Experiences of an English Language Teacher

January Teacher Interview: Nik Peachey

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

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

Now let’s start the much anticipated interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What would be the perfect teachers’ room?

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

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

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

6. What is the secret when teaching young learners?

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

7. What was your first lesson like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you ever so much for your answers Nik!

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