Sherlock

This semester, I’ve spent a lot of time teaching a lovely group of young adults on an intensive B2-level course. A couple of the students are big fans of the TV series Sherlock and asked me if we could watch some of it in class, so I came up with the following lesson plan, designed to help develop students’ listening skills and raise awareness of some differences between spoken and written language.

The video clip I used is taken from the episode “A Study in Pink” (Season 1, Episode 1) and shows Sherlock meeting John Watson for the first time. (The whole episode can also be found on Netflix).

Here’s what we did:

  1. Working in pairs, students discussed the following questions: Do you watch any detective series or films? and What are the characteristics of a good TV detective?
  2.  I then showed students pictures of Sherlock and John and elicited what they already knew about them. Everyone had heard of Sherlock and about half the class had watched some of the series, which is more or less what I was expecting.
  3. I then played the video and asked the students to answer these questions: What do Sherlock and John decide to do? How would you describe them? I then gave them time to work together and compare the words and phrases they’d chosen to describe both characters.
  4. For the next activity, I split the students into pairs, making sure that each pair could access the video on their phones. I then asked them to work together to transcribe the conversation between John and Mike at the beginning of the clip (up to 00:40). I gave them the first line to start them off (“Are you still at Bart’s then?” – Bart’s is a teaching hospital in London where Mike works).
    I monitored and helped as necessary. This was a challenging activity, but overall they did quite well.
    Once all the pairs had transcribed most of the conversation, I gave out my version of the transcript and we compared the differences between my transcript and theirs, discussing reasons for them. The parts that caused the most difficulty were the weak forms in “Are you getting yourself sorted?” and the elision in “I can’t afford”.
    Here’s the transcript with the areas that the students had difficulty with highlighted.
  5. In pairs, students looked at the transcript again and identified features that are characteristic of spoken language, rather than written language. I projected the transcript onto the board and they came to the board and circled them. We then discussed them. Here’s a list of what we came up with (probably not exhaustive, but mostly new to the students):
    Fillers: uh-huh, yeah, oh.
    Ellipsis: Just staying in town, I’m not the John Watson.
    Short forms: gonna
    Vague language: get a flatshare or something.

    I emphasised that students didn’t necessarily have to use these features in their own conversations (although it would help them to sound more natural) but that knowing about these features would help their listening comprehension.

  6. I felt that after quite a lot of work on listening and spoken grammar, the students needed to finish with something lighter, so I divided the students into two groups, one Sherlock and one John, and asked them to imagine that Sherlock and John were going to have a conversation to decide if they really wanted to live together and prepare some questions to ask. After that, they split into pairs and role-played the conversation – there were some very entertaining conversations.

Overall, this lesson worked well – the students enjoyed it and it gave me a chance to focus on intensive listening and authentic language use in a different way, which was something that this group really needed.

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Chile, one month in.

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The view from my flat (with the Andes in the distance!)

It’s 1am and I can’t sleep for the thoughts swirling round my head, so I thought I’d try to write them down.

