ELTforum.sk Conference 2015

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Nina Hanáková: Be Playful

Nina Skyping with Anita Adnan. They’ve only ever met once and will meet the 2nd time to give a talk together at eltforum.sk 2014.

An interview by Martina Bednáriková

Teaching with books often results in our learners’ puzzled looks. On the other hand, the spoken word might be not enough, because it is often lost from one’s mouth to the other’s ear. So, how to teach in effectively? Nina Hanáková will be presenting a few of her ideas on the subject together with Anita Adnan, this Friday, June 6 at ELTForum.sk 2014. In the meantime, don’t forget to play!

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Your concept of teaching without coursebooks is still quite unique in our educational system. What do you as a teacher enjoy about it?

Nina Hanáková (NH): I am sorry to immediately react to one of the words in your question but I find it important to say this: It baffles me that teaching without coursebooks is something people consider unique, revolutionary, unspoken of. This is how we all lea
rn our first languages! So all I am doing is trying to copy that process.

I admit that raising a child (my daughter is 4 now) has helped me to realize all this, it has helped me to go back to the roots, back to my childhood and do things the simple way. But anyone can do that, we don´t need coursebooks to learn a foreign language! All we need is to surround ourselves with as much target language as possible and have someone around who helps us with the process and brings us back up when the motivation goes down.

What I like most about being there for others is to see how their confidence grows. How they are falling in love with English, something they used to be afraid of and didn’t know how to approach. Now they are proactive, taking initiative and even encourage people around them to do the same. It’s infectious and I am determined to spread that infection until something better comes along.

SCET: Tell us more about your online Skype lessons. How did you get to teaching via skype? Why would you recommend any teacher to start teaching via Skype? Can you tell us more about the reactions of your own students to it?

Skyping with teacher trainees in Malaysia

NH: I use Skype to coach individuals and to transfer myself to other countries and classrooms with my international colleagues. I started teaching via Skype when one of my individual students was sick but didn’t want to miss our lessons. This was back in the day, when I was still teaching with coursebooks. So we both turned our cameras on, had the book in front of us and followed the lesson plan as if we were in the same room together. As time went by I slowly started using more online resources with her – we were both online after all! – until I realized all that the book was doing was give us structure. I also realized the student was practising more listening skills than ever as she couldn’t really see my mouth (the webcam is always a little slower) and nothing was distracting her. It also gave her more autonomy as she started looking for stuff online that was most relevant to her and that she enjoyed. Now I mainly teach with the webcam off, it makes the student focus better on what we are doing and what I am saying, a very important skill in the language learning process. Not focusing enough is why we don’t learn a language as fast and as effectively as we could.

I could talk for hours about why coaching via Skype works. Apart from saving a lot of travel time and being able to have a lesson even when you are a bit sick, it brings you and the student much closer together because it feels like you are on the phone with a good friend. Browsing different websites, using online dictionaries, watching and discussing videos/photos, quickly Googling whatever it is you need, make the learning much more fun, much more real. And noting down mistakes has never been easier, with the camera off the student is not nervous you are constantly recording their mistakes. To me Skype is a great tool to make the learning process more natural. And although some students are a bit hesitant at first, they soon discover the great potential of learning via Skype and many even keep working with Skype in their professional life.

EnglishBrno pub night

SCET: Tell us more about your EnglishBrno Pub Nights. What does such a pub night with you look like and why do you think it is useful for learners?

NH: I started the pub nights soon after I dumped the coursebooks. Since then I’ve managed to organize 11 of them, at first we had 20 participants, now there are usually 60 – 100. The idea is to bring my students together with the growing international community of Brno, drink, chat and have fun – in short: to give everyone an opportunity to make English-speaking friends. There is no special programme, sometimes we have a band or a dj, sometimes we play a silly game, but mostly it’s about hanging out like you would if you lived abroad. The students can practise their speaking skills in natural environment, they broaden their horizons by discussing things with people from different cultures and they are one step closer to feeling more confident about their English speaking skills. Then it’s much easier for them in the working environment to make that international phone call or speak up at a business meeting conducted in English. There´s nothing more rewarding for me than seeing my students conquer their fear of speaking English in the real world.

SCET: Tell us more about your own teachers. In what way did they help you learn when you were a student? How did they influence you as a person or the way you teach?

NH: To be honest I don’t have the best memories of school, it was extremely boring for me, although I had good grades at school. Because that’s what you did in my family. So I crammed unnecessary stuff, struggled with maths and chemistry and loved languages and social sciences. When my high school years were over I thought now I would finally study what I loved the most – languages, at university. A very similar thing happened though, tons of useless things to learn that I immediately forgot, many essays to write, something I wasn’t good at, and oh my, was I one happy girl when all this was over. As Ken Robinson says, universities just breed university professors, they don’t prepare us for life.

I do have fond memories of several teachers though. They were the ones who stood out, they were the misfits in a sense. Those who went the extra mile to make sure we understood what they wanted us to learn. My French teacher from elementary school who organized our very first exchange trip to France in 1992, my Czech teacher at grammar school – the great poet Jan Slíva, and three university professors in Olomouc where I graduated from English and Dutch philology – Libor Práger, David Livingstone and Václav Řeřicha.

SCET: What do you do to develop your own teaching skills? Where do you get new ideas for your own teaching?

Singing with Chris

Singing with Chris

NH: I am CELTA certified. That course gave me a good basis for working with groups. But other than that I am not a big fan of ELT methodology seminars, they are often too stiff for me.  I find my way of teaching to be more about life than just the language itself so the most inspiration I get is from personal growth literature, videos and workshops. The most recent workshop I went to was on the topic of intuitive pedagogy. We were kids again, just playing and having fun and learning from each other by making mistakes. These types of activities are very inspiring for both my personal and my professional life, as they
often blend in one.

My other important source of inspiration is my own students. I get most creative while I am teaching, I just love the process of going into the unknown and letting the students do the discovering. I am there with them but hardly ever as a teacher in the traditional sense. As my dear colleague David Deubelbeiss says, “When one teaches, two learn.” Recently I have been completely infatuated by the research done by Sugata Mitra. I am now playing with his self-organized learning environment ideas and the students love it.

