Voices from the iTDi Community – Chuck

Chuck Sandy


It is my great privilege in this issue of the iTDi blog to begin a summer series introducing some of the voices from our community. Over the next three issues, you’ll read some amazing stories from some amazing people. The stories are amazing because they are true and because they come straight from the heart.  The people are amazing because they have chosen to share something deeply true. These stories are travel narratives, written by teachers on a journey of professional and personal development. In each of these narratives, the writer in one way or another will tell you that professional and personal development are really two sides of the same coin: inseparable. All of the stories share some common elements, yet each one is unique for each story is written in an authentic voice. As you read, you will hear the true voice of education: the voice of a teacher speaking with truth and authenticity from the heart.

To frame these stories I have asked teachers a series of questions that they have answered in their own way. My questions were:

What are you passionate about?
How and why did you become a teacher?
What are you most interested in right now?
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?
What advice would you give a teacher just starting out a journey of professional development?
Is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?
What’s your favorite quotation about teaching or education?
Is there anything else you’d like to say?

In this issue you will read how Annie Tsai in Taiwan, Debbie Tevovich in Argentina, Bruno Andrade in Brazil, Josette Leblanc in Korea, and Kevin Stein in Japan answered these questions. As you read and reflect on what they have shared, take some time to think and reflect on how you would answers the same questions. I would like to invite you to answer the questions as well.

If you would like to share your own story, please visit the iTDi website where you will find these questions listed one by one as topics in the Social Forum under the heading Voices From the iTDi Community. Feel free to answer them all in as much depth as you wish by posting to the Forum. Likewise, feel free to just answer just one or two of the questions. It’s up to you.

You’re also free to just browse, read and reflect, but I do hope you will share your story as well. By adding your own story, you will help build a community: a community of teachers, each with a unique voice, each with a true story, each one a person on a journey of professional and personal development. As I am on the same journey as everyone else in our community, you will find my own answers in the Social Forum as well. Meanwhile, I invite you to read here in this iTDi Blog issue what Annie, Debbie, Bruno, Josette, and Kevin have shared. I am sure you will find their stories as amazing as I have as I put this issue together. It is not only a privilege to share these stories with you. It is also an honor for me to be a member of the iTDi community, in the company of such truly inspirational people: Real teachers, in every sense, on a journey.

Good Things,

Chuck Sandy

iTDi Community Director

Voices from the iTDi Community – Annie

Annie Tsai – Taiwan

Annie Tsai is an EFL teacher from Taiwan. She’s a tech-savvy teacher. She currently lives and works in Taiwan. She’s passionate about teaching via IWB and other web 2.0 tools. She believes in hands on learning and reflective teaching. She’s also a dog lover and a passionate backpacker.

What are you passionate about, Annie?

Annie:  I’ve been an EFL teacher in Taiwan for 9 years. I work with elementary school children. I enjoy backpacking a lot and I like to share the tales and adventures I have on my journeys with my students. To me learning is a vital survival skill and I’d like my children to be open to new things, and to be positive about changing. I’m very passionate about learning to be a better teacher and trainer. I know this might sound like a cliché, but the best reward for a teacher is to see children develop through your guidance and advance into something better.

How and why did you become a teacher?

I was major in journalism and have worked as a copywriter/media planner before changing my career path ten years ago. That was when the Taiwanese government started to install English education in elementary schools and they need many English teachers in a very short period of time. So I took a test, passed the training and officially became a teacher. However, passing an exam doesn’t mean that you are ready to start teaching. I don’t think I was ready mentally nor professionally then, so I had a really bad first year. Luckily, I survived and kept going and I’ll be celebrating my 10th year of teaching at the end of 2012.

What are you most interested in right now?

I’ve been working on international exchange project with my students. I also joined a couple of international projects via iEARN.  I realized that project based learning (PBL) seems to be the best way for effective language learning and teaching. For young ELF learners, being able to use the target language with real people for a real purpose seems to legitimize the rationale of learning a foreign language.

I have always been a subject teacher and facing 300+ students per week is a routine for me. In Taiwan, we only get two 40-minute sessions of English class per week and that’s just not enough to produce a visible achievement. So I decided to change my role to a homeroom teacher in the coming school year, which means I have more time with children and I get to devote my attention to 26 students only. My interest now lies in the possibilities of promoting EFL education as a homeroom teacher.