  • I’ve been in Chile for just over a month now –  and what an amazing, overwhelming, exhausting month it’s been. In this time, I’ve met up with old friends, made some new ones, found a flat to live in (and bought furniture and moved in)…and, of course, started my new job (as well as teaching, I’m now training to be a CELTA tutor, designing a TKT methodology course and helping to design an in-house coursebook – all of which are interesting but challenging in their own right).
  • One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself in the past month is that I really need to be more patient – patient with others, patient with the never-ending bureaucracy that comes with moving to another country, but most of all, patient with myself whilst I settle into my new life here. Arriving in Santiago a month ago felt, in some strange way like coming home. I lived here in my early 20s and have a really strong emotional connection to the city. I was incredibly excited to be here for the first couple of weeks, only to then be floored by a intense bout of homesickness (which was made worse by how guilty I felt about it – “I’ve lived here before, I shouldn’t be feeling like this”). I’m starting to feel much better, but am still not sure how I’ll cope with being away from home for 2 whole years.
  • To me, learning a language has always been about communication (ever since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to travel the world and be able to talk to people in their language). It’s only recently that I’ve started to realise how closely language and power are connected – and how much being able to speak Spanish fluently affects my day-to-day life. I feel so much more confident and independent than I did when I lived in Poland (and didn’t speak Polish well).
  • Teaching in a different context has given me the chance to re-evaluate my beliefs about teaching. I feel very strongly that, as a language teacher, I don’t just teach a subject, I teach people – complex, beautiful human beings. And my job is, as far as possible (given the constraints of the classroom situation) to help my students learn in the best way for them (which often involves try to boost their confidence first). One of my students paid me the loveliest compliment the other day: “Emma, I feel that you know that we are all different in this class and you plan the class thinking about this”….well, I try, at least!
  • Even (especially?!) after Delta, I’m scared of observations – of having all the work put into a lesson weighed up, analysed and spat out into a grade out of 100 (yes, that really happens here).  Of not meeting people’s expectations (even if they’re only my own).  But I also think, in some ways, that it’s good that I feel like this – as a large part of teacher training involves observing people and giving feedback, I need to know and remember what being on the other end of the process is like.
  • I’m still trying to figure out what professional development means for me right now. In some ways, I’m quite involved in other people’s professional development (apart from training to be a CELTA tutor, I’ve also been designing methodology courses), which perhaps makes it all the stranger that I don’t quite know what to focus on next myself. The process of moving here and getting used to my new job has been so all-consuming that I’m not feeling as energetic or motivated as I’d like to at the moment; nor do I really know what’s possible (in times of time, money, resources). I miss having geeky teaching conversations…
  • That said, training to be a CELTA tutor is great – I’m learning so much and really enjoying working with the trainees. It’s also pushing me to improve my own teaching, which can only be a good thing (practising what I preach, eh). The most difficult thing for me at the moment is trying to guide the trainees rather than telling them too much – hopefully this is a skill that I can develop quickly! And I’ll soon be delivering my first input session (exciting!).

    I realise that some of this is quite personal, but I’ve decided to post it anyway – I reckon it’ll be useful to remember how I felt at this point. Buenas noches! 

Desert Island Discs, the ELT version

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Photo from ELT Pics by worldteacher. (Used under a Creative Commons licence)

Packing your entire life into two suitcases and a rucksack ready to move continents isn’t a particularly easy task, especially when your approach to books and clothes is pretty much the opposite of Marie Kondo’s (although I’d very much like to get rid of some of the work clothes I’ve just bought as they really don’t “spark joy” in me…).

This reminded me of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs, where celebrities have to choose eight tracks, a book and a luxury item to take to a desert island. What, I wondered, would the ELT version of this be? So I asked the following question on Twitter and got loads of replies (thanks everyone, there are so many books I want to read now!).

So, here are the books I actually ended up packing. As my new job involves both teaching in a private language school and teacher training, I tried to pick resources that would be both interesting for me and potentially useful for my future trainees.

  • Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom (by Tricia Hedge). I found this to be a really useful overview of different theoretical and methodological issues when I was doing Delta.
  • Teaching English Grammar: What to Teach and How to Teach it (by Jim Scrivener). This book was known as “the magic grammar book” in a previous job and, looking at it, it’s easy to see why. It covers a wide range of grammar points and provides example situational presentations, information about meaning (including possible CCQs) and form, and examples of common student errors.
  • Another one by Scrivener: Classroom Management Techniques. So many ideas in one book!
  • Teaching Unplugged (by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury). I really want to experiment more with Dogme…I don’t think I’ve quite “got” it yet. I don’t normally have problems with noticing and clarifying emergent language but then don’t always know where to go from there.
  • About Language (by Scott Thornbury). For those tricky grammar questions.
  • From Rules to Reasons (by Danny Norrington-Davies). I read bits of this last year and enjoyed trying out some of the ideas. Hopefully, now I’m finished with Delta, I’ll have more time and mental space to keep experimenting.
  • ELT Playbook 1 (by Sandy Millin). It’s always exciting to buy a book by someone you know (Sandy was my DoS at IH Bydgoszcz). And the reflection tasks will be useful for my teaching and also for teacher training.
  • Listening in the Language Classroom (by John Field). Is it cheating if it’s on Kindle?! I read this book right in the middle of Delta Module 2 and want to try some of the ideas for developing bottom-up listening skills with my new classes in Chile.

