1. What are the major challenges facing EL Teachers in your country?
This is certainly a difficult question to answer because it would involve a vast knowledge and generalised view of everything that is happening in a big country as Argentina. However, in order to give a brief overview, English has been taught more widely in the country since the 90’s when Argentina recognized the importance of preparing its future generations for the new globalized era of intercultural and transnational communications. Private and mostly bilingual schools were the first ones to accept and face the challenge. State schools are the ones who are still behind in updating their curricula though the Federal Laws of Education have tried to unify the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language in the whole country by regulating the activity in every level of education. The new Federal Law (N 26.206) regulates the teaching of at least one Foreign Language in every state school at Primary and Secondary Levels, English being the first option. However the application of English programmes in every primary and secondary state school in the country has not yet been realized due to many factors including the lack of qualified teachers. As it has already occurred in other countries in the region, there is a great demand for well trained Teachers of English to work in the great quantity of schools throughout this vast country.
My province decided to face the challenge and started with an advanced project to teach English in 4th, 5th and 6th grades in every state primary school all over the province of Tucuman in the year 2007. This obliged the local Ministry of Education to hire people with different profiles, with or without teaching knowledge, some with basic and others with more advanced knowledge of the English Language. The programme has almost finished its second year of application, but parallel projects have been developed in order to help solve the problems caused by the gap in the quality of preparation these teachers posses. I have been selected to participate in one of them that consisted in an online methodology course which was initiated with the cooperation between the Ministry of Education in Tucuman and the British Council Argentina. The group of selected on line tutors had to guide different groups of in service teachers with varied backgrounds and teaching expertise through a methodology course on a platform. I was quite privileged to be the tutor of a wonderful group composed of graduated teachers who were very enthusiastic and participative. They have just finished the six-months online preparation programme to sit for an international exam on teaching knowledge. The whole programme meant a great challenge for the participant teachers and the tutors, who like me had to overcome many problems specially those related to the lack of specific technological knowledge.
2. Are teachers in your country generally members of teachers’ associations?
In my personal opinion teachers in my country should still become more conscious of the importance of belonging to teachers’ associations. Most regions and provinces in the country have a teacher’s association that represents them and works in order to help teachers in the area get acquainted with methodological innovations being carried out in the country and abroad. The participation of the majority of the teachers is essential in order to help these associations spread all over the country and accomplish their tasks more appropriately. There are 27 of these associations all over the country and they all belong to the Argentinean Federation of Associations of Teachers of English called FAAPI. At the same time FAAPI is associated to IATEFL (number 14987).
- This is the FAAPI website: http://www.faapi.org.ar/
- And more information can be found in the following link: http://www.faapi.org.ar/federacion.php?id=24286
There is an annual FAAPI Congress held in different regions of the country plus each association is always active organising different local seminars in order to cater for the great demand for teacher development always existent among teachers and teacher trainees.
3. How well resourced are teachers in your country?
Resources are quite varied among teachers in Argentina. The basic resource everybody can access to is a text book, though some of my online tutees have mentioned teaching in really such disadvantaged situations that they can’t even ask their students to buy a text book with which they can work. This fact shows an enormous gap existing in the country, where there are well equipped schools that can offer quite updated learning resources to their students, and schools like the ones mentioned above. This reality also indicates the great demand existing in the field of material development and specialised action research within the different teaching situations in which our colleagues have to work.
4. What technology do you use with your students?
At school there are two rooms equipped with a TV and a DVD player which can be used by all of the teachers, always subject to availability. The English department has another room with the same equipment, which should to be shared by all of the teachers of English from both primary and secondary levels. Since the beginning of the year we have been working with new CD and cassette players which have been used so much that one of them has already begun to fail….
Only rarely do I use more specific equipment because I need to ask for them in advance. The school has a computer projector and a white screen, which I have used to project some films to the students in an environment more similar to a cinema.
5. What have you found most useful on the Teaching English website?
The Teaching English Website has been very useful during this year, because it has helped me find excellent articles so that my Course Participants from the Methodology on-line course could read and get updated on different topics. It is really interesting to read what teachers from all over the world have to say about their experiences in different teaching and learning environments.
6. What classes do you teach?
I teach several classes at the same school and this implies spending almost the whole day over there! There is an average of 16 students in each class and the youngest students are 10 and the oldest 16 years old. My youngest students belong to groups with low level of proficiency in English. The majority of these students have learning disadvantages and most of them have been involved in discipline problems, in and out of school. On the contrary, the older ones have been working towards the achievement of B1+ level of English Proficiency and I am very proud of them and their great effort to improve themselves.
Apart form this I have been working as an on-line tutor for the last six months. The group started with 32 students, but only 13 finished the whole methodology course. They are sitting for the Module 1 of the TKT international exam on November 8th.
