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!)
It seems as though it has been more than 6 years. 6 years of blogging!
I started not knowing what I was doing, what to share…and then it all fell into place! I got to know other bloggers, we exchange comments, I learn from readers’ comments, I share classroom experiences, lesson plans, personal moments too…
A million thanks to everyone who has read this blog, supported it, commented on it and taught me so many things!
Here’s to all of you, to 6 years and hopefully more to come.
He is one of the most inspirational educators I have ever come across. One of the stories I have included in the Human Touch presentations I have made in person and online, is that of Abdul.
The men and women who have the right ideals . . . are those who have the courage to strive for the happiness which comes only with labor and effort and self-sacrifice, and those whose joy in life springs in part from power of work and sense of duty.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919)
Every morning he sets off to cross the river in his town, in order to get to school. He could use a vehicle or public transport, but it would take him over three hours. By wading in the river, he arrives in fifteen minutes and to his students much faster, as he says. He swims with a tyre-tube around him, and his clothes and food in a plastic bag over his head. When he reaches the river bank right across, he puts on some dry clothes and walks uphill for another ten minutes, arriving at school where his enthusiastic students are waiting for him.
Apart from teaching them the school subjects, Abdul also teaches them how to swim. He not only shows interest in the kids’ learning, but also their well-being, by teaching them how to swim and avoid the danger of being in the water. He teaches them great human values by swimming in dirty waters every morning to get to them on time.
This story makes me think about teachers all around the world, and what they do in order to get to class, to teach their kids. Each one of them is wading their own waters.
using their own money to equip their classroom
pretending they are ok when they are sick / with a throbbing headache / with problems at home
taking multiple types of transport to reach school
skipping lunch to help kids during the break
fighting adverse administration at school
working with no moral / financial support from anyone
missing out on free time or time with their families to get work done.
When we think of the students and what progress they make and how much they can be helped, as much as how much they teach us during the week, it makes it all worth it.
So in one way or another, we are all wading our own waters, metaphorically or literally, just like Abdul.
Here is a video about him and his wonderful students:
Joanna Malefaki has created an amazing blog challenge, where teachers write to their younger selves, called the #YoungerTeacherSelf blog challenge. What a great idea and what lovely posts we have read so far!
I had to start teaching almost as soon as I got into university, for the reason that I was studying far away from my family and they could not fully afford my studies. Therefore, I had to dive right into it, but I was fortunate enough to have great professors and colleagues to help me out in this difficult, but incredible journey.
Here is my letter to 18-year-old Vicky and a few years after that, when I was a scared teacher, afraid of many things and mainly how it was going to be.
I know that your whole life you had been dreaming of becoming a lawyer, and that education was your second choice. I assure you that this is a choice you will never look back on – you will absolutely love it and you will be happy you accidentally got into it!
You will have lots and lots of students and you will learn so much from them and from teaching them. They will come to you with dreams, enthusiasm or lack of it, a great variety of talents and each and every one of them will leave their mark on you. Mistakes are part of the deal, but don’t worry, you will always make them. You want to learn and become better, don’t you? These mistakes are there to remind you of this.
Some day, you will be connected to so many educators, not only face-to-face, but also through the internet. Especially through social media. What is all that social media stuff, you ask? You don’t believe me? Wait and see! You are excited about emails so far, but just wait until you see what other things you will be using in a decade or two! And you will learn so much from and with these educators, who come from all over the world.
It is absolutely fine to deviate from the coursebook. Do you think that task on page 76 is not appropriate or does not help your students? Skip it! Change it! Weave it into something else and don’t worry. Not all students learn the same way and not all tasks work out as they are designed. You want the best for your students, right?
Be happy you did not take that professor’s advice, who told you in your second year not to become close to the students at all, because they will only “take advantage of you” and “you are there only to teach them, not help them with their lives in general”. Regardless of their age, students are all human beings with feelings and if we can help even one of them with a problem they may be facing, it is so important. They are not only there for us to teach them the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect and then shove them out the door.
Whatever you do, don’t stop learning. You will never know everything and that is super! You will always be developing and growing as a teacher, through reading, writing, attending conferences, learning sessions. This is something you will tremendously enjoy. Keep going and keep learning!
When I remember myself as a little child, I always remember a rather quirky child that disliked pink, princesses and fairy tales, and most toys – instead, I loved reading, as I could read from a very young age. I read anything I could. I was also an absolute klutz when it came to anything graceful, like ballet. I disliked being in big crowds.