And one object:

  • Rory’s Story Cubes. Great for creative activities and so much fun!

 

What are your Desert Island ELT Books? 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Talk about mental health in ELT

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From Time to Change

Today (Thursday 7th February) is Time to Talk Day in the UK, a day designed to challenge mental health stigma by encouraging people to talk about mental health. This has encouraged me to try and write about mental health in ELT, which is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time now, prompted in part by my own experiences. You see, I’ve experienced mental health problems myself, just as a quarter of UK adults do every year. In my case, depression and anxiety, which I first suffered from as a teenager and have experienced on and off since then (although I’ve been doing a lot better for the past couple of years or so). Fortunately, experiencing mental health problems hasn’t stopped me from teaching and I feel really lucky to have found a career that I love (if anything, I think that teaching has had a positive effect on my mental wellbeing). That said, I think the ELT industry could do a whole lot more to promote good mental health.

It seems to me that a lot of the current discourse around teacher mental health focusses on self-care and what individual teachers can do to boost their mental well-being. Self-care (being pro-active about taking care of your health and well-being) is undoubtedly important for everyone, not just people who have experienced mental health problems. I think that, as teachers, we sometimes focus so strongly on helping our students and meeting their needs that we don’t prioritize our own well-being. But if we don’t take care of ourselves, are we really helping our students/colleagues? Or, as Sarah Mercer puts it in her IATEFL 2017 plenary (which I would definitely recommend watching), psychologically wise teachers look after themselves. If you need ideas/inspiration for things you can do to improve your mental well-being as a teacher, the Best Ticher blog has an A-Z of Self Care for Teachers that I found really helpful.

However, I feel strongly that an approach to teacher mental health and well-being which focusses on mental health as an individual responsibility is not enough. After all, no teacher is an island. Instead, in their day to day lives, teachers interact with many other people: colleagues, students, parents, and have the opportunity to influence and be influenced by them, both positively and negatively. Or, put another way, even the best self-care is likely to be ineffective if a teacher’s working conditions are poor. I believe that creating an environment where teacher mental health and well-being are valued has positive effects on both teachers and students.

So, what would a “mental-health friendly” working environment look like? Here are some of my ideas (I’ve focussed on private language schools, as that’s where I’ve spent most of my career, but I think that most of these ideas are transferrable to other ELT contexts).

In a mental-health friendly language school

  • Basic working conditions are good. Teachers are paid fairly and on time, and are rewarded financially for their qualifications and experience. Teachers are employed legally and have proper contracts, unless they themselves would prefer more flexible arrangements (zero-hours contracts have been linked to poor mental health). They are allowed to take sick leave and get paid sick pay. Timetables are arranged as fairly as possible.
    (I can’t believe I need to spell this out IN 2019, but ELT seems to be notorious for poor working conditions. Personally, whilst I’ve mostly been treated well, I have experienced not being paid on time in one job, and not being able to take all the sick leave my doctor recommended for a physical illness in another, both of which had a  negative effect on my mental health). 
  • Managers are aware of what they can do to promote mental well-being amongst all their staff and how to support teachers experiencing mental illness. Teachers are encouraged to disclose mental health problems if they want to and know how to access support if they want to.
    (The bold is because I don’t think that teachers should have to disclose information about their mental health unless they feel able to do so. In my professional life, there  have been times where I felt comfortable disclosing information about my mental health – and benefitted from doing so – and other times where I felt that it was better not to say anything. Managers who want to read more about how to support staff with mental health problems, as well as about mental health in ELT in general would do well to read Phil Longwell’s blog. )
  • Managers are aware of workplace factors which may have a negative effect on teacher well-being and try to mitigate these where possible. When introducing new policies, they consider the effects that these have on teacher mental health.
  • The first couple of years of teaching, especially, can be stressful. Schools should try and help make the transition from initial teacher training courses to on-the-job teaching as easy as possible, for instance by setting up mentoring schemes and showing teachers different strategies for organising their time and how to reduce time spent planning.
  • Moving abroad to teach is a big undertaking. Schools should think about what they can do to make this as easy as possible for teachers e.g. providing help with obtaining visas, providing initial accommodation, providing language lessons.
    (The schools I worked at in Poland did this really well: teachers were met at the airport and taken to their accommodation, where a pack of essential food items was provided to get us through the first 24 hours. We were taken on a tour of the town and we had free Polish lessons once a week). 
  • Teachers know how they can get support if they’re going through a rough patch with their mental health. For instance, they have someone to talk to if they want to and know how to access healthcare.
    (If you’re worried about a colleague, this advice from Time to Change might be useful). 

