Six Words about Teaching English in Ukraine

Zhenya PolosatovaSix Words about Teaching English in Ukraine

by Zhenya Polosatova


Ukraine is my home country, it’s where I was born, raised, and had all of my EFL learning and teaching experience. I taught English as a foreign language to kids and adults at IH school (International House DNK) for about ten years. My youngest student turned two in one of my lessons. Even though I have not been teaching on a regular basis lately, I consider myself a part of the ELT family as I am actively involved in teacher training (intensively internationally and online), facilitating/coordinating a Reflective Practice Group in my native Dnipro, and co-organizing EduHub Teacher Sharing Days. I also do some consulting, coaching, speaking examining, and presenting in various places in Ukraine.

I am aware I am far from being an ideal person to speak about the Ukrainian ELT. On the other hand, not being directly from (or attached to) a particular sector of the Ukrainian ELT field may offer a chance to step back and catch a bigger picture. The ideas I express in this post come from my own experience and reflections, as well as numerous conversations with teachers of English throughout Ukraine, such as former colleagues and TESOL course participants, Reflective Practice Group members, conference presentation attendees, small language school owners, teacher educators, “international” teachers, etc. As anything I say in this post can be seen as overgeneralizing, I chose to structure it around six words that can describe my views on ELT in Ukraine.

#1: Transformation

Let’s start with the name of the country: it is Ukraine, not the Ukraine. There is an idea that “the use of the article relates to the time before independence in 1991, when Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.” It is a seemingly small thing, but to me it symbolizes the change we are going through from being a part of the USSR to finding our own identity.

Ukraine is a large country in Europe spreading over 603,628 square km. Ukraine’s regions and even cities differ a lot from one another: teaching and living in Kyiv, the busy capital, would be different from Lviv in the West, Odessa in the South, or Dnipro where I am from. Ukraine’s ELT context is therefore quite varied. Working in the public school sector would be different from teaching in a private school, having a contract with a language center is not the same as freelancing, and freelancing in a large city would certainly be different from doing it in a small town.

In addition, it’s important to note that Ukraine outsources IT specialists throughout the world, which results in (1) excellent Internet connection across the country and (2) the demand for English teachers, especially in large cities. This fact adds another significant ELT context to work in – a full-time teaching job with an IT company.

#2: Application

Even though English has been the leading foreign language taught on each educational stage (optional at pre-school, but mandatory from primary school), it started to play a much more noticeable role after 1991. Teaching switched from mostly Grammar-Translation Method to more progressive approaches and techniques, new coursebooks entered the market, international training courses for teachers were offered, private language schools were opened.

Gradually, state school sector opened its doors to international publishers and course providers and approved a number of international coursebooks, exam results, and teacher training qualifications. Even though we may discuss advantages and disadvantages of teaching from a coursebook or using grammar-based syllabi as opposed to Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), for example, I personally see the change as positive as students get to use the language in the classroom more and more (and potentially apply it outside, “in real life” as well).

The educational reform called the New Ukrainian School started in 2017. It is bringing even bigger changes in attitude to language learning where “communication in foreign languages” becomes a goal, a competence/skill set to develop, “the ability to understand adequately concepts expressed in a foreign language, to express both in speech and in writing the ideas, thoughts, feelings, facts and views” (from Conceptual Principles of Secondary School Reform).

English in Ukraine is still a foreign, not a second language, although you can encounter it more and more in the large cities, tourist centers, movie theaters, book stores, etc. Sadly, the level of English proficiency among Ukrainians is low, taking 28th place out of 32 European countries according to the EF Education First annual ranking.

#3: Motivation

It could be a big generalization to make, but working with the Ukrainian language learners (adults or young learners) is wonderful: their curiosity, open-mindedness, optimism, and sense of humor are amazing and energizing. As my colleague and friend recently told me, “I love our job as I am paid for this kind of interaction [with my language learners].”

At the moment English learners here are very motivated and goal-oriented, both short-term and long-term. Many would like to study or work abroad, some need high language level at the current job communicating with an international partner or customer, and some are actively traveling. International testing systems and exams are gaining popularity in the country, which often becomes a measurable sub-goal students would like to reach.

#4: Enthusiasm

Goal-oriented students (and their parents!) are demanding, and this motivates teachers to do their best. I can say that most ELT teachers in Ukraine are passionate, eager to help kids and adults, ready to learn, trying to perfect in the skill of teaching. They are able to bring life and passion to sometimes unrealistic or boring curriculum. In the light of the educational reforms, I think teachers of English are at an advantage today, being able to have direct access to lots of resources, ideas, activities, and social media platforms internationally.

