ELT Global Issues – Vladimira

ELT Report From Slovakiavladka-cokoladka


“Let us have but one end in view, the welfare of humanity; and let us put aside all selfishness in consideration of language, nationality, or religion.” — Jan Amos Komensky

(a pioneer of modern education and a father of education in Slovakia and Czech Republic)

Reflect, Reflect and Be What It Means To Be a Teacher

When writing about the ELT situation and the teachers in my country, I inevitably write about myself. Even though I write about others, think about others and as long as they matter to me, which they do, I think about myself as well for it all is a reflection of who I was, who I am and who I aspire to be as a teacher. I may sometimes be critical but it means I am being critical with myself, too. I may often sound too cheerful and encouraging but that cheerful encouragement is also for me and that is what keeps me going.

Back in August 2006 I was about to teach my very first class after graduating from one of the best ELT programs in Slovakia. I was enthusiastic, optimistic and ready to change the world through my classes. Yet, after a few months that enthusiastic, optimistic person had turned into someone insecure, nervous and sometimes even irritated. What happened? I guess I could call it a reality shock: caused by our society, its values and culture we live in. It’s what happens to so many good teachers in Slovakia.

I know we have many great, experienced, enthusiastic and qualified teachers. They are hard working, honest and devoted. They are bright and inventive and posses a strong will to survive … if … if they choose the right professional attitude.

Then, we have parents who openly question the ways and methods teachers use and criticize them without prior conversation, very often without bothering to know why teachers do what they do. We have a public that carries the notion that “anyone can teach” or ” you teach when you can’t do anything better”. We have a government that doubts the quality of freshly graduated teachers and instead of inviting them in their profession, they keep testing them again and again.

So what is the image of a teacher in public and what is that in the teacher’s mind?

Still, there are many teachers here who either should never teach or at least seriously reflect upon their role in education and the misuse of power it gives. Out of ten good teachers there is always one that, for whatever reason, turns into a competitive, envious, little being who rejoices in the mistakes of others and looks for ways to prove them wrong. Unfortunately, for a very long time we have allowed that one angry teacher’s little voice speak out above the rest and beat the voices of others down, causing them to feel small and unimportant.

A Shift Is Coming!

I meet the good teachers in my seminars, and I meet those little ones, too. I can still sense that those good ones, even though they try, they still remain quiet “in the corner”, they still lack the confidence and don’t yet feel safe enough to express the passion they have for life and teaching. They think too much about what others will say about them and how they look in their eyes. They forget to look in the mirror, forget to use their own unique voice and forget to spread the passion in a way they believe to be true. To live and work in one’s own way is the right way!

We still learn how to be individuals working together for the same good thing.

I am lucky and grateful to live in this time of change for Slovakia. No, no big revolutions, and no big strikes, but rather a slow but mindful awakening. I can see now how some teachers are beginning to reach out to each other and experience the power of collaboration. They meet and gather not to complain but more importantly to share and support each other and believe me, it is a huge shift in our country. The new Slovak Chamber For English Language Teachers (SCELT) is being formed these days and a big international conference ELTForum.sk will be held in our capital, Bratislava, on June 7th and 8th. All that brings a simple yet powerful message with it: Empower your teaching! And my wish: empower yourself and each other!

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To find your own voice, the courage to use it and the understanding for others in that same battle is my wish for the future of teachers in Slovakia.

If you’re in Slovakia, don’t miss Vladimira’s upcoming presentation “The Power of Colors: Turning The Familiar Into Something New” at the ELT Ideas Conference on March 18th

The Young Learners Issue #1 – Vladka

What I learned from young learnersvladka-cokoladka

I have little experience with teaching young kids but I think this could be the reason why teaching them from time to time is such a joy for me — a time when I learn a lot more about learning than about teaching — a place where I learn about the nature of the learner inside everyone of us.  From working with children, I learn great lessons that I then bring to the teaching of teenagers and adults — who approach learning from almost the opposite end of the spectrum than kids do.

Here are three things I’ve learned from kids about learning —  things that also explain why kids learn more easily than adults do and why it is good to remember as adult learners, too.

Probably one of the most amazing things kids have taught me is the importance of mindfulness. It is something we adults, need to learn again. Watch a child in whatever activity he or she is doing. You will probably notice they do not believe in the concept of multitasking — a concept so popular (and damaging) among adults. When they build a sand castle, their minds wander from little towers, gates to water dams. When they draw, they can hardly focus on more than what they hold in their little hands, one colour at a time! When they listen to your story, they imagine every single word you say. And when they don’t, they go and do something else. They stop when they are not interested or attentive. As a teacher, you know that is why you need to change activities very often to keep kids active and interested. Engaged brains learn naturally!