 

I’m sure there are many more things schools could do to promote teacher well-being. Feel free to comment with more ideas 🙂 

New year, new language? Language learning resolutions for 2019.

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Cheers, Duolingo… This was a while ago, hope I’ve improved a bit since then! 

Since it’s the start of a new year, I thought I’d write about my language learning goals for 2019, in the hope that this will help me become clearer about what I want to achieve (and also help me stick to it!).

I realised recently that, despite having a languages degree and reaching C2 level in Spanish, my language learning strategies aren’t particularly well developed. I’ve always been lucky enough to “pick up” vocabulary quite quickly, especially when I was living in Chile (but also when I was studying at university and spending a lot of time reading  complex literary texts in Spanish). This means that I don’t really have strategies for learning vocabulary (apart from the classic “read, cover, write, check” strategy that I remember from primary school spelling tests). So, I’m also hoping to experiment with different language learning strategies and use what I learn from this to help my students.

I’m going to focus on two languages, Spanish and Polish.

Spanish

Where I am now.

Having studied Spanish at university and lived in Chile for 2 years, I’d say I’m probably at C2 level. I’ve never taken any formal proficiency tests (apart from university language exams) but essentially, everything I would normally do in English, I can also do in Spanish, including reading academic texts and writing academic articles – a couple of articles that I wrote with some Chilean friends have been published. Even now I’m not living in a Spanish-speaking country, I still use Spanish on a regular basis to keep in touch with friends and read news articles in Spanish.

What I want to achieve.

However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing left for me to achieve. The prospect of living and working in Chile again has given me a new set of goals:

  • I want to improve my general vocabulary. Overall, I think my receptive vocabulary is pretty good, but I could sometimes push myself to use more sophisticated vocabulary when speaking and writing.
  • Although I’ll mostly be working in English, there’s also the possibility of being involved in a couple of Spanish-language projects. So I want to be able to discuss teaching methodology comfortably in Spanish, with both specialists and non-specialists. This would also be useful outside of work: my best friend in Chile is a Spanish-language teacher in a Chilean state school, and we often talk about teaching.
  • I want to be able to write formal emails more comfortably. This is something I’ve never actually been taught to do – at school and university, we were only ever taught to write essays and summaries. At the moment, I often get my Spanish-speaking friends to proof-read important emails I have to send (and they normally tell me that the email’s fine) but I’d like to be confident enough not to need this.
  • I want to start reading for pleasure in Spanish again. I don’t often read novels in Spanish (analyzing Spanish texts to death at university took all of the joy out of reading in Spanish for me) but it’ll be much easier for me to get hold of books in Spanish than in English once I move to Chile.

What I’m going to do

I’d like to have some lessons, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible – as I’ve got very specific goals, I’d want to have 1-2-1 lessons, rather than group classes, which are probably out of my price range. So, this is what I’m going to do:

  • Extensive reading: this will hopefully help me both get more comfortable with reading for pleasure in Spanish AND acquire some more vocab. I want to read 5 books in Spanish in 2019. 
  • Intensive reading: I’ve recently started reading newspaper articles in Spanish in a more focussed way, really trying to notice the language used and stealing useful chunks of language. I want to read at least 2 articles a week and record useful language in a notebook. 
  • Formal emails: I’m going to look at formal emails I’ve received and keep a list of useful expressions for formal emails.

