can from any teaching experience. Don’t become someone who just plods along and takes the money that some countries will throw at you as a native English speaker. Put the effort in, focus on professional development, and it can be a really rewarding job!

How would you describe your typical Korean language learner?

Shy but very respectful. I taught high school students aged 16-18 – there is a real emphasis on respect towards teachers in Korean culture, which creates a really positive environment. Its true that Korean students like to sleep a lot, but they work so hard that they need to rest!English lessons taught by Korean teachers tend to be quite didactic, so Korean learners often lack task knowledge with regards to communicative activities. Things that we might take for granted when setting up activities (like pair work or group work) can sometimes seem like an alien concept to Korean students as they just don’t work like that too often. Also, their shyness and their anxiety over making mistakes means they can often be scared to speak English. However, as with most young learners, Korean students love a bit of competition, and using games, problem solving or lateral thinking tasks in the class can bring them out of their shell a bit.Lastly, Koreans are really proud of their country. Many Korean learners I’ve encountered seem motivated to learn English as a medium through which to share their own culture with the world. This really is something that can be exploited in the classroom.

Finally, do you think there are particular nationalities which expect different things from their teachers?

Yes. I’ve been teaching a lot of Austrian students recently and they seem to expect a more formal approach to classes. I assume that they must study a heavily grammar based syllabus in their own country, as this is often their strength. They require a lot of encouragement to extend their speaking beyond the minimum amount required to ‘complete’ a task, and the purpose of an activity must be made very explicit to them. Of course, I am generalising by saying that ‘Austrians’ are like this – really I mean that this is a trait I’ve noticed in 5 different classes of 14 Austrian students all aged between 14-19, and of course some students in a class are exceptions and don’t fit with what I say. Speaking from my experience though, I’ve found Austrian students to be a little serious, quite reserved and seem to prefer the teacher to direct a class more than the students taking control.

April Teacher Interview: Jim George

It is with great pleasure to publish this month’s teacher interview with a great general ELT guy.  This monthly teacher’s interview is with a person from Japan called Jim George.  I have been following Jim on Twitter over the years and he does impart some wonderful experiences in ELT.
Apart from Twitter, you can find Jim on his school blog, Luna International, from time to time.  His school blog is wonderful and occasionally, his other teachers and/or students share their experiences of teaching and/or learning English and is well worth a visit.
I don’t know much more about Jim, and boy does he have some stories.  So let’s start with the interview without any further delay and hope you enjoy his background to ELT.
Tell us how you got into teaching.

Very much by financial & geographic necessity. Had run out of working visaes, hitch hiking/working around Australia & NZ. A trusted friend had earlier spent a year in Japan “shaking the money tree” (mid-80s) & it was that time in my travels to refill the coffers. Getting a job in Tokyo wearing fruit-picking clothes was not easy…so I got the job I deserved, which was dreadful!

Could you tell us what it is like teaching in Japan?

There are so many different kinds of “teaching” in Japan. The perception can be that it is easy, because to a certain extent any clown can still front up and call themselves a teacher (as I did) because we are native speakers. Some situations this is actually all that is needed – cheerful, fresh-faced, energetic, and the adoration that comes from students can be overwhelming – pop-star variety. Often-times the perception (students/parents/administrators) of the popularity of the teacher (entertainment) is all-important, and have very little to do with the quality of teaching (if any). In this, what the teacher looks like is also a far too important a factor. Japan is not racially diverse, and neither is the teaching gene-pool. There are also very few teachers of other foreign languages around, as the demand is just not there. It should be.

“Proper” teaching, for want of a better phrase, is a double-sided coin. You will never come across classroom management issues except with very young learners – and even then it will be enthusiasm/sugar rush rather than wanton bad behaviour. Students will always accept what the teacher says, and pretty much do as they are told. You will not be refereeing any in-class arguments or chairing a debate, be overwhelmed with over-eager learners or over-ambitious exam takers. You will see the same faces in your class week in week out and develop a bond of friendship & trust over time – in time the students will not want to change the teacher or class. Out of class/independent learning is a shock when it happens, and learners here are very reluctant to engage outside of the traditional EFL situation – table & chairs, pencil & paper (and electronic dictionary). You will have all the time in the world to consider what you will do next as the pace of classes will not be tiring. 

I wish more of my students had broader horizons – ambitions to travel & experience life beyond their school clubs or 9-5 plus overtime jobs. I wish more of my students had a bit more spark & were self-motivating learners, and not tested to death in school, taught by undertrained/unworldy teachers with dreadful materials. 
Can we read that as ‘frustrating/could be better?’

You have set up your own school in Japan.  Can you tell our readers about this experience.

I own my own school but I did not set it up; I bought it as a going concern, because at that time  a foreigner setting up a business in Japan would have been prohibitively hard, time consuming & expensive. Not sure it’s much easier now, and I still don’t think I’d like to try. Buying a business so dependent on personality & the personal touch is fraught with risk. It does not matter how good a teacher/manager/communicator you are…you are not the person who built up the student roll, charmed parents & built up word of mouth locally. Doubly so if you are not immediately local or less than very proficient in the local language. If you are confident in what you can do, do it yourself without buying somebody else`s cast offs. Buying classes is one thing – a limited risk – but a business? Beware.

Although the school I bought was in the next city, and I had even lived within half a mile of it, I did not know quite what the previous owner had been up to. I inherited staff who were not interested, and students who were used to a different style. It was a very big jump into an unknown pool, becoming a boss/DoS/ with no training & at that time PLN. Not something you really want to be doing on the job training.

Being your own boss can be extremely rewarding, but don’t delude yourself about getting rich. You are free to teach your own way, but your circle of friends will be limited to those who are not your competitors, and usually not your staff and their friends. Hiring the right people is vitally important and a minefield! Getting the wrong person can do a lot of damage that can take year(s) to recover from – organisationally & personally. The buck stops with you – are you emotionally big enough to wear that? 

Tell us a bit more about your school.

We are a small, one location business these days, providing teachers (myself & one colleague) to some local schools/businesses here & there. Our core business takes place at the school, which is not far from the city’s historic castle, in a nice quiet neighbourhood. Children can get here on foot/by bike, after school, which is nice. The building is an old bakery; we inherited mice. We have roomy, sunny classrooms – but the windows rattle when it’s windy & always make me think ‘earthquake’. We have far too many resources and not enough students to use them on; we are lucky, as we are very well looked after by publishers & are occassionally asked to pilot materials. We have also hosted a number of authors’ workshops & events over the years; I have always encouraged my staff to try to develop themselves & to not be satisfied with just doing enough to get by. I want them to be ambitious for our students, and to be pushing themselves in the process. 