And last but not least, I get inspired by my colleagues, those who I work with and those who I watch from afar online. If I could name just one from each category, it would definitely be my colleague Chris Barickman, the teacher I have been working with the longest, and Scott Thornbury, the founder of Dogme.

SCET: You are very active on social media. Why is it useful for teachers to read and follow ELT blogs or be active on Facebook? How do you as a teacher profit from it?

NH: Yes, I am very active on social media, I blog and follow other ELT blogs and Facebook posts from those I admire. Building your PLN (personal learning network) has never been easier. It gives you a sense of belonging, a safe place to go when you need help, encouragement or inspiration. With social media like Facebook and Twitter the world has become smaller even in our field. It is so interesting for me to see that over in Malaysia they have to deal with similar issues when learning English, that over in the US they have similar standardized tests for getting good grades, that over in Finland they understand how important individualized learning is. It makes my cause not only local and even more worthy fighting for when you know there are many people out there like you.  I now get a lot of messages and emails from teachers around the world telling me how my FB posts, blog posts, videos and interviews inspired them to look at teaching from a different perspective. Do I need to say how fantastic that is?

SCET: Apart from teachers relying less on coursebooks, is there anything else that you think could be improved in today’s educational system? Based on the current situation in education as well as your teaching experience, how do you see the future of English teachers?

Self-organized learning environment (Nina was digging the weeds in her garden in the meantime)

NH: Let’s give the students freedom in what they want to learn! Individualize the learning process, we all have different talents, we are united in our differences and that’s what makes the world beautiful. Let´s cherish each individual instead of asking the fish to climb a tree. Let’s teach kids how to think constructively instead of pushing them to memorize facts they can find on Google in a split of a second. Let´s make kids and adults love education again! To me that’s the only way to go if we as society want to keep growing. We are now educating our children for jobs that don´t exist anymore. Isn’t it time to wake up?

Like I said before, I have recently been greatly influenced by the ideas of Sugata Mitra who says that given the right questions and tons of support, we can now learn most things by ourselves, thanks to the internet. We are able to self-organize our studies, with the help of a guide, an instructor who takes our hand to walk us to different doors – by setting the task, building curiosity and then leaving the stage to let us go through the door ourselves or with the help of our peers. When we as teachers let that happen, when we give the autonomy to the student instead of playing the god who knows it all, when we sit back and watch, or go to the garden digging the weeds instead, we can be surprised how simple it actually is. I know I am, every time I let my students work by themselves. Believe me, they are neither lazy, nor unmotivated if you make this shift. They are just like you and me: eager to learn and become better at whatever it is they need.

Nina Hanáková has been teaching English to adults as a freelancer for the past 10 years, both offline in her hometown of Brno, CZ, and online via Skype and social media. She runs her own teaching business called EnglishBrno where she specializes in experiential courses without coursebooks. She encourages students to set personal language goals, interact socially with international speakers and use online resources. Nina is a big fan of video, recording some of her lessons and herself explaining grammar and vocabulary. She blogs, is very active on Facebook and organizes EnglishBrno Pub Nights. She is a graduate of English and Dutch linguistics at Palacký University in Olomouc, CZ and is CELTA certified.


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Beatrix Price: Let Your Learners Fly

An interview by Martina Bednáriková

Learning is the journey that the young learners have to depart on. Let them navigate and explore it on their own, for they know more than we teachers often see. Our ELT Forum presenter Beatrix Price also advises to support their Beathinking and allow them to struggle. Push them to explore and watch them discover… and do not forget to encourage them in the meantime.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): As a Young Learner Specialist, you are an expert on children’s learning processes. Have kids changed over the years, i.e. are young learners today more difficult to handle than when you started teaching? Taking into account your rich experience in teaching all over the world, is there still anything that surprises you during your lessons?

Beatrix Price (BP): This is a very complex question. I could start with the famous quotation by Socrates on young generation: “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

A couple of hundreds and thousands years have passed, and it is still the same, so you can’t really reflect on this issue in your own lifetime. There always have been problems with bringing children up and it’s still the same.

If you ask me about my own experience, I can tell you a story: When I started teaching, I worked in a ‘giga-school’, in a newly built suburb of Budapest; we called it a ‘Children Factory’.  Most of the teachers dropped out after a few months or they might have endured it for a year. My headmistress used to say, ‘If you teach for a whole academic year at my school, you can go anywhere in the world and succeed.” It was tough. I stayed for two years and then I fled. A few years later I heard that the biggest bank robbery in Hungary was committed by some of the youth whom I had taught at that school. I survived and a learnt a lot there.

Since then I’ve taught in different settings, from kindergarten children to adults, from language schools to company courses, some teacher training sessions, too. But I’ve always taught children, either in alternative (you could say elite schools) or in the state sector. And I can tell you that teaching in state schools, especially in the upper middle grades, is still a challenge, after so much experience.

Why is it like that? We can all agree that in our accelerated world information can be attained within seconds. The network of data covers our whole life. This raises a few questions for us. First of all, who possesses ’information’ and ’knowledge’ today? How long does it take to get access to information? And most importantly, what do we do with it afterwards? How do we use it and what do we use it for?  Children are today very much aware of this phenomenon and yet schools lag behind our real world.

SCET: Do schools change and adapt according to the pace of modern life? What sort of teachers do we need today? What do we have to learn? And what do we have to teach?

BP: Teachers have to rethink their role at schools and give a new direction to their quest.

One last perspective is that there is so much change in the last few decades due to the boom in information technology that we are not even able to diagnose the symptoms of growing and misbehaving children. Parents today don’t have time to give attention to their children. Kids are constantly on some sort of electric babysitter, watching TV, DVDs, playing online games or fiddling with a smart phone or another gadget. These are all very attractive and work well for a while, but not necessarily good for children. During the school years then dyslexia with all the other ‘Dys’-es, ADD, ADHD are diagnosed and cause so much extra work in our profession. No wonder that this year  a DysTEFL project won an ELTons award for ‘Excellence in Course Innovation’! “The judges described the winner as “a much-needed course for teachers and one that addresses a gap in the market.”

(The ELTons is a celebration of excellence in English Language Teaching, recognising significant and innovative advances in the theory of ELT learning, teaching and research worldwide. This new ELTons award category joins the long-established group of British Council Innovation Awards.)