I would also like to read more methodology books in Spanish, but I haven’t found any I like yet – of course, the majority of ELT methodology books are in English. I’ve been looking into ELE (Spanish as a foreign language) resources, but with no luck so far. I’d be grateful for any recommendations…

Polish

Where I am now.

After living for 3 years in Poland, my Polish is probably somewhere around  high elementary level. I went to a Polish class once a week during my first year but then life got in the way and I didn’t go to classes regularly after that. I managed to have some decent conversations with the school driver, Mr Zbyszek, on the way to my company classes – on a good day, we could spend almost all of the 40 minute journey talking about our families, holidays we’d had/ were planning to have, and life in England/Poland, with a little help from Google Translate occasionally. But I’m also very aware that my grammar is shaky and there are big gaps in my vocabulary. One of my biggest regrets about my time in Poland is not learning more Polish – if I could go back in time, I’d add 15 mins of studying Polish a day to my routine.

What I want to achieve.

  • I want to improve my general level of Polish for when I visit Poland in the future.
  • I want to be able to communicate better with my Polish friends – all of my close Polish friends speak English, but some of them occasionally message me in Polish, and I’d like to be able to reply more easily.

What I’m going to do.

  • I’m going to learn 5 new words a day on Memrise. I’ve just started doing this, and the course I’m using is mostly revision at the moment, but should have some new vocabulary in the later part of the course. So far, I’m on a 5-day streak…
  • By the end of 2019, I will have read a book in Polish. My book of choice is “Mały Książę” (otherwise known as “Le Petit Prince”, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). I picked it up about 3 years ago in my local convenience store in Poland but it took me a while to get round to reading it. I tried a bit last year, but I could only understand about 10% of it without a dictionary (and I don’t want to look up every single word in the dictionary!). So this might be one for later on in the year…

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What are your language learning goals for 2019? 

 

December reflection challenge

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A reflection from 2018 😉 (A garden in Granada, Spain).

When I saw this reflection challenge on the That is Evil blog (great name!), I couldn’t resist taking part.

Apart from the ones which describe activities, I’ve tried to keep it short and sweet.

So….here goes!

Day 1: your favourite activity from 2018

It’s got to be the “I’m an expert” activity that my friend Charlie showed me. It’s prep-free and really gets students talking. I’ve done it with several different classes and it’s always gone down well.

It goes something like this:
1) Students write their name and the sentence “I’m an expert in __________________” at the top of a piece of paper. E.g. Emma. I’m an expert in vegetarian food. 
(Some of my students were very modest and didn’t think they were experts in anything, so we said that they could write “I’m interested in ______________” instead).

2) Students leave their paper on their desk and walk round the room, writing questions for other students. It’s really important that everyone writes their name next to their question (I’ve learned from experience to demo and ICQ this stage…).
E.g. Emma. I’m an expert in vegetarian food.
What’s your favourite dish? (Charlie).
If you could only eat one vegetable for a month, what would that vegetable be? (Katie).

Monitor and help students with vocab / question form. Ideally, allow enough time for everyone to write a question for everyone else in class.

3) Students mingle, finding the people who’ve written questions for them and answering them. Monitor and note down language to upgrade as necessary. This stage always takes a lot longer than I expect because the students are generally very into their conversations.

4) Do feedback on content (students share the interesting/surprising things they’ve learned from their classmates) and language.

I did this activity with my intermediate group in an unassessed lesson during Delta Module 2 and we had a great time – it took up a whole hour, and we ended up talking about a huge variety of topics (the NBA, how to design a race car, the role of religion in Cuban society, typical Spanish and English food, and Brexit).

Day 2: most memorable story from 2018

It’s only vaguely teaching-related: being in a house fire the day before the Delta Module 1 exam and having to move flats immediately because we couldn’t stay there. I was pretty shaken up, but my friends and colleagues couldn’t have been kinder. And Delta seemed so unimportant after that…

Day 3: the best piece of advice you were given in 2018

Teach the students, not the plan.

