Our school environments are like landscapes of possibilities and suggestions. Each child is, therefore, capable, creative and intelligent. Our ELT Forum speaker Marta Bujakowska thinks of teaching as supporting the learners’ qualities and challenging them in appropriate ways, because our students need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, eyes and ears.
Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): As a freelance teacher and teacher trainer, you are doing many different things. Which of all the positions you hold is your favourite?
Marta Bujakowska (MB): I like equally all the things I do. After I left a school where I’d taught for seven years, I started missing teenagers so much that I found a way to fulfill my desire, and now I teach international teenagers in a summer language school for a couple of weeks every summer. Nowadays I think I like working with teachers most. I can share my experience and learn some new things from them and look at teaching with fresh eyes.
SCET: Tell us more about your studies in the USA. In what way has the US environment influenced your teaching practice?
MB: The School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont is a very special school. It is truly International with a capital I. Learner Autonomy has interested me for a very long time, and I found out that it is very closely connected with Reflective Teaching, which I learned more about at SIT in Brattleboro. The program there was a very natural next step in my professional development. It was definitely not a revolution but rather taking a next step in a very harmonious and balanced way. Because the school is very and truly international it opened my eyes much wider and helped me see beyond Great Britain, the US, and other English-speaking countries. It helped me better appreciate other countries with their beautiful and rich cultures. I started learning there how international the English language has become. This view helps me with my everyday work and my voluntary work for IATEFL Poland.
SCET: What are the positive aspects of working as an English teacher in a totally different culture, and why would you recommend any teacher go and teach abroad?
MB: As I mentioned before and as we all know, travelling broadens the mind. I would go a little further and say: travelling is the best teacher of life. Of course, there are some conditions like culture shock that can be difficult challenges, but they also enable us to learn new things and appreciate our own culture.
More generally, I think that teachers who have an opportunity to work in a different culture feel less lonely. They see that many teachers share the same or similar challenges and sharing experiences with them is something that can really enrich every teacher’s professional life.
SCET: You travel a lot while teaching. Which country did you like the most as an EFL teacher? What was the most memorable experience you’ve had while teaching abroad – the one that has made a long-lasting impact on you?
MB: This is a very difficult question to answer. I will try to explain why. Wherever I go to teach, train, or present I love being there at the moment. I feel enchanted by the people and new places. I want to learn so much and understand many aspects of life in a given country that I never have time to compare where I am with other places. It would take me a long time to list all the things I have learned in each place I have visited and I wouldn’t like to miss any; so, perhaps one day I will write a book about my experience.
SCET: How would you define yourself as an educator?
MB: This is even more difficult because I am not good at defining myself. 🙂 I’ll try to explain that. My father has told me many times that teaching runs in my veins, and now I understand what he means. After high school I didn’t want to become a teacher; I was rather thinking of Polish literature and theatrical studies. However, after I hadn’t got a place at university, I graduated from Tourism Service College. In the meantime, I’d spent a couple of months in London and attended language school there. I fell in love with English and then I started thinking of teaching it.
I have always felt in the right place since. There was one incident in my life when I suddenly felt I was losing balance. It was when I was running my own language school and started to be involved in administrative work more and more which left me not enough time to teach. It scared me so much that I decided to stop running the school and started working completely freelance. However, I always cooperate with other teachers and schools. When I think about myself as an educator I cannot possibly separate that from who I am as a person. I don’t have two lives: one private and the other professional. It’s one self-contained whole. I am never tired of teaching and the same applies to my private life. I am married and we have five grown-up children and two grand-children. I love their company!
SCET: What do you do to develop your own teaching skills, and where do you get new ideas for your own teaching?
MB: I learn from my students through a reflection process through which I find out what helps or hinders their learning. I learn a lot from other teachers or student-teachers whom I supervise every winter. They are all so resourceful. Sometimes I attend conferences or workshops where I exchange experiences with my colleagues. I read professional magazines like Voices, Humanising Language Teaching, ELGazzette or IATELF PL Newsletters and Bulletins, and also Newsletters of our partner organizations. But, to be honest, I always learn more directly from people.
