I am extremely happy to present you with an interview I have been thinking about for a very long time with one of the people I admire tremendously. Mike Griffin! I connected with Mike in December 2011 on Twitter initially – he stood out for being one of those educators who has great opinions and ideas on education. He also has an amazing sense of humour! I was so happy that he started his own blog, which contains super pieces of writing. Mike blogs at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections. Heeeeere’s Mike!
Vicky: First of all, a huge thank you for accepting to do this interview – as you know, you are one of my favourite people on Twitter and Facebook, so this is a huge honour for me!
Mike: The pleasure and honour is all mine! #Whoop! Thanks so much for having me. It has been such fun getting to know you on those channels.
Vicky: You teach in South Korea as a lot of us know, as you are one of the most well-known people in the PLN and offer lots to educators on a daily basis. However, can you tell us where and what kind of classes you have, for the people who meet you for the first time?
Mike: I live and work in Seoul. My “day job” is teaching in the graduate school of a university here. I guess it is easiest to say that I have two different jobs within that job. In the first, I teach Business English, Academic English, or Discussion-focused classes for grad students in the International Studies major. In the second I run weekly seminars in simultaneous interpretation for students doing an MA in interpretation and translation. Students come into class with a Korean speech that they read while others interpret simultaneously and I frantically listen to as many interpretations as I can. After that students give each other feedback on what they heard and then I do my best to answer questions and give feedback on what I heard. Everyone always wonders if my Korean ability is good enough for this. It’s not. I actually just listen to the English anyway.
Additionally, I have been (co-)teaching Curriculum Development on the New School MATESOL program for a few terms. I also work on a trainer/mentor training course for public school teachers. I feel pretty busy after writing that.
As for being well-known, that is news to me!
Vicky: Well, it’s the truth! Was teaching your first choice as a profession?
Mike: Not really. Kind of. I am not sure. I actually entered university as an Education major but switched to History shortly thereafter. I thought I might like to be a history teacher for a while but then the allure of living in other cultures was too much.
Vicky: How did you get to Korea in the first place and what do you like the most about living there? Was there anything that surprised you in your first few months there?
Mike: I decided in my final term during my undergrad I wanted to teach and travel. Korea jumped out at me for a few reasons. It was far away and seemed different. At that time (12+ years ago now) not a lot of people knew about Korea, especially as compared to Japan. I was interested in going to a place that was not so widely known. I was also interested in how Korea was changing so rapidly and had undergone such dramatic changes in the past 50 years. I was lucky enough to get in contact online with a Canadian guy that was leaving his job and I appreciated how honest he was about the good and not-so-good things about the position.
The most surprising thing for me in my first few months in South Korea is the thing that still surprises me the most. Buildings go up so quickly! It is amazing. You might go somewhere you haven’t been in a month and see 3-4 new buildings. Even after all this time it still surprises me.
Vicky: You are a huge proponent of Reflective Practice in Teaching and one of the founders of the first RPSIG (Reflective Practice Special Interest Group) in the world, based in Korea. How did you enter this area of interest? How did you start the SIG?
Mike: Wow, great question. I was lucky enough to see and get connected a bit with Dr. Thomas Farrell at a special day-long workshop in 2008. Reflection was also a big part of my MATESOL at the New School as well as my training to be a World Learning/SIT Teacher Trainer. I saw a lot of benefits when I started trying to see my teaching as it was and started talking and writing about it. I guess reflection and reflective practice appealed to me before I even know what they were or what they were called.
Vicky: You present a lot at conferences throughout the year and do a lot of workshops for teachers. What do you enjoy the most about them?
Mike: I absolutely love the sound of my own voice. Wait, no, that is not the right answer. For the past few years I have been averaging about 1 presentation a month, which is something I am looking forward to cutting back on in 2013. I truly enjoy presenting and giving workshops, though. I find it is great learning opportunity for me to discover my hidden beliefs on certain areas as well as to explore thoughts and ideas that I was not so familiar with. The other thing I enjoy is helping teachers see how their experiences and thoughts matter and how they can make their own decisions about their classes.
Vicky: What would you advise teachers who are a bit reluctant to present?
Mike: Just start by starting. Don’t worry about being perfect or blowing people’s minds. Audiences are generally very supportive (especially if you come off as a fellow explorer and not an expert telling people what they *should be doing). I think it can be pretty nerve-wracking at first but it gets easier. My other advice would be that you don’t need to start out with big huge presentations but can start with smaller sessions for your colleagues or friends or something along those lines. I’d also advise being patient and not taking it personally if and when rejections come.
Vicky: Let’s move on to your blog, which is one of my absolute favourites. If I have to choose the top 5, yours is definitely among them. How did you start it and what inspires you to write?