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Teaching kids leaves me with a greater feeling of responsibility. Don’t get me wrong please. I am a responsible teacher with every student no matter what their age is but kids themselves can make you feel that way. They come, sit and wait for what you tell them and yes, they misbehave and do things you don’t ask them to do but they trust you as a teacher — as a person who cares about them  — and they accept you know a thing or two they don’t.  With adult learners it is not always easy when it comes to trust. It is not easy with teenagers either but they are in a bit different category – a category I love most of all by the way. The problem is that the minds of adult learners is that they are have been so influenced by all the books, methods, friends’ experiences and their own ideas that they wind up overwhelmed by their expectations and doubts about how you should teach them. They often think they know better than you do what they want and need, and they forget you may know better how to get where they want to go or at least trust enough that you will do your best to show them the door that will help them get there. Working with kids is very different because they are very different. If only adults could be more like this: more trusting.


You will probably agree with me when I say that every child is creative. However, I believe every person, child or adult, is creative! Kids’ lives are a manifestation of creativity. Adults chase creativity as if it was something they can only find somewhere outside themselves. It is our fear of what others may think or say that stops us from seeing that creative element we carry inside ourselves. You know you’ve found it when you do something with joy and are not thinking too much about the judgment of others. This is what I was writing about recently when I wrote in a recent iTDi blog post that there is an artist living inside every one of us. Look again at how kids draw, write or play. They observe the world; they try to express it as precisely as possible but still through their own eyes and other senses. Later on as they get older, we tell them to stay within the lines when they write, and not to go beyond the margins or do not draw dragons on the edge of their notebooks. Because they trust us, they follow such instructions. As a teacher of adults, don’t be afraid to go back and tell your adult students to draw the flower where there should be a word or paste a piece of paper in their notebook even though it may look messy. Encourage childlike creativity in everyone.

You can only hope they will do things again in their own way, learning in the way that suits them, learning as if it was not compulsory and separated from the rest of their lives — as kids do!

Professional Goals for 2013 – Vladka

vladka-cokoladkaI Am A Teacher. An Artist

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”  ― Terry Pratchett

It has been a few weeks since the time when we were reflecting upon the past year — our achievements, our mistakes and beliefs. Now, already in a new year, I come back again thinking about what I want from the time that will come. Yet, I don’t have any new year’s resolutions, really, because first of all, there is never a clear line between what was and what will be, and secondly, because I would probably fail from the beginning if I made resolutions. It’s better to build on what’s been learned.

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Over the last two years or so I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned how important it is to respect myself and also a thing or two about the spiritual journey I’m on. I’ve learned it all starts here and now, and that it is about change and respect. Besides that, I’ve learned that change is constant and that you can’t give what you don’t have.

But of course I have new goals and dreams that come from what I have learned, and most of all, I wish to work on the way to build all that I have learned so far into practice. That could be my goal then – to be more organized but not giving up what I need to do in order to stay true to myself — to let go of my fears and situations that stop me from doing the things I can in a way I really want to do them.

What would you think if I said, “I am a teacher – an artist

What? You don’t think we, teachers, are artists? I will believe you if you say you are an artist, too! And I would even hug you in joy because I know what that means. It means you trust yourself and love yourself and that you have learned to pass on that love and respect.

“What is an artist?” I asked a friend recently. Who is an artist?

I don’t think an artist is necessarily a painter, a poet or an actor. These are the most common examples, I guess, but certainly there are more possibilities. An artist could simply be someone who understands feelings and who has a way or two to express and work with those feelings. An artist could be a teacher who is true and authentic in his or her teaching. An artist could be a student who rebels not to prove the teacher wrong but to be heard.  If you think of yourself as an artist, then as an artist you don’t want your students to mindlessly follow your instructions. As an artist you want others to grow into artists as well.  As an artist, you don’t want to hide yourself behind what you don’t even understand just because others say they do. Do you remember? You can’t give what you don’t have. Give what you do have. Don’t be afraid. Aim at being an artist!