Moreover, I have begun working as an auxiliary teacher at a teaching training tertiary level institute, where my responsibilities are to help a group of 30 teacher trainees improve their writing skills in order to be able to sit for their exams which are coming very soon. They need urgent help because they have not had proper classes for four months after their trainer resigned.
7. What aspects of your teaching are you most interested in developing?
For some years I have been interested in developing different innovative projects with my students at school, all of them referred to different ELT areas. Together with my colleagues we have been thinking about and developing different ideas, but it was in the year 2008 when many of these projects came successfully to life. One of them was based on CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). The whole project included the development of activities and materials to work with students of different ages and levels of competence in English putting emphasis on language learning as well as on cross-curricular contents. Some aspects of the project were presented at the XXXIII FAAPI Conference for teachers of English in Argentina in September 2008.
The second project referred to values, following an initiative started by Pearson Longman Argentina. They organized a national contest in which three of my students won a secondary prize for their news article about a campaign organized by their classmates to celebrate children’s day: http://www.pearsonlongman.com.ar/sitio/Campaigns_winners_teens.asp
Finally, following one of my original interests in Reading Strategies, I have continued developing reading materials suitable for students with different interests and levels of English proficiency. A work in collaboration about the development of Reading Strategies for students in the Polimodal Level (last years of secondary education) has been presented and published at I Coloquio de Adquisicion de las Lenguas organized by the Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, National University of Tucuman.
While still analysing the results obtained after the application of these projects along the year, we are also thinking of ways to improve them as well as designing new ones to continue on this same road during the next year.
8. Why did you decide to become an English language teacher?
I decided to become an English Teacher after “I fell in love” with the profession when I was 11 years old and I had just started English classes at school. I absolutely loved our teacher who used to implement lots of methodological innovations with us, such as bringing toys and letting us play games in 6th class. This was a real innovation in those early days of 1980’s when ELT was beginning its development in our country and was taught at only a few selected schools.
9. What is the status of teachers in your country? Are they generally valued and well paid?
In Argentina the situation is similar to that of other countries in Latin America, in which teachers are generally underpaid. It is very common to see teachers who do not have the good luck of teaching in a big school and who could not have all their teaching periods in only one institution, travelling from school to school to school…This changing of schools sometimes involves travelling from schools in the city centre to schools in the country, which can be several kilometres away form one another.
10. What is the status of English in your country? Is it widely spoken to a good level?
English is recognized the key language for international communication and the Federal Law of Education has tried to unify ELT in every school in the country, but as explained before the actual realisation of the law has been quite diverse in the different corners of this vast country. I consider that we are still far away from speaking it widely to a good level, but it is true that the younger generations have been receiving better teaching in English and have become more conscious about its importance by showing more interest and dedication in learning.
11. What have you learned form being a teacher?
What I have learnt in these 14 years as a teacher involves much more than just theory and practice of English Language Teaching and Learning, but also a lot related to my students emotional and psychological needs. Working with adolescents nowadays implies being alert to many other factors that influence their behaviour and academic performance, such as their need for attention, familiar problems, violence and corruption in their environment among others.
12. What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming an English teacher?
I would suggest that he or she should really enjoy teaching and creating, as well as be able to adapt and re-adapt to constantly changing teaching variables and situations. English Teachers should necessarily be patient and good listeners, and moreover, they should be ready to learn constantly and be always up dated with the new trends coming up in the ELT world.
13. Which writer/researcher has had the most influence over the way you understand learning and teaching?
Many researchers and writers have influenced my understanding on the different topics I have researched and studied at different stages in my career. Among them I can mention famous scholars who specialised in Reading like J.C. Alderson, W. Grabe and F. Stoller and C. Nuttal. S. Knight, Y. Padron and H. Waxman for their studies on Cognitive Reading Strategies, as well as R. Oxford and D. Crookall for their research on Language Learning Strategies. As regards the topic of Material Design it has been of great help reading A. Cunningsworth, D. Nunan, Mc Donough and Shaw, among others. On the special topic of CLIL, the work by Marsh, Mehisto and Frigols is really entertaining and enlightening.
14. What most interests you about ELT at the moment?
As I explained before, I have been interested in the development of original projects with which to work with my students on a regular basis along the academic year, but always breaking free from the traditional programme that focuses mainly on the study of language and grammar issues. As I said before it would be great if I could continue developing the projects I had explained before.
15. How do you see the role of the EL teacher evolving over the next 5 – 10 years?
I think that teachers of English will continue to be greatly demanded in the country as more provinces implement English Programmes in their schools, both in primary and secondary levels. I know from the experience of my on line tutees that young teachers to be who live in the southern area of our province cannot have access to Centres of Superior Education where they can follow their studies to graduate as teachers of English. This situation certainly requires more effort from the educative authorities who should create more tertiary institutions in which future English teachers can prepare themselves properly to face the challenges coming in the future.