My approach to teaching children is therefore a preventive method. If we consciously focus on the developmental stages of children, we must provide suitable and meaningful activities for their healthy growth.

One of Bea's teacher training sessions

One of Bea’s teacher training sessions

SCET: Apart from having more fun, how do your students benefit from learning English through various games?

BP: My starting point is that teaching a second language to children is not an explicit teaching /learning but rather an acquisition, a similar process to acquiring one’s mother tongue. I assume that it is possible to take LA2 (Second Language Acquisition) as a delayed LA1 (first Language Acquisition,  i.e. the mother tongue), if the conditions for teaching a foreign language strive towards providing similar circumstances to LA1.

In my teaching I use games that have been played by children all over the world for centuries and are not only entertaining but have educational value, too. They have a magic element borrowed from the authentic language environment of the English-speaking world or the traditional playgroup culture of other nations.

There are lots of advantages to using games, songs and rhymes: the variety of the range of learning situations; maintaining pupils’ motivation with the pace of the lesson; ‘hidden’ practice of language patterns; giving confidence by encouraging pupil participation and of course many more.

We all know that children learn best in a motivating, challenging environment. Games represent this positive motivation for them, and while they are fully engaged in the timelessness of games, they can both serve their physical development and support flexible, mobile thinking.

SCET: In what way is it more challenging for teachers to work with young learners than with adults? On the other hand, what are the advantages of it?

BP: I’ve taught the whole spectrum of ages, from kindergarten age to adults. I must admit that my favourite age group is the latter one; no discipline problems, no motivational tricks, a much more energy-saving teaching mode. On the other hand although teaching YLs is very demanding; it is still an immense joy to teach them.

When teaching young learners, one has to work from back to front. First to decide what to achieve and then break down into smaller chunks what to teach and how to approach it. Young learners need a lot of movement accompanied activities in the language lessons. They love the rhythm, the repetition. They enter into the mood of the language through movement and express meaning with gestures through the feet, arms, head, facial expressions, voice and tone.

Stamping and clapping, hammering or tiptoeing, carry rhythm into their limbs – they all help to remember words, expressions or the melody. You probably all have verses or songs from your own childhood that stay with you for a lifetime, sometimes even without knowing the meaning of these rhythmic patterns. They might even contain some sensory impressions, e.g. colours, temperature, sounds, taste or smell.

During the teaching process this first step of enjoyment has to be lifted onto a higher, more conscious level, a clearer level of understanding. Step by step the children cut down the text into smaller units, first chunks, expressions, phrases and then finally words, when they arrive at the meaning, the core words, the content.

So from a more dream-like, joyous repetition we guide the learners to a more conscious, wakeful practice, first in chorus, later in smaller groups (e.g. boys and girls), pairs and finally individually.
This is a fairly long but delightful journey for the child, full of excitement and challenge, from movement to understanding, from the whole to the unit, from a global, universal totality to the individual.

SCET: In what way does art actually help English teachers? On the other hand, what is the benefit of art for students of English? How do you implement art into your own lessons?

Bea and NoraBP: The teacher is a professional educator and at the same time an artist, too. There is a deep longing to achieve artistic teaching in our profession but teachers often have low self-esteem. “Oh, yes, I would like to do it but I don’t know how”; “I’m not good at it”, I’m not talented”, etc. are the excuses.

When it comes to serving the child’s needs, then it might change. “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” (Pablo Picasso)

Using arts can help motivate learners to use one’s creative side to stimulate language acquisition and enhance language learning.

Both for teachers and students it’s easy to develop artistic awareness by trying to get rid of mental blockages, starting to see the world with an artist’s eye, increasing creativity and most of all, developing a deep love for art.

What kind of artistic activities have I used in my ELT classroom?

  • visual arts: painting, drawing, graphic art, photography
  • literature: reading graded and original books, creative writing, poetry, short stories, artistic biography
  • performing arts: rhythmic games, improvisational games, classroom plays, play-acting, miming, singing, music, dancing, circus games.

There is only one problem with using arts in ELT: there’s never enough time. 🙂

SCET: Tell us more about mELTing Pot, the magazine of IATEFL Hungary. What does your work entail and what do you like about it? How can in your opinion an ordinary Slovak teacher of English benefit from “melting” as far as their professional career is concerned?

BP: IATEFL-Hungary publishes its professional magazine, called mELTing Pot three times a year: two electronic and one printed issue. The magazine is free for all IATEFL-Hungary members.

We publish different articles dealing with practical classroom issues, methodology, pedagogy, technology, language and linguistics, teaching resources, professional and personal development.

Most articles in our mELTing Pot are between one and three pages in length, between about 1,500 -2,500 words.

The authors share their inspiring thoughts with us in either experimental or instructional articles. We can read about general ideas in teaching, trying to capture insight or inspiration or their love for the language.

I have been the editor-in-chief for the last couple of issues of  mELTing Pot. It’s a great journey to collect all the articles, find the right people, connect to them. By the end of each issue I’ve got a new ‘ELT family’.

I’d like to encourage our Slovak colleagues to write for us either about their passion in ELT or to connect to the 2014 conference with the title: ‘English for a change’.

Before our annual conferences we ask the plenary speakers concerning our profession, their personal and professional development.

With our teacher’s magazine we try to inspire our colleagues.

We all agree that inspiration and creativity are key concepts of our profession, our very deepest being, the inner drive, the motor, the pushing force that make the difference… It all starts with a tiny seed, an image or a thought, a sentence, a meeting, a spark or a smile, which develops both in time and space, like a spiral, both vertically and horizontally. All impressions and contacts enrich it on its way and it spreads energy as it grows. That’s how we professionals ‘function’ with each other. We share ideas, give and take, nurture both ourselves and each other.

SCET: Can you tell us more about your studies of Steiner/Waldorf Bea teachingEducation in Sussex, England? In what way were these studies different from all your other studies, and how did they help you in your career?

BP: I spent 3 years as a full time student at Emerson College; I did the Foundation Year, the Teacher’s Training Course and the English Course.

These years were some of the most influential years of my life. This is a centre of education for adults that addresses the need for human approaches to today’s urgent questions. It provides opportunities for learning and transformation through education, practical initiatives, research and community building.

