In this first blog entry I answer some questions about my career and teaching English in the UK.

What are the major challenges facing EL teachers in your country?
The main challenge I see is establishing English teaching as a professional occupation and not just something that anyone who speaks English can learn to do quickly in order to travel. A trend which is working against this is the increasing numbers of large companies who own chains of language schools which employ teachers on low wages to train students to sit global language exams.

Are teachers in your country generally members of teachers’ associations?
It is hard for me to generalise about this. I suspect that those teachers who do have jobs in the UK are aware of associations like IATEFL or BALEAP in the university sector. However, there are also many teachers who work abroad for much of the year and come back to the UK to teach in the summer, e.g. on pre-sessional courses. They are unlikely to be members of these UK-based associations.

How well resourced are teachers in your country?
This depends largely on the type of institution. English for Academic Purposes can be taught in private language schools, further education colleges or universities. The latter are generally better resourced but all institutions are increasingly being required to make cost savings.

What technology do you use with your students?
As most of my work involves teaching reading, writing and research skills to postgraduate students, I don’t need a lot of technology. I do make extensive use of the university’s virtual learning environment and the Internet as a source of research articles to use with my students. I also use online corpora to encourage my students to research the grammar and collocations of words.

What classes do you teach? (age, level, class size)
Mainly postgraduate students, age 20+, upper intermediate or advanced level (post IELTS 6.5) and classes may have 50 or 60 students.

What aspects of your teaching are you most interested in developing?
I’m interested in developing the use of learning teams to make large classes more manageable. I’m also interested in investigating whether EAP can be taught to low level students. I believe that it would be much more motivating even for very low levels to be working on the language they need for their studies.

Why did you decide to become an English language teacher?
I didn’t really decide. I just fell into it through work in adult literacy. I found I enjoyed teaching and I enjoyed language and I wanted to do more.

What is the status of teachers in your country? Are they generally valued and well paid?
Again it depends where teachers work in the UK. Those who have jobs in academic institutions are generally well-paid in comparison to the profession as a whole although tend to be less well paid than other academics. However, those who work for private language schools are not nearly as well paid. This can create tensions when teachers respond to opportunities in the market, opting for insecure but well-paid pre-sessional work rather than staying in a low paid but stressful management function in a private language school.

What is the status of English in your country?
The thing that amazed me the most when I first came to the UK is how many different types of English there are in this tiny island and how much people appraise each other on the basis of the kind of English they speak!

What have you learned from being a teacher?
I’ve learned how texts work beyond the level of the sentence and how to use this knowledge to help students to read and write better. I’ve learned how rewarding it is to collaborate with colleagues who share my approaches to teaching.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming an English teacher?
Don’t do it unless you really feel passionately about teaching English. It is not generally well-paid and there are not a large number of secure jobs available.

Which writer/researcher has had the most influence over the way you understand learning and teaching?
Michael Halliday

What most interests you about ELT at the moment?
The move towards seeing language as a socially constructed system of choices, determined in part by the situation, the participants and the role of language.

How do you see the role of the EL teacher evolving over the next 5 - 10 years?
It seems that the profession is beginning to realise that individual learners have specific needs and it is no longer possible to teach a ‘one size fits all’ English. EAP has always been needs driven and based on the target texts, tasks and situations that individual students need for communicative performance. I believe that EAP approaches will become increasingly relevant for all types of English teaching.

 

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