We are one of very few Cambridge English Language Assessment (aka ESOL) Centres in the country. Candidature in Japan is woefully low, though educationally Japan is an exam-oriented nation. Just not in the right way. Too many of them; fixation on results; inappropriate materials/tasks; not well-recognised outside Japan; grammar laden/translation heavy…At Luna we aim to teach our learners in a fun, friendly environment – giving them the brain space to see how they can learn, interact with each other meaningfully. We try to choose coursebooks which are relevant & useful for them – and I do think coursebooks still have a very important role to play in the EFL classroom. Our classes are small, so we can adapt quickly. We like to encourage our learners to be creative, and I enjoy using iOS apps to enhance their enjoyment – be it cataloguing something they have done (catching a song or a project), reviewing again in a new way, or building their own version of a page eg labelling a picture of themselves. 

What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of a school blog?

We use our school blog in two ways. 

Firstly, for the teachers to reflect on their work. The physical act of sitting down & setting down your feelings about a lesson or an activity is a powerful tool. I try to read a lot of teachers’ blogs and am inspired/in awe of the care & detail many involve. I often find the best lessons end up coming out of an abandoned lesson plan; my lesson plans are mostly sketches in any case. I like to be reactive to the students and go with them on their journey – I have an idea where we are going, but they are driving. So my postings tend to be along the lines of a mutual discovery & the surprise outcomes. I think some teachers would be in fear for their jobs if they blogged thus; I think a smart approach for a school is to ask teachers to produce A posting every once in a while (monthly?) about something positive – a project with a class, an exam result, game or a role play…as long as the author knows what the parameters are & that it is part of their professional development. So, my blog postings could really be my portfolio?

I like to encourage our students to post to the blog as well. This does take a lot of cajolling, and only really works with classes who have something to write about; graded readers are my preferred tool, and we try to get all of classes (children, as well as adults) reading as much as possible outside the classroom. The after reading exercises within are ‘enough’. Posting to the blog makes them consider their audience, and gives them enormous satisfaction when there is any kind of response (even if it is just me). We have occassionally had an author respond, which has really rocked their world! A downside can be errors – the casual reader would be worried about Jim’s sudden lack of coherence – or stage fright. With less confident or younger learners I often post ‘on their behalf’, recording their work in some way to share & show off. 

Downsides? A blog is not just for Christmas – your pet needs feeding regularly! Be consistent, include useful links, reach out to other bloggers (as you do) and cite your sources/inspiration. DO be careful with privacy issues, and don’t use your blog to slag other people off. And use Twitter to connect with a much larger & engaged audience.

Can you tell me a memorable experience from your teaching career?

My most meaningful & memorable teaching experiences actually happened in Thailand, working in a refugee camp for six months. The whole experience changed me, and really re-arranged my teaching antenna. I had previously spent a year and a half with mostly unmotivated, unexcited, unambitious but comparatively wealthy students. To see just how much any English skills at all could mean to these people from Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos was humbling in the extreme. I had no resources to use at all, apart from a gestetner and a serious rationing thereof, great colleagues, and overcrowded classes (no rooms – an outdoor bamboo lean to at best) with the most amazing students you could ever hope to meet. Being treated to lunch by a refugee in a camp is the biggest privilige I think I will ever enjoy. I still have the first homework my first class gave me – ‘tell me about yourself’…possibly the dumbest question I have ever asked.

It is already April and IATEFL is currently the big thing this month.  Are you going to and what sort of thing will you be following at IATEFL via the internet, Twitter, etc?

One of the reasons I am late with my homework for you, Martin is all IATEFL‘s fault! I followed it as best I could on twitter, after getting hooked on it last year – listening to Fish’s plenary as a Marillion fan of yonks ago! Not a very scientific approach – especially with the time difference, but looking for cool ‘new’ people to follow & engage with, as well as checking out my “twitter crushes”. Additionally, wanted to look for connections that will be relevant to conferences I am involved with promoting here in Japan this year –  JALT PAN-SIG in Nagoya in May, JALTCALL & ER in Matsumoto in June, and the big daddy JALT Conference in Kobe in October.

My particular interest in apps & teaching younger learners – and sharing these through Scoop it, Livebinders etc.

I have found Asian students naturally quiet in the language classroom.  How do you go about developing student confidence and speaking?

That is a headbanger of a question, Martin, and no silver bullet – but I am finding more “apps for that”. Young children, generally no problem at all with production, but as they progress through school, all the personality & spark seems to be literally worn away – and this is a crime! But that’s not your question…

I like to use any of a number of “Talking” apps – sound recorders with an animal character that repeats the speaker’s words, with a different ‘voice’. The app will start to repeat when there is a break in speaking. This makes students very aware of pausing, going too slowly etc and makes them determined to ‘beat the app’ ie get through their whole phrase or sentence in one go. No teacher interference at all! Students are their own best critics & direct all their ire at the iPod touch on the table. The free versions are enough – the paid ones allow you to save/upload to FB or YouTube etc. Students enjoy having their voices disguised, loosen up a lot.

Sock Puppets is another voice recorder type app (Thank you @shellterrell for this & many other discoveries) that I love with YL classes. I like my 30 second time limit of this app, as it makes learners really hurry up! Failing to beat the time limit again means the learners not the teacher, want to do it again – whatever it is; saying a tongue twister, acting out a mini-dialogue or story, asking & answering a mini-questionnaire eg “Can you x,y,z?”

Fotobabble works a treat with transferring written homework into speaking – I used this especially with a returnee who loved drawing & kept a diary. I’d take a picture of his art, then we’d talk about it for a minute (limit). Great portfolio builder too.

Audioboo I like to record songs, interviews, stories with. It has a longer (5 minutes) limit & you can save these recordings online/share, tag & comment on. 

Tech is not the be all & end all, but the above are examples of finding a solution that looks/sounds.

The other very useful tool I have up my sleeve is my experience as a Cambridge English examiner, and the many teachers I have come across as an examiner trainer. Not so useful in getting reluctant students to talk (though you do learn not to leap in to the rescue at the first sign of a premature stop), but a fabulous eye-openner on how important my daily in-class job is to help my learners be capable of functioning outside my classroom – one where their teacher will not know what their idiosyncratic micro-gestures mean, what their L1 discourse management means etc. Very important to be aware of the bigger picture. 

How would you describe your perfect teacher?