With this aim in mind, I would like to be even more present in the classroom this year — with less talking time for me and more talking time for my students. I would like to understand what it really means to teach with your mouth shut, what it really means to teach unplugged – but not by doing activities and techniques in a certain way, but by truly accepting and working with the people who are there. . I want to understand myself more. I want to put more of me into my work as I work to understand others more and see them as the artists they are. This is how I want to do my work better this New Year

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Rules We Follow – Vladka

Rules, Principles, and Change  – Vladimira Chalyova

A rule, law, or regulation is a prescribed guide for action. That could be the definition you can get from any dictionary. For me, a rule is something that you try to keep in mind as a line that shouldn’t be crossed  — unless it is unavoidable.

There are two types of rules: rules people create consciously and set for others to follow and rules we form as we grow, learn and become aware of the world we live in. These are the rules we follow subconsciously. Or can I say we follow such rules at all? Isn’t it more what we call the way of life? And are not such rules in fact the principles we form our own lives around?

As a teacher, often seen as a leader, a decision maker and the ruler,I feel I have a responsibility and maybe even an authority over the space that is there in the learning environment and that can help learners create their own rules and principles —  not to control the situation and people. In this light, I want to share a rule that even though it was formed by someone else and was just passed on to me several years ago, I did internalize immediately. It hung on the wall of my office throughout all the years I spent at my first school and when I was leaving I intentionally left it on the wall to pass on the wisdom to a newcomer.

” Thou shall not steal the time of them that follow thee.”

There was, has been, and always will be something appealing about it. Now, let me share how that single rule changed for me over time, yet still suits me now as a teacher.

At first, I saw in it the time I am with my students and during which I should give them as much information, knowledge and advice as possible – to fill the lesson full!

Later on, when my own role in the class had changed, it started to resonate with something a bit different. The more I see students, the people who found the time to come, share and learn together, the less is that time about me in there. It has transformed to the time that’s their and for them to express themselves, to find their own ways and to form their own rules, principles and beliefs they feel content about and happy to apply outside the classroom as well.

I do not want to steal that time anymore.

Whether we’re talking about rules from the first or the second group of rules, over time we may find ourselves questioning them and may find them unsuitable for the present situation. That is the moment we can be called rule-breakers, inconsiderate or even insane.  That is the moment we look for change and a way to overcome a present situation that no longer allows us to grow. That’s when we change.

Some may have more of such moments in their lives, and some just a few. And the courage to deal with such moments may vary from person to person and time to time. Whatever the case may be for you, fear not.  Such moments help us form the new principles that we later go on to live through and abide by. They help us find our true path.

Learner Autonomy – Vladka

Learning Isn’t Everything, But Wanting To Learn Is       Vladimira Chalyova 

What is the first step you take on your own as you are discovering the world? And what makes you feel ready to take that step? As teachers and life-long learners, we wish and fear at the same time that every student will get to the point when they will not really need us anymore. For some students that’s true very early in their learning and some may never really feel comfortable enough to go beyond our lead and instruction. However, I believe that should be one of our aims as teachers, to build our students up so that when the moment comes, they not only can but also want to go their own way.

What really is learner’s autonomy? The father of that definition, Henri Holec, tells us that it is the ability of the learner to take charge of their own learning. For me it is not only ability but also willingness to do that. And that may come with or without ability I think.

Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.

Vince Lombardi

What if we substitute winning for learning and win with learn in the quote above? Would that define autonomy? Certainly it would for me:  Learning isn’t everything, but wanting to learn is?  Given this, I realize that what we need to nurture in our students, sometimes even more than information and ability, is their perception and awareness of opportunities and courage to take them even though they make bring some failures sometimes. It is teaching them as they make mistakes, as they take risks and find more than just what we present to them.

What does that means in the classroom? It means supporting our students’ motivation if they have it, counting on their curiosity if they lack motivation and through surprising discoveries making them want to go deeper. Most of all it means, giving our students space and time for discoveries, appreciating their effort and leading them gently towards other new challenges. It also means taking those small steps with them at the beginning, building the routine of exploration and experiment, as well as praising their trials and loses.

It is not enough to take steps which may some day lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This post may not be a clear and definite answer to what learner autonomy is but surely it is an example of what it could be. The style, content and result of this post are examples of the writer’s autonomy. As I learn how to put my beliefs on paper and find courage to share them with others, as I experiment with style and take risks by taking it in a bit different direction, I learn to express myself more clearly and learn who I am and who I want to be. I absorb a lot of practical knowledge on the way and as I come to feel comfortable with it, I feel safe sharing it, and I will want to do that again, hopefully again better.

What is it you want to build in your students? Are you autonomous enough to let them take their own route or should you take that journey with them?

Vladka’s Classes: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vladkas-classes/206175306120150?fref=ts