Mike: Thanks so much! It is always great to get positive feedback but even better to get positive feedback from someone that you respect (and someone that has an excellent blog themself!).
I love blogging. I can’t believe it took me so long to get into it. I did dabble with student blogs and blogs that I ran for students back in the olde days of 2007 but I never thought about having my own blog. The constant nagging encouragement of my dear friend Josette LeBlanc (@josetteLB) who has an amazing blog over at tokenteach (http://tokenteach.wordpress.com/) was the main push for me to blog. I joined Twitter in 2011 just after the KOTESOL International Conference after Chuck Sandy encouraged the audience in his fantastic presentation to do so. From there after engaging with the community having a blog seemed like a natural next step. I think Twitter is fantastic but the tyranny of 140 characters can be a bit strong at times so it is nice to have a space to share some thoughts.
As for my inspiration to blog, there are a few ideas and rants that I just needed to get out of my system and blogging has been great for that. I have noticed how the simple fact of just having a blog changes my thought process. For example, something interesting or strange might occur in class but now that I have a blog I sometimes think about these events under the lens of “How would I write about this in the blog?” and I think it tends to give me more/different insights than I would have otherwise. I guess I didn’t really answer your question about what inspires me to write but it is partially things I need to get off my chest, lessons I have learned that I want to share, questions I am working through, funny (in my opinion at least) stories I want to share, or other people’s ideas I want to share.
Vicky: You are very active on social media and share a great deal with educators all around the world. Can you give us some insight into how you use each medium and what you see as a benefit? Which downsides are there?
Mike: “Very active on social” media is a very nice way to put it. Haha. I am on the computer a lot for work and Facebook and Twitter are enticing breaks. I mostly use Twitter for professional things (though I am not afraid to be silly and whimsical) and Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family and sharing random thoughts and links. In the past 6-10 months I have been adding more and more Twitter friends on Facebook and it has been interesting. I suppose “worlds colliding” could be a potential downside but I have been lucky enough (as far as I know) to not experience negative impact from merging my professional and personal digital selves. I think there are always risks inherent in any sort of communication but I have been very pleased with my social “networking for professional development experiment.” I guess I mostly share links and try to connect with people. I have been thrilled to discover amazing people who work in similar as well as drastically different contexts in Korea and around the world. Pooling knowledge and ideas with educators around the world has been an inspiring experience.
Vicky: Before our interview, I asked you which your favourite ELT book is and yours is Understanding Teaching Through Learning. Can you give us some details about it – why would you recommend it? By the way, I have already ordered it and thank you for that!
Mike: That is great news! That book was a great intro for me about many things related to teacher training and reflection. It is also a great source of ideas and material for running workshops. I think the authors did a great job of taking complicated ideas and making them accessible and engaging. Something I especially love about that book is how it offers something for teacher across all experience levels.
Vicky: Now let’s move on to Mike outside teaching. What do you enjoy doing when you have a spare moment?
Mike: I don’t have as many spare moments as I would like but traveling and reading are at the top of my list. Combining the two and reading on a beach in a new country is blissful for me.
Aside from my big interest in ELT am also interested in sports, movies, comedy, business, politics, and suddenly social networking.
Vicky: I asked you about your favourite movie before I interviewed you and it is The Big Lebowski – to be honest, I have never seen it, even though I have heard about it before. I had homework to do and learn more about it! Please tell us more about it and why you like it.
Mike: You have to see it! It’s hilarious. It is also one of those movies that gets better the more you see it. I don’t just recommend watching it once, I recommend watching it at least 5 times. Then things will make a bit more sense. I found it extremely witty and funny and I was especially impressed with the dialogue. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. I imagine when you (finally) see it you might recognize some of the lines because people have been saying them around you for years.
Vicky: Nerdy question coming up: have you ever taught with it?
Mike: That is a really #TESOLgeek –y question! It is also a great idea because I have never used it in class. Some of the dialogues would be great. I am imaging it now. I think you might be a bit out of your element if I start telling you what scenes would be good so I will wait for you to get back to me.
Vicky: Mike, a huge thank you for this interview, for your insight and your time. I really hope to meet you face to face soon!
Mike: Thank YOU. Thank you for having me. Thank you for all the support. Thanks for all the laughs and smiles. Thank you for all the sharing and community building that you do. And thank you for being you. Rock on!
(I am very much looking forward to meeting you face to face. I am willing to go on record that all the cake you can eat will be my treat!)
Vicky’s Notes: I would like to thank Mike very much for helping me find a title for his blog – wordplay on his blog title! And thank you – I never say no to cake!