I am delighted to present you with the first interview for 2016, with one of my favourite educators ever, James Taylor!
Today’s guest is an invaluable ELT colleague and friend: an English teacher, blogger, co-founder and former President of BELTA Belgium, TEFL Commute podcast co-producer, iTDi mentor, ELTChat moderator, conference and webinar speaker. He is very active on social media and we all learn such a great deal from him on a daily basis.
James joined me from Brasília, where he now lives.
Enjoy this amazing interview and listen to James talk about everything from ELT, life experiences and travelling around the world as a teacher, podcasts, books, music and more!
A huge thank you, James!
(And thank you, James for coming up with the brilliant post title!)
Here is Goal #1 for 2015 – support a movement. I am very fortunate to be part of several movements for educators – I learn so much from being part of them, interacting with the educators involved in them and I feel that they help me grow as an educator. Some movements I am a member of:
The International Teachers Development Institute (iTDi). The motto of iTDi is For teachers, by teachers and that is the core of it: it is a community owned and staffed by teachers. There is a blog which is regularly updated around a specific topic, there are online courses which can last up to four weeks and are superb learning experiences, and there is also a forum where teachers from all over the world can get answers to many subjects and can interact. I am very honoured and proud to be one of the materials writers and bloggers for iTDi! I have learned so many things and the topics that have come up have made me think about my own teaching.
BELTA Belgium. The Belgian English Language teachers Association is a three-year-old association which was co-founded by James Taylor, Mieke Kenis, Guido Van Landeghem and Ellen DePreter. It has already achieved so many things: there is an annual one-day event called BELTA Day, which attracts a great number of teachers not only from all over Belgium, but from all over the world! There is also a social event and train the teacher event, as well as Sunday webinars. There is also a blog and a Bulletin, of which I am the Editor! I am so happy to be part of this amazing new association for many reasons: the board members are all people I can call friends, we all share the same passion for education and it is great to see what new ideas constantly come up!
TeachingEnglish blog by the British Council. I am happy to be one of the bloggers on this site. Every month, Paul Braddock gives the team, comprised by teachers from all over the world, some great topics to blog about and the interaction is great! I have been away for a short while, but will be back blogging in June!
ELTChat. This is a superb resource – a weekly chat on Twitter, around a voted topic. This year, I am not able to take part in the live chat due to my heavy schedule, but every week after the chat, one of the educators who has taken part in it writes a summary. The summaries are so useful and I always get new ideas or tools to use.
Last but not least…The Loras Network. It is exactly what our name says: my sister Eugenia and I have created a language and teacher training school, which is not only made up of us – it is made up of a network of all the educators we interact with on social media, we collaborate online or in person, we learn with and from. We hold an annual event, The Loras Workshop, and do workshops and talks everywhere! It is our dream come true!
I am thrilled to have an educator I admire very much on my blog, not only for his teaching and his sharing, but also for his studies and blogging as well! I would like to introduce you to Osman Solmaz – originally from Diyarbakır, Turkey – now in Tucson, Arizona for his PhD studies.
Vicky: Thanks so much for accepting my invitation for this interview, Osman!
Osman: Thank you for the offer! It is my pleasure to be part of this!
Vicky: Thank you so much – I admire you so much as an educator! My first question is that exactly, how did you decide to enter the world of education – has it always been a dream of yours?
Osman: I had (still have) an amazing teacher of English that helped me a lot to become who I am right now. I think the influence of the teachers like him affected my decision; because I have personally witnessed how a teacher can have a deep impact in the lives of his/her students. Besides, I have always had an interest in learning languages and foreign cultures. Even though I started learning English at high school, I loved the whole process of developing a competence to express myself in another language. I hope to help my students to enjoy this process and much more as much as I did.
Vicky: You are also contiuing your studies – you are doing a PhD in Second Language Acquisition & Teachingat the University of Arizona. How did you choose this specific program? How are you enjoying it so far?
Osman: Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) is an interdisciplinary doctoral program in which 17 different departments participate. So, when you are enrolled in a program like this, you have a chance to collaborate with almost 80 professors. Even though this rich variety of options can be challenging for students, the steps to take in your PhD quest in the program are clearly stated. Needless to say, it is one of the best programs in the country partly thanks to its unique nature. Therefore, SLAT was in my radar from the first day I came across the program on the web. It is my second year at the moment here and I have truly enjoyed the people, the program, classes, professors, and beautiful Southern Arizona so far. People in my program are really friendly and they make us feel like a family. For example, we have had a Halloween party few weeks ago and it was mostly for international students to experience the Halloween culture. We have a Thanksgiving dinner on the corner!