Day 4: the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a teacher

Working on my YL teaching and noticing improvements. And presenting at an online conference for the first time (IH TOC 10)

Day 5: your favourite memory as a student

Studying abroad in Chile and experiencing a very different university culture (the stray dogs, the Friday parties, the tear gas). I’m still in touch with a lot of the friends I made then.

Day 6: the funniest story from 2018

My adults’ end-of-year test coincided with the Poland-Senegal match during the World Cup. As they obviously couldn’t use their phones during the test, they persuaded me to keep a scoreboard, and their reactions every time a goal was scored was hilarious.

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You mean you don’t have a special column on your board for the football scores?!

Day 7: your favourite coursebook in 2018

Ready for First was good for FCE writing and Use of English. Apart from that….pass. I’m not a great fan of coursebooks in general.

Day 8: a new idea you implemented in 2018

I tried to focus a lot more on learner autonomy and resources for self-study with all my groups. It worked best with my intermediate adults, as I did the same challenge with my Polish.

Day 9: your favourite teaching aid in 2018

Scrap paper (I’ve been trying to use fewer materials, and scrap paper is so versatile).

Day 10: the best joke you’ve heard in 2018

Pass (I’m terrible at remembering jokes). Have this vaguely ELT-related meme instead.

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Day 11: the moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

It’s really hard to choose just one student… almost all of my students made me proud. But if I have to choose: realizing how much more confident a particular in-company student was and how hard she’d worked.

Day 12: your favourite teaching website in 2018

I can’t pick just one….

Lesson Plans Digger and Tubequizard.

Day 13: the person who inspired you in 2018

My mum (a former secondary school history teacher). She still lives in the town she taught in, where I grew up, and regularly bumps into her old students, who always seem pleased to see her. I hope some of my students remember me as fondly in the future. She taught me that teaching is all about the people.

Day 14: the moment in 2018 you realised WHY you’re doing your job

Seeing my “difficult” YL class get excited about making story books in English, and working really well together.

Day 15: your greatest challenge in 2018

I left my comfort zone a lot (doing Delta, and teaching some challenging classes). It was a bit stressful.

Day 16: your strongest point as a teacher

I know that there’s still so much more for me to learn.

Day 17: most motivational idea/quotation/picture in 2018

“Be the change you want to see”.

Day 18: 3 reasons why you became a teacher

The pay?  (Joke).

I love languages and working with people. And I really wanted to go back to Chile.

Day 19: your favourite teaching application in 2018

Quizlet 🙂 (one of my students described it as “better than Facebook”).

Day 20: a piece of advice you would give to a rookie teacher

I wrote a whole blog post about the things I wish I’d known as a new teacher 🙂

Day 21: the best CPD book you read in 2018

Listening in the Language Classroom, by John Field (over one weekend, in the middle of Delta Module 2…).

Day 22: your greatest frustration in 2018

Lack of work-life balance (I studied for Delta Module 1 and 3 while working full time).

Day 23: one thing you want non-teachers to understand

I am a “real teacher”, not just a backpacker. I’m qualified and I care about my job.

Day 24: your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

Videoing myself teach. I hated doing it, but it really helped me pinpoint things I could improve on. I suppose I’d do it again…

Day 25: your personal success in 2018

Getting a Distinction for Delta Module 1 (I have terrible exam-related anxiety, so this was a REALLY BIG DEAL).

Day 26: one thing you plan to change in 2019

I want to have a better work-life balance. No to taking work home!

Day 27: your greatest discovery in 2018

I feel so much more confident than I did before.

Day 28: which superpower would make you a Super-Teacher

I wish I could magically help my students believe in themselves more.

Day 29: one area to improve in your teaching in 2019

I want to spend more time reviewing and recycling vocab with my classes (I always run out of time!).

Day 30: how do you plan to start your first lesson in 2019

My first lesson in 2019 probably won’t be until March….some GTKY activities, I suppose.