SCET: Based on your teaching experience, how do you see the future of English teachers in Central Europe?
MB: I can see the change coming. What I think is that we need to make this change even faster. There are many wonderful educational places and great English teachers around who are active and think of a learner first, not forgetting about the learning matter or themselves. In many places however, especially in the public sector at all levels, there still exists this anachronistic way of looking at learning and learners where teachers think they have all the knowledge and power over their students.
Sometimes I hear or see things that really upset me. Yesterday in a school I visited, a boy of maybe 7 or 8 asked a teacher: “Excuse me sir, I didn’t understand what we need to do now.” The teacher replied: “I have already told you. You should have listened more carefully”. It really hurts, it breaks my heart… We need to think deeply and change our style, approach, understanding… Once we understand that teaching is subordinate to learning everything becomes easier. Learners will learn anyway, of course, but why not help them, stand by, and assist in the process. Life is so much nicer then.
We talk a lot about technology replacing teachers. Can you really imagine that? I can’t. Of course, we need to accept technology and incorporate it in our teaching, make friends with it even though we feel a little isolated or even illiterate at times. Our students are great teachers. Why not use their skills to help us learn new things?
SCET: Tell us more about your involvement with IATEFL Poland. What duties does it include and what do you like about it? Are there any challenges in your job?
MB: Officially I have been with IATEFL POLAND since 1994. Before I could attend the first conference, I took part in many workshops organized by Ela Jarosz in Kraków on behalf of IATEFL Poland, where I took my first steps as a teacher and learner. At my first conference in Kielce in 1994, we decided to form a new region and a teacher was appointed to be in charge of it. Then she went abroad and asked me if I could do her job. I did. I was involved in YL SIG and AL SIG for many years simultaneously. However, when I became president, I thought it would be too much and I didn’t feel comfortable holding two positions at the same time. Therefore, I asked a colleague to take over the post of Regional Representative. She has been successfully running the region since. I didn’t last as president till the end of my term due to poor health, and we had an acting president then. I had a short break from being an active member, but a couple of years ago, I attended another conference in Warsaw and was elected a Liaison Officer. Now I am in my second term. My job is to start up and maintain good relations with IATEFL partner associations. I look for new partners, talk to them, negotiate and sign agreements, and sometimes receive rejection for many different reasons. Then, I keep in touch with our partners, inviting them or reminding them about our conference. I also deal with exchange of materials and look after the delegates once they attend our event. At the moment we collaborate with 22 partners, and I always hope to host many of their representatives at our annual conference. Our members are also entitled to represent us at our partners’ events. When they decide to apply for a grant, I also deal with it and guide them through the procedure. I feel very much at home doing this job even though I am sure I make mistakes. I treat it as yet another process of learning.
Challenges! Yes, there are some challenges that I am trying to overcome with the help pf my co-IATEFLers. They need to remind me of deadlines for submitting documents like reports or settling the bills. This is an administrative part which I mentioned before that I need to learn. I find it really challenging. My post necessitates contacting people. Even now in the technology era, I strongly believe in face-to-face contact. It is invaluable. Very often I “know” someone through the internet but it makes a big difference when I finally meet that person face to face. That is why I travel a lot and some people, who do not quite understand the character of my work, may feel a little envious. Travelling looks very attractive, and I find it very attractive myself including many adventures I have had on the road. Some are funny or a little dangerous, but they have a happy ending. I always meet nice, friendly people who help me.
Because I believe that teachers should feel their self-development is insatiable and that they should support one another in searching for new challenges, I follow this path myself through IATEFL Poland.
Marta Bujakowska is a freelance teacher and teacher trainer from Poland with a strong intercultural focus. She holds a TEFLA Certificate from International House, studied English at Silesian University in Poland and obtained her MA in Teaching from SIT in Vermont, USA. In her career she has taught all ages and levels. Nowadays she works with teachers, teenagers and adult learners of English. Marta has been with IATEFL POLAND since 1994. At present she holds the position of Liaison Officer who starts up and maintains good relations with IATEFL partner associations. She believes that teachers should feel their self-development is insatiable.