My blogging debut has been something I have been ruminating on for several months. The main idea of setting up the blog was to have a place to reflect on what I learn through teaching and from my students as well as to consider how all the aspects of my ELT world come together to create a whole.
Firstly, I feel I need to introduce myself as an ELT professional. I never expected to end up in teaching at all. I studied music at university and, after teaching music for two years in Buffalo, New York public schools, I moved to New York City to study voice. After running a small opera company with a friend along with working a ‘day job’ at an advertising agency, I came to Europe in 1981 with the aim of landing a contract in an opera house and making my ‘non-day’ job into my full-time vocation. At first, everything went according to plan; I found a voice teacher, set up auditions, even found other budding singers to perform with on main squares of European cities to earn some money. But the chance to snare the golden ring just didn’t happen. Although I gave lots of concerts and had the opportunity to perform on a fairly regular basis, I never secured a position in an opera house. So in order to continue living in Europe it was necessary to find another way to make a living. An opportunity expressed itself in the form of a part-time job teaching English an adult-education institution in Graz, Austria, where I was living at the time. To my surprise I quickly realized that this new direction was one which I found myself increasingly drawn into. I enjoyed imparting knowledge, having a so-called ‘captive’ audience and feeling like a professional doing a job which was respected and valued. Bit by bit this expanded into a career rather than just something to keep my head above water.
I actually stayed at the centre I began at for about twenty years teaching a variety of courses, writing materials and developing curriculum. A colleague involved me fairly early on in teacher training seminars and workshops set up by the Ministry of Education and over the last thirty years I have designed and run over 400 of these. One course I taught on for some fifteen years was for vocational school teachers who needed to have an additional qualification in English, German or sports in order to keep their jobs in the vocational schools. Working with painters, hairdressers, ICT technicians, car mechanics, and other qualified professionals was very different for me and a real eye-opener as many of the techniques I had been using needed to be adapted or dropped completely. These learners were much more hands-on than others I had worked with leading me to discover new concepts and ideas to help them improve in a second (or in some cases) a third language.
After working with in-service teachers, the chance came for a part-time job at a college for pre-service teachers so I jumped at it. Some of the students were majoring in English but there were also those training to teach in primary schools or specalising in fields such as nutrition and ICT. This again broadened my horizons about what learners needed and what we can expect from them. It also let me reach back to my past and rediscover the songs I had taught my elementary school learners years ago as well as all the finger games we played as children and the nursery rhymes we learned growing up in an English-speaking environment.
Over the years some things have stayed the same and others have radically changed. I am still working with students, this time at the language centre of the University of Graz where we have students from all fields of study. I run workshops and seminars both for the Ministry of Education as well as for teaching associations around Europe, travel to as many conferences as possible and have continued working with adult learners in in-company courses. I also joined the local teaching association, Teachers of English in Austria, when it was first founded some twenty years ago and served as Chair from 2003 to 2005. This led to my interest in working with teaching associations and I joined the committee of IATEFL BESIG in 2008 as an events coordinator eventually taking over as coordinator of the SIG. My connection to IATEFL as an organization has also grown stronger and in 2013 joined the Membership Committee. Many of us talk about having the best job at IATEFL but I am convinced mine is, I get to set up and moderate webinars with ELT people who have long served as my inspiration in the field. In addition, I have moved into the field of writing and brought out my first business English photocopiable book in 2001. Since that time there have been three series of course books for the Austrian schools as well as books in the business English field and one recently on methodology.
As all of this indicates, time is the one thing that I have the least of at the moment and I don’t see it changing radically anytime soon. One reason for starting this blog was to make me take the time to sit down and do some reflecting. Watch this space for those reflections.