Reading

The books for the diploma course have arrived, and what am I doing? After flipping through them, I go online to find lectures the authors have given. For example, I watched Stephen Pinker on Authors@Google talk about why we use swearwords. (This was to promote his book, The Stuff of Thought.)

I’m procrastinating the inevitable, actually reading The Language Instinct by Pinker, which by all accounts and first impressions is a great book. But it’s over 500 pages! It’s been a while since I’ve had to get intimate with research to the point of being able to reproduce it when cornered in an exam. I generally read non-fiction for pleasure, and take my time, enjoying the reading process, rather than taking an instrumental approach to reading. Generally there’s nobody telling me I have to actually finish the book, or who is going to test me on it.

For work, it’s dipping in and carving out the filet pieces in a book and then serving them up on a neat little platter. But that takes the joy out of reading, tunneling through books, searching for the beef. On this course I’m going to take things more lightly and just read and enjoy the stray thoughts that come and go, rather than worry too much.

Great expectations

I got some great mentoring and advice from Andi White, Evan Frendo (whose professional development group at ELTABB I’ve joined) and Vivienne Arnold, and have decided to take the plunge and do the Trinity Diploma in TESOL. After an initial talk with Duncan Foord, I’ve just had my interview with Nicola Meldrum, and am very happy to say that I’m in. I  have to run off in a few minutes to go to Berlin and do a written task to prove that I can indeed write in longhand. Let’s see if I still can, after so many years of using the computer, mainly!

I’ve waited very long to take this step. Over the years I’ve had second thoughts about being an English teacher without a license to teach at public school in Germany. Also, having done my Magister in Germany in other fields that I found very rewarding (history and political science) I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go the academic route again, and hadn’t seen any shorter courses that gave me the impression that they’d help my professional development, until this one.

What I like about it is its balance between providing structure and being open to development. The course tutors are really great. And the coursework portfolio will include:

  • observing other teachers (10+ hours, which is really quite a lot!): I might have to ask my friends at the LMU if they’d let me come round. And/or perhaps I can work with some of the teachers on the Cornelsen book project
  • developing an area of your choice (15 hours in a group of at least 6 students): This might be trickier, as I’m doing skills training at the moment. I could use my Management Circle compact course for this project, or perhaps ask to teach students at Potsdam Uni for this. I’d really like to focus on pronunciation, so an internationally mixed group would be ideal.
  • doing a written research project: I think I’d like to explore corpus linguistics with regard to the English needed in academic coursework.

Then there’s a written exam which covers a lot of ground, which will make up a large part of the Moodle course, which begins on 1 February and goes through the end of July. There’s also a huge section on phonology, which is pretty good, because it’s an area I need to develop. And finally there are 5 lessons that need to be planned and assessed on site at the school, OxfordTefl, in Barcelona, where we’ll be for the entire month of August.

Eamonn Fitzgerald and Andi kindly wrote a recommendation for me, and Scott Tokaryk is going to help me do this written task. So, I’m out the door, full of great expectations.

Let down

The “professional development” event I was looking forward to has just been cancelled. Such a let down. The trainers needed 15 paying participants. Just 15! MELTA has about 300 members, and non-members were also invited, yet 275 Euros for three days was too much for them. Isn’t that sad?

Why won’t freelance English teachers invest in their development? This is what needs to happen:

Step 1: “tend your garden”. We don’t even have the option of being a part of “landreform”, to pick up on Tessa Woodward’s image. Now that is in fact a fine option, since (as she said) tending your own garden has more payoff.

Step 2: Share. But it doesn’t end in your own garden, see. It’s an intrinsic need, you extend your gardening network, so you have lots of active gardeners exchanging ideas on organic gardening versus great spring displays, dealing with long, cold winters and getting rid of bugs. So if private gardens have good payoff, well, sharing takes it up a level.

Step 3: Integrate. Now, I don’t think simply sharing is the end of the story, though. A freelancer needs to do quite a bit of integration and reflection, plot a course, apply and test, check back on what she’s done and how it’s gone. That’s the only way to the top of the gardening pyramid.

Paedagogical tinkering

Tessa Woodward used a beautiful phrase in her plenary talk at IATEFL, “paedagogical tinkering“. What a great phrase! I’m a tinkerer myself (and have blogged about tinkering, too.) But what strikes me about this: She put “tinkering” in the context, not of fooling around and trying stuff out, willy-nilly, but of proper professional development, of activism and collaboration.

I don’t usually think of myself really “developing” in any way, I’m more like the cotton flower that just gets woolier and woolier. I’ve shared these little steps, but not systematically. I feel I haven’t gotten too far with it.

So her talk really resonated with me. I’m sure I’m not alone.

As my husband never ceases to remind me, I’ve taken giant steps in these past years in terms of professional development. BUT I just haven’t got a clue as to how to put it all together and take the next step. Hence the wooliness.

For instance, I’ve just reworked a one day compact course (intercultural communication for assistants) that I wrote and first taught 3 years ago, and though I was really quite happy with it back then, and got fantastic feedback, the revised version is completely different. The handout is no longer something to be gone through in sequence, though it’s still a collection of pen-and-paper worksheets to initiate tasks, and reference sheets for the office shelf. The media I’ll be using for comprehension and discussion was not produced for language teaching, it’s free online stuff. Some of the exercises we’ll be doing will use cell phones. And we’ll spend some time online. Three years ago I actually asked the company I taught this course at for a VCR, just to show my expensive intercultural training video. Can you believe it?

So a lot has changed. What’s next? I’m really looking forward to a professional development workshop provided by my teachers’ association, MELTA on 23/24 April and 7 May. I hope that, looking back and trying to integrate the skills I’ve acquired and the lessons I’ve learned will open me up for new adventures.

Don’t miss the Harrogate Online Livestream.

If you teach business people English, join the Business Spotlight Ning social network set up by Helen Strong and Deborah Capras. You’ll find it here. Debbie and Mike gave me great tips there that helped me design my course. Lovely. Thank you!

Question: Which skill would you like to develop?

There comes a time when you realize that you’ve been working hard in one direction or area and have become quite good at what you do. Generally it happens in the middle of what my husband Helmut calls “die Schuftphase” (when you’re slaving away at full throttle). So you’re being very productive in your current position. That’s a critical time, because when you start marking time – or not moving forward – you really need to ask yourself what comes next.

Have you thought about developing any special skill, something that you haven’t had time for before? It might be work related; you might want to skill up. But equally likely it will be more general and have to do with opening up new vistas. I’m thinking about a few different areas I’d like to develop. I’ll tell you about them in this week’s podcast. How about you? Write or tell me whether you are thinking about professional development or perhaps about getting more involved with a hobby of yours. Or could it be that you’ve already started?

to slave away – schuften, malochen, sich abrackern
at full throttle – mit Vollgas
to mark time – auf der Stelle treten
to skill up – zusätzliche Fertigkeiten erwerben
to open up new vistas – neue Perspektiven auftun


Was ist das Blogprojekt? Mehr dazu unter Englischlernen mit Anne!

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