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

I develop by joining projects and competitions and by interacting with my Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Facebook and Twitter. By doing this, I get to allocate time and energy to suit my schedule while updating my teaching knowledge and skills. It was through these mostly free resources that I won a 2-week teacher training workshop sponsored by Cambridge University. My children and I also got to spend a lovely afternoon with a two A-listers from the U.S. after winning a competition sponsored by Oxford University Press. For a suburban school like mine, this kind of event helps both parties in the classrooms to teach and learn. We were all very much inspired and stimulated after the project. Thus, my next goal is to cultivate Project Based Learning (PBL) activities in my class.

Additionally, I think documenting your teaching activities and sharing with others also helps one to be a reflective teacher and learner. Blogging in English takes this to the next level because then you are putting the language to use as well. I get to learn from many outstanding teacher bloggers by reading, sharing and commenting on their blog posts. The learning and support is mutual and without boundaries.

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

I think for a non-native English teacher, the most challenging part for many of us is how to maintain your English language proficiency after 5 or 10 years of teaching. This is particularly tricky if you happen to teach young learners (YL) in an EFL country. Your predicament is somehow not that far different from your students.  

You have to try very hard to build an English learning friendly environment and you need to be persistent about it. My suggestions for doing this are to participate as many professional development groups as possible, both online and offline. The virtual groups tend to broaden your horizons because of the mixed nationalities and teaching contexts of the people involved. The real groups, additionally, helps to share and communicate upon common ground. Teachers also need to be learners so they don’t take teaching/learning for granted.

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

Always be open-minded. Sometimes it takes years for us to see the value and feasibility of something we always knew but never or rarely use in the classroom. Also, read and explore teaching resources from English speaking countries as much as possible. Your language proficiency and your teaching knowledge can be stimulated at the same time and it also helps you connect with wider professional community. Meanwhile, document your own teaching process in English and communicate with like-minded teacher bloggers. Share your ideas by being a presenter as this also helps to reflect upon and focus more. The best remedy for occupational fatigue is to keep learning and to keep trying new ways to engage learners.

Any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

1. iTDi of course!

2. TES

3. elt chat

4. English central

5. EFL 2.0

What’s your favorite quote about teaching?

Keep calm and teach on!


Voices from the iTDi Community – Bruno

Bruno Andrade – Brazil

Bruno Andrade is an edtech consultant, a teacher and an explorer. He currently lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He’s passionate about learning, curiosity, imagination and technology. He’s also a sunset worshiper.

What are you passionate about, Bruno?

My biggest passion is, in a way, my biggest problem. I don’t have a single passion in life. Never had. Instead, I feel an ardent need to understand everything that comes along my way. I have to understand anything that attracts my attention. However, I am no genius. Ergo I cannot possibly understand every single thing there is in the world. (Or can anyone tell me why yawning is contagious?). This kind of behavior makes me believe that never will I be bored. In my most honest opinion: knowledge is irresistible.

How and why did you become a teacher? 

When people asked what I wanted to do for a living, teaching was the last thing that came to my mind. I grew in a family of teachers. I used to give extra lessons to my mother’s students who came to our house in search of knowledge – mostly in search of a better grade, but that’s ok, anyways – I used to help my mother correct her thousands of multiple choice tests. I was taken to the schools she taught at when there was nobody else to look after me.  And I loved it. I had fun. I found pleasure in that. But prejudice and fear blinded my soul and I searched for other options. I was not wholeheartedly happy. One day I decided to give myself a chance: A chance to change, and I did. I accidently and happily entered a classroom with a teacher’s guide in my hands. Being thanked for helping other people to understand anything is the best feeling the world. Nothing compares to it.

What are you most interested in right now?

As a teacher my main interest is to share and learn from other people. I believe that sharing is caring. Teaching has long been considered a lonely profession. I have always been equally against it. There is much more to learn from the exchanging of experiences than we can ever imagine. Dealing with people can be quite demanding. We all know that, but that is also the beauty of it. Different points of view can only enrich our lives and broaden our horizons.

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

I connect. I ask. I debate. I create. I exchange. I agree. I disagree. I read. I try to understand. I study. I reflect.

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

Some time ago my challenge was to get teachers onboard to use technology in their classes. Nowadays I aim for a more humanized pedagogy when it comes to the integration of technology in education. If teachers use technology with the intention of wowing students, they are missing the point of it.

Technology should only be used as a tool if:

·         there is a contextualized pedagogy behind it.

·         it empowers students, not the other way round.

·         allows students to create, be creative and collaborate.

·         opens up the doors and breaks downs the walls.