Wow. So many different answers, depending on your view point. Mums want an attractive young man with nice hair. Businessman want their manga fantasy girl. Children want someone goofy that has an endless stash of games or will let them play Uno for an hour. Managers want someone who turns up on time, already has a visa & won’t upset the neighbours. How come so many Irish teachers don’t have a driving licence? I want a CELTA with European experience who kids love & scrubs up nicely for a business class; fab colleague to share ideas with & be inspired by. Must be able to dance (summer festival), shovel snow, fix the photocopier, read a map, use social media purely for the benefit of my school. Be able to understand enough Japanese to get by but not use any in class. Not be on medication but enjoy a pint, have external interests but be willing to teach any/every class at the drop of a hat. Be charming, bright and engaging, and teach classes I can be jealous of. Be sensitive to the learners, listen to them, and pick up my vibes!

I’ve been very lucky – sometimes – we have enjoyed some really fine people with an eclectic blend of the above ‘teaching’ faculties! As with any other school owner though, plenty of misses too.

What advice would you give teachers who are starting on their teaching career?

Get a CELTA. 

After that, do your homework & use social media to find horror stories (if there are any) about employers/countries/agents. Take your time & use a reputable website eg TEFL.com to find a job. Ask difficult questions before you go anywhere. Be bothered to write a proper cover letter for each job application.

And use to twitter to start building a network of ideas/resources/people. Your own staff room.

Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

I really wanted to go & see the British & Irish Lions play at least one test in Australia again – saw the 3rd test in Sydney 12 years ago, brillant sea of red put the cousins firmly in their place. That won’t be happening!

Will be working through conference programme scheds (see above) to deliver a barage of targetted/timed tweets; going to use Tagxedo for that. Hopefully Foursquare & other web 2.0 tools to enhance the venues, & run live twitter feeds within the venues.

June 1-2 Shinshu Chapter of JALT (my local) hosting the JALT CALL/ER Conference & very excited about the unique welcome party we are planning at the castle.

Other than that, examiner training in Nagoya this weekend, and beautiful Yamagata city in July. Hoping we can welcome back some colleagues from the Tohoku region, after the various experiences they have been through since March 11th 2011.

Big issue looming for us is moving the school at the end of the year. We have a miserable landlord – not a reader, I trust – who has made the last two and a half years pretty grim. Looking forward to finding cheery new premises, but not the actual shift! Anyone want to help shift all our books & furniture?

Jim George
Luna International (owner)

Cambridge ESOL Centre JP004
Team Leader

Shinshu JALTPR Chair

Kyuboshi BldgMetoba 2-3-5Matsumoto cityNagano prefJapan 390-0806
Tel/fax 81 + (0)263-34-4481

March Teacher Interview: Janet Bianchini

Janet Bianchini

I am really excited this month to introduce a teacher who has is quite prominent in the world of language teaching via her blog and her Twitter.  When I was thinking of starting to blog about my experiences of language teaching, I came across her blog and then I made my mind up to start my own blogging.  In the early years of blogging, I paid close attention to her posts and I am quite honoured to have this teacher volunteer for this month’s  interview.

Janet Bianchini is currently living in Italy but has continued her links with The Lake School of English in Oxford.  She has been a teacher for 34 years now with experience in the UK, Spain, Mallorca as well as East Germany.  She has also left the UK to move to Abruzzo, but is able to teach for Lake School when she returns and also supports the Consultants-E as an online teacher and moderator.  There are a range of other sources where you can view Janet’s online contribution:

Janet’s Abruzzo Edublog
Janet’s About.me Page
Fluffy’s Blog
Comic and Cartoons (Scoop.it)
Janet’s Slideshare
Janet’s Fun with Phrasal Verbs

So without any further hesitation, let’s start the interview.

Tell me how you got into English language teaching.

Fluffy the cat

I had originally wanted to be a flight attendant for British Airways after leaving school but sadly I did not pass the entrance criteria because I was too short!  I am just under 5 feet, and you needed to be at least 5 feet 6 inches tall in those days, so my application was turned down. My dream was to travel and see the world… Once I had finished my French and Italian degree at Leicester University, I decided the best way to learn another new language was to teach EFL there.  I got accepted for a teaching post in Madrid with my degree, and no teaching qualifications whatsoever. I soon realized, however, that solely teaching from the company’s set books and nothing else, was a bit limiting.  I decided to do a one year, full-time PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) specializing in EFL / ESL.  My five-week Teaching Practice was in Mallorca.  I taught in a secondary school and taught classes of up to 40 students.  The PGCE opened up a whole world of opportunities for teaching abroad, and that’s what helped me get into English language teaching. After all my travels, I finally settled down to teach for over 20 years at the Lake School of English, Oxford.  This is where I developed fully as a teacher and teacher trainer, and I learned a lot of the skills I have now. It was a wonderful time of my teaching career, with an excellent support network and great facilities.  I am so lucky that I can still teach there, whenever I go back to England.

You have taught in a number countries, haven’t you Janet?  Could you tell our readers about the countries you have taught in and what has been your favourite?

As I mentioned above, I taught in Madrid for one year, and I enjoyed that experience for the cultural aspects and the friendly people I met. I felt I didn’t really know much about teaching but I managed to get by. I then went on to teach at the Technical University of Dresden, in the German Democratic Republic.  This was a complete eye-opener for me and I saw how the GDR citizens lived in a repressive regime.  However, students and friends managed to have an excellent social life and as a result I enjoyed myself very much.  The teaching was mostly Beginner / Elementary level and classes consisted of specially chosen people who were going to be allowed to travel abroad on GDR business.  I wrote a guest post for Ken Wilson’s blog called Living and Working behind the Iron Curtain. Link here:http://kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/living-and-working-behind-the-iron-curtain/I then went on to teach in a tiny village in Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands for a whole year.  That was indeed like living in paradise – sun all the year round, beautiful sea, freshly caught fish for barbecues on the beach, lots of fiestas every weekend in local villages, and a wonderful social life.  I made lots of friends with the locals, most of whom I taught English.  I even taught German lessons to groups of children, and that was a real challenge for me, but fun. From the Canary Islands, it was on to Patras, Greece.  I fell in love with the country, the people, the language, the food and the traditions. I lived there for 3 years, teaching all levels and groups, in particular Cambridge FCE.  I also took my Greek “O” level and passed.  I was able to communicate quite well by the time I left, but sadly it has almost all gone now.I can honestly say that I enjoyed my time in all of these countries due to the lovely people, students and schools that I had the pleasure of working for.

You have a successful blog on language teaching.  Please tell us more … and could you tell our readers the advantages and disadvantages of blogging?

