ELT Global Issues – Barbi

ELT Report From Hungary

– Barbi Bujitas 

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 In my country, teachers’ lives are hugely determined by the socio-cultural environment that has an infusion of learned helplessness. Just as it is learned, it can be unlearned, I believe.  

There is this little friend of mine, my age minus 19 years, who likes to keep everything shipshape and tidy. The other night when we met, she parked her car in the car park’s second empty slot rather than in the first. I asked why she’d done that and her answer made me feel ashamed. She’s parked in the second spot because she saw a pole in the middle of the walkway in line with the first parking place. She wanted mothers with strollers to be able to pass by easily and didn’t want to narrow the way even further with her car. Why did this make me feel ashamed? I would never ever have thought about mothers with strollers. Why am I not as emphatic as she is? And how about the professionals who created that particular car park-walkway-electricity pole combination? What’s wrong with them?

Our culture, the one being reproduced by schools, is not one in which people can imagine being in someone else’s shoes. It’s not that we are bad people. It’s been passed down by the previous generations. What else? We don’t trust each other. We are suspicious, afraid of backbiting, and not so willing to help. We assume, rather than ask.  We overrate rank, and we break rules. Informal relationships are often more crucial than expertise. We are poor collaborators and notorious competitors. Praise and gratitude are scarce. When we face a positive attitude we suspect someone wants to sell us something. We still have the remnants of feudalism and the ruins of an absurd kind of socialism.

How about teachers? Can you imagine how it feels to work in this environment? It’s like running in water. Honestly, there are better ways. There is a peculiar vicious cycle that is still here, very similar to the cycle of failure described here by Chuck Sandy.  Our cycle of failure is much bigger:

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Lack of initiative For long decades people were trained to keep silent. Even I was taught to conform in order to avoid trouble. Of course there were times you could achieve a lot by fitting in the suppressive system, and though those times are gone, the patterns linger on. Teachers? They have to please students, bosses and parents. They are struck by financial turmoil, tired and overworked. No one seems to be willing to rescue them. In a culture of “no initiatives” it seems hopeless.

Little achievement No sense of achievement produces emptiness that is easily filled by pleasing others. Teachers? I’m a freelancer. I feel good about myself because I can afford to be innovative and some of my innovations work, but in a state school you are hardly welcome as an innovator.

Low self-esteem Achievement will boost your self-esteem, right? No or low self esteem will lead to frustration. Teachers? It’s a challenging job in a hostile environment with low pay.  If you are a teacher here, chances are you’ll burn out early.

Frustration and Judgment   How do we tackle this? A widespread way here is by downgrading others. If you feel you are a low achieving teacher you blame parents, students, and colleagues. If you feel you’re not good enough, you might say “but teacher X is even worse”. Then, you’ll be on alert to spot the X’s slightest mistake. Worse, you’ll assume others are scrutinizing and judging you in the very same way. Does peer observation work? No! Lesson observation here is a form of insult. You’ll stay away from peer observation and won’t think of implementing any kind of change, thus avoiding the possibility of being caught red handed by suspicious eyes!

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Why Am I Here?  So here I am living in an atmosphere of depression and a culture of complaining. Questionable values broadcast by manipulative mass media, poured on people deprived of critical thinking skills by long decades of similarly manipulative anti-democratic, soviet-style governments. Teeeerrrrrible! What am I doing here?

I was born here in a family where many of my ascendants we killed, tortured, and robbed of their freedom and belongings. My roots determined my direction, but I’m terribly lucky because of Web 2.0. Magically, it’s taught me some of those life skills that my family and local culture haven’t, and now changing this dark world into something brighter is the funnest challenge for me!

Flipping The World Remember my friend from that newer generation?  She is a child of this society, but she keeps in mind all the moms with the baby buggies all the time. She has the Internet. She is connected.  She speaks English. She will have enough power to get out of any kind of misery as she upgrades and upgrades and upgrades.  That connectedness will flip this world for the better.

 

 

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ELT Global Issues – Ann

ELT REPORT FROM RUSSIA  AnnaLoseva140x150

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To be honest, I am rather confused as to from which angle to approach this issue. I have worked with all age groups at all stages of education system except for pre-school. I have friends and fellow teachers who work in different types of institutions. I hear plenty of teacher talk in my staff room and just a little bit of it beyond its doors. Yet my experience is limited. It’s one particular private school, one university, one in-company ELT service provider, all located in Russia’s capital. Do they reflect the overall situation in Russia’s education? Probably they do. And yet I don’t feel comfortable drawing conclusions judging by my experience only. I am cautious to make generalizations here. For every point I could mention from my years of work or personal beliefs there would be found a dozen counter-arguments. It is a slippery way.

Education issues are causing heated debates everywhere in Russian media now. The Bologna process, state exams and subsequent changes in secondary education curricula, the introduction of paid secondary education in state schools across Russia: These are burning problems and, as it happens, they are followed by a lot of rumours, negativity, rejection and public disapproval, to put it mildly. What I’ll speak about may not be the most critical issue but it’s something that bothers me, something that I can relate to and that I can hopefully bring change to.