Day 31: the most important thing you want to remember tomorrow

The things I worried about most in 2018 didn’t happen/weren’t that bad after all… and I feel happy right now.

 

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A moment of absolute calmness (celebrating my birthday by going hiking in Torres del Paine, Chile, with a good friend).

2018 was quite an intense year but, overall, a good one. I lived in 3 countries (Poland, Spain, and the UK) and finally managed to go back to Chile and visit my Chilean friends. I met some amazing people, who I hope to keep in touch with. I feel that I’ve developed a lot as a teacher and I’m really excited to start my new job in Chile in March

Like a seal on thin ice…

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Photo from ELT Pics by dudeneyge

I love my career. I love working with my students. I love seeing them making progress and becoming more confident at communicating in English. I love the opportunities I’ve had to travel and see parts of the world that I never imagined I’d visit, let alone live in (and yes, I’m very much aware that being a white native speaker with a British passport means that it’s much easier for me to find jobs abroad than for many other people. Which really sucks: qualifications + experience > a teacher’s L1 or nationality). I really love my career…except when I don’t!

You see, over the past few months, I’ve come to realise just how much of my professional life is dominated by uncertainty and the resultant anxiety. Just to give a few examples:

  • I’ve just been offered a fantastic job….but will I get a visa? Will I be able to get all the documents I need in time?
  • What will happen when the UK leaves the EU? How difficult will it be for me to get a job in the EU? How difficult will it be for me to get a job in ELT in the UK if EU student numbers fall post-Brexit? What will happen to my friends who are currently working in the EU?
  • My first job in ELT was as a language assistant at a Chilean university (which I’m deliberately not going to name). I never knew when I was going to be paid (I started work in September, and didn’t get my first pay cheque until the end of November….and that was not an isolated incident) and, unfortunately, complaining about these conditions led me to being treated with some hostility. So I often worried about when I’d be paid, if I’d be able to pay my rent…and what would happen if I complained again.
  • When I worked at a language school in the UK, the number of hours I worked varied wildly from week to week, dependent on student enrolment, which led to financial uncertainty on my part. Luckily, I was living with my parents at the time – I certainly couldn’t have afforded to rent my own place.
  • When I’m working at summer schools in the UK, there’s always the constant worry of what will happen when student numbers drop: will my contract get cut at short notice? This is especially bad when you’re relying on your income from summer school to supplement your wages from your year-round job…

I can do very little about some of these situations: anxiety surrounding getting a visa is part and parcel of living and working abroad. And there’s not much that I, personally, can do about Brexit (A People’s Vote, please….). But it seems to me that a lot of the anxiety I’m feeling is caused by poor working conditions in the ELT industry. I’m quite an anxious person generally and I’ve spent years working on strategies to minimise/deal with my anxiety and, overall, I’m doing much better. And this leads me to say: if I’m still feeling anxious, ELT, it’s not me, it’s you.

I realise that schools are businesses and they need to make money to survive. I don’t necessarily think that most school owners are rolling in money. But, having worked in a great school in Poland for the last two years, where I was treated well (paid on time, a guaranteed salary even when students cancelled at the last minute, sick pay), I know that it is possible to treat your teachers fairly and still run a successful business. The problem is: how to improve working conditions in the EFL industry? I can turn down a job if the pay and conditions aren’t what I want…but I know that eventually, that job will be filled (possibly by someone fresh off CELTA) and so school owners won’t see the need to improve conditions. I know that there’s been some discussion in Ireland recently about the need for legislation to address the precarious working conditions in the ELT sector there, and I really hope that this brings about results.

I love my career – it challenges me and opens my eyes on a daily basis. But still so much more needs to be done. But how?

Ultimately, I know that this is a distinctly unfestive blog post, with more questions than answers,  but I would have welcomed reading something like this before I started out on my TEFL journey. Here’s to a better 2019!

The title of this post comes from an expression that one of my Delta coursemates used to describe how anxious we felt at times on the course. I’ve stolen it because it’s quite an apt description of my feelings right now.