To give an example, while looking for ideas for this post, I learned about a teacher in a small Ukrainian village near Dnipro who has been successfully engaged in eTwinning Plus project collaborating with schools in other countries and engaging students in exciting and motivating activities in English (there is an article about Yaroslava Kazarian’s project in Ukrainian here). Another colleague from Kyiv, Olga Puga, co-created an online School of Magic, similar to the school Harry Potter attended (more in Ukrainian here). To me, these are good examples of “enthusiasm in action” and they are inspiring.

#5: Choices

Overall, I think it’s very interesting and exciting to be an English teacher these days. You have the Internet, access to ELT materials and webinars, you can decide what kind of international training certificate to earn and do it in Ukraine. One of the big changes the reform offered is a choice, where state school teachers can earn the number of obligatory professional development hours (it used to be possible only through designated centers of “enhanced qualification” and those courses often left much to be desired in terms of format and content).

Since 2017 Ukrainians can travel to EU without a visa, which literally opened doors to international ELT events. My colleagues have recently attended and/or presented at conferences in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, and more trips are planned for the coming spring (Spain, Malta, Moldova). 

There are teacher development events to attend in various cities in Ukraine. Apart from large conferences, such as IATEFL Ukraine, and training workshops from publishers, there are smaller events offered by specific training centers or even teams of teachers. The so-called “non-conference” ELT events are becoming popular, for example EdCamps (educational camps) and reflective practice discussion groups for teachers. These are face-to-face, “real-time” events, and there is a whole different dimension of webinars, online courses, social media groups available. I would say that there are too many choices and sometimes a bit of free time is needed – to breathe, to think, to do nothing.

Besides, living in the times of constant change has made teachers here even more hard-working, resourceful, and flexible, and that includes their attitude to employment. Many colleagues I know have recently become freelance professionals, probably following what we call a Ukrainian characteristic feature of wanting to be fully in charge of a small business, but most likely using their creativity and teacher-preneurship skills to build a career of their dream.

#6: Journey

There is a well-known wish often seen as a blessing or a curse: “May you live in interesting times.” While there is no choice in what time we can be living, we can certainly manage our attitude and goals. As our famous poet Taras Shevchenko* put it addressing his fellow Ukrainians, Gain knowledge, read, from other cultures learn! But do not thus neglect your own.” I think Ukraine as a country, and ELT in Ukraine as a field, is at the beginning of a big journey to discover what’s important, to learn from the modern research and practices, and adapt it to the local culture and needs.


Questions to the readers:

  1. What is special/unique about your country? How does (might) this impact learning and teaching English there?
  2. What would be your 6 words about teaching English in your country?
  3. What do you dream about for ELT in your context in the future?
  4. What change do you want to see happen?
  5. What small steps can you personally make (or are already making)?


  1. Wikipedia: “In 1993 the Ukrainian government explicitly requested that the article be dropped.”
  2. Mining Academy in Dnipro, EFL Magazine.
  3. Olga Afanasieva in Cherkasy Uni, ET Forum. 
  4. The Internationalisation of Ukrainian Universities: the English language dimension, by Rod Bolitho and Richard West, British Council report.
  5. Kris and Kate’s blog offers a different perspective on living and teaching in Ukraine, e.g. Teaching English in Ukraine: A Guide.
  6. National Conference “eTwinning Plus” in Ukraine (May 2018, Kyiv).

* from Shevchenko’s  “My Friendly Epistle,” written in December 14, 1845.

Reflective Practice as a Way of Life 

Zhenya PolosatovaBy Zhenya Polosatova

In preparation to writing this post I was re-reading ‘Reflective Teaching’ by Thomas S. C. Farrell. One of the four principles of reflection outlined by the author says: “Reflective Practice is a Way of Life.” The post below is my reflection on this principle.

image 1 a way of life_Reflective Practice is often associated with and is a part of Experiential Learning, or ‘learning by doing’. This approach emphasizes the importance of trying things out and learning from that experience. Interestingly, life itself can be seen as “the experience of being alive” if you check the definition in a dictionary.

Reflective Practice is evidence-based, which means you need information, data, or facts before you start exploring something in detail. In teaching, it is information about observing (specific) student learning, progress, challenges, etc. In non-teaching (or real world), it might be data about our habits and lifestyle (what we eat, drink, how we spend money or time), about our communication patterns, thinking patterns… about anything, really. Anything we can call “our personal experience” and would like to examine or improve.

