The Teacher’s Voice at IATEFL 2016

The IATEFL Teacher Development SIG Pre-Conference Event – The Teacher’s Voice – takes place this year on Tuesday 12 April at the Digital Humanities Hub at the University of Birmingham. As we count down the days and months (now only two!) until the event, we will be sharing interviews with our three PCE speakers – Marek Kiczkowiak, Suzanne Antonaros and Pilar Aramayo Prudencio.

In these interviews, we asked the speakers to answer 5 questions about themselves, professional development in ELT and for a preview of what their talks in Birmingham will be about. We start with current Chair of TESOL Greece Suzanne Antonaros, and here she is in her own words.

1. How did you get into English language teaching?suzanne-antonaros-park-iatefl-tdsig

My first university degree was in Spanish Literature and I taught Spanish in California at the start of my career. The study of Spanish and my life-long attempts to maintain a certain level of fluency has served me well as an EFL teacher; I’m constantly sharing tips with students.

Aside from my response to the great demand for professional English teachers when I left university, there are deeper reasons why I chose to get into English language teaching. My four grandparents were Greek immigrants to the United States. I heard Greek at home as a child and this exposure to another language, spoken by few in my social milieu, in addition to all the implications of conflicting cultural values made me value the importance of learning to speak English well.

Also, two movies, which I saw as a child, impressed me greatly. The first was The King and I in which Deborah Kerr goes to Siam as a teacher, wearing those beautiful gowns, and developing Hollywood-like relationships with her students and their father; what an adventure I thought! The second – West Side Story, a tragedy about ethnic groups that shared hatred for each other, made me want to make a change in US society. Since then, I have taught ESL in California, when I began my career, and later travelled to and settled in Europe to teach EFL and train language teachers. Haven’t made it to Asia yet!

2. Can you share a critical moment in your development as an ELT professional? What happened, what did you do and what was the impact of it?

The critical moment is now. Re-training at this point in my career gives me a fresh perspective on being a learner.

Adapting to our digital world, I feel that I must abandon, in part, some of those teaching skills and practices that, in face-to-face teaching, were more prominently employed and were a huge source of confidence for me. It is a matter of emphasis to make the appropriate adjustments. To give an example, I have always liked being physically present to engage learners in conversation, using subtle and meaningful non-verbal modes of communication. With online audio lessons, I concentrate more on my speaking voice to establish rapport and the use of images seem more important than ever for engaging learners in discussion. Now I want to create more of my own videos and audio recordings – the new tools make creating so much easier than it used to be with those cumbersome and clunky cameras and tape recorders.

Material selection has always been a challenge, but before it took much more time. With the daunting amount of text sources available to us on the Internet, this challenge has taken a new dimension. Perhaps how a teacher selects and filters lesson content needs to be included in our discussions on a definition of ‘culture’.

The impact of journeying through this period of professional adjustment is that I am envisaging a modified image of who I am and how I work (teacher’s identity!): selecting and honing skills and techniques, adapting to our digital world to the degree that makes me and my learners feel comfortable and connecting people, of course, but with a host of ‘providers’.

3. The blurb for your TDSIG PCE talk says ‘language and culture are inseparable’. Can you tell us a little bit more? (without giving the whole talk away!)

To keep it simple for now, I’d like to hear thoughts and feelings expressed by the IATEFL TDSIG Pre-Conference Event participants on who we are (teacher’s identity) and what we teach (language and culture). Re-defining the word ‘language’ is a task that I like doing frequently, in my mind’s eye, just to keep myself grounded as a language teacher. ‘Culture’ is definitely a space we all move in and out of. Do we language teachers, as part of our professional duty, present or create bits of this space?

The whole ‘talk’?! Hopefully, it will be the participants doing most of the talking. I plan to open and facilitate discussion. ‘The Teacher’s Voice’ has a very special ring to it; let teachers’ voices be heard!

In preparing for the TDSIG Pre-Conference Event, I have been interviewing teachers in Greece on what they think Language and Culture are. What I find most interesting are which social values are implied in their definitions of ‘culture’. When we gather in Birmingham, I’d like the discussion to continue. One idea is to use metaphors only to define the terms ‘language’ and ‘culture’. The challenge will be how to aggregate all the commentaries, responses, views and opinions.

Suzanne storytelling

4. What are your three top tips for teachers who want to start thinking about their development?

1) Read, listen and view widely, i.e. develop your own literacy so as to be the good example and to prepare for and accommodate learners’ needs.

2) Find like-minded colleagues to share your lesson ideas and activities with but also, listen to and consider ideas of colleagues who you may not identify with – so you can experiment with activities outside your ‘comfort zone’.

3) Attend talks, lectures, courses, workshops, seminars, lessons–not only those designed for language teachers, but on subjects and activities which interest you. (I’ve learned a lot about conducting effective language lessons from my gym and acting instructors.)

5. Finally, if you had a magic wand what is the one thing you would change about ELT?

The term ‘modern language teaching’ has more appeal for me that ‘ELT’.

Could a magic wand change the term ELT, which specifies our professional field? Could it fit under the umbrella of modern language teaching? I rarely see it featured there. ELT makes its way, with our support and encouragement, into a realm of its own. As diverse and widely spoken as the English language may be, it is still taught as a modern language. The trend is for other languages to promote a separate identity using their own three-initial names; so the wand would be kept quite busy!

suzanne-antonaros-pce-iatefl-tdsigSuzanne Antonaros, co-director of Educational & Training Consultants, Athens, Greece, teaches English, conducts courses and workshops for foreign language teachers and school owners in Greece and abroad. She is the author of books and articles for EFL professionals and has served for three separate terms on the Board of TESOL Greece.



Join us in Birmingham

You can book your place at our Pre-Conference Event by going to the IATEFL registration page for Birmingham 2016. This link will take you to the secure area on the IATEFL website where you can book a place at the conference, whether or not you are a member of the association. You can choose just to book a place at our event or for the whole conference. To book your place for The Teacher’s Voice tickets are £78 for IATEFL Members and £93 for Non-Members (you do not have to be a member of TDSIG to come to our PCE).

Keep an eye on the blog for upcoming interviews with Marek and Pilar, as well as previews of our SIG day speakers in the main IATEFL conference.

We look forward to seeing you in April!