There were students from all the continents, from 33 different countries. I spent my time in an incredibly beautiful surrounding, where birds, squirrels and rabbits were equal friends, and learnt respect for the multicultural diversity of nations and gave me a basis for understanding other cultures, characters, customs, traditions, etc.

I had an ongoing opportunity to develop, practice and share ways of working and living with others that encouraged free thinking, imagination and responsibility in the world. The depth I experienced during my studies there gave me foundation for the rest of my life. Theoretical study was combined with practical and artistic work to integrate learning through head, heart and hands.

The artistic highlights of my time there were singing in Mozart’s Requiem and playing Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing.

My teaching career has had a lot of inspiration from that time. I’ve always tried to bring real experience to my students, in which they can grow not only in their cognitive but the social, emotional and ethical/moral parts, too. I firmly believe that in such education learners can recognise their own tasks in life, facing challenges with responsibility, courage, enthusiasm and wisdom.

Beatrix Price is a teacher at the British Council Budapest, Young Learner Specialist, Teacher trainer and the Vice-President and the international network coordinator of IATEFL-Hungary. She teaches young learners at the British Council, she is an online English teacher for Katedra Language School Budapest and works at a primary school in Gödöllő. Bea’s interests include holistic education, using art in foreign language teaching, mother-tongue influence in second language acquisition, language teaching methodology and child and teacher development. She has recently given workshops on Jane Austen’s world in the light of the 21st century both in Hungary and abroad.


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Agnieszka Kruszyńska: “Play is the highest form of research.” [Albert Einstein]

An interview by Martina Bednáriková

They say it takes a big heart to help shape little minds. And although it is definitely not easy, 190673_10150140365257505_137270_nAgnieszka Kruszyńska has found out that it is worth every minute’s effort. All of us could learn something from her enthusiasm.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Can you please share with us the story behind your teaching career? What do you like about teaching little kids? What is most challenging for you?

Agnieszka Kruszyńska (AK): Funny thing is I never planned to be a teacher. I started giving private English classes in high school, just to make some extra money. After a year I decided to study early English teaching at pedagogy. I wasn’t even sure why. I knew I wanted to teach but, honestly, children terrified me, and I quickly found myself giving in-company Business English classes. Of course, I worked for some regular language schools as well, so I came across many children groups, but the moment I realized I could actually enjoy working with little kids, was my kindergarten and primary school practice period at my studies.

Working with young children can be very rewarding. Seeing them progressing makes you grow inside. They appreciate your work, show you affection, you become an important part of their lives and have a real influence on their overall development. It’s truly amazing!

When it comes to challenges, there are loads of them! Maintaining the discipline, awakening the interest in learning in my pupils, dealing with mixed-levels and mixed-abilities groups, etc. However, right now the biggest challenge for me is developing my students’ learning independency, which is also the topic of my presentation.

SCET: How would you define yourself as a teacher? What are your main teaching cornerstones?

AK: I would say that that the word “challenging” would fit me the best. I always try to set the bar high and help my students to reach it. My aim is to maximize their performance and learning skills. It seems to me that a common problem nowadays is that teachers (and parents) often treat young children as if they were less developed and mature than they really are.

SCET: How do you keep improving your own English? Do you have any secret potion for this common problem that teachers have to face?

AgnesAK: It is popularly believed that YL teachers get stuck repeating the same vocabulary over and over again. This doesn’t have to be true. For instance, recently I’ve learned quite a few new words from the world of animals and plants thanks to my students’ curiosity. Also, while planning my lessons, I try to introduce some of less commonly taught, but still useful, vocabulary. For example, you can find plenty of it in children’s stories.

Yet, it is indeed difficult to keep your language skills developing or even at the same level. I think most of the non-native teachers sometimes feel like if there were losing some part of their vocabulary or fluency. I’m lucky enough to be working at an international school where English is commonly spoken both by natives and non-natives. Also, I play for a rugby team where the male contingent is composed mainly of foreigners, so I have some occasions to chat with them in English. Then there are books. Nothing boosts your vocabulary better than a good book together with a good dictionary. Finally, my life partner is French, so at home we communicate mainly in English (since my French is still really quite poor).

SCET: What are the main advantages of early bilingual education? Have you encountered any drawbacks?

AK: The main advantage is equipping the child with an additional language and preparing him to study not only in his mother tongue, and let’s be honest, in the long run, International Baccalaureate opens many doors to the future. If you start early enough, it comes much easier for a pupil to start thinking in English. Bilingual education also implies multiculturalism. Even if the children are not surrounded by their peers from other countries, they do get to know different cultures through the language, school events etc. It is simply inevitable and more and more useful in nowadays worldwide society.

There are some drawbacks though. First of all, it is often more difficult to introduce new material to young learners using L2. Especially when it comes to some abstract ideas which appear already in kindergarten lessons. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that learning two or more languages at once comes with a price, and it happens that children from bilingual schools have more problems with their mother tongue than their peers in traditional education model.

SCET: You worked as a lower primary tutor at Colegio Internacional Torrequebrada in Benalmádena, Spain. What duties did it involve and what did your ordinary day look like? What is the most important thing that you personally have learned there?

AK: As a tutor I was in charge of 26 kids from my grade 1, teaching them Agneseverything apart from PE and Spanish. I had extra hours filled with arts & crafts with grade 2 and 3. A normal day would start at 9, when the children were beginning to appear in the classrooms. Lessons started 9.30 and lasted until first snack time 10.45 (with no breaks) and later on from 11 until lunchtime at 12.45. The whole lunch and patio time break would last 1.5h and I could get 45min of lunch duty, 45 of patio duty, or, once a week, have that 1.5h for myself. Further block of lessons was from 14.15 to 15.30 (another snack time) and the last class would finish at 16.45. Afterwards I would gather the children who were going home by car and have my ‘car duty’, which meant waiting for the parents to drive up, calling the child’s name and putting them safely in the car. Since there were no breaks between the classes, they were no break time duties. I would simply let my class out on the terrace for both snack times and stay with them.

Other general duties were of course writing the daily planning, mailing and meeting with parents, dealing with everyday class problems, participating in organization of school events etc.