I have been writing my Janet’s Abruzzo Edublog since 2008, and I celebrated my 4th anniversary last November.  I had never thought of blogging until I came across some information for a short two-week online Blogs’ course run by the Consultants-E.  I attended the course, (which I myself tutor on now), and this was the catalyst for me starting my main blog.  It’s a mix of personal and educational posts and I enjoy writing it.The advantages are I get to keep up to date with other bloggers and educational trends via my RSS feed in my sidebar, and I have met many teachers online as a result of the comments I have received and also from posts that I have read from different bloggers, such as yourself, Martin! Also, writing a blog has made me think critically about how and what I teach, and it is useful to have all my thoughts and lesson ideas in one main area, for ease of reference.The disadvantages of  blogging?  I can’t think of any, bar the fact that I wish I had more time to focus on writing more posts!! 

Can you tell me a memorable activity or occurrence that has developed from your classroom? 

I have always enjoyed using images in my lessons, and over the past few years, I have become very interested in exploiting comics and cartoons. I have found that students tend to be keen on creating their own comics using the many free sites that are available.  I created a short presentation called Fun with Comics and Cartoons for a Teach Meet International e-conference last year, and I have outlined some ideas for how to use them:http://www.slideshare.net/JanetBianchini/fun-with-comics-a-mini-presentation

Could you tell us why you moved to Italy and what it is like teaching in this country?

I moved to Italy with my husband Karl in order to experience a different lifestyle from the hectic life in a city.  We wanted to live in the countryside, and have a bit of land and some animals. My parents are originally both from Abruzzo in central Italy, so this area seemed a natural choice to begin our hunt for a house here. We were thrilled when we saw the house of our dreams online. We have a 10-year plan to do renovations, and I can’t believe 5 years have already passed and there is still so much to do!!Due to family circumstances in the UK, I don’t currently have a teaching job in Italy but I keep myself busy with various online projects, thereby allowing me to be at home, which is ideal.

The first few months of 2013 have passed by (albeit it a bit too quick), but what are your plans for this year?

I’d like to be happy with whatever comes my way, maybe do a few more online courses to learn something new.I have just completed the EVO Digitalstorytelling4kids session and that was an enlightening experience.  I had the opportunity to create some collaborative digital stories with other course participants and it was good to see how I felt from the viewpoint of a student doing  such exciting projects.We have approximately 90 olive trees at the moment, and hopefully we’ll get a good crop of olives this year, as last year was very bad. I love using our homemade olive oil when cooking. Tending to the olive grove is an enjoyable pastime, and we would like to have 100 trees in the future.  

Do you think there is a place for L1 in the classroom?

Yes, in small doses and depending on the situation.  I taught monolingual classes for a number of years in the various countries I lived in, and in some cases, I allowed the use of L1, for ease and clarity of purpose.  On the whole, I do prefer Direct Method and it has always been successful. I taught this method (and still do) for over 20 years with groups of multi-lingual students whilst working in Oxford for the Lake School of English.

How would you describe your perfect student?

One who listens carefully, is willing to make mistakes, accepts corrections, is independent, interacts in general with other students, and most important of all, has a keen desire to learn as much as possible.

What advice would you give teachers who find their teaching more of a chore?

Take time out, if it is possible in order to recharge one’s batteries, try to connect with other teachers who can provide a supportive network.  I wrote a guest post for OUP ELT Blog called  Renew the Passion, and Go with the Flow.   It contains a few tips which may be of interest: http://oupeltglobalblog.com/2010/06/18/renew-the-passion-and-go-with-the-flow/

Finally, you are involved with the Consultants-E so are you able to tell us a bit more about your role with this organisation?

I have been involved with the Consultants-E since 2008, when I did some online courses with them. I liked the way the courses were run so efficiently, and I became hooked on e-learning from then on.  This led me to do some online moderation projects run by and on behalf of the Consultants-E, which I enjoy tremendously.  I am currently the tutor on the March E-Moderation course.

February Teacher Interview: Lusine Avetisyan

Hello to all my readers.  I would like to wish all my valuable readers a wonderful New Year … a Lunar New Year that is.  It is now the Year of the Snake and what better way to kick start this Lunar New Year than with another monthly teacher interview, this time with a newly qualified teacher.  This teacher is Lusine Avetisyan.  She has been quite active with the CELTA Facebook Group, which I set up a number of years ago in response to the CELTA Course that I undertook at the British Council in Seoul.  I was so moved by my experiences, that I wanted to continue with correspondence with those candidates from the course and this was a response with the founding of one such group.  It has now grown to over 1,200 members and Lusine was one particular member who was keen to answer some questions for this month’s blog post.  Nevertheless, “Who is Lusine?” I hear you ask.

Lusine Avetisyan is a newly certified English language teacher having recently completed the CELTA Course from Armenia.  She currently holds a BA in Foreign Languages, a graduate from the State Teacher Training University of Armenia, as well as undertook General and Business English courses from St Giles International based in London.  Her interests include languages, travelling, reading and cooking.  She also mentions that she loves photography.

So … let’s get down to the questions about her experiences of teaching.

Tell me how you got into teaching.

It was always funny how I never imagined myself in a teaching career even though I was studying at the State Teacher Training University at that time (2006-2010) unless right after the graduation. I felt I missed something and that was the communication with learners, the strong wish to pass my gained knowledge to others in need of it.  I had internships at local schools and other educational institutions, as well as working for my old school for one year on voluntary bases then and … I just loved it! My biggest step after in my career was the employment as a language instructor at one of the most important organisations in the country from where my actual EFL teacher story began.

I don’t know anything about Armenia.  Could you tell our readers about the country and potential teaching opportunities?

Well … Armenia is a small Christian country that connects Europe to Asia. It the third largest state in the Near East after the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago. Now Armenia is a modern country with nice and talented people, ancient history, historical monuments, traditional hospitality, delicious food, and beautiful nature. RA is a member of the United Nations, Council of Europe and other international organisations.  As for teaching opportunities, being a developing country Armenia is getting more and more connected to the outside world, hence the knowledge of English is getting very important in international relations and business, as well as to be a part of today’s English speaking public. With the requirement of language awareness, teaching is becoming very much in demand nowadays. Consequently, language schools are growing like mushrooms!

Before you completed your CELTA Course, you were teaching as a language instructor for the Ministry of Defence in Armenia.  Could you tell me a bit more about your prior CELTA experience?

My teaching period at the Ministry of Defence of RA gave me an introduction to life as an EFL teacher. The job was quite challenging since I was dealing with officials  holding important roles in the country. I had 3 groups of students with a maximum of 14 students in each. I grew professionally along with each lesson, my materials became more achievable, my lessons got more enjoyable and my students became much better familiarised with the language. The positive results each time gave me the motivation for the upcoming lesson. I absolutely loved teaching there. Being though not familiar with CELTA methods yet, I used to have more traditional approaches to teaching which considerably changed after I took the course in UK and started to follow its advantageous teaching policy. At the moment I conduct my lessons based on the CELTA.