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

Are you ready to jump? But I will tell you what: once you go there is no coming back. Find your community. Build your personal learning network (PLN). Go out there and look for people who share the same passion as you. There are a lot of teachers who are willing to welcome you into their own communities. Use Social Media at your favor. Use it to share and learn, connect and help, create and spread. That will make you a better teacher. Always.

Bruno, is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

Learning should always be personalized. Therefore each teacher has to find the best professional development online tool for them. I confess, however, that Twitter changed the way I see my professional and the way I relate to my fellow educators. I cannot say that Twitter will be always around for future generations of teachers, but there will always be a way for us to get connected. Everyone should try it.

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher, Bruno?

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid” – Albert Einstein

Voices from the iTDi Community – Debbie

Debora Tebovich – Argentina

Debora (Debbie) Tebovich is a passionate teacher who teaches face-to face and one-to-one at home. Also she has begun teaching online because commuting in the city has become a great challenge. She lives and works in Buenos Aires. She is passionate about teaching teenagers and adults. She believes in the big power of learning together with learners, empowering each other and growing as human beings who are part of a huge community of people.  She is also an avid home-keeper and loves gardening. She would rather be gardening in her hometown, but her balcony makes her happy! She loves swimming and walking on sunny days yet, wouldn’t mind going out in the rain.

What are you passionate about, Debbie?

Teaching, learning, and writing are definitely my passions as well as being a mother and taking care of the home. What I love most about teaching is how much we can learn together with students and within communities of educators from all over the world. I can teach the same lesson twice and it’s never the same. My students are special and different which makes them unique, so we start the journey into a topic and they can lead me to something unexpected, which I grab quickly because it’s what they have discovered and it triggers motivation through curiosity. If we can’t do it right at that moment, I take notes and we return the following class. As I love to say, I might hold their hands to begin the journey but it’s them who become the guiding force in my classroom. Also, as they learn how much we connect with the world, they learn we are part of community, that we are people helping and learning together. That’s so amazing about teaching and learning, isn’t it?

How and why did you become a teacher? 

I can’t remember when, I guess I was still crawling. I opened a language school with a partner and it was a boom.  We had over 200 students the first year in a little town. But after some time, I discovered I enjoyed little classes that were more intimate, so with time also I started following my heart and I ended up teaching small groups.  Now more matured, freer to follow my own decisions and dreams, I teach at home one to one, or in very little groups. I cook something for my students and we share coffee while we learn. IF you’d like to hear me talk more about this question with perhaps some brutal honesty, please click here to listen if you’d like:

What are you most interested in right now?

Right now, I am interested in lesson planning and developing my own material. I started a project to involve my students in the decision of what we want to do in class, and what we can agree would be best for them to do in class. You can see some of that goal setting work with student here.


Also, as I have learnt and believe so strongly in the power of a community of passionate teachers, I am working on a project to take other teachers’ material and, as far as possible, see if it can be enriched as I develop adapt it for my students. The idea is, if we are a community, why would we start creating from scratch if we can use material developed and shared by other members and make it richer by adding something new. In the same way, this material would get incredibly rich if other teachers do the same. Imagine how much we would have! Also, I am very concentrated on developing as a teacher. In fact the more I study and learn, the more I see I have to go on. I guess this is not new but I just feel it so strong inside.

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

I do most of my professional development online. First because I can choose the area I am interested in and because I have met incredible teachers just willing to share and encourage us to try new things.

Now I am more careful about recording the  courses I take and I have made a grid where I collect info about my CPD, very simple but I know when I took a webinar, or course, who was the teacher, what I have learnt and the links to the new material.

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

One big challenge is managing time and resources. There’s so much going on, it’s time consuming and I usually spend long hours trying to keep updated. So, sometimes it’s really challenging to figure out what is the best course of action to take to make my classes better. My ultimate goal is to teach in a way in which students feel comfortable as they develop their self- esteem and find that learning can be fun, in a way that empowers them and myself as human beings — and I am beginning to see great results. My students are more open to agreeing and disagreeing, also the value the work we do together, teenagers have learnt they read to discover and learn something new and not just get a pass on a test. I think this is the most rewarding result.

Also I read lots of blogs by great teachers absolutely passionate about their work, but as technology becomes so important I see we tend to spend a lot of time discovering new tools and blogging about them. I love tech tools too, but I have come to the point that my commitment is to be close to what my students need and design the best plans and projects. This is what I see they need the most, a great idea, something great to discover. I tell them the most important thing is to have something great and interesting to share. Then, if I think a tool will make the work easier or more attractive somehow, I suggest using technology.

