An Interview with Frank Prescott by Martina Bednarikova – Part 1
Frank Prescott (who is presenting on the ELT Forum conference June 7th) knows that the function of education is to teach two essential things: to think intensively and to think critically. So, the best thing you can do as a teacher is develop your students’ passion for learning. If you do, they will never cease to grow.
Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Tell us the story behind your life in Hungary. How did you come to move there? And have you always wanted to teach?
Frank Prescott (FP): The story of my life in Hungary is too long to tell here, but I’ll give you the basic facts. I moved to Budapest in November 1995 and I’ve been here ever since. Now I live in Transylvania as well in the summer and at Christmas – that’s where my wife comes from. I moved here because I wanted to try living abroad and Hungary seemed like an interesting place, quite different from the UK but with a very attractive culture and a fantastic capital city. Now I feel very at home here.
Teaching English made it possible for me to survive when I first arrived in Budapest – a typical native speaker story – but I hadn’t always wanted to be a teacher. Like a lot of young people who go to university, for a long time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I tried several things before I decided to do a post-graduate teacher-training course in Edinburgh, and it was while I was doing that that I did a supplementary TESOL course, but actually I learned how to teach EFL on the job, so to speak. At first I was very raw: I remember learning about the Present Perfect the night before I had to teach it in an early morning class. I was a classic “one chapter ahead of the students” type of teacher. You could say that I “fell” into teaching and I never managed to get out again, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else now, and there’s nothing else I really want to do, apart from maybe writing, but that’s mostly about teaching, too.
SCET: You have been working as a university lecturer. What do you like about your job and why? Is there anything you dislike? When it comes to preparation, how long does it take you to get ready for a lesson?
FP: I was lucky enough to get a job at one of Hungary’s most prestigious universities through my flatmate at the time, who was already working there and told me there was an opening. I’m very happy I did because it’s at the university that I’ve really found my forte as a teacher. I love working with groups of young people who are setting out on an exciting new stage of their life, one that often sees them taking big steps intellectually and discovering what they are really interested in. I also enjoy helping them learn the discipline of organising their ideas in high level writing, and beyond that, I like helping them in the process of adjusting to life in the new academic factory, a very different kind of academic factory from the one they have come from at school.
One thing I really don’t like at university is giving lectures because in a lecture there’s generally only one person talking and there’s not much interaction with the students, but mercifully I have to give very few lectures. Nowadays, I really don’t see the need to give lectures in person at all – they could be given much more effectively and comfortably as online talks (that’s what the so-called MOOCs usually are). The classroom is the place that I like to be: that’s where all the exciting stuff happens. The interaction, unpredictability and sheer fun of the classroom life of a good group is what makes teaching so rewarding and it should be at the centre of education, not just language learning. When it works well, the dynamics of classroom life cannot be reproduced satisfactorily online.
When it comes to preparing for classes, it’s very hard to say exactly how long it takes because it’s an ongoing process. Of course, in courses that I’ve taught before it’s much easier, but I’m always looking to improve my materials and to keep everything as up-to-date as I can. I keep a notebook with me all the time when I’m teaching – I call it my Memory Book – and I jot down important notes about each class, but very often good ideas come to me for the next class in a course when I’m actually in the current class, and I like to write them down straight away (I use a little image of a shining lightbulb to indicate a new idea). I find that my best thinking for the next class is often done right after the previous class. Generally, I can say that thinking about how to make my classes productive is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a teacher for me. I like to “borrow” things from colleagues as well, and of course, the students themselves are important resources in lots of ways. It’s always good to ask them for their ideas, too.
SCET: You have been a member of IATEFL Hungary organizing committee for the past 3 years. What duties and responsibilities do you have? What do you like about organizing such a huge event?
FP: My main responsibility when it comes to organising the conference is to take care of the individual speakers, but we are all involved in lots of other smaller and larger tasks both before and during the conference. For instance, two years ago I was the MC for all the announcements over the three days because the guy who was supposed to be doing it dropped out at the last moment, and last year I found myself in charge of the student helpers, which was great fun.
Apart from the conference, I have many different hats which I wear at different times, some of which fit me better than others. I am the coordinator of the Culture and Literature Special Interest Group, which I enjoy very much, but I am also responsible for being the “All SIGs coordinator”, a job which I think I’m not so proficient in, but which I ended up being responsible for because there was nobody else to do it. In small voluntary organisations like teaching associations that sort of thing is likely to happen – everybody has to step up to do things they never reckoned on doing sometimes. Of course, being a native speaker I’m often called on to do proofreading and I also wrote the editorial for the last issue of our magazine. Another key area
that I’m involved in is working with our
Regional Branches. For the past two years we’ve being trying to promote more activity outside the capital. It’s difficult and the progress is slow but I think it’s very important for a teaching organisation to try and reach teachers all over the country. I hope to be able to devote more time to this aspect of my work over the summer.
Basically time is our biggest problem – there’s never enough of it. The work of a committee is perpetual and there’s always more to do, but it can be very rewarding to work with other motivated people and to meet teachers at home and abroad as well as famous professionals. Of course, the annual conference is very exciting and it’s a great feeling when you see another conference come together, but it’s only a small part of what we do, and organising other events and speaking to teachers who don’t know us and persuading them to become part of the organisation is perhaps what I find most enjoyable about working for IATEFL-Hungary.
More from Frank soon…watch this space!
Frank Prescott has lived in Hungary for the last 19 years, teaching first in private language schools and then as a lecturer in a large university in the capital. He spends most of his time teaching academic writing, applied linguistics and English in the media to undergraduates. He’s just finished a PhD in language pedagogy and for the past three years has been on the organising committee of IATEFL-Hungary.
Workshop: THE WRITE STUFF
4 SKILLS/GR/VO/PRON/ICT – UPPER Secondary/Adults – B2 – TEACHERS W/ SOME EXPERIENCE
SATURDAY 13:15-14:15 in CANBERRA