Reflection on teaching helps to review one’s professional beliefs and values and, in this way, shape and develop a unique teaching style or manner. Exploring beliefs often starts with some curiosity, with a “Why?” question: Why am I doing what I am doing? Where does this idea come from? Is there a different way? By asking these questions, a reflective teacher stays curious, alert, interested, and aware. In other words, the result of systematic reflection is less professional burnout and more job satisfaction, not to mention lots of student learning.

Reflection on teaching could be seen as a conversation, a dialogue with oneself, with colleagues, etc. In fact, if you actually ‘listen’ to the thinking in your mind, you will see that it is always a dialogue, or almost always. In this case, systematic, deliberate reflective practice simply uses what our thinking is naturally inclined to do.


After reading my mini promo speech about the benefits of Reflective Practice, you might have a logical question: How do you reflect? My own short answer is this: I use slightly adapted Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) to structure my reflective process (readers can get more detailed information about ELC in my blog post ELC or the Art of Experiential Learning).

I first learned this idea on my trainer training program with School for International Training (now SIT Graduate Institute). It was the summer of 2006, which means that I have been using, adapting, experimenting and enjoying reflecting though the ELC for the last 10 years! In simple words, the Cycle helps to structure teacher reflection process by inviting them to go through several concrete steps, or stages: selecting a specific part of the lesson (or experience) to reflect on; describing it in as much detail as possible; analyzing possible ways in which it might have been (un)helpful for the student learning; stating generalizations, or conclusions, insights and a-ha moments about learning/teaching based on this experience; outlining your plan of actions  that you are intended to try inspired by this reflection process. In other words, the reflective cycle will help you formulate a new ‘hypothesis’ about teaching/learning that you will be able to test, confirm, modify, and then bring it through the cycle again and again…

image 2 ELC 5 simple stages I like the simplicity of this model: it never takes too long to explain or demonstrate to readers, teachers on a training course, or colleagues. What I find interesting about seemingly simple things in life is that applying them in practice takes much more time and effort than learning the theory. For example, have you ever tried describing an event, to the tiniest detail, without adding your own feelings to what actually happened, without expressing your opinion or attitude to it? If you have done so before, you know how hard it might be not to switch into interpreting what happened rather than simply describing it. If you have not, select a moment of a lesson that stands out to you, describe it in writing (or audio record yourself), then take a look and see if this was a description or… not.

Another challenge teachers sometimes face is spending time on analyzing that situation/experience in a balanced way, listing multiple ways of how this particular ‘event’ influenced the others, or the outcome of the lesson. Jumping to generalizations is so much more comfortable! The danger here lies in reducing the process of reflection to a self-talk along these lines: “the lesson was terrible, that’s probably because of that [activity] which I will never use again”… or even worse, “it did not work because we should give clear instructions…”

I do believe that reflective practice is a way of life. Once you started to use the reflective approach to your teaching and saw its benefits, how can you stop using it outside your classroom? At home, can you angrily tell your child (or husband, mother, etc.) “This is what you always do!” instead of patiently describing what happened and sharing why it troubled you? It might sound really strange but I received a lot of feedback from my course participants on how they improved relationships in their families with the help of this approach, or how some other problems that had nothing to do with ELT were solved. This is usually not a goal of a teacher training course but could become an added value. By becoming more reflective in the classroom, you will start to be much more present with the students, observe them much closer, notice many more details which had been out of your ‘attention zone’ before and which you probably used to take for granted. You will eventually become much more present and aware in your everyday life, much more mindful, much happier.

Am I an expert in this reflective process? A guru? Am I perfect at it? Well… No. I am enjoying the learning, the new discoveries this approach brings. I use it for my training of new trainers programs, for the curriculum development projects I participate in, for the coaching and consultancy work I am doing. This process to me is a magic trick to keep loving what I am doing and, hopefully, to become a little better as a professional and as a human.

Group Feedback Sessions: Beliefs and Techniques

Zhenya PolosatovaBy Zhenya Polosatova

For the last 10 years I have been working as a teacher trainer on short-term intensive pre-service and in-service courses in various parts of the world. These courses vary in length (from two to six weeks) and in main focus (TESOL, TEFL, teaching Young Learners, etc.), but they all have a practical component where the course participants teach lessons to the learners of English, taking turns to lead a part of the lesson, observe each other doing it, and then sit down together for group feedback sessions. In this post I would like to share some beliefs and rationale for making choices and decisions during such sessions as a trainer.

