An Interview by Martina Bednáriková, Part 1
Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Enthusiastically continuing the challenge of training future English teachers at Comenius University in Bratislava, Gabriela Lojová has literally infused her life with action in order to make the future a better place. Although it has not always been easy, she believes that only by setting our sights high and working hard can we enrich our world. Her message? No change can be made without hope and confidence. And do not forget – you’ve got to love it to be able to handle it.
Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): As a university instructor, you do many different things. Could you give us some insight into your work, and what you enjoy about it?
Gabriela Lojová (GL): Yes, our work is really very varied and multifaceted: First of all, it’s teaching and other kinds of communication with students, facilitating their work via tutoring, consultations, supervising their theses (diploma, dissertation) etc. That can quite often be more time consuming than teaching itself. Preparation for teaching is also quite demanding, as we have to keep up with the latest developments in the field of our expertise and write study materials. So, naturally, we are supposed to read and study professional literature, periodicals and internet articles. Quite often we run workshops, seminars, and give lectures within in-service teacher training.
An inseparable part of our work is our own research. We design and carry out research projects. And then we have to publish the research findings as a book or an article in a periodical, present them at national and international conferences, and incorporate them into our teaching. We also participate in various projects, work as members of various professional organizations, sit on committees and examination boards… And, of course, there is an unbelievable amount of administration related to our work, most of which is incredibly time-consuming, tiring and demotivating.
Sounds quite frightening, doesn’t it? …but I really do love my work. More than anything, I enjoy teaching and communicating with students. Well, apart from giving examinations and correcting tests. Administrative duties come far down the ladder of my favourite things to do.
SCET: As a teacher trainer, you help experienced teachers develop their teaching style and expertise. What do you do to develop your own teaching skills, and where do you get new ideas for your own teaching? How do you motivate yourself when you need it?
GL: Reading professional literature and articles, attending conferences, communicating and exchanging experience with my colleagues: all these things help me to stay motivated.
The best way to develop my own teaching skills, however, is undoubtedly by observing other teachers using different approaches and techniques, seeing how they communicate and behave in a classroom, and how students respond and interact. As an observer, you see the students form a totally different perspective, which provokes thoughts and ideas that may not have occurred to you before. Seeing what’s happening at various universities in different countries is invaluable to my growth as a teacher trainer, as well. I’ve always tried to seize every opportunity to utilize the freedom of movement that EU projects provide us.
And then there are my students, particularly the in-service teacher trainees I work with… communicating with and listening to them almost always pushes me forward. They are experienced in different ways, they talk about their everyday classroom problems, ask questions they need answers to…. They provide me with a lot of feedback to modify my teaching. That means that my lessons are quite often different from my plans 🙂
And it is my students that motivate me most. Any kind of positive feedback is the strongest motivation. Once you feel that your work is useful and can help students move forward either professionally or personally, it’s worth coming to work the next day.
SCET: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that teacher trainers are facing in our university programs? What strategies are there to deal with them?
GL: Apart from the biggest challenge of persuading students – the good ones in particular – to actually go into teaching, there is another fundamental challenge: To get teachers-to-be to think differently, so that they will not simply follow their traditional role models (who still seem to dominate teaching styles in our schools) and so become traditional teacher-centred or content-driven teachers. The challenge is to help them become more humanistic, i.e. learner-centred teachers who will be able to teach English in a more enjoyable and effective way… that they would be teachers who understand their learners and adapt teaching to their needs, interests and capabilities and develop their self-confident communicative competence by utilizing all the potential found in each learner – this is my deepest belief!
There are various ways to deal with the challenges. I think the most effective is to not allow my students to memorize facts that they are not able to think about, analyze and apply to real life. That can sometimes be really difficult. Still many students find memorization easier as it’s what they’ve been doing their whole lives. But personalization and introspection work miracles: Getting students to think about themselves and analyze how they learn; what works or doesn´t work for them and why; retrieving their primary and secondary school experiences (particularly the negative ones) and analyzing why they failed and how it could have been avoided …for many of them it is a kind of eye-opener and I consider that the starting point for becoming a good learner-centred teacher.
SCET: Based on the current situation in Slovak education as well as your teaching experience at Comenius University, how do you see the future of English teachers in Slovakia?
GL: Even though I have worked in education in Slovakia my entire adult life, I am still optimistic. I keep hoping that the financial situation will gradually improve so that good and enthusiastic teachers will be able to do their jobs to their full potential and enjoy it without having to take on extra jobs for survival. I am hoping that more and more English teachers will use the enriching and motivating opportunities that EU projects and mobilities provide. I also believe in the newly established Slovak Chamber of English Teachers and believe that – with the enthusiastic, great people who established it – it has great potential to do good for Slovak education.
Gabriela Lojová is an associate professor at the Department of the English Language and Literature of the Faculty of Education, Comenius University in Bratislava. Apart from teaching courses on English grammar, her research interests and educational activities are focused primarily on applied psycho-linguistics, psychology of foreign language learning and teaching, and FL teacher training. Her work aims at the humanization of FLT, and looking for more effective ways of teaching English. Professor Lojová’s books include ‘Foreign language grammar teaching: theory and practice’, ‘Individual differences in foreign language learning?, ‘Learning styles and strategies in foreign language teaching’ (with Kateřina Vlčková) and ‘Theoretical foundations of teaching English in primary education’ (with Zuzana Straková). Professor Lojová was a Fulbright Lecturer/Scholar at Montclair State University, NJ, where she taught a course on SLA Methodology.