Having recently completed the CELTA, what advice would you give other potential CELTA candidates for the course?

My advice to the candidates would be as follows: forget all your social and private lives for that short period in order to be completely devoted to the course, since it’s really challenging with the massive potential and input on you as an EFL teacher. Be ready for lots of self-study, team-work, and more importantly be open to feedback. The effort is definitely worth the incredible results!

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

You know there are students with behavioural difficulties at times (not always, luckily). There we go, I remember having my, so far one and only classroom crash at the earliest days of my teaching career when I was standing in front of the class so speechless and unfamiliar with how to deal with similar situations. Fortunately,  I handled it well after a while! This served a great lesson as a starter in causing me to do the relevant research on similar cases. Though there are many more fun experiences in the classroom, like being the teacher of a group of doctors so curious to learn every word about body parts!

Do you have any classroom or teacher related New Year resolutions or plans for this year?

Oh yes! This year is going to be fully devoted to teaching – I am planning to get as deep in the field as possible with the relevent work and exchange programmes. So far it’s going smooth and according to the plan.

What do you think are the potential benefits and drawbacks for teacher-centred lessons?

After the CELTA my opinion on this differs hugely to what it was before. I attach much importance to interaction. To my belief, teacher-centred lessons have got more disadvantages than the opposite since students study and enjoy the language when they are encouraged to use it as much as possible and to be able to resolve the language barriers on their own (of course with supervision of the teacher). This gives them the feeling of achievement, whereas teacher-centred lessons may build walls for the students to talk and the chance for them to be a natural user of the language gets less and less. Even though in the earlier years of a teacher-centred policy being adopted, which still is strong in most places in my country, I strongly stand for the former – lessons should be student-centred with the supervision and right monitoring of the teacher.

How would you describe your perfect classroom?

My perfect classroom naturally has got the image filled with all study related aids but because I am familiar with the negative sides of technology and how it can let the teacher down, I prefer making use of mostly the basic tools with the whiteboard being my first best assistant. 

Finally, what advice would you give to newly certified teachers that have just completed their course?

Teachers that have been newly qualified should use every possible opportunity to put their knowledge into practice. Use it or lose it, that’s how it works. Do lots of research. The sooner you start grabbing something and working, the better and more confident you will get in teaching. Even if it’s voluntary, paid or not, just give your best and always plan and conduct your lessons as nicely and thorough as you did during your CELTA course. 

Thank you Lusine for participating in the interview and I wish you the very best of luck for your future teaching career.  It is very interesting to hear your views on interaction and a student-centred classroom.  Next month, we have a very special interview so keep your eyes peeled.  It is really going to be a great interview and I am sure you will really like this special guest for next month.  I will let you know who the special guest interview is nearer March 2013.  Anyhow, best of luck with your teaching this year and if you have any additional questions you would like to ask Lusine, then add your questions in the comments below.  Finally, I haven’t forgotten my lesson plans for this year … I am just taking a break from creating classroom resources for the time being but I will be back with some more resources to share later in the year (having promised myself to focus more on my teaching and less on blogging) … but, as Terminator mentioned in the movie, “I’ll be back” to blogging about lesson ideas in the near future after a little rest and recuperation.

January Teacher Interview: Adam Simpson

I hope my readers had a wonderful Christmas and all the best for the New Year.  I made a few resolutions for this year which I will save writing about for another blog post.  Nevertheless, the first blog post of this month is for the monthly Teacher Interview.  The interview is with Adam Simpson who some may notice from Twitter, Facebook or his wonderful blog “Teach Them English“.  There is some information about Adam below:

Adam has been fortunate enough to spend the last twelve years of his journey as a life long learner working with others in what some call the ‘language classroom’. He is currently privileged to have the opportunity to help young adults meet their educational goals at Sabanci University in Istanbul. His professional interests include flexibility within the curriculum and the considered use of technology in the classroom. He occasionally finds time to blog about his life: www.teachthemenglish.com

So … let’s start off the year with the very first Teacher Interview for 2013.