I have the feeling that technology is exciting but I am beginning to feel it is something similar to fast food.  Maybe it’s a cheap metaphor but I have discovered that there’s nothing like homemade food.

There’s nothing like going out on a sunny day to take a walk and bring our cameras along. Then we sit on a nearby park bench, and we talk about the photos we took, which usually takes us to some stories and if they allow me, I record them. We come back to the classroom and we exchange feedback about our walk.

We use technology when we watch a video clip or read something online, or do research. Sometimes we write together so we can use technology to make our own e-books, and this gives learners the feeling of having a broader audience, like “someone out there is reading my work”. We also work on writing trip journals using technology and I encourage them to record some work, only to see how they make progress.

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

I would love to accompany a new teacher beginning on her or his journey. I had felt lonely many times, until I discovered the most incredible force: the power of communities. This has helped me to get the best from myself. However, there is a road to reach this point. I would say that getting a twitter account was the first thing I did and that you should do if you don’t have one. My first tweet was, “Can anybody tell me what Web 2.0 means, please?” It still makes me laugh, but little by little I found that somebody has answered every time I asked for help. It still surprises me.

Debbie, is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

The blogs depend on the area of interest, and it takes some time to discover, who out there, is on a similar path. There are so many incredible bloggers on different areas, like reflecting upon teaching, technology applied to the classroom, lesson plans, or the BBC always providing great links. I think that one of the first teachers in Twitter who answered me was Lisa Dabbs, then Shelly Terrell. I still wonder how she manages to cope with so many things. Then there is Marisa Constantinides, Cecilia Lemos, Sandy Millin, Carla Arena, Scott Thornbury, Steven Herder, Barb Sakamoto, Nik Peachey, and my good friend Chuck Sandy, whom I can’t thank enough. You have given me the courage and trust I could not find anywhere. I never felt alone after I knew that there was a group of people you lead who rushes to answer and comment or at least “like” every challenge you share.

What’s your favorite quote about being a teacher, Debbie?

Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world” applied both to everyday life and education. For me teaching is inseparable from who I am as a person.

Is there any question I didn’t ask that you’d like to answer? That is, is there anything else you’d like to say?

Yes, thank you! I started this journey two years ago, and I just never thought I would be writing this.  I know how my journey started,  but I can’t say exactly how or what I have done, or define all the twists and turns on my journey that have allowed me to reach this point. And I know, and need to remember that it is just the beginning.


Voices from the iTDi Community – Josette

Josette LeBlanc – Korea

Josette LeBlanc is an English language teacher and teacher trainer who currently lives and teaches in Daegu, South Korea. She’s passionate about reflective practice, compassionate communication, and the development of online and offline teaching communities. She believes learning should be at the center of the classroom, and therefore aims at creating atmospheres that allow students and teachers to realize this. Josette is also a reflective blogger (www.tokenteach.wordpress.com ), a keen life observer (dabbles in photography and video making), and a collector of cute notebooks from around the world.

What are you passionate about, Josette?

I’m passionate about helping people discover new things about themselves and their teaching. I think this is why I love reflective practice so much. I believe that reflection is about deepening your awareness of teaching and learning. I’ve been using my blog to help me get a better understanding of my teaching and the results have been rich and rewarding. I want to help teachers feel this way too.

This brings me to another passion: building learning/teaching communities. In May, we started a reflective practice special interest group (RPsig) in Daegu, which you may call a branch of the RPsig that was created over a year ago by Michael Griffin, Manpal Sahota and Kevin Giddens (learn more here Our Reflective Community).

Although we’ve only had two meetings so far, the results of the exploration and support have been inspiring.  Because reflection is about self-exploration, members are able to examine their own classroom situation, gather ideas on what to change, and come back and talk about it during the next meeting. I believe that this cycle is a great tool for self and professional development.

Another exciting community I’ve been involved in is the online Twitter group KELTchat (check out our blog #KELTChat). We came together by chance, but also by our common connection: English teachers in Korea. Twice a month, we meet on Twitter for an hour to discuss topics relevant to our context. The connections I’ve made via this forum — and Twitter in general – have been mind blowing. I’ve learned about a lot about teaching, but more importantly, I’ve learned how many incredible teachers there are in my own backyard! Without Twitter and KELTchat, I’m not sure I could have known this.

