This post is number twelve in the Trainer Conversations series. I started sharing them in 2020 with this Introduction post, and you can find the links to all the earlier posts. We first met with Anna and Marina at one of the professional development events in Ukraine, at the times when all of us taught English at the International House schools in our cities, before we got into teacher training. This conversation is special for me as I think it was the first time for the three of us to get together and talk about working with teachers, noticing and appreciating the similarities and differences in our beliefs and practices. I am also glad we have a large training community in Ukraine, and I hope to share more posts like this in the future.
[Note to readers: you will notice that Marina and Anna refer to their course participants as ‘trainees’. We are using these words interchangeably describing teachers who took courses with us.]
Now, let us start talking…
Z: I know that you are based in or near Kyiv, and both of you are actively training teachers with ILC, or International Language Centre. Both are CELTA trainers, CELT-P and CELT-S.
A: I have also been facilitating a modular ‘Teaching Foundations Course’ (TFC) built as a series of modules to help teachers master the basics of communicative approach to teaching English.
Z: Can you tell me more about that course?
A: It is a sort of ‘pre-CELTA’ course, with 6-7 modules teaching the basics of methodology. Last summer we did it online. We had no choice.
M: Actually, the story of the TFC course is interesting. It all started, believe it or not, with my SIT MAT IPP (individual professional project). At some point, around 2010/11, I was asked to write a modular course for the center, and the course I created was largely based on my paper. It has transformed a lot in 10 years but the initial idea was there.
Z: Have either of you developed any modules for this course? It often seems like any program/project we train on includes is a little bit of curriculum or material design.
A: Yes, 4-5 years ago worked on creating the Teaching Young Learners module. The course takes 4 Saturdays. The materials have been changed/modified a lot by all the trainers who have been delivering it after that, adding ‘muscles’ to the course ‘skeleton’.
Z: Meat on the bones! Marina, you were doing an MA with School for International Training, am I correct? I was thinking how to connect your SIT and Cambridge backgrounds. How and when did you become a teacher trainer? Was it connected to your SIT learning experience?
M: Yes, I studied there in 2000-2003 and received MA in Teaching qualification in 2004. I was made a teacher trainer in 2005.
Z: I noticed it was a passive voice used in the sentence ‘I was made to be a trainer’. Tell me more!
M: Yes, at that time OSI NYC and George Soros had a program for teachers from the post-Soviet countries. In our SIT group we had teachers from Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Macedonia, Moldova, Lithuania, Croatia, etc. Actually, I was not asked if I wanted to take part in this MA program either. My boss said: ‘Marina, you are going’. In 2005 when our school became a teacher training center, I learned that in May I was going to be trained as a trainer. So yes, it was a ‘passive structure’! (laughing) But I don’t regret it at all! With Anna, it was a different story, wasn’t it?
A: In 2009 when I started, I was just teaching, trying to survive my classes and practice what I learned at a recent CELTA course, and after that, in 2010, there was an announcement about a conference for teachers in Poltava and there is a chance to present. I decide to give it a try. My presentation was a bit… well, it was my very first one.
Z: We all have the stories about our first presentations… [Note to self: could be a nice topic for another interview, or a blogging challenge!]
A: Since then I started giving seminars for the teachers of the center, or for the monthly state school sessions, taking part in various conferences in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine, and I kept doing it. Then someone brought a new trend to our center: taking the DELTA. Within 2 years’ time, 5 or 6 colleagues took the course.
In 2017 our school was becoming a DELTA training center and was looking for the trainees all over Ukraine. So in that sense the story was similar to Marina’s: ‘You are taking the DELTA!’ said the boss. I was not sure, but everyone encouraged me, said that everything would be okay, and I did it.
After the DELTA course there was no other choice but to join the teacher training team. It was a part of expectation that I would be a trainer after that. In December, I completed the last DELTA module, and in the following summer I did my ‘Trainer in Training’ and ran my first course in September 2017. I was something inevitable. ‘Like it or not, you become a trainer!’ (laughing)
I can’t say I was forced, and being a trainer has been interesting and rewarding. Training is not better than teaching, but a completely different thing.
M: You are comparing teaching and training, and you are saying training is not better. For me, it is. I think it is more interesting. Teaching (to me) is needed as something basic, not to forget what to ‘punish’ the trainees at TP for (laughing). At this stage of my career, I like training more. I remember Robert Fletcher once asked what I enjoyed more, and I said both. He said he liked training more. Now I agree with him. It is a ‘higher level’.
Z: Interesting. Anna, what do you think about teaching and training?
A: I need some change. When I have only teaching, it is repetitive, boring, and you want more. Last year I did mostly training and administrative work, and it was a bit hard, so I wanted to ‘trade’ the admin work for teaching. It was interesting to try something new. Once you have seen so many trainees doing so many things in the classroom, you have this desire to try it out for yourself, to see if you can make something good even better, as a teacher trainer. Apply in teaching, then share the experience. You need this practical experience to answer their questions.
M: Last summer I noticed that some teachers are using the ideas I came up with 10-15 years ago, or even earlier.