Tell me how you got into teaching.
A couple of factors got me into the game. Firstly I got into ELT by following what could be called the traditional rite of passage: I was traveling around and it seemed like a good way to start earning some money. Actually, I don’t want to come across as one of those backpackers who ended up getting stuck doing this job. Basically, I was in Istanbul and decided I wanted to stay on a fairly permanent basis. My degree was only going to get me a very poor entry level position if that, so teaching English was the only viable option for a liveable wage.
Which countries have you taught in and which has been your favourite so far?
I’ve only ever taught in Turkey. Twelve years and counting…
You are quite prominent on Twitter and also run quite a successful blog.  What do you see are the benefits, as well as the drawbacks, for teachers who try to gain presence online?
Blogging has totally reinvigorated my career. By having to write something worthwhile for my blog, I had to do something good in class. By doing new things in class I had more opportunities for reflection. These reflections fed into classroom research which led to conference presentations, better lessons and a greater involvement in my students’ learning. These in turn have led to more blog posts, and so on. It has been one giant virtuous circle, which has seen my teaching improve through the action of regularly share my teaching with the wider community.
What is the most memorable thing that has occurred in your teaching career within the classroom?
On the last day of every class I write each person’s name – mine included – on a piece of A4. I tape these to the walls and then require every person in the room to write something nice about each other. Please consider doing this, as it’s a magical experience. The papers I’ve collected with students comments about me are my prized possessions. 
It is now 2013, so Happy New Year.  Do you have any classroom or teacher related New Year resolutions or plans for the next twelve months?
How many do you want! Let me try and focus on a few that might get your readers thinking about what they intend to do with their teaching in the coming year. I set myself a number of targets for this year back in September.
  1. Present at local conferences
  2. Consider specific aspects of my teaching and how I might develop them
  3. Interact with my colleagues more with regards sharing ideas about teaching
  4. Learn new stuff
1) Last year I was fortunate enough to go to both TESOL Arabia and IATEFL in Glasgow, so this year I’ve decided to stick to Turkey and aim to go to five or 6 conferences over the course of the year. So, how am I going to realise this ‘dream’? Firstly, I joined ELT related Facebook groups. There are loads of them now and you can hardly avoid them; many post conference announcements from time to time. Secondly, I signed up to Conference Alerts, an excellent website which enables you to receive a monthly email detailing conferences tailored to the keyword criteria you choose. If you’re planning on doing something similar, think about when you have enough time and where you want to go. Do you want to present? If so, remember that calls for submissions are often many months before the actual event. 
2) During last summer I looked through everything I’d written on my blog and noticed that I wasn’t actually talking about what was going on in my classes as often as I’d planned to when starting it. This is something I hope to remedy this year. You can’t possibly hope to examine every aspect of your teaching constantly, so what I suggest is to think about one thing you want to look at each year. For the next two semesters, I hope to think a bit more critically about how I use technology in the classroom; with specific reference to the TPaCK model (I talked about this in a post on my blog a short while ago).
3) One thing that saddens me is how little time I have to talk to my colleagues about teaching. This might sound like a ridiculous notion, but it’s a surprisingly commonplace phenomenon among teachers. Basically, I just don’t see this changing unless I make a concerted effort to give workshops to my peers. If I’m going to create a forum for idea sharing I’m going to have to do it through workshops. I’ve started this in earnest, just short fifteen minute idea exchanges and it’s going well. My advice would be to always consider sharing what you’re doing in class. OK, some people won’t have the slightest interest in either what you’re doing or in professional development as a whole. Don’t worry about them, do this for those colleagues who will appreciate it. They’ll learn from you and you’ll also get new ideas from them. Oh, and keep it short: don’t feel that you have to have this immaculately planned out 90-minute session. A quick demo of an activity followed by a discussion can work a treat.
4) As part of my reflection on my teaching, I’ve decided to try and up my content knowledge in certain areas. Should I have to? Damn right! As an EAP instructor, I have to know the subjects I’m dealing with, and this includes everything from philosophy through to space exploration and history. Saying, ‘I’m a language teacher; I shouldn’t be expected to know that much about any of these subjects’ isn’t good enough. I’ve decided this year to take advantage in the explosion of MOOCs to develop my knowledge in a number of subject areas. A MOOC, for those not familiar with the term, is a Massive Online Open Course, and they are becoming increasingly available from the world’s top universities. I recently completed my first course via the excellent and highly recommended the Coursera website, an 8-week ‘Introduction to Sustainability’. While this might seem like a strange choice for a language teacher, it actually covers a lot of subjects that I have to teach language through. Consequently, it has built up my background knowledge and thus facilitated a better understanding of what the main issues are. Knowing more means I can teach it better: simple as that. I plan to write up my experiences on my blog some time soon, so that’s all I’ll say on the subject of MOOCs, for now!
Do you think there is something considered as the best method for teaching English for second language learners?
Yes. The best method for teaching is that method that works best with whatever particular class you are teaching. If that sounds like I’m avoiding the question, I’m not. To exemplify, I’d like to mention the two situations I’m working in at present. During the day, I teach teenagers who are in class after three or four hours sleep and so don’t always see the need for learner centeredness. In the evening, I teach adults who want to talk, talk and talk some more. Trying to suggest there is some perfect methodology for these two groups is just crazy. Some would call this principled eclecticism; I’d agree, it the principle is, ‘base your eclecticism on the people you’re teaching and not your personal preferences’.
How would you describe your perfect classroom?
I’ll have to split my answer into the ‘physical’ and the ‘spiritual’ if that’s ok!
The physical: I’ve recently finished a series of posts looking into what makes the perfect physical setting for teaching. If you’re interested, you can find them here.
The spiritual: As a teacher who strives for a positive classroom environment, I tend to focus on a number of elements which include good relationships between all members of the class, deliver lessons inspire all students to learn and grow, set classroom routines that are consistent and clear, and have high expectations for learning. 
Classrooms in which all students feel respected and valued as people and learners will have a positive atmosphere; teachers who set a good example and have high expectations for positive social interactions seem more likely to develop a classroom environment where students feel safe and confident. As far as I’m concerned, we absolutely need to be active in the spiritual sense of the classroom, supervising learning and giving constructive feedback, so that students know that we are a constant positive presence. A teacher with authentic passion for teaching will inspire learners, while teachers who show belief in their learners’ abilities to learn will be rewarded with students who are willing to try harder.
Another fundamental to developing the spiritual classroom is cooperative learning, i.e. those lessons where students work in pairs or small groups to accomplish a learning goal. Each learner should have specific tasks to complete in tandem with the others in the group. However, learners need mentoring in how to work together and encourage each other to reach their goals. We have an important role to play in facilitating effective cooperative learning. 
To create a spiritual classroom environment, we nevertheless need procedures for dealing with classroom activities as well as behaviour issues. Learners need to know what the classroom routines and rules are and what the consequences are for not respecting these. Your structure must be clear and fair. Also, a stepped system of consequences allows learners to adjust their own behavior before the consequences progress to more serious levels. Such systems enable learners to take control of their own behaviour and minimize negative behaviors that lead to a stressful classroom atmosphere.
Finally, what advice would you give to new teachers that have just completed the CELTA or equivalent?
  • Don’t panic and don’t expect too much of yourself. You will go through a learning curve at a fast and frantic pace. Accept the fact that you might give some crap lessons and don’t beat yourself up about it. 
  • Be honest about your experience and don’t be frightened to say you don’t know. As long as you try to find out, people will understand. 
  • Treat the learners as humans and respect their rights as individuals. When they have something on their mind(s), discuss it. However, don’t go over the top trying to be friends with them.
  • Teach the person and not the book. If they suggest something or ask a question, roll with it. Engaging with people is more important than covering material. Nevertheless, be aware that you still have to work according to the requirements of your employer.
  • Don’t make any vows to teach according to a certain ethos or particular method. Remember: you can only really know how a class is going to go when you walk into it. Sometimes people are energetic and motivated, the next day they might not want to do anything: always gauge the class and don’t push on ahead regardless.
  • Don’t take indifference or worse personally. It’s almost certainly not aimed at you.
  • Enjoy it: this job is great.
If you want more advice, check out my Hippocratic Oath for the teachers of the world.

December Teacher Interview: Frances Eales

Frances Eales pictured in Bulgaria

This month’s teacher interview is with Frances Eales.  I met Frances at the last BELTE conference in Brighton.  So a big thank you to Frances for agreeing to be interviewed for this Christmas Teacher Interview.  Frances Eales is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer who has worked in many countries including the UK, Hungary, Germany, Egypt, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Thailand.

She is a co-author of the Cutting Edge series and author of three levels of Speakout, winner of the English-Speaking Union, Duke of Edinburgh 2011 English Language Book Award. She also co-wrote and was a co-ordinator of the British Council/International House Distance DELTA course for experienced teachers and regularly works on the design and assessment of teaching and training exams for Cambridge ESOL.

She is interested in all aspects of language, in task-based learning, the use of authentic video in class, giving and getting feedback, Dogme and e-learning.  She lives near Brighton, UK and loves singing, qi gong, walking, sailing, and in fact anything outdoors.  

So let’s crack on with the interview.

Tell me how you got into teaching.