It’s difficult for me to choose the most important thing I learned there. Since it was my first time as a full time school teacher, I learned in practice things I’d studied at the university and much more! The crucial one for me was probably classroom management. With 26 six-year-olds on my head, I was basically thrown in at the deep end. Talking with more experienced staff and observing their way of tackling discipline problems surely helped me a lot. I don’t know about Slovakia, but in Poland, during my studies, the problem of discipline wasn’t addressed as it should have been. And I mean the overall classwork organization, not merely making the children obey you.

SCET: What are the positive aspects of working as an English teacher in a totally different culture, and why would you recommend first-time teachers to go and teach abroad?

AK: I would recommend it to every teacher, not only those first-timers. You get a chance to disconnect from your mother tongue, face new kinds of language learners problems, get to know a different culture, share your experience on an international level and grasp different views on teaching from your fellow workers.

SCET: Why do you think it is important to create young leaders and team 20140504_113456workers? In what way can they contribute to the learning process, especially as far as English is concerned?

AK: Later on in their studying and also working life, many of those young kids of today
will be asked to form a part of a team or to manage one. Some people are born leaders but others shouldn´t be afraid to take over when they need to. I believe that by introducing leadership based teamwork early in the classroom, children learn responsibility, self-confidence and respect for others. One day they are the leading ones, the next day, they assume the role of a team member. I often put a team as my basic work unit in the classroom to teach the little ones how to tackle arising problems not by asking the teacher for help, but discussing them among their team members. I strongly feel that classwork organization based on the exchange of ideas and lending each other a helping hand, creates more independent learners, and therefore is a huge contribution to the shaping of their future learning styles. The whole idea refers to far more than solely teaching English.

Agnieszka Kruszyńska is a graduate of Primary Education with Early English Teaching, Warsaw University. After six years of working in language schools, she began her adventure with bilingual education as a lower primary tutor at Colegio Internacional Torrequebrada in Benalmádena, and is currently working in a bilingual kindergarten and primary school in Warsaw, Poland.


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Steve Taylore-Knowles: Changing the World One Day at a Time

An interview by Martina Bednáriková

The job of a teacher is to teach the students in front of them, not the ones they would Stevelike to have, not even the ones they used to have… but those they have right now. Steve Taylore-Knowles has learnt to veer off the lesson plan and follow his students’ lead. And the day he started learning with his students was the day he believes he became a teacher.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Tell us about your beginnings as an English teacher. How did you get into education?

Steve Taylore-Knowles (STK): When I was five years old, I was given the task of helping a newly-arrived immigrant boy in my class learn to read in English. I guess that was my first teaching post! I hope I didn’t do too much damage – which is something every teacher should hope. About twenty years later, after completing my MA in English Literature and getting a place to do a PhD but no funding, I got a phone call offering me a job teaching English in Greece. Two weeks later, I walked into the classroom, loved it and decided to stay. After a couple of years, I realised that this was going to become the profession I committed myself to so I did a DipTESOL. I think that doing it that way round (diving into teaching and then doing a formal qualification in teaching later) gave me valuable insights into what life is like for many teachers, who perhaps need and welcome the kind of support that well-designed courses provide. I try to bear those teachers in mind when I’m designing courses now.

SCET: You served on the Executive Board of TESOL Greece. Why did you decide to be a part of it? Can you tell us what your role was and what you liked about it, and what was the most challenging part of it?

STK: I think national TESOL organisations play a very important role in the ELT life of many countries. I decided to stand for election to the Executive Board of TESOL Greece because I wanted to be a part of providing professional development and networking opportunities for teachers. I was involved in organising the annual convention, as well as organising and providing teacher training sessions throughout the rest of the year. One of the things that anyone involved in teacher associations soon realises is that there is no better way of developing professionally than to jump in and become a part of other teachers’ professional development by sharing your classroom practices, your insights, your frustrations and your triumphs.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was that TESOL Greece was based in Athens and at the time I lived in Volos, which is four hours away by bus, and five by train! Getting to meetings was an ongoing challenge, but I felt it was important for people outside the capital to also be represented in the organisation.

SCET: How did you get started in materials writing? We would like to know more about where you find inspiration and ideas for the materials you write. Which part of writing do you enjoy the most?

STK: My very first work in ELT publishing involved doing some illustrations for a book published in Greece! I also wrote a couple of skills books for a small publisher, but my real breakthrough came when I was commissioned by Macmillan to work on a secondary series called English Tree, back in 2000. I wrote one level of the series. It was a huge amount of fun and I worked with some great people. When people saw the job I’d done on that series, other commissions flowed from there.

Right now, I’m in the brainstorming phase of a new project, so I’m very much in the business of looking for inspiration and ideas. It’s one of the phases I love, because you can dream about all those wonderful features you’d love to see in a course – often before many of them are ditched for being impractical, or too expensive! One source of inspiration is the time I spend with other teachers, either in their classrooms, where I’m privileged to observe them at work with their students, or at conferences and other events. Right now, I’m writing this at the bi-annual BrazTESOL convention, which is taking place in João Pessoa, in the north-east of Brazil. The plenaries, the other talks and workshops, and the conversations in corridors or over lunch all prompt ideas and possible directions for future work.

SCET: Can you tell us more about your most recent projects?

Steve's projectSTK: My most recent project is a series called Open Mind, for young adults (and in some cases, older teenagers), published by Macmillan. This is a very exciting time for the course because we recently produced the second edition of the American English version and the first edition of the British English version. That means we’ve had a fantastic opportunity to get lots of feedback from people using the course, to ask people all around the world for their take on the challenges of teaching these students, and for us to refine our thinking and make sure the materials are as good as we can possibly make them.

As we put the course together, we realised that there was a very important area that we felt we had to include: life skills. Our young adult students often lack the key skills they need to use their English effectively in their professional lives, in their social lives and in their academic lives. I’m thinking of skills such as working together well in teams, planning and giving clear, effective presentations and persuading others of your point of view, to name but a few. As well as all the tasks in Open Mind which are designed to develop students’ language skills, we’ve integrated work on life skills, developing those abilities that will give your students the edge in the world outside the classroom.

