This is post is the first one in Trainer Conversation series (find more details about this idea in the Introduction).
Background: Andriy and I first met in 2000. I was a full-time college student and a part-time teacher at International House (IH) Language School in Dnipro, Ukraine, and Andriy was working for IH Kharkiv. Since then, we were connected a number of times and in different capacities: through workshops and conferences, school visits, lesson planning discussions, other professional development events. Later in 2007 Andriy was my coach for the final stage in becoming a licensed SIT TESOL Certificate Course teacher trainer. Since then, both being traveling trainers, we occasionally ‘bump’ into each other at courses and conferences (in Ukraine or abroad). As you may guess, we keep talking about teaching, learning, training, trainer coaching, and living of course. What you read here is a glimpse into some of our conversations over the past weeks. The post has my questions (Zh) and Andriy’s answers (A).
Zh: You have been a teacher of Russian and English as foreign languages for a long time, and if I remember correctly, you have been teaching with International House Kharkiv in Ukraine since…
A: I started teaching in 1984, and I joined IH Kharkiv in 1995.
Zh: A long time! Now, I have never actually asked you about this: when and where was your very first course for teachers?
A: It was in Yasi, Romania in 2002. The course was co-validated (SIT TESOL Certificate and CELTA).
That was a fantastic project supported by Soros foundation. There were 2 groups of trainees from a lot of countries, but mainly former Yugoslavia, the Baltic countries, Moldova, and Ukraine. There was also a great bunch of trainers: 3 main trainers and 3 trainers in training (including me). I was lucky to be trained by Wagner Veillard, Monica Chin and Jamie Scanlon. Unbelievable professionals! I must say, I have always been lucky with great teachers.
Zh: I am completely with you on this: to me, our SIT Training Community is the most amazing group of trainers in the world. I am obviously biased, but I am happy to acknowledge this. [Note: please meet more SIT TESOL Certificate Course trainers here]
What about some stats to share? Between 2002 and now, how many courses for teachers (approximately, of course) have you run? By ‘courses’ I mean 2- to 4-week intensive training sessions, with groups of 6-20 participants.
A: I was preparing for our chat and counted the courses. There are… about 90 all in all.
Zh: Wow! Impressive! And your bio blurb below says you have taught teachers in 15 countries. With that experience under your belt, what can you call your three most important teaching beliefs?
A: If I need to select my top-three, I would name the following: focus on your students/learners, focus on their learning (not my teaching) and manage your expectations.
Zh: What are your three most important (core) training beliefs? By ‘core’ I mean something you believe or practice no matter what kind of course you are working on. It’s always interesting to me which values are constant, which of them stay the same from course to course, from country to country.
A: In fact, they are the same as my teaching beliefs! What training course I am teaching (SIT Cert Course, CELTA, or IHC) does not matter. The beliefs are the same.
- Focus on your learners and their learning: in this case, course participants, teachers-to-be, and their learning during the course
- Manage your expectations. This applies to teachers who come to the course having a very different starting point: some have taught in public schools and have certain habits and preferences, some are only starting out and lack confidence; some teachers are planning to move countries, and some come to earn the certificate as a proof that they are excellent teachers. Also, as trainers, we need to help the participants manage the expectations they have from the course, and help them meet the criteria of the course. This ‘expectation managing’ is a mutual process on the course.
- (may be the part of the previous point) If we believe that there are no perfect lessons, or perfect teachers, we need to make it clear to the participants that the purpose of them joining the course is not about becoming an excellent teacher. It is about becoming a reflective, thinking teacher. Well, sooner or later, they will hopefully become excellent teachers, but setting this aim for the end of the course is hardly realistic.
Zh: Actually, I remember you saying this to our group of participants in my first SIT TESOL Certificate course in Ukraine. A tiny voice in me was saying ‘there are no perfect trainers either…’ Does it also imply that there are no perfect participants/trainees on the course?
A: If my former trainees are reading this interview now, they will certainly remember my favorite phrase ‘there is nothing perfect in this world; only this word is perfect’ Of course! There are no perfect trainers; there are no perfect teachers; there are no perfect students. Enjoying the improvement is the key. Whenever I finish a course, I always feel that I have gained some experience, and I will certainly run the next course in a bit different way.