Vicky: Before Arizona, you were in your beautiful country, Turkey. Can you tell us what you were involved in while you were there?
Osman: I studied at the department of English Language Teaching at Dicle University in Diyarbakır (hometown), a historical and vibrant city in southeastern Turkey. After teaching English to adults in a private course and then high school students at a private school, I have lectured at the university for a couple of years before Arizona. While teaching at the department of foreign languages, I received my M.A. degree in Applied Linguistics / ELT from Dicle University. I hope to be back once I am done, but it is early to speak yet.
Vicky: You engage a lot in social media. How did you become involved in them, and how do you think they help educators?
Osman: When I posted my very first tweet, I had no idea how powerful this tool would eventually be. I must admit that I was very lucky to come across #eltchat which helped me grow up as a language teacher and introduced me to a great group of colleagues with similar interests. I think of the social media as a giant and efficient teachers’ room where educators are constantly in touch. Social media helps educators become better teachers since the engagement and activity on the ‘virtual teacher room’ help us be exposed to education-related news and materials all the time. I think this makes us become critically aware of the process of learning and teaching. In the meantime, social networking allows users to form friendship and give us some friends to chat and hug when we attend a conference, instead of just presenting and coming back home. The process of getting involved with potential conference participants starts long before than it used to be and I think it is great! Last but not least, I believe we all should try to understand the core promise of how a technological tool can assist us with our teaching. It is Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest today, but there may (and will) be different technologies in the future and we should prepare ourselves for them. Therefore, I am interested in researching the connection between technological tools and how we educators can make the most of it.
Vicky: You also have a beautiful blog, idiolectica. I love how you incorporate various topics – apart from teaching, you have literature and recently you added a new category, Joys of Life. Can you let us know what inspired you for the name of the blog and what inspires you to write?
Osman: Thank you! I made up the word idiolectica! I haven’t personally seen that word anywhere. Idiolect is the unique linguistic system of an individual and –ica is “a collection of things that relate to a specific place, person etc.” (-ika in Ancient Greek). This makes me come up with the word idiolectica referring to the collection of things related to my own linguistic system. I chose this because I am thinking aloud in my blog and I like writing about the things I read and come across. In addition to that, my individual perspective is clearly reflected on all the blog posts (except guest posts). I think living in a foreign country, being enrolled in a graduate program far from home, having various interests, and surely reflecting on educational / linguistic / sociolinguistic issues are among the factors that make me write. It is definitely not a typical educator blog but I hope people like it and encourage me to continue writing. About Joys of Life, there are many small things in this life that can make us happy and happiness is most valuable when shared. That is why I started that category and I want to continue sharing the joys of life!
Vicky: That is so important and thank you for reminding us and helping us focus on all the great things in life! What would you like to tell all the educators who are reading your interview right now?
Osman: As teachers, we should have the desire, passion, and the knowledge to help our students become better learners. In order to achieve this, we must be great learners ourselves. Remembering our teachers being proud of us for being who we have become and students appreciating our efforts help a lot along the way.
Vicky: That is an amazing statement to close our talk. Thank you so much for this interview and I hope we meet up in person soon!
Osman: I thank you for helping educators meet educators through those great interviews and I am sure we will meet in one of the language-related events very soon!
It was around four years ago when I first moved here to Switzerland and I was full of dreams for my new life. I had found a job before I came – or so I thought. The crisis arrived in Europe and then Swiss employers decided to stop employing people for a period of time. The school that had promised to take me on informed me they could not anymore. I was suddenly without a job.
One day, when I was feeling sorry for myself, I decided to Google ELT materials and look at things I like to feel better. Ken Wilson’s blog came up and I started to read it. I then got in touch with him and he told me not only to start my own blog, but to make a Twitter account to connect to more teachers. Up until then, I didn’t have any contact with technology apart from emailing and googling. Twitter?I thought.A social media platform where people share details of their lives…to connect with teachers? I did it, not without hesitation though. I wasn’t sure how it would help me – not at all doubting Ken, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything to say. I started connecting to other teachers and seeing what they posted: useful links, their blog posts and posts of others too, new tools in technology to use in class…I loved it so much! And I haven’t looked back ever since.
If you are an educator and are not on Twitter, I strongly suggest you do it. It will help you in more ways than can be mentioned. How to do it?