The tag line for the course is ‘Language is a life skill’. What we mean by that is that we need to look at the role knowing a language plays in a learner’s life. A language isn’t developed in isolation but alongside other skills that the learner possesses or acquires. Of course, we still need a solid grounding in grammar, a broad vocabulary, and language skills in the traditional sense of being able to read, write, speak and listen, and Open Mind provides all that. At the same time, though, there’s a host of thinking skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, which students need to be effective. I’m really enjoying travelling around at the moment, talking to teachers about this whole area and explaining how we can best bring these ideas into our classrooms.

SCET: What do you personally think about institutional testing? Do you think that testing supports learning? How? In what way does the preparation beforehand help students develop better language skills?

STK: Tests can be a force for good – or a force for evil! And yes, I do think that testing can support learning when it’s done in the right way. I’ve been thinking recently about how we forget language items that we’ve apparently learned. Over time, we suffer from language attrition – we forget items that we don’t revisit, revise and reuse at the right time. Use it or lose it! And it’s very difficult to create situations in the classroom where students actually need to use a lot of the vocabulary they’ve learned in the past, particularly at higher levels, partly because we’ve moved on to a different topic and so students are in the midst of learning a new set of items. I think testing has a role to play in helping to keep items fresh and available in students’ minds.

However, I do think we have to be very careful about how we test students’ language skills. Tests tend to use a very narrow range of task types, and students can become very good at doing those task types, rather than very good at using their English effectively, which surely is the aim. I’m sure many readers will be familiar with students who do well on tests, who ‘know’ the language in an academic sense, but who find it difficult to carry on a natural conversation in English. I think that’s partly a consequence of the kinds of test we administer to students and the kind of teaching that works towards those tests. Testing can create a vicious circle. If your teaching involves a lot of gap-filling, say, and then you test that using gap-filling tasks, you shouldn’t be surprised if you produce students who are very good at doing gap-fill tasks but little else.

SCET: You do many presentations at various conferences. How does this commercial side influence and change your teaching? Or does it?

STK: Most of the presentations I do are not commercial, in the sense Steveof going through the features of a particular course I’ve written with the aim of persuading an institution to adopt it. That’s part of what I do, but in fact most of what I do at conferences and other events involves plenary talks or other presentations which are based on my ideas – although of course those ideas feed into the courses I create in all kinds of ways. I love the interaction with audiences and I learn a huge amount from people’s questions and responses to my talks. That interaction is one of the reasons I much prefer live sessions to webinars. In webinars, it’s possible to create a certain kind of interactivity, but messages in a chat box are no substitute for face-to-face interaction. What I learn from teachers and others involved in education at conferences is less about me presenting and more about me listening, trying to understand more about the range of teaching situations around the world, and reflecting on how best to give teachers tools that will enable them and their students to progress. I strongly believe that any course designer should start from where a class is, rather than start from whatever ideas are currently fashionable in the world of ELT. A top-down approach, based on ideas about what teaching ‘should’ be, runs the risk of being irrelevant to the reality of most classrooms. I want to understand that reality, while at the same time opening the door to further possibilities. Attending and presenting at conferences is, for me, all a part of developing my understanding of the points of similarity and of difference between different classrooms.

SCET: Your job involves a lot of travel. What is your favourite destination and why?

STK: As I said earlier, I’m writing this at BrazTESOL in João Pessoa, which is the most easterly point of Brazil, the bit that sticks out the most into the Atlantic Ocean. The sun is shining, people are lying on the beach and it’s all very tropical and exotic. And it’s easy to forget that most of the travel I do is nothing like that! Usually, I get to go to places in the winter (when schools are open and teachers are around), and I get to go to a lot of places that tourists haven’t heard of and wouldn’t dream of visiting – whether it’s a small town in the mountains in Italy or a large, snow-swept city in Siberia or Kazakhstan. And I love it – I feel privileged to be a part of teachers’ everyday lives, to meet them and talk to them in the schools that they work in and to see inside their classrooms.

It would be churlish to single out any one place as my favourite destination when I’ve enjoyed so much hospitality from so many people around the world. So I’m going to choose a place that I didn’t visit on a work trip: New York. I was there for a few days a few years ago and I loved it. New York is so much itself – all the images you have in your head from seeing it in movies and on TV are right there in front of you. I would love to go back and spend a bit more time there and get to know it better.

SCET: What was the most memorable experience you’ve had while teaching abroad – the one that has made a long-lasting impact on you?

STK: That’s a very difficult question to answer. I think for any teacher who reflects on their own practice, their working life is made up of memorable moments. And no doubt a number that they would rather forget!

I’m going to choose two moments. The first is an example of how to get it wrong, and the second is an example of what can happen when we get it right.

When I first started teaching in Greece, I would ask my students if they understood what I had Steve and familyjust explained. And they would all nod. And I thought that maybe I’d misjudged the level and that they all thought that what I was trying to teach them was trivially easy. And yet, in practice, they struggled to get it right. So I explained again, and again they all nodded when I asked if they understood it. But still they couldn’t do it. Eventually, after a couple of days of this, I realised that in Greece tilting your head up and back (which to the untrained eye looks a lot like nodding) actually means ‘No’, or in this case, it meant: ‘No, sorry, I know you’re trying your best, but I don’t understand a blind word you’re saying, Sir.’ I took two lessons away from that: find ways of getting your students to demonstrate their understanding, rather than just asking them if they have understood, and always research the common gestures of a country you’re planning to go to before you get there!

The second memorable moment comes from a conversation with a small group of students outside the classroom. We were talking about their future career plans, and one of them said that she wanted to become an English teacher. It had been a long, hard day, and I don’t think things had gone particularly well in one or two lessons, so I wasn’t feeling my most enthusiastic for the profession and I said ‘Why?’, as if to say ‘Why would anyone want to do this thankless, badly paid job?’ Her reply was: ‘Because of you. You’re so good with us and we learn so much. I want to do the same one day with my own students.’ Needless to say, I’ve never thought of it as a thankless job since then – often badly paid, yes, but never thankless!

 

Steve Taylore-Knowles has spent almost two decades in ELT as a writer, a trainer, an examiner and a teacher. He has written a number of internationally-successful courses, including the Laser series for teenagers and the Destination grammar and vocabulary series, both for Macmillan. His most recent course to be launched globally is Open Mind, a ground-breaking series for young adults. He regularly lectures throughout the world on various aspects of ELT and speaking engagements have taken him to many countries in Europe, Asia, North and South America and the Middle East.


