It has been a wonderful year so far at ELT Experiences with the addition of two new authors and the number of teacher interviews providing such a unique and interesting spin on English Language Teaching throughout the world. This month we have a special interview from a teacher who is based in Poland. Anthony Ash (@Ashowski) read German and Spanish at Northumbria University and graduated in the summer of 2010. He did his CELTA at IH Wroclaw. His first teaching job was in Dresden, Germany, where he worked for one year. He then worked for 2 years in Poznan, Poland, while completing his MA in English Linguistics. He is currently working as the Senior Teacher at IH Torun, Poland.
- Could you please tell our readers know how you got into English teaching.
During my school days, we were often encouraged to consider our future. I always saw myself going into teaching, namely state school teaching. I even did work experience and practicals in British state schools. However, as I reached the mid-point of my degree, I felt the time had come to take a gap year. One day, I found myself in Madrid and decided to stay but I quickly realised my money wouldn’t last forever. Suddenly, it dawned on me to offer English lessons. From there on in I was hooked…
- What advice would you give teachers who are planning to teach in Poland?
My main advice depends on why you’ve gone into teaching. If you teach because you need money while travelling, you’ll do fine in Poland. However, if you’re serious about ELT, then you have two choices. You could find an IATEFL-approved school which will encourage your continued professional development. Alternatively, you could end up at a ‘mickey-mouse’ school where the word CELTA means nothing, however, you can still continue your professional development by reflecting on your lessons, your teaching, and doing a little reading.
- Could you tell us about a lesson that didn’t work or failed with learners? What did you learn from this experience?
I’ve had many lessons or parts of lessons which haven’t worked as I expected. Although it hurts initially as you see it failing before your eyes, I must admit these situations are a blessing in disguise, as they quickly show you how to do things differently next time. For example, I once put together an activity which was designed to get my teenagers talking about their written work. I put 10 strips of paper around the room with sentences from their written work. In pairs, they were to walk around the room, write down the original and discuss how to improve it. What they actually did was walk around the room individually, write down all the originals, sit down at their seats, chose which they thought were wrong and correct them individually and then peer-check. Not at all what I wanted. Why didn’t it work? My instructions were not clear and I didn’t model the task.
- Tell us about a learner who has inspired you.
I walked into a marketing business in Poznan. It was the first day of the course. All the learners were very enthusiastic, apart from one, who approached me and said in Polish that they hadn’t even studied English before and won’t be any good in class. She made the biggest effort during the course and I stood in awe at watching her go from False beginner to Intermediate in 6 months. She was a contentious learner, forcing herself to learn outside the classroom. Her determination was simply inspiring.
- Do you have any plans for 2014?
I’ll continue working at IH Torun for the rest of the school year and then I’ll go on holiday – the plan is to tour Italy for 2 weeks with my best friend. I’ll spend most of the summer of 2014 teaching English for Academic Purposes at Newcastle University.
I would like to do the IH Young Learners Certificate in September 2014 and then go off to do DELTA Module 2 – I’ve just begun DELTA Module 1 this year. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit that into teaching but there’s a DELTA course at IH Buenos Aires I’d like to attend. Maybe 2014/2015 will see me flying off to another continent?
- How would you describe the role of the teacher and learner outside of the classroom?
Outside the classroom I don’t think there is much connection between the teacher and the learner – we’re not their friends – however, I think the teacher is someone who should be helping learners to become more independent learners outside the classroom.
- Do you feel there is more pressure these days with learners having to perform in reference to modern communicative approaches to teaching?
Absolutely! When we look back at previous methods and approaches, such as the Direct Method or the Grammar-Translation method, learners were very passive in lessons. It’s unfortunate that such methods continue to be used in the 21st century around the world. Even in Poland I have spoken to learners (quite recently) who had attended courses which were so Teacher-Centered that the learners didn’t even have to say a word in the lessons!
- What are your opinions of video in the language classroom?
I am very supportive of using technology in the classroom in general – I often use my iPad when presenting new images to my Young Learners and I sometimes let them play language games on it when they have finished early. I think video, unlike an iPad, is much more universally applicable – there isn’t a learner out there who is afraid of videos. I think it’s important when planning lessons to consider the ‘fun factor’ – learning doesn’t have to be a contentious effort, we can learn just as well (if not better) unconsciously, applying language while having fun. Videos can do precisely that – learners become engaged in the content of the video while unwittingly practising their language.
- What advice would you give to budding language teachers on the CELTA Course?
CELTA is the hard part – it’s all down hill when you finish! CELTA for me was incredibly difficult, full of long nights working on plans and assignments. Full-time teaching isn’t at all like that, it’s a pleasure and great fun.
- Finally, does a messy board equal a messy teacher?
It depends really. You could have a messy board and a well-organised teacher. Vice-versa is also possible. However, what is probably more realistic is that all teacher sometimes have messy/chaotic work and other times not – it depends on the lesson.