I would also add another belief: being honest with people. Sometimes it hurts to hear the truth about one’s lesson, but on the other hand, why are people taking these courses? To hear flattering lies? I am not sure about that at all.
Zh: This honesty, or integrity is a very important part of training for me. Not ‘sugar coating’ and hiding the truth, and at the same not hurting the teachers’ feelings and helping them improve. Sometimes I have a feeling this skill needs ‘recharging’, especially if I am not on a course. By the way, how do you keep your training skills up between the courses? Do you take part in online discussions with other trainers, attend/present at conferences? Do anything else?
A: Yes, lots of Facebook groups with/for ELT students, teachers, teacher trainers, etc. These groups help not only keep in touch with likeminded people, but also to share a lot of professional information. At least 90% of my readings now have been recommended by somebody in a Facebook group.
Presenting at conferences? Yes, I do it sometimes, but I am not a very big fan of that. Don’t ask me why 😊It is probably because of the big number of people in the audience. I need to see the eyes of the listeners, but it is not always possible 😊
Zh: I am with you on that. Besides, I often have a feeling that people at many events prefer to ‘just listen to the talk’ and not interact, and those types of sessions are not my favorite… What else helps you develop as a trainer?
A: As you know, I run various courses, and this helps me broaden the view of what teacher training and teaching is. Also, as a traveling trainer, I feel training courses in different places is the main source of professional development. Nearly every course is run with a new co-trainer, and this professional exchange of ideas and styles is fantastic.
Zh: You have recently started a Facebook Group for teachers. How do you see its role for the ELT Community?
A: Originally, this was not my idea. One of my course graduates Vladyslav Kamynin took initiative and wanted to keep learning collaboratively. He invited me for a coffee after the course ended, and we brainstormed the ways to keep in touch for further professional development. So, I suggested starting a group on Facebook. That was how IH Kharkiv 2019 ELT Reflective Group was born. It is a closed group where I added only former trainees and course co-trainers, and the group has been quite active so far.
Zh: I am very happy to be a member of this group: lots of practical classroom tips are shared there. The conversation before my presentation called ‘I don’t like games in class’ was very helpful, by the way. Now, I never asked you: why is there ‘Kharkiv’ in the name of the group? I first thought it is going to be similar to the Reflective Practice Group we have in Dnipro.
A: True, there are professionals from many parts of the world in the group, and it ended up being 100% online (different time zones, etc.) Since my ‘home base’ is in Kharkiv, and the IH school I am working for is in this city, it is natural to have it in the name.
Zh: As someone who has always loved Kharkiv, I agree! 🙂 Can we keep talking about other work you have been doing. Do you work with teachers online, too?
A: Yes, for several years at IH CAM Course (Certificate in Advanced Methodology), and I am a local tutor for Cambridge DELTA. This is a tutor who is taking care only of the lesson observations, not a full DELTA course. By the way, did you know I took IH COLT (IH Certificate in Online Tutoring)?
Zh: Did you? Me too (in 2006, I think). A great course!
A: Yes, it is! So the courses I facilitate are international, with teachers from all over the world. Besides, I am the IHWO Russian Language Coordinator. This is an absolutely different angle. Teachers of so-called Modern Languages have a lot of needs different from the English teachers’ needs, and my job is to help them.
[Note: A ‘modern language’ is any human language that is currently in use. At IHWO, ‘modern languages’ are non-English languages taught by IH schools worldwide]
Zh: That means there is a lot to manage. You told me you are also teaching teenage classes remotely, via Zoom/Skype, etc. Do you notice any similarities between teaching (a language) and training teachers in the online/distant format? Can these skills ‘overlap’?
A: These are two very different types of learning: asynchronous (discussion managing and assignment responding) and synchronous (live) modes, and they are not the same. Teachers are motivated adults, and my online students now are teenagers. Live classes in the real time require a whole different skill set. By the way, I can say we need to manage our expectations about: students and their perspective, about the tools we have (or don’t!), and the skills and training (we have or have not had). I see COVID-19 and lockdown/quarantine teaching as a ‘force majeure’ situation.
Zh: I share the importance of remembering the student perspective. They have not chosen this type of learning, by the way, unlike the teachers in the courses you mentioned. Hope we will manage to live through these times and be able to learn and reflect from this experience.