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Nora Tartsay: Team Work Makes the Dream Work

An interview by Martina Bednáriková 

Every expert was once a beginner. President of the IATEFL Hungary and NoraELT Forum presenter Nora Tartsay proves that anything is possible when a career and a passion come together. The key is to use the talents one possesses, because everything first seems impossible until it is finally done.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): How did you become a university professor? What do you like most about your job, and least?

Nora Tartsay (NT): I started working at the Eötvös Lorand University as a research assistant, with Zoltán Dörnyei, who was my thesis supervisor. It was a part-time job and I was also teaching English in a secondary school in Budapest. I really learnt a lot during this period and when there was a possibility to become a member of the faculty, I was happy to accept it. Learning is what I enjoy most about my job – I learn new things from my students and colleagues all the time. I also like that I can be rather flexible about how I plan my courses, so I can always change something and experiment. I really don’t like administrative duties and the lack of technical equipment at my university.

SCET: What or who inspired you to study English in the first place? When did you know or realise you wanted to be an English teacher?

NT: I had some teachers in my life who made a great impact on me. First of all, my mom is also a teacher, so there must be something in the family, as teaching was something I had planned to do in my teenage years already. I had an excellent teacher of English in my secondary school, Ms Lyanne Szentirmay, and later at the university Medgyes Péter and Dörnyei Zoltán definitely inspired me to become  a teacher.

SCET: You are the President of IATEFL-Hungary. What duties does it include and what do you like about it? Are there any challenges?

NT: Hungary is a small country, so being part of the IATEFL-Hungary community is like spending time with friends I like and who share my concern for quality language teaching. I also enjoy working in an international community, and if you volunteer for long enough, you can hardly escape taking the role of the president for some years. It is basically being the most experienced committee members after a while, which also means challenges. I never had to do financial planning, strategic planning, or marketing before. It’s exciting, but I have a lot to learn, and it’s easier with a group of enthusiastic people around.

SCET: How did you get started in curriculum and materials development projects? Where do you find inspiration and ideas for the materials you develop?

NT: My main professional interest is Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education and e-learning. In recent years I have been mainly involved in designing online courses, or professional development courses with a heavy ICT component. This has been part of my job at the university, but I’ve been also involved in numerous curriculum and materials development projects at other institutions in Hungary as well. I find a lot of inspiration at conferences and in professional development courses, both face-to-face and online. My students and colleagues are great inspirations as well.

Nora and KatiSCET: From your perspective, what are the differences between developing materials for in-service teachers, teacher trainers and language learners? Which is more demanding and why?

NT: These courses should be very different indeed. Language learners tend to enjoy working with learning materials using ICT, but of course they are very different – their age, level and place of instruction have an effect on what materials should be designed for them, so it’s a little difficult to answer. In-service teachers need a lot of practical materials, things they can use in their teaching soon. They have a very good understanding of what their students’ needs are, so usually they appreciate practical ICT-related methodology. Many of them feel the need of some instruction on how to use technology in the classroom, including tips on which tools to use with different levels and age groups. Teacher trainers tend to have an interest in more theoretical topics as well, I’ve been involved in research about how ICT can support school development and professional development in general for example, so that we had a better understanding of what skills will our trainers need. Another research project focused on the role of the teacher or facilitator in online teacher training courses, a topic I’m really interested in.

SCET: What attracted you to the idea of online games in ELT? What are the main differences in students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards online games?

NT: I like games. That was one of the main reasons to use them in my teaching. The idea of using online games comes from Graham Stanley, the co-author of the book and the blog ‘Digital Play’. I enjoyed discovering these opportunities with the students, and they also add a number of new ideas every year. I see them learning and acquiring new skills using games, and I also try to ‘test’ the games on my children – just to have an idea of how they work with different age groups. Another inspiration was the series of TED talks on gaming, they are really excellent and worth watching. Not surprisingly, adults like playing games as well, and it doesn’t take long to persuade teachers that online games can be used for language development as well. My experience shows that teachers use a lot of games in the classroom anyway, and they also know that students play online games, so they are actually very happy when they are shown some online games that they can use in the classroom, and not only for having fun but for some really serious learning.

Bea, Nora and MarkSCET: Did online games help you improve your own English language skills? How have they influenced you as a learner? Have they changed your view on language learning and teaching in any way?

NT: Yes, definitely. I learn a lot of new skills from online games, although I have fairly little time to play. I prefer games that make me think, like puzzles or adventure games, the ones that require creative thinking. These remind me of some important learning-related issues, like the importance of collaboration and cooperation, the usefulness of making mistakes, of testing hypotheses, of immediate feedback, of positive feedback, of motivation, rules, and so many other things that teachers have to consider in their teaching anyway – with or without games.

 

Nora Tartsay is a teacher and teacher trainer at the School of English and American Studies of ELTE University, Budapest. Her main interest is using ICT and e-learning in education. As a volunteer, she also works for IATEFL-Hungary, to which she has been elected president for the second time.


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Frank Prescott: Don’t Be Afraid of Experiments

The 2nd part of an Interview with Frank Prescott  by Martina Bednáriková

One of the secrets to become a great teacher is to never be Frankafraid to move.  If you do not lose sight of your purpose and embrace that it is not about you, you will definitely gain the best results. Our ELT Forum speaker Frank Prescott has definitely learnt to weather the storms in his classes. Will you follow his lead?

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Your workshop “The Write Stuff” aims at providing various writing activities to engage and motivate students more. What is your own attitude to writing? What do you like about teaching academic writing?

Frank Prescott (FP): I have a feeling that writing is sometimes neglected in the language classroom and I think that’s a shame because it’s such an important skill. I think that writing tends to lose out to speaking when it comes to production. When writing is done, the activities may not actually involve much writing for writing’s sake but rather just as a means of completing the task, and often the feedback on writing focuses much more on accuracy rather than on the content or organisation of the writing. I want to show that a well-designed writing task can be a highly engaging activity in the classroom, which can involve the use of the other skills as well as plenty of interaction, and so it can be fitted very well into a balanced communicative syllabus.