How and why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher by accident. Really, I guess you could say life pushed me to become a teacher. After graduating I tried to find work that corresponded to my majors, criminology and sociology, but had a hard time. The jobs I did find (part-time night supervisor in a halfway house and legal assistant) weren’t satisfying. I realized what I really craved was work that was creative and made me feel like I was making a difference. Making sure people met curfew and typing out legal documents just wasn’t cutting it. But strangely the idea of becoming a teacher never crossed my mind.

Then one day my cousin who was a teacher was complaining about the work, and all I could think about was how exciting it sounded. The light bulb went off and I started taking steps to become a teacher. They may have been unconventional steps, but they got me where I am today: I started substitute teaching in my hometown; came to Korea in 2005 and completely fell in love with teaching; got my MA TESOL at The School For International Training (SIT) in 2010; and now the journey continues. Teaching is what I was meant to do. It’s incredibly creative, and I feel like I’m making a difference.

Teaching is rewarding work.  What keeps me going through the hard times is when I catch that look in a student’s eye that says, “I got it now!” It’s the look that indicates a shift from not knowing to knowing. I teach because I love learning.  Learning is what makes the impossible possible. I love the idea of helping people realize this about themselves. And one of the best things about teaching is that my own learning never stops.

What are you most interested in right now?

I’m really interested in the topic of teacher support. I want to help teachers learn how to support each other, and also learn how to personally support themselves. As an in-service teacher trainer in Korea, I meet many Korean teachers of English who feel alone and unsupported in their work.  I’ve come to believe that this feeling inhibits them from being able to really be there for their students. On countless occasions teachers have shared with me how exhausted, overwhelmed and depressed they feel about their work conditions. They talk about how they want to consider their students’ learning needs, but they just don’t have the energy to do so.

With my own personal work in learning communities, I’ve learned that teachers can gather some of that much needed energy when they feel empathy. I especially learned this from my Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practice group. I have been a facilitator in this group for about three years. NVC is communication technique that helps us listen to and express feelings and needs with greater empathy.  I think that this technique can not only help teachers understand their students’ needs, but that it can also help them get a better understanding of their own needs.  One crucial element of NVC is the concept of self-empathy. Without recognizing our own needs, we can’t take care of the needs of others. I would like to help teachers learn how to recognize the value of their own needs.

Another interest of mine is helping teachers learn how to use this tool in class when they communicate with their students. I see NVC as a way of helping teachers become aware of how their language and behavior affects their students’ learning.

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

As you’ve read above, my teaching communities are very important to my professional development. I have already mentioned the RPsig, KELTchat, and NVC, but I would also like to mention KOTESOL. KOTESOL was the first teacher’s association I was involved in. It is through this group that I first learned about teacher development, and it is also where I first turned to for inspiration as a new teacher. I’ve been an organizing member of the Daegu KOTESOL chapter for about four years, and a member since I came to Korea.

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

When you first start your journey in professional development, you’ll probably want a lot of tips and advice on how to teach. Find a group who doesn’t mind giving this to you, but also make sure this group puts more importance on helping you find your own answers. The best tips come from experience, and even if your experience is limited, it is invaluable. True mentors will help you see this and guide you along the way by asking the questions you need to hear.

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

This is such a hard question because there are so many great blogs that I can’t give you just one. I’ll tell you about some of my favorites if you don’t mind.

Alien Teachers by Alex Walsh: Alex writes honest and profound reflections about his experience as a high school teacher in Korea. He also offers creative lesson plans and teaching ideas.

Elt-resourceful by Rachael Roberts: Rachael’s teaching tips are incredibly insightful and ready-to-use. What I also like about her blog is the personal touch she adds to her tips. When I read her blog I feel like we’re talking about teaching over a cup of coffee.

The Other Things Matter by Kevin Stein: Kevin’s talent at writing fictional stories for English language learners has moved me on countless occasions. His blog showcases his creativity and also his ability to look at his teaching in a fresh and courageous manner.

ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections by Michael Griffin: Mike’s ability to question what most people accept about teaching at face value never ceases to amaze me. His reflections and rants display an honest curiosity that leaves readers wondering and unsure: a place I think every teacher needs to stand on.

The Daily Ptefldactyl by Laura Phelps: Laura writes about her experience as an ESL/EFL teacher, trainer and now coursebook writer. Her blog is speckled with intriguing questions about teaching and learning, and inspiring examinations of what life as an ELTer is like.

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher?

A constant in my life:

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. Chinese proverb

Without experience, and our reflection on this experience, I believe learning is stunted. It is through experience that we grow and expand.