Marjorie and I met two years ago, at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris. What impressed me about her was her enthusiasm about her work and her willingness to help out and run what was a great conference. She is extremely supportive to our teaching community and we are all very fortuntate to be connected with her. It is a huge honour to have her here on my blog. Enjoy our interview!
Vicky: Marjorie, thanks so much for this interview. It is an honour to have you on the blog!
Marjorie: It is an honour to be here!
Vicky: Let’s talk about your journey into education. It has been a really interesting one. Could you tell us more about it?
Marjorie: I actually studied music in Buffalo, New York and wanted to be an opera singer. While finishing my Master’s I took teaching qualifications as well and taught music in public schools for several years, before moving to New York City, where I continued with music by running a small opera company with a friend and working in advertising as my so-called ‘day job’. I then took a chance and moved to Europe to audition for the opera houses and, as I needed a job, I began teaching English in an adult education institution. Bit by bit, this became my new vocation and I continued my training in the field of ELT by taking numerous courses and going to conferences. Ideas I learned in those early days have proved to be the staples I still use in the classroom.
Vicky: What a great story! Can you tell us a few things about your teaching currently? Where do you teach and what levels are your students?
Marjorie: I now teach English at the language institute of the University of Graz. This institute offers language courses for all students at the university, meaning the students come from a variety of fields, and in some groups, from a variety of countries. This makes class discussions fascinating as students are experts in many different areas and can contribute new perspectives to the conversation. As a balance to university life I very much enjoy teaching adults and have corporate clients in our local bank. I have been teaching there as well some 25 years and work with people in different departments such as Human Resources or Project Management. The levels of the two groups are fairly similar, at the university I have students ranging from B1 to C1 as I teach both general English and a CAE preparation course and at the bank my students are mostly B1-B2.
Vicky: So university teaching, and Business English! Speaking of Business English, I first met you at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in 2012, in Paris. How did you become so involved with IATEFL? You are now the co-ordinator of BESIG.
Marjorie: I have been involved with teaching associations since the early 1990s when I first joined TEA (Teachers of English in Austria). I was quite active in the group and was Chair in the early 2000s. I attended my first IATEFL BESIG conference in Graz in 1995 and joined IATEFL at that conference. As IATEFL BESIG runs an annual conference every year, I found myself becoming a regular attendee and in 2008 joined the committee as one of the events organisers. I had organised events with TEA and this seemed like a great opportunity to get more involved with BESIG. In 2009 I was elected as one of the joint-coordinators and in 2011 as sole coordinator. Through the SIG-coordinators’ meetings I became more and more interested in the workings of IATEFL and when an opening became available on the Membership Committee I applied and began in that position in 2013. This has been a lot of fun as my job has been to organize the IATEFL webinar series which meant contacting people in the ELT field and setting up a program. What I am also proud of is that we have made the program quite diverse and at the end of last year, I officially applied for a Fair List Award for gender diversity in events in the UK. This was for the for the IATEFL webinar series. IATEFL BESIG had won one for our Pre-Conference Event in Glasgow in 2012. The other aspect of IATEFL I find so important is the chance to meet people around the world, like yourself, who are active and interested in setting up sharing communities of practice. In addition to supporting initiatives like the Fair List, I have also contributed to the lesson plan bank of the Disabled Access Friendly website, a non-profit organization which promotes awareness of those with disabilities through ELT.
Vicky: What especially have you been able to do as BESIG coordinator?
Marjorie: I am very glad that we have continued and expanded our online events. Carl Dowse, our last web coordinator, began the idea of our weekend workshops. These are online webinars run every month and are open to all. We then post the recordings for a week and afterwards they are moved into members’ area for them to view at any time. We have been able to reach a number of members around the world with this. And what is so fascinating is seeing how people connect in the chat box on the web conferencing platform and exchange ideas with each other. This helps as well to build a global community. We also began a scholarship for a ‘BESIG Facilitator’. This scholarship is set up to allow a BESIG member to travel to the annual IATEFL conference in the UK and the idea behind it is that the recipient will continue to work with BESIG when they get home. Our first award, for example, was to Mercedes Viola who has been a valuable member of the BESIG Online Team, was appointed to ElCom team of IATEFL last year and was just co-opted to be joint web coordinator with Claire Hart. Another idea to enable more teachers from other places to attend conferences was to offer highly reduced rates to teachers from specific areas to our annual conference rather than awarding full scholarships to only a few. This has been very successful and we were able to have a large number of teachers from former Yugoslavian countries at our conference in Dubrovnik, Czech and Slovak teachers in Stuttgart and now teachers from Hungary and Poland in Prague. We also worked together with the local teaching associations and they put people up in their homes as well. And the last initiative that we began in the last few years is our business English writing competition. This is open to all those who have not yet been published commercially. Winners then have their work published on the Cambridge University Press website, Professional English Online, and have the chance to win prizes. This extends our reach around the world and offers opportunities to budding writers of business English materials.
Vicky: What do you enjoy about being a SIG coordinator?