Back to teacher training: what do you think the post-pandemic future may/will hold for teacher education?
A: I think there will be a new format/mode in education, and possibly more than one. Many scenarios are possible. On the one hand, we may be all tired of staying in front of our screens for a long time. Even some teenage students said they won’t even touch their computers after this lockdown ends! On the other hand, if we think about working with new teachers, there are many aspects of learning that are the same in both modes (online and face-to-face), for example, managing classroom interactions, learning about student needs, teaching language skills, clarifying new language items, assessing student progress, etc.
At the same time, managing a class of students online is different since we don’t have the physical space. To me, the most challenging part is monitoring student work: you can join the breakout room [e.g. in Zoom], but you can only see what is happening in the room, with those 2-4-6 students, and not have the whole class picture. In the actual classroom even when you approach one specific pair of students, you still notice what is happening in the background, with the others.
Zh: Yes, it is like that trick of looking at one small group of learners, especially teenagers, but listening to the other. To me, it is hard to compete/compare with the dynamic and energy of the shared classroom experience in one location.
Let’s go down the memory lane a little more. In the courses we have worked together, I remember you as a very positive, upbeat, energetic colleague, super efficient with daily tasks and routines and keeping great balance between course work and life (something you often reminded about was smiling genuinely, and moving myself out of the ‘default’ mode, for example). What are some tips and tricks you could share with new teacher trainers, or someone considering to become a teacher trainer in the future?
A: For running intensive courses, I’d share these tips:
- Learn how to cope with stress
- Create and maintain team spirit with your co-trainers (the people you run the course with are more than a team, they are family!)
- Manage your expectations: try to notice the participants’ effort of learning, do not seek for the immediate ‘perfect performance’.
Zh: I can’t but notice that the very first point is about coping with stress. From my experience of working together in an intensive 4-week course, I remember you saying that ‘there is no such word as ‘tired’ in my vocabulary’, and our group of participants found it very helpful and motivating. What else helps you (and the teachers you work with?) cope with the stresses of a 4-week course?
A: I walk a lot. In any new place/city/country the first place I find on the map is a walking route to the training center. And the second one is a park (the park may be #1 actually!). The other thing is treating people with kindness and managing expectations.
Zh: I love the way we keep coming back to the idea of managing your expectations. Can you say a little more about that in the context of working with teachers?
A: Over the years of training experience I got to be much softer, less strict even, especially in the way I offer post-teaching feedback to the participants on the course. Why? Possibly, because I can see them as unique beings, not a ‘copy’ of a perfect teacher. I think about their development and growth, and focus more on helping them to find or discover their own teaching philosophy.
Zh: Sounds beautiful! To me, this refers to our mission of ELT trainers/educator: helping people to love the teaching job, appreciate the never-ending learning in it, become learners themselves.
A: or… make a decision and leave. I think it is an equally important role we play in helping people realize that the profession, or life-style of a teacher is not something they had imagined or been looking for. So it is great if people spend only one month of their lives and a certain amount of money to realize that they must not be teachers. This is much better than suffering for the rest of one’s life doing the things that they do not like.
Zh: Very true too! Thank you for the conversation at the times when we don’t know where our next face-to-face course is going to take place. Enjoy the online classes and being in your home city for now!
- MA High Honours, Phylology, Karazin National University, Kharkiv, Ukraine
- PhD in Teaching, Pushkin Institute, Moscow, Russia
- CELTA, CAM, IHCTL, SIT TESOL Certificate Teacher Trainer
I am a Senior Teacher and Teacher Trainer at International House Language Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine. I have been teaching English and Russian to students from all over the world since 1984. My teacher training career started in 2002, when I became an SIT TESOL trainer, and then in 2007 I got licensed to run CELTA and IHCTL courses as well. I am also a CAM course Tutor with IHWO, and a Local DELTA Tutor for IH London.
I have run numerous teacher training courses in about 15 countries, from Canada to New Zealand. I am convinced that this is real blessing to have this job as it gives me fantastic chances to meet super professional people all over the world. I regularly take part in conferences and workshops on teaching techniques and approaches in my country and internationally. Besides, I am a singer at a Ukrainian folk group ‘Muravskyi Shliakh’.