Z: Interesting how the same ideas can ‘travel’ in time and space! Listening to you comparing teaching and training, I wanted to ask you this. How many courses have you run? You can think of full-size CELTAs or other types of courses.
M: 25-30 CELTAs, plus IHCYLT, modular courses, CELT-S and CELT-P, which means 50+ overall.
Z: I am not even asking how many teachers you have met over the years… What about you Anna?
A: All in all, including all the courses I have run, I think it is 20+.
Z: Interesting! I think it is a different lens to see the process through (could depend on how many participants/trainees we have worked with, how many training groups, etc.). If we continue talking about teaching: in the notes you sent me, you both used the word ‘sharing/share’. Anna added that it is about ‘making someone’s dream come true’.
M: How interesting! That’s true.
Z: Connecting teaching and teacher training: are we helping some of the participants/trainees’ dreams come true?
M: Yes, absolutely. Many of them join a course to just have an international certificate to have better pay, for example. Once they start the course, they realize that it can be a dream. It can be something absolutely different from the teaching they had been doing before, and the new way of teaching can make them happy, I think. At least at the end of the course, after surviving all the sufferings they are happy not only because the course has ended, and b/c they get this international certificate, but because it is a new experience, a new level, and something very different and cool, really. I think in this way, we can say that we make someone’s dream come true.
A: I agree there are people who only want a certificate. There are also people who know why they apply. Sometimes at an interview they say things like ‘I’ve been dreaming about the course for the last 2-3 years, so now I am fully ready, I want to take it. These teachers know that this is their dream, and they come for it. The teachers who come for the certificate only, they gain even more from the course, as they do get the paper, AND they change their professional perspectives. The ones who know more about the course, know what to expect, etc., are fulfilling their dream.
Z: For the more prepared international certificate course participants, it is one of the steps to a bigger goal, and for the others, it is a life-changing kind of event. Would the same be true for the teachers joining the modular courses? On the website I saw that a prerequisite for taking the modules is at least B1 level of English. Could it be that they see the reason to join the course in improving their English?
M: A2? A1?
A: We are talking about Kyiv. In the other places, it could be A1. Right, that course is for state school teachers, and some of them may decide to join CELTA later.
Z: Maybe, the online format of the modular course could make it easier for teachers to join it?
A: It is like a webinar for them. 2-hour lecture with interactive tasks, following the tasks/links to the BOR, etc. is easier. The hard part is always teaching online. In the modular course they don’t actually teach the class but ‘present’ it to the others, ‘talking us through’ what they planned, etc.
Z: What about doing CELTA online? Is it easier for the teachers?
A: For CELTA course, their level needs to be much higher, especially receptive skills, especially when there are situations where the Internet is slow, or you need to speak less, explain something quicker. In the actual classroom, it is easy to redirect a conversation, but in an online context, it is much harder for such people to teach TP. Higher everything: computer literacy skills, language proficiency, all the other skills, being alert, ready for a variety of situations. Taking a f2f is easier than online. A 3-hour webinar is fine, but a full-time course is harder. Online courses are more demanding for trainees.
Z: What do you think trainers need to keep in mind when starting to work with a group of teachers online?
A: Not all people have the same computer literacy skills. You need to be ready to step in at any stage of their lessons. You should always have a back up plan.
Z: In the notes you had sent me you both said that the online format was not your favorite. Marina, you said that the course completely online did not have the impressive results.
M: In blended courses, with f2f meetings with teachers where they can ask questions, talk about doubts, things when they were not sure about. In 100% online course, the results were mediocre. Meetings ‘live’ were very helpful. Trainers can ‘push’ the trainees a bit, give specific tips. In a live conversation more things can be discussed. E-mailing makes it hard, and the replies are usually short. When talking, nuances can be talked through. Live meetings are very important.
Z: Anna, what about you?
A: If we compare CELTA online and f2f, I would say that in an online CELTA it is harder to come back to the offline environment. It will take time to recall how we monitor, etc. If you do f2f and now have to teach online, it is easier to adjust. I always recommend at the application stage: if you teach mostly online, take an online CELTA. If you teach in person, do the course in person. Where possible, of course.
[Note to readers: in Ukraine CELTA is usually a course for teachers with experience who would like to teach in a more communicative/interactive way.]
A: In my last online CELTA (September 2020) I can’t say that the trainees were worse than those from a f2f course. They did a good job, got their C and B grades, learned a lot. I am sure they are ready to teach online with no problem at all.
They asked the same questions that trainees of an offline course would ask. Maybe, more often. Other than that, no difference. And an online course needs to be longer, e.g. 5 weeks (not 4), or extended for a longer period of time. Everything takes more time (preparing a lesson, or a session).
Z: Anna asked a wonderful question: what’s the future of TT? What are your current thoughts about that?
M: Under these circumstances, it is inevitable to have it all online, teaching, training and learning. If possible in the future to have a combo of both: have input sessions online and some meetings ‘live’. There needs to be some time for discussions.
A: Looking back to the time when teacher training only started, it was not perfect, all trainers had struggles, and look how much it all developed. I can’t say I enjoyed the online format very much, and I do prefer f2f conversations more. The computer/online distancing