I loved another thing along with reading: listening to “real” stories.
I was and I am very fortunate to have someone in my life who taught me that I was not weird, and he taught me so much more. He has nothing to do with ELT. Most of his working life was spent in restaurants, with grueling schedules, either as a waiter, chef, owner, or all three together. He is my first teacher and a huge part of who and what I am is thanks to him. He is my dad.
Despite his very long working hours, sometimes working 16-17 hours or more (he has always gone on very little sleep which is something I have also got from him), he was always there for me, either on the phone, in the morning before he went to work, or at night, after he returned. What have I learned from him? Numerous things, but I will mention a few:
No matter what you do in your life and how far you get, you are equal to everyone else and never forget where you come from. I always saw this in the interaction with his customers, the good ones, the difficult ones. He treated everyone the same and had a joke and a smile for everyone.
You always need to be polite and not load other people with your bad mood. You can talk about that with people close to you. He also told us that you know when a person is genuine and kind by how they treat waiters and children🙂
Pay attention in school, but also outside school. You can learn from anyone, anywhere.
He told me real stories. Even though I was only 11 at the time, he told me about the Berlin Wall. He told me about the war in Vietnam. He introduced me to people like Martin Luther King and Neil Armstrong.
The first movie I watched with him was…Rocky! Still one of my favourites. “Now what’s the message? Not that I want you going out there punching everyone…but see how much he tried for what he wanted?”
He showed me a love of reading. He was and is always reading something, be it a book, newspaper or on his tablet – at 69 years old! He always loves talking about what he is reading. Now that I live far away from him, we still do this over Skype! He always starts like this: “Hey Vicky, listen to this…I read…”
Thank you Dad for all you are and all you teach me and have taught me. I am so grateful for every single day.
On the first day of March, we have our new interview ready! I would love to introduce you to a great teacher and friend based in Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia – Božica Šarić- Cvjetković! She is very active on social media, and a lot of you know her already – those of you who don’t, follow what she is doing! She is great!
What do conferences and airports have to do with the interview? What does she do with her primary school students? Why and how does she use social media? For the answers to all these questions and more, watch our interview!
I have mentioned in previous blog posts that ever since I came to Switzerland, I have been learning German – I love languages, and I think that being able to communicate in the language of the country you live in is great, makes your life easier, and opens new doors for reading more and understanding films, taking part in discussions and so on. Plus, it is respectful to the country and people who have welcomed us.
After my very first visit to Istanbul in late 2012, I totally fell in love with the people, the country and the language so I thought about starting to learn Turkish as well. I must admit, it is one of the most difficult languages I have undertaken, but I love the sound, the poetic meanings words and expressions can take, so I am going to continue and I really want to learn!
I would never have done it without the help of my good friend and teacher, Dinçer Demir, who very patiently teaches me on Skype once a week. I also try to listen to songs on YouTube, make out the words and sounds that the language has. Sometimes, it gets really hard and I think of the usual I-don’t-live-in-the-country-so-my-exposure-is-low excuse. I have decided to stop that, and get as much exposure as possible.
Last Sunday, I was listening to a beautiful Turkish song a good friend, Esra Aydın, had posted on Facebook, and now YouTube has a new (at least I have just discovered it) function called AutoPlay, which immediately starts a new song of the same genre you were listening to before. So, another song came up, a beautiful one, and I saw that is was part of the soundtrack of a film, called Evim Sensin (You Are My Home). I thought, hey great idea, why don’t I try to watch this film and see what I get from it language-wise? It is the typical girl-meets-boy storyline, so it cannot be so difficult to start with. Oh my, I had so many difficulties but I am happy I watched it for various reasons.
I realised that I understand much more than I thought – even though my speaking still needs a lot of work, but that is the last stage of a language that we can reach proficiency in, I believe and I always see it in my students as well.
The typical girl-meets-boy storyline proved to be even harder than I thought, because the story was so complicated and had ups and downs. Of course, the actors’ body language helps a lot, but very often I found myself wondering, what they had just said and the man was deep in thought, while the girl was still happy and smiling, or why the girl had gone to the hotel – was that her husband’s mother she was going to find there?
It really helped that the movie did not have subtitles, as I was under pressure, let’s say, to comprehend on my own. I guess if I do this often, I will improve. This first time, though, was very difficult – but I learned a lot of new words, connecting them to the looks on their faces, gestures or if they were pointing at something or holding it.