– Join the weekly miracle of a chat called ELTChat. It is a weekly double chat which started in September 2010, when a group of educators began to use Twitter to discuss various topics related to ELT. It is one of the greatest tools for professional development. Every Wednesday at 12pm and 21.00pm, ELT teachers from everywhere in the world join in on Twitter to discuss topics that have been voted for.
– Here is a video made by a super educator in Australia, Selena Woodward, called Getting Started with Twitter – For Educators. Many thanks to Tina Photakis, another super teacher in Australia, who posted it on Twitter and to Selena for creating it!
We are all there to help you out! Make an account and join literally thousands of educators out there.
I would never have met all these lovely people mentioned and many more, if it weren’t for Twitter.
I was asked to do the first webinar for BELTA, which I accepted with great joy and honour. The topic was Professional Development for Now and the Future: A Guide to 2013 and you can watch the slideshow below:
I have also created a PDF file with the most useful links.
Here is the link with the recording of the webinar, which will also be published on the BELTA blog, Facebook and Twitter.
A huge thank you to BELTA and everyone who was there (including my parents!), in the Adobe Connect room and to my sister, Eugenia, who was there in the same room as I was, cheering us all on (and also helped me find a title to this blog post)!
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/)wasthe 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!
Here are Mike’s tips in bold – my comments and thoughts follow.
Mike’s Suggestions for Professional Development
Take a break! This is something I have been thinking about since last year, when I read a great post by Ceri Jones. Her post Flashes of Inspiration was exactly what I needed at that moment and a kind of awakening – sometimes we forget to make time for ourselves or take a break even for a few minutes. I have started learning how to do that and I have decided to keep at it until I achieve this goal! I have also written about this in one of my recent posts, My Learning for 2012 – A Post for @iTDipro.
Be a mentor. I started mentoring teachers when I still lived in Greece and have continued ever since. I think that I also learn from them and I have decided to do it even more this year. The same way I get motivation and useful feedback when I am with my mentors, I hope that the educators I advise get something out of it.
Be a mentee. Eyes and ears open to my mentors this year, more than ever! I need to schedule more meetings with them. I know we are all pressured for time, but it is up to me to make more time. I appreciate their feedback and advice tremendously and this year it will happen more often!
Observe and be observed (Observe yourself as well). I haven’t been in other educators’ classrooms for quite a while and will definitely start doing it again. As many times as I have observed other teachers, I have learned a great deal. I will also ask colleagues if they would like to come to my classes. I will be grateful for their feedback. Last year, I did not observe any classes at all or was observed at all – this has to change. Here is a great post by Gemma Lunn on observation, Self-Observation Part 1: How do I look?
Study something new. (Another language?) That, I have already started – Turkish! It has been a goal of mine for years. Now is the time – and with a couple of trips in the pipeline this year to beautiful Turkey, I hope I can learn the basics at least in order to communicate with the lovely people. It is quite a challenge, but I am enjoying it. I love how it sounds! I have started with an online program and will start lessons with a teacher soon, hopefully.
Teach something new. This has got me thinking…what could it be? It is a great idea! I’m all for new things this year.
Experiment (and keep experimenting!) Different ideas for various learning styles, the same lesson in different versions, new types of technology, collaborative teaching, let the students take more and more ownership of their learning…the list is endless of what we can do!
Use the internet effectively. (Places like Twitter/Facebook/teacher development groups/cafés) This I love doing and will encourage other educators to do more and more! I have not looked back on my decision to join Twitter three years ago, or Facebook a few months ago. I have learned so many things and have connected with so many great educators – I never get tired of saying how great connecting and networking is, be it over social media, or in teacher groups.
Join conferences (think about presenting). This is another huge source of learning – conferences and workshops: not only attending, but the inbetween time as well, where teachers talk and network and have the chance to reflect. It is also great to take the plunge and present! Move out of your comfort zone. I have learned so much from presenting and I will also continue doing it this year.
Reflect, reflect, reflect. Mike is the right person to give us this piece of advice – he is one of the people who emphasizes reflection and is a co-founder of the very first RPSIG worldwide (Reflective Practice Special Interest Group), based in South Korea. Get other teachers and set up reflection groups. Go to conferences and sessions on the topic. Write a journal, take notes – anything that can help you look on your teaching with a different eye – focus on the positive and negative points. This will definitely be a priority for me this year and from now on.
Put yourself in new positions. This says it all. Try everything. Don’t be afraid – just try! Go back, do it differently. Reflect (here it is again!) and see what you did well. What didn’t work, you can fix another time! It can help us all externalise our abilities and discover ones that we did not know we had inside us.
Mike’s tips have been printed and gone into my Moleskine diary!