Voices from the iTDi Community 3 – Michael

Mike Harrison is an ESOL teacher. He currently lives and works in South East London. He’s interested in the use of non-verbal stimuli, like sound effects and images, in the classroom. He believes that learning is a personal and social enterprise, so tries to make his classrooms centred round the people in the room and spaces where people can be and work together. He’s also a keen traveller and likes to swim!

What are you passionate about, Mike?

To be honest, I’m not really the type of person that is wildly passionate or driven about any one thing. I prefer to study what’s going on, what’s interesting, what’s different. That’s what I get really intrigued by – the differences in life, and I think that language is one of these key differences.

How and why did you become a teacher?

I don’t think I actually planned on becoming a teacher. It just kind of happened. I’d just finished a BA in languages, and wasn’t really sure what to do with that afterwards. I wasn’t the type of person who could be happy with an office job.  I needed to do something that would keep my mind engaged. I didn’t know what that would be, so in the meantime I enrolled on a PGCE (Post-Graduate Certificate in Education) at the University of Greenwich. That was back in 2006, and now I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything other than teaching!

What are you most interested in right now?

Well, I’ve just finished the Cambridge DELTA, so formal studying is the last thing on my mind at the moment! I plan to keep up with my development as a teacher relatively informally, through blogging and engaging with others through social media. At some point I hope to be able to attend more conferences, as I’ve enjoyed being able to share teaching ideas in workshops over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself going to any until 2013 as I need to save up some money!

I’m also attempting to work more on developing resources. I am working on a project for The Round and am also writing materials for the British Council’s ESOL Nexus site

What things do you do to help you get better at being a teacher, Mike

As I mentioned, one of the ways I reflect on my practice is through my blog. I love how I can store and share ideas there. I also love attending conferences, which I also mentioned. I can’t think of many other professions where people are so interested and excited about what they do. The buzz of an ELT conference, if you can get to one, is some thing to be experienced!

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

I work in the public sector in the UK teaching ESOL, so the pressures we face generally come from outside – the government, regulating bodies, targets, funding agencies. There is great pressure on the ESOL sector at the moment from our coalition government, who seem set upon depriving those who most need it the opportunity to learn English, while at the same time saying that anyone who comes to live here must speak English! This led to the Action for ESOL campaign, which, while I was not personally involved with, has had a profound influence upon how I am as a teacher. I’m much more politically aware than I was when I started teaching, and I believe that this is a very important thing.

Mike, what advice would you give to a teacher just starting out on a journey of professional development?

I think the first thing is to realise that professional development does not have to be a course that you pay for. It can be as simple as keeping a diary of what happens in your teaching. However to truly develop, you have to make space and time to be able to reflect on what you did or didn’t do, what went well or not so well. Being able to do this helps you make choices, and possibly changes, in the future, to find out what works best for you. I think this is key, as professional development should also be personal to the person doing it.

Is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

http://the-round.com – a publishing initiative founded by Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clandfield

http://esol.britishcouncil.org – an online portal set up by the British Council as part of an EU funded project to support 3rd country nationals wanting to settle in the UK

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher?

This was actually a quote I first saw in an email signature in an email from Cecilia Coelho, but it’s completely appropriate:

“A teacher sees the world in a par­tic­u­lar way, and it is not only when he is in a school. I am a teacher all the time.”

— Christopher Rogers

For me it’s so true that I don’t seem to have an off switch when it comes to teaching or thinking about teaching, because I get inspiration for lessons and projects all around me. In fact, I’m not sure I’d want an off switch:  maybe just a dimmer.