I learned a lot of new things about the culture, like a great singer called Sezen Aksu, who sings one of the songs in the soundtrack. She is a living legend in Turkey and it was great to get to know more about her and her work! Dinçer also does that in our lessons – he teaches me a lot about the culture as well, and I really appreciate that, as I believe culture is an integral part of language learning and I do the same with my own students, whether I am teaching them English, or Greek.
I will be blogging about German and Turkish language learning throughout the year, different methods I will be trying out, the successes (I hope) and the problems I will be facing along the way. Are you learning a language? Feel free to share your experiences and ideas with me and our community of educators and students!
Here is the beautiful song that led me to the film, which in turn led me to a new part of language learning! A great film by the way, produced, written, music composed for and sung by another new to me Turkish actor/singer, Özcan Deniz.
Our February interview is HERE! This time, with a great educator from Thessaloniki, Greece – Vicky Papageorgiou! Vicky and I met in person last year for the first time and she is the amazing generous person you can see on social media, engaging every day and sharing great content.
Vicky Papageorgiou is a foreign language teacher (English, Italian, Greek) with approximately 20 years of experience with mainly adult learners. For over 15 years she has been preparing students for English language exams of various exam boards. She holds an MA in Education (Open Univ. of Cyprus) and an MA in Art (Goldsmiths College, UK) and she is currently studying at University of Wales Trinity Saint David for her PGCE in Technology Enhanced Learning. She studied in Greece, Italy and the UK but also participated in an international project for the McLuhan program in Culture and Technology for the University of Toronto, Canada. Her fields of interest are Inquiry-Based Learning, ESL and Art, translation, use of video. She is currently based in Thessaloniki (Greece) working as an Adjunct Lecturer at AMC College for the past 5 years, preparing students for IELTS, teaching ESP and General English.
Next up on the What’s Your Story? Blog Challenge…Katie Burgess! She takes us on a trip from Hungary to the US to China – what a beautiful story about how she became a teacher.
I knew I was meant to be a teacher when at age seven I gathered my stuffed animals and my reluctant little brother into my room, having them sit in a circle around me, paying close attention to my small chalkboard, introducing them the world of numbers and letters.
My inspiration was my first grade teacher, Miss Varga who taught all 42 of us how to read and write. To me, as a small child it was such a remarkable experience that in a short time I could put meaning behind those characters, the letters which at first looked so intimidating, foreign and scary.
I admired her patience and wisdom. It seemed nothing less than a Miracle that I was introduced to the world of letters and numbers and I contributed it to her Power. Yes, to me, she had the Power of knowledge which she has passed on to us.
And I wanted that magical Power.
I come from Hungary, a small European country with a unique language. From 3rd grade we already studied French and continued with Russian from 5th grade on. I kept studying both because I was fascinated by languages and cultures entirely different from ours.
At university, I majored in French and Latin was mandatory for 2 years. I continued with Italian, just for fun, which seemed relatively easy after the two other romance languages. Then in my 2nd year of studies when I picked up applied linguistics as a minor we were asked to study English so that we could read related articles and that’s when I met English, for the first time.
Even though I had plenty of experience with languages, when I first bumped into the word enough, I became frustrated: how can you possibly write this word this way and then pronounce it in such an unexpected way?
I quit English shortly after enough– it’s too hard… doesn’t make any sense…can’t pronounce certain sounds…
Two years later I was in in the US, in Miss Chloe’s evening class, along with a number of other freshly arrived immigrants, having one common goal: to learn English because it’s a must in order to survive in the New World.
I respected Miss Chloe, our ESL teacher: her dedication to us, her everlasting patience when we have all struggled with the weird sounds and I knew, right there: I want to become an ESL teacher. I want to be there, in front of a class where everyone needs to learn English, for their career, their promotion, for their education, or simply to survive.
So I did learn English. Two years later I passed the TOEFL test, with flying colors and went on studying at University of Oregon.
When later my family and I relocated to my home country I started to teach English. And there was no stopping me, after that.
I continued my education at Cambridge University, eventually got my Masters and have been attending seminars and workshops to better myself.
In my almost 20 years of teaching I had the chance to teach Mexican immigrants’ children in the US, college students in Hungary and over the past 2 years I have been teaching in China.
I feel blessed to have those amazing and encouraging teachers early on and as a tribute to them, I do my very best to continue their paths and be as inspiring to my students as my teachers were to me.