March Teacher Interview: 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:
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.