My concern is young teachers of English. I know dozens of young teachers, girls my age or younger, teacher training university graduates like myself, who flee from schools or education system in general. But wait… didn’t I run away from a school myself? That’s exactly what happened. I could no longer stand working in a school. Of course we should take into account all the factors and in each particular case of escape the factors might vary, but I dare say they won’t vary all that much. Low salary, work overload, teacher-parent issues and (as 90% of my case) the working atmosphere in general. Well, I’ve found my place after all but many don’t.

And yet the above-mentioned are not the reasons that worry me the most. There are a certain percentage of teachers willing to work in schools. After a while some of them burn out. A school year’s routine can be tiresome and can easily turn to a bog. This comparison is not accidental. I’ve heard the term more than once used by older, more experienced, and tired teachers. Burn-out results in further passivity towards development. It is caused by lack of motivation, inspiration and drive. I’m sure wherever you are you know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen these educators who might have once loved teaching; educators who used to be creative, unconventional and daring but over time have lost their interest.

There are two qualities that unite disinterested teachers: they are closed-minded and not informed. Well, it can easily be fixed, if you ask me! We need to show how exciting it is to be a connected English language teacher. We need to introduce them to web tools, international groups, communities and social networks. We need to encourage them to always remember to develop. My strong conviction is that at pedagogical universities would-be teachers of English should have a chance to learn about the global side of ELT.

I don’t know whether I will be a teacher for all my life or if there’s something else in store for me. Yet if I do teach for the rest of my life, I hope I will never turn into a Whining Teacher. It’s easy to find a Whining Teacher. They are ubiquitous and universal. It can be true that their universal whining is fair and logical, whereas their complaints reflect a teacher’s realia in any given country. I don’t want to become one as I want to believe, as I take my own little steps in order to look back one day and say, “Yes, I’ve tried. It might not have worked but I did my best trying to make a difference.”

 

ELT Global Issues – Vladimira

ELT Report From Slovakiavladka-cokoladka

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“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

ELT Global Issues – Michael

REASONS FOR HOPE IN KOREANew Michael Griffin

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If you add it all up I have spent more than 8 years — spread out over the last 12  – involved in English education in Korea. In addition to being a place I love it’s also where I had my first full time job and the nation in which I currently reside. I have taught students from the age of seven to seventy and in a variety of contexts and situations — ranging from young learners to shipbuilders. One of the most exhilarating, enjoyable, exhausting and occasionally frustrating jobs I’ve had is working with Korean teachers of English on training courses. In this position I have had the great honor and privilege of working with some amazing English teachers from whom I have learned a great deal.

It has not always been easy to hear stories about the challenges these teachers face. Those involved in English education in South Korea are all-too-familiar with the problems of English education. Some of the oft-repeated problems and challenges (or perhaps symptoms?) include:

an overemphasis on testing
teachers simply teaching to the test
continual and tedious lectures on grammar
rampant teacher-centeredness
non-existent to low student talking time
corporal punishment
teachers believing candy is the only reasonable replacement for corporal punishment
students sleeping through class
students ignoring teachers lessons
low quality textbooks riddled with errors
teachers swamped by paper work and duties outside teaching
teachers blamed by parents and other stakeholders for students lack of achievement

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I must admit I feel more than a bit uncomfortable doling out advice to a country and educational system in which I am still a guest. Because of this and because the list of problems has been repeated and discussed ad nauseam in pubs, staffrooms, training courses, and the blogosphere I’d like to focus elsewhere. Instead of detailing the problems and offering my solutions I’d like to highlight some of the bright spots and reasons for hope I have encountered. I certainly don’t mean to ignore or try to downplay the gravity of the above issues. I truly feel there are many reasons for hope while acknowledging the sometimes grim realities. I will share three reasons I am hopeful about English education in Korea. These include that the current assessment practices are being called into question, more teachers receiving quality training, and a committed and growing group of brave English teachers who want to put their students’ learning first.

ASSESSMENT

I think the current discussion about altering the current assessment practices (specifically the English portion of the Korean college entrance exam) is extremely hopeful. Some might say the confusion and clouds surrounding the NEAT test are just another reason for despair but my view is different. I think the simple fact such measures are being considered is reason for optimism. Many teachers (especially those teaching the final year of high school) feel blocked, indeed trapped, by the current assessment regime and I agree with those who say that this needs to be changed in order for positive washback to spread throughout public education. Again, thinking positively, discussions about possible changes in the assessment system could point to a future where teachers don’t feel quite as shackled by “The Test” and the lexico-grammar focus it demands.

TRAINING

To my eyes, the last few years have seen a proliferation of training courses for Korean teachers. While not all of these fit exactly into my concept of what an ideal training course might be, I think the important factor to consider is the massive investments of time, energy and money that Korean English teachers are giving and receiving. I also think it’s nice to see how some courses are focusing more on teachers’ beliefs as well as reflective abilities rather than just a steady diet of just English practice or ready-made activities. I feel these types of courses will pay off in the long run, even if right now the benefits are not as tangible as might be hoped.