First of all, in the life outside our classroom feedback can be defined as ‘information about the results of a process’. If we agree that a lesson is a process, then feedback is an appropriate professional development tool for us teachers to grow. Here are some reasons (the Why) for having feedback sessions on an intensive training course, listed in my subjective order of priority:

  •  helping the teachers develop their reflective competence as a skill that they can continue using after the course ends
  • modeling a (possible) teacher development tool they will experience in the future career (giving and receiving feedback from peers)
  • facilitating professional relationship (again, for the actual/potential workplace)
  • inspiring positive attitude towards giving and receiving feedback from others
  • helping the individual teachers meet the standards and receive the certificate

A typical feedback session on courses I run ‘covers’ these aspects (the What):

  1. discussing whether the lesson objective/aim was achieved, and the evidence for that;
  2. discussing the strengths of the lesson — the aspects, techniques, and tasks that helped student learning and facilitated their achievement of the lesson objective (in planning or delivering the lesson);
  3. discussing the areas that might be improved for better facilitating student learning (again, in planning or delivering the lesson).
Taking teachers through the reflective process. A slide from the presentation Teacher Change Beyond Borders: Regional Impact of Experiential Professional Development by Josephine Kennedy, Kevin Giddens and Helena Simas, with World Learning and AMIDEAST, TESOL Convention 2016
Taking teachers through the reflective process. A slide from the presentation Teacher Change Beyond Borders: Regional Impact of Experiential Professional Development by Josephine Kennedy, Kevin Giddens and Helena Simas, with World Learning and AMIDEAST, TESOL Convention 2016


Now, since we talk about group feedback session, we can think Who can be the source, or provider of the ‘information’ to the participant who was observed (I will call him/her ‘Teacher’ below). The options are obvious: the trainer and/or the peers from the group.

If we put together the Why, the What and the Who, we will see two main approaches to group feedback sessions, or the How:

individual (one by one, participant by participant): the trainer is asking questions (largely based on the What above), and the Teacher is answering; other participants might, or might not be involved in the conversation; the trainer might then give a brief summary of their own thoughts on the lesson.

interactive (in small groups): participants are working in groups, the Teacher works with the participants who observed it, and they discuss the questions; the trainer might give a brief summary of their own thoughts on the lesson — group by group, or to the whole group after everyone is finished.

I have experienced both of the approaches, as a trainer and as a course participant, so I can see advantages and disadvantages to either way. For example, discussing the lesson and sharing trainer comments in one large group means that everyone gets exactly the same ‘information’ about learning and teaching strategies, techniques and practices. A disadvantage, however, might be that there is much less ‘depth’ in such discussion as the time is limited and the trainer has to ‘go through’ all the teachers who taught on that day.

On the other hand, letting participants work in small(er) groups or pairs takes away some control from the trainer, allows them to be more independent and talk about the areas they feel are important for the lessons they taught or observed on that day. It does mean that each group might spend the time discussing various aspects, and not all group members are on the same page.

As you might have already guessed, I personally prefer running feedback sessions in small groups. To solve the problem of not having the trainer next to each participant during the whole session, I monitor closely moving from group to group and leave some ‘trainer time’ at the end of feedback. I also vary tasks, or specific questions to guide the discussion, if needed, and use interactive techniques to keep the conversation going. Some examples of such techniques include the following:

  • the teachers who observed the lesson (let’s call them Observers) become ‘trainers’ and ask guiding questions to the Teacher;
  • everyone writes down ‘memorable moments’ of the lesson (taught or observed), after which the Teacher picks the ones s/he would like to focus on. Depending on the available resources, the ‘moments’ can be written on small cards, posters, or boards;
  • the Observers create a poster for the Teacher which displays metaphors, learnings, questions, concerns. The Teacher then decides what s/he would like to have feedback on, and the conversation begins;
  • the trainer records and collects teaching beliefs brought up during the conversations in pairs, participants then decide if they agree or disagree with them.

[Note: as a trainer, I observe the lesson closely taking a lot of written notes, both on the lesson plan and on the lesson ‘flow’ as it is happening, so each Teacher receives a detailed written feedback after the feedback session finishes.]

You might have noticed that the techniques above are largely ‘borrowed’ from interactive speaking or writing lessons/input sessions, and they don’t feel like feedback to the Teachers receiving it. Feedback session on a course is a process, not just the fact of obtaining information, and oftentimes the conversation brings new depths and insights to the trainer. This could be part of the reason why I prefer to refer to such sessions as Guided Reflection Sessions as opposed to Feedback in my training courses.

Finally, by letting the participants be in charge of the depth and quality of feedback for each other we trainers model how learner autonomy can be encouraged, and how the principle of ‘meeting learners where they are’ works in action. In a way, that helps to make a bridge between teacher autonomy and student autonomy, and lead to more independent and productive learning. Do you share the same belief?