I’d just finished university and was having a gap year before going on to do a further degree at Cambridge and a friend of mine invited me to his EFL class in Piccadilly Circus. After one hour I was hooked… what was not to like? Communicating with interesting people, being creative, working with language… and traveling too! I immediately jettisoned study plans, enrolled in a four week course and I have never looked back. (My main trainer was Ken Wilson, by the way. I was going to say ‘taught me everything I know’ but that’s not quite true.  Anyway, thanks, Ken!)

What has been your favourite country that you have taught in and why?

That is a really difficult one to answer. I think on a professional and personal level, probably Hungary. I was at IH in Budapest at an interesting time a few years after the fall of communism and the teaching was truly challenging. I remember 7.30 a.m. classes with people from the Ministry of the Environment, mayhem in my first teenagers’ class, struggling with teaching 6 year-olds in the kiddies’ class. Then there were difficult but rewarding language and methodology classes with teachers of Russian who were being forced to retrain as English teachers, evening courses with business people and once a week, trainees on our part-time CELTA courses. Talk about steep learning curves. 

All this was punctuated by Friday afternoons in the Turkish baths, learning my colours in Hungarian on long treks in the forests (the paths are colour-coded), skiing in Slovakia at the weekends, camping in Romania, putting on the first pantomime ever seen in Budapest (much to the bemusement of the students), coffee and cakes in the spectacular coffee shops and swimming outside amongst the chess players and surrounded by the snow in the hot pools at Széchenyi park. These and of course, the life-long friends I met, all made a deep and lasting impression.

You have teacher training experience, could you tell our readers how you got into teacher training?

I worked for many years at IH London and even as a newish teacher became very used to trainee observers in my classes. There was (and is) a fantastic culture in the school of encouraging professional development and I started by giving TD sessions, then became a teaching practice tutor and so on.  If anyone were to ask me how to get into teacher training, I’d advise joining a school that already does some training, and offering to do sessions at staff meetings and/or local conferences and/or developing an online presence, all showing that you are keen to progress into the field. 

You don’t have a blog at the moment but are you planning on blogging in the future?

Not in the foreseeable future. At the moment I don’t feel I can do proper justice to a blog and at the same time maintain a work/life balance.  I’m already in front of a screen too many hours! 

You are quite new to Twitter, aren’t you?  What are the possible benefits and any disadvantages for teachers when using Twitter?

My colleague and friend Antonia Clare had been singing the praises of Twitter for all of a year before I finally joined. I think the benefits for teachers are the exchange of ideas that’s possible, particularly in a chat room such as #ELTChat, which I’ve really enjoyed. Then there’s the chance to share interesting articles or links to blog entries about other teachers’ experiences in different contexts.  And also to meet like-minded colleagues who may then become friends and who one day you may meet up with at a conference or when travelling. 

The disadvantage is pretty evident after even a few hours. It’s the sheer number of tweets; I felt like I was drowning and then found myself becoming anxious because I couldn’t catch them all. So thank you @antoniaclare for pointing me in the direction of tweetdeck to organize the tweets; to @AnthonyGaughan for his advice to bookmark or favourite anything that catches your attention so you can read it at your leisure and to @sandymillin, whose blog entry was so helpful.

You were one of the writers on Cutting Edge and Speakout.  How would you suggest readers to get into materials and coursebook writing?

I think things are changing significantly as publishers adapt to a rapidly digitalised world.  To answer this one, I can’t do better than refer you to a fantastic resource by Lindsay Clandfield where he has put together a number of links and articles on how to get started in writing.

What is the most memorable or unexpected thing that occurred in the classroom?

That’s another impossible question so I’ll give just one memory that has stayed with me because it was a wake-up call and very significant for a naïve and brash young teacher who prided herself on her rapport.
It was in a multi-cultural class in the UK and there was a mature Arabic speaking man in an elementary class – I think he was from the UAE. 

We were talking about families and he said he had two wives and fifteen children.  Cue exaggerated interest and a kind of humorous amazement from me the teacher, ‘What, fifteen children!’  Then pulling the rest of the class into the ‘wow how amazing/strange is that?’ kind of feeling. Even now I cringe when I think of it.  Cultural sensitivity zilch!  

At the end of the lesson this extremely nice man stayed behind and explained to me slowly and seriously in his elementary English that his brother had been killed and so it was his duty to take responsibility and care for his brother’s family, which included marrying the widow and looking after her children.  I felt really ashamed of myself.  It taught me a valuable lesson about respecting other cultures and the disrespect of making assumptions about any other person.  

What are your future plans for the next twelve months?

It looks as if there’s more writing connected with Speakout on the cards. If so, it will be heads down 24/7 for several months and not so much teaching or training. However, I’m also spending time with teachers who’ve been using the books to see if I can help with any issues that have arisen and to listen to how people are finding them in class. This may mean a trip to Argentina and Peru in the spring.  I’m continuing DELTA-related work with Cambridge ESOL. 

At the same time, there’s my family, singing, sailing, qi gong, and a plan to walk the coast-to-coast trail (309 km) across England in late summer. And, of course, Twitter!  Also, I was inspired by Claire Hunter at IATEFL to listen to this.

I thought it was a great idea and in the last few months I’ve joined Facebook, taken up sailing again, joined Twitter, and this month I am currently exploring the whole area of ‘mindfulness’. The next twelve months will be another twelve fresh experiences. Watch this space!

Finally, what advice would you give another teacher that has just completed their CELTA?

Go for whatever experience you can as soon after the course as possible so that you can get some teaching under your belt.  I think each person has to find their own way through that first year of teaching; as in any job, everything’s new and it can be a real roller-coaster. It takes time to begin to feel more confident about language issues, for example.  So ask for help and ideas. ELT staffrooms are usually great places, with teachers who are generous in sharing their experiences and ideas and if you have a Director of Studies, then go to them for help and to check out any problems.

If you’re in a new country, find out about the language, the culture, the students.  You’re bound to make mistakes (I remember my first class sending a deputation to the Director of Studies at the end of my first week complaining that they didn’t understand what was going on!) but you’ll survive and learn from them.

Remember that the people in front of you are people not just students, prepare your content in a professional way but be alert and responsive to what comes up in class. Often that’s when the best learning happens.    And it’s up to you, if you’re that kind of person and feel able, go the extra mile and get involved in the social programme or the clubs or even a pantomime, but look after your own health and well-being too. And enjoy yourself! It’s an amazing job!

Thank you ever so much for the interview (with all the wonderful links) Frances and we wish you a very happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year.  I am sure some of the readers will have some questions which they can leave below.

November Teacher Interview – Bren Brennan

It is wonderful to showcase this month’s teacher interview is with Bren Brennan.  I am hoping to develop an interview (or a day in the life of) with a teacher next month.  If there are any teachers who wish to share their experiences or contribute with an interview, please get in touch.  I am looking for less well-known teachers who have recently started their career.