Perhaps part of the problem with writing is that it tends to be seen as something that’s difficult for both the learner and the teacher to do well. Actually writing can be great fun if it’s handled in the right way. It can allow students to experiment with the language and express their own thoughts and feelings about topics that they are interested in. It can be used to encourage creativity and can also involve a lot of cooperation. As I already mentioned, writing can be combined very well with the other skills so that it can be part of a whole skills approach. Of course, writing and reading have always gone together, but nowadays, with multi-media tools it’s easy to bring in listening as a stimulus for writing, and writing can be used as a way into oral activities of different kinds.

I spend a lot of time working with students doing presentations about different topics and here writing is also very important. In fact, one of the key uses of writing is in preparing for a speech or presentation. There’s no reason why this kind of activity can’t be done in the classroom at many levels. Group presentations can work very well and can be combined with fieldwork or individual work online and in the library followed by group preparation. Here writing is not the main focus but it is a necessary skill in organising the material of a presentation. Obviously, poster presentations also require some writing skills and again students of all levels find them enjoyable.

Nowadays, writing is arguably a more important skill than it’s ever been thanks to the advent of digital media. Our students are now writing all the time on social media and they will also need to be able to write effectively in many different online situations in their future. As language teachers, we have an obligation to help our students use their English for these purposes, as well, and to help them understand the differences between styles and functions. Being able to write well in English is particularly important in this regard because it is the most widespread online language.

When it comes to academic writing, many of my students find it difficult to get used to writing essays because they have not had much writing practice in school, either in English or in their first language. Even if they have had some experience writing short “compositions”, they often don’t know how to organise a piece of writing effectively. It’s a challenging job to help them adapt to a completely new set of requirements and in many cases they have to begin by learning how to write a simple paragraph and then build from there. Progress can sometimes be slow but it can also be very rewarding to see students making progress and becoming more confident in expressing their own ideas about the things they are learning. Particularly in my media classes, I very much enjoy reading the short essays that more experienced students write in which they are able to explore issues and present their own arguments about different topics.

For me, the ability to successfully communicate an idea based on well-informed supporting information and using clear, well-organised written language is a very important skill. It’s my job to help students acquire this skill, or to help them develop and improve it, and I think if they can do this in writing, they will also be able to speak more effectively.

Frank with ELT colleaguesSCET: Can you tell us more about your PhD experience? What was your thesis about? How did you like being a student again?

FP: It will not come as a great surprise that my thesis was about writing. To be more precise, it was a qualitative study of 20 first-year students learning how to write at university, and it grew out of my own questions about the difficulties my first-year academic skills students were obviously experiencing with their writing. The chance to work with students closely by observing them and interviewing them over the entire course of their first year was fascinating, and I learnt a great deal that I was able to feed back into my own teaching. However, the work involved in collecting, processing and analysing the data was immense – it took several years to complete.
Ironically, perhaps the most difficult part of the whole process was actually writing the thesis. Again, this experience of struggling to organise my thinking about the research results and communicate it clearly in writing while working to an ever more rapidly approaching deadline, also helped me to get a deeper understanding of some of my own students’ difficulties.

As for the experience of being a student again myself, I only really felt this strongly during the obligatory and elective courses at the beginning of the PhD. For these we had to do a lot of reading and then we would discuss it in class. We would also write a paper or do a presentation for each course. It was while I was doing some of these courses that I felt how good it was to be in a classroom as a student again, sharing ideas and engaging in discussion with other students about some fascinating topics. It also gave us the chance to share our worries and wonder about our sanity in trying to do a PhD at all – the kind of shared despair that comes so naturally to students in the education system at many levels. The actual writing of the thesis, though, was quite a lonely experience and much more difficult than anything I remember from my earlier days as an undergraduate. It was a far remove from the sociality of the classroom.

SCET: How does an average day of Frank Prescott look like? Where do you get energy and motivation for all that you are doing?

FP: My average day very much depends on what time of the year it is, but one thing is constant, I always get up early, and I like to start my day by walking my son to school during term time. There are only two semesters at the university, and during these my day is generally divided between preparing classes, teaching classes, and catching up with marking. At the end of each semester there are usually so many essays to mark, theses to read and reports to write that life becomes quite hectic, but most of the time it’s just busy. And of course there’s alway IATEFl-Hungary stuff to do and sometimes I have other little jobs, like proofreading or the odd private student. During the semester I work in my office at university because it’s convenient and not far from where I live, but in the summer I work more from home. I am almost always the last one up at night because I’m a night owl and I find it impossible to go to bed early unless I’m absolutely exhausted. Generally, this only happens towards the end of each semester for reasons already mentioned.

Getting energy and motivation is not usually a problem for me, although I have my “downs” occasionally, just like everyone else. What keeps me motivated is my enjoyment of teaching, of trying to do things a little better each time and experimenting with new ideas and new techniques. I think that the age we’re living in now, despite the great challenges that we face for our society and our future, is a very exciting one for teaching. The technology that we now have access to in the classroom, technology that the students themselves often bring with them, enables us to do things that previous generations of teachers could not even dream of. And precisely because of the problems that face us and our children, our job as teachers is much more than just to help our students acquire another language. We can give our learners the opportunity to see themselves in new ways and start to think about how to shape their own future. We are lucky because we can bring so many different ideas and topics into our classrooms whereas other teachers are more limited, and it’s much easier to do that than it used to be. And this way, at least for me, teaching remains an exciting and rewarding activity.

Having a wide variety of interests outside teaching is also a way of helping me maintain motivation and energy. As well as spending time with my family, I enjoy watching and sometimes even doing various sports. I am passionate about anything to do with films and film-making, and I also love the theatre, especially Shakespeare. I’m an amateur ornithologist and photographer, and in odd moments I like to work on improving my Hungarian, which I have been learning now off and on for many years (I’m not quite sure if this is exactly what the phrase “lifelong learning” is supposed to mean). All this helps me to relax and recharge my batteries, but a lot of it also feeds back into what I do in the classroom, which I guess is the same for all teachers.

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.


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Marta Bujakowska: Never Tire of Challenges

Our school environments are like landscapes of possibilities and suggestions. Each child is, Marta 1therefore, 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. MartaI 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?

Marta 3MB: 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 martaco-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.