Marjorie: This has been (and continues to be) a very interesting experience. I discovered for myself how important it was to be able to delegate to the right people while trying to keep an overview of what is going on in the SIG. Another exciting aspect has been the creation of our ‘sub-committees’, the BOT which was started by Carl Dowse to help out with the online events and the BET, which was actually my idea. Although we have been holding annual conferences for over 25 years, we hadn’t published conferences selections recently and and it was thrilling to see the first BET publication, the Stuttgart Conference Selections in eBook format on both the BESIG and IATEFL websites. And the Prague Conference Selections will be coming out in a few months conference selections. But what is so interesting about getting these sub-committees together is that we have the chance as a SIG to involve more people in the running of the SIG and also develop talent. Committees often tend to consist of people who have been in ELT or IATEFL for quite some time whereas these sub-committees brought new people into the fold. They get an idea of how the SIG works and when it is time to find people for the committee we have some who have already been involved in helping out. The other part of the job that I like a lot is working with other SIG coordinators. It isn’t always easy coming in as a new coordinator as the job can be quite overwhelming and as I have been doing it now for a while it has been a pleasure to mentor some of the newer coordinators. There are so many little things that don’t need to be done from scratch and passing on the information can ease the transition from just being a committee member to actually being responsible for the SIG. In addition, it has been quite interesting working on a revision of the SIG handbook, looking at how the committees work and setting up guidelines for committee elections.
Vicky: You engage a lot and successfully in social media. How did you start using them, and how do you think they help educators?
Marjorie: I have to admit that I am a digital immigrant and have been learning how to use technology since I began teaching. But my first foray into active use of social media was when I finally took the plunge and got a smart phone. I was lucky in that two friends on holiday in Greece who were smart phone experts gave me lessons at the taverna every day at lunch so that by the end of the holiday I could use the apps on my phone. Through this I discovered the wonderful opportunities offered by groups like ELTChat which I take part in when my schedule allows. I also got on Twitter during that holiday and find it extremely useful for announcing events such as our upcoming PCE in Harrogate, our writing competition or the IATEFL BESIG conference I am organizing here in Graz. When I joined MemCom I began posting on Facebook pages to let people know about the webinars and in the meantime belong to a number of groups, mostly teaching organisations and associates of IATEFL. LinkedIn is another of the social media sites I belong to and I find that the conversation threads in the groups are very useful for professional development. But perhaps one of the most important parts of using social media is the chance to develop a PLN (personal learning network). Although I have been attending IATEFL conferences for a number of years, I have to say that last year in Liverpool was a truly new experience for me. I got to meet people from my PLN, went to their presentations and expanded my knowledge of what is going on the in the ELT world in a way I hadn’t been able to do before. And through social media and the PLN, we can stay in touch throughout the year.
Vicky: You write a lot of class materials. What kind and what level are your preferred ones to write?
Marjorie: I think at this point I have written for everything except for primary school although years ago I recorded a cassette with children’s songs in English. Here in Austria where I live, I wrote a series of books for lower secondary and am just finishing a series for upper secondary technical high schools. I have been writing for Cambridge University Press for almost ten years, starting with a book of photocopiable activities for business English. A few years ago I wrote two of the personal study books for the new Business Advantage Series, write regularly for the website, Professional English Online and just finished two projects for CD-ROMs to be used with coursebooks for the revised FCE and CAE exams. I have also written a book on banking for Pearson and revised a BEC Vantage book for Cengage-National Geographic. Last year at IATEFL I was thrilled to launch ‘Spotlight on Learning Styles’, my first methodology book published by Delta Publishing in the Teacher Development series. This had long been a dream of mine to do and working on it was an incredible experience.
Vicky: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline you would like to share with us?
Marjorie: There are several projects in the pipeline at the moment, although some are at very early stages. However, at the university I have just finished the second semester of a project with some sixty students on their learning styles by making use of learning styles questionnaires, self-reflection sheets and a final survey. I just brought the stack of papers home yesterday and am very curious about the data. This will be published as a chapter in a book put out by the university and I hope to be able to present on it at an upcoming conference. The other project which is going on at the moment is a module for ‘From Teacher 2 Writer’ on how to write activities for different learner types.
Vicky: How would you like to close our interview?
Marjorie: I would like to say that it is really wonderful to have the chance to be interviewed by someone I so admire in the field of ELT. Vicky, you were one of the winners of our ‘best first presentation’ award at the IATEFL BESIG conference in Paris and what I love about the field of ELT is the support we give to each other. This has been an important part of my reasons for becoming involved in an organisation like IATEFL. The very first webinar we organized was with Professor David Crystal and it was truly inspiring seeing that we were reaching people across the globe who would normally not have the opportunity to take part in such an event. This inclusive atmosphere and sense of community is essential to me and one of the main drivers for working within the IATEFL organization.
Vicky: Thank you so much for your kind words – they give me a lot of strength! And a huge thank you for this wonderful interview.
In Business (2005). Cambridge University Press
Business Advantage Intermediate Personal Study Book (2012). Cambridge University Press
Business Advantage Advanced Personal Study Book (2012). Cambridge University Press
English for Banking and Finance 2 (2012). Pearson
Revised Pass Cambridge BEC Vantage (2013). Summertown Publishing
Spotlight on Learning Styles (2013). Delta Publishing
Friends 1 – 4 (on authoring team) (2002-2005) textbook, workbook and teacher’s book for Austrian lower secondary schools
TechCon 1 – 4 (on authoring team) (2011 – 2014) textbook, teacher’s book and teachers resource pack for Austrian upper secondary technical schools
She has also written articles for English Teaching Professional and The Teacher Trainer and TA journals and newsletters.
She writes regularly for the Cambridge University Press website, Professional English Online (2011 – present).