Nevertheless, Bren initially trained at SGI and joined the staff in 2005. Since late 2006, he has been teaching abroad. He completed the DipTESOL with SGI in 2012. He regularly writes for students and teachers on the SGI blogs. Recently, Bren gave his first conference talk at IATEFL-Hu.

Let’s get started!

  • Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into teaching.

I got into teaching to supplement my income as a musician. I also planned to move to Spain with my girlfriend and did the Trinity Cert TESOL with SGI. I really enjoyed the course and was hired by SGI immediately on finishing and have been with them ever since in various classroom/online guises.

  • You appear to have extensive experience in ELT in various countries.  What advice would you give new EFL teachers when moving to a new country?

I taught for 3 years both in Budapest and Berlin and I’ve been in Spain for nearly a year now. 

  • Update your CV and print out several copies – email is fine for applications but it seems that walking around and appearing in a school at the right time is much more effective at securing a job.
  • Get a good map of the city – Google maps is fine, but you probably won’t have a smartphone local SIM to begin with so it will be VERY expensive to consult the internet for finding a school or in-company teaching job. Be prepared to travel around to in-company courses. However, you may be lucky and get a school where all the courses are held there.
  • Say ‘yes’ to everything to begin with: I’ve had loads of follow-on amazing things happening by taking seemingly “bad” courses (in terms of location/time/students). You also have to get your ‘foot in the door’ with schools by showing you are enthusiastic and willing!

  • You have been blogging on the SGI website.  Describe to our readers what are the benefits to blogging?

I write almost daily blogs for students www.stgeorges.co.uk/blog (an article/video/audio with some kind of vocabulary/grammar focus) which in turn results in:

You become much quicker at making lesson content.
Your lesson content becomes more varied and dynamic.
By being more internet involved/savvy, you become part of a global PLN where you can easily access myriad resources that are great for lesson resources.
You become aware of classroom technology that can spice up your lessons and motivate your students.

I also write for newbie teachers at http://www.tesoltraining.co.uk/blog/

Making lesson plans keeps me permanently searching for new ideas for classroom content, which I hope benefits my students, as I use those lesson plans for some of my classes too.  Dishing out advice on basics like error correction, grouping students etc keeps me in touch with good fundamentals.  Every article I write, be it lesson plans or whatever, is a process of reflection on teaching practices, which surely has to be a good thing in terms of self-improvement as a teacher.

  • You have been involved in writing up a blog for students.  What difficulties have you faced when developing and organising learners to read your student blog?

Making people aware of it! It’s fine getting my own students involved and they seem to genuinely enjoy the content. The problem is getting “the world” to notice!  🙂

Other teachers seem reluctant to pass on the message. I don’t know why – perhaps they just can’t be bothered to spend some extra time out of the classroom looking at my materials and maybe they think it is just something i do as a hobby. When they have used a particular blog post (e.g. How to pronounce -ed endings) after I have given them a specific recommendation due to a staffroom request, they have reported that it was great content.

I won’t lie – it’s difficult getting more viewers who don’t know me personally as a teacher.

With my own students though, they have no problem in accessing and reading blogs and then we use that knowledge in subsequent lessons. However, with commenting it’s a case of ‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” – students are quite timid with leaving comments.

  • How would you go about incorporating technology within the curriculum of an English course?

It would be very high up on the list! Unless there was a specific reason why technology must not be included (e.g. I taught several courses in Germany with pensioners that were very old-school and didn’t use email or even know what google was! Also you may be in a country where students have no access to technology) then technology should be key to your lesson content in my opinion.

I would incorporate authentic videos and audio into all parts of the syllabus/every lesson.

If in an environment of all students having access to the internet, I would also use technology heavily for homework tasks in a ‘connected classroom” manner.

Paper-based classes seem a bit old-hat to me and there are so many fantastic online tools to use and abuse, I think that a modern teacher has to be utilise new software to make lessons interesting, relevant and motivating. It’s 2013 soon – gotta be tech savvy.

  • What’s the most memorable or unexpected thing that has occurred in the classroom?

There have been many, many great moments. If I was forced to choose one, I would probably say it was the court case lesson. With a small group of 20-something Upper Int students in London, I made a lesson where all students had a role within a court case (judge, defendant, lawyers etc). They went for it like crazy! Lawyers were pacing up and down and using accusatory language (just like in the movies), defendants got agitated and defensive, the judge was pontificating. The entire class played their roles out in an incredible way and they were clearly loving it. I wish I had filmed it!

  • Please describe any future plans or aims you wish to achieve in the next twelve months.

I made my conference speaking debut at IATEFL-Hu in October. I would like to attempt more of that.  I have lots of plans to expand the learning resources on my school blogs and need to implement those – with a bit of help from some developers whose IT knowledge is greatly needed! 🙂

  • Finally, what advice would you give another teacher that has just started teaching?

Incorporate as much as you can from your initial teacher training – it’s all good stuff.
Be honest – if  a student asks a grammar question that you don’t know the answer to, say so. Say you can’t think of a good example off the top of your head and you’ll look it up and get back to them in the next lesson – and make sure you do!

Don’t overplan – tendency is to stay up all night planning lessons and worrying. Have some faith in yourself and your students. Plan a good outline but leave space within it for those magic moments in class. Don’t try to control every second of every lesson. Students need space to be able to attempt some new language – give them that time and space. You can hold a conversation, can’t you? Leave time for students to attempt normal conversation with you (however, that doesn’t mean just chat aimlessly!).

Avoid the “What did you do at the weekend?” question! As soon as you say this, the students take in dip in motivation and energy. More often than not, the students have sat in more English lessons than you have and have experienced this question from lots of “traveller teachers” who didn’t know how to teach and this was their go-to starter for aimless chatting with no relevant learner outcomes.  Put yourself in the learners’ shoes as much as possible. What is their knowledge gap that you need to help them with?

Get students to do some work! Make sure they note down all new vocab in every lesson – maybe set up monthly testing on that new vocab (if their learner style suits that). As a newbie, I started out writing down all the vocab at the end of every lesson and it took me a while to realise that I was the only one doing it! I was recycling the vocab over the next lesson/s and throughout the year, but actually it was more effective when the students wrote down the vocab themselves and started recycling it on their own. Get the students to take ownership of the language.

Enjoy it. Enjoy the cultural differences. Have a positive attitude. Millions of people sitting in offices would love to have the variety of your day, so don’t focus too much on the low pay!

Thanks so much Bren for your contribution and if any of the readers have a question towards Bren, as always please leave a comment below.
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