BRAVE TEACHERS

There are teachers out there doing projects with students. There are teachers trying out extensive reading. There are teachers trying to have fun. There are teachers experimenting and reflecting on their practice. There are teachers trying out warmers. There are teachers who try to limit their translations of English texts into Korean. There are teachers that put their students’ learning first. I know about these teachers because I have worked with them. I believe brave teachers like this are growing in number and that they are the main reason for optimism about English education in Korea.

Just because I can see reasons for hope doesn’t mean the battle has been won. There are still many challenges to be faced. The road will not always be easy or smooth but I feel we are at the start of some very positive changes for English education in Korea.

Those interested in more of Mike’s thoughts on teaching in Korea might want to check out his Letter to Korean teachers (1) , “South Korea is an EFL situation (2), and 18 things about Korean Students (3)

1)    http://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/a-letter-to-korean-english-teachers/

2)    http://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/south-korea-is-an-efl-situation/

3)    http://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/18-things-about-korean-students/

ELT Global Issues – Arjana

ELT REPORT FROM CROATIA ARJANA_150x150

ARJANA Image1Despite living in the second decade of the 21st century, teachers in Croatia still keep talking about adopting new 21st century teaching practices and skills that students should acquire in order to successfully tackle the challenges of the 21st century – as if the 21st century hasn’t arrived yet!

On the other hand, this clearly indicates that my fellow teachers are aware that the immense changes technology has brought into our everyday lives should be mirrored in our schools as well. No one will deny that we live differently than 10 or 20 years ago: we handle our finances online, we shop online, we play online, we socialize online, we have become learners who use internet resources for learning and so do our students. Technology has radically transformed the way students learn – and as a logical consequence, the way we teach. Or has it?

ARJANA image2 Teachers have become lifelong learners who want to keep abreast of the latest developments in 21st century education and are more than willing to change their practices accordingly. Most of the teachers in my country pursue their professional development at conferences, seminars and workshops organized by the Ministry of Education and other educational agencies.

Even though the Ministry introduced computer literacy training as an integral part of teacher education programs in the form of ECDL courses (European Computer Driving License) back in 2005, most professional development courses offered to teachers are still more related to the 20th century.  However, there are a lot of teachers who acquire new skills, competences and knowledge as self-learners through personal learning networks that they have built on various social networking sites. Most importantly, they are willing to share the knowledge they gain with their colleagues who don’t actively participate in this type of learning.  In this way, the circle of teachers who want to inspire, motivate and empower their students with the help of new technologies considerably grows.

However, after becoming ready to get to grips with new technologies, teachers are faced with another obstacle – poorly equipped schools.  School funding has never been on a very high level, unfortunately, and with the recent economic crisis which is still a menace in Croatia, even less money is invested in schools.

Let me take my school to show you what this means. I teach at a high school that comprises about 500 students, aged between 15-19, and 44 teachers. The number of computers provided at school is rather small compared to the number of students. We have two computer labs, one with 10 and the other with 16 computers, purchased almost 10 years ago, so you can image what it looks like to work on these old machines. Nevertheless, the labs are used all the time – in fact, with so many enthusiastic computer literate teachers, every week there’s a mad scramble for the two labs. We have a sign-up list in the staffroom, run by the ICT teacher on the first come first serve basis. While I can boast a collegial atmosphere in my staffroom, when it comes to the matters of computers, the situation changes drastically. Sometimes there is so much animosity between the parties involved, that it seems unlikely they’ll ever be reconciled. Luckily, there’s always the next week’s list and the thrill of computer-assisted teaching that is not likely to disappear.

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If we don’t need Internet access and can do with only one computer in class, we can avail ourselves of one of the three laptops and beamers.  This is often done by teachers, but rather reluctantly because we have to carry this entire load from classroom to classroom as the teachers are those who move, while students remain stationary in their classrooms. The reason for not having our own labs is that we share the premises with another school. Because the school building is too small to hold 1000 students at the same time, we work in shifts – and this is something we would definitely like to change as soon as possible.

A two-shift system means that one week we are at school in the morning from 8 am till 2pm, whereas the afternoon shift from 2 pm till 8 pm (!) is taken by the other school. The next week it’s the other way round. This is not an exception here in Croatia; it’s rather a rule, unfortunately. Hopefully, all schools will have moved to one shift system by 2020.

Because of scarce equipment, many teachers, me included, have wholeheartedly embraced BYOD: Bring your own device. As a huge supporter of BYOD, I strongly believe that students should be taught that the powerful devices they bring to school every day shouldn’t be a distraction from learning but a means to enhance learning. When I first told my students that they were going to use their mobile devices for learning, they were shocked.  They never expected their teacher to teach with mobile phones, because more often than not teachers confiscate their devices! However, I was also taken aback upon seeing that only half of their phones were smart devices. Another problem was that only few students had access to the internet on their devices and as we have no wireless network at school, we couldn’t do much. But still, I gave it a try, divided them in groups and it worked! Not exactly as I had planned or hoped for, but still – it was a good beginning that showed potential.

As Sir Ken Robinson said, “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original!” Nor will you be able to fight the obstacles and become a 21st century teacher! (Yes, yes, I know that the 21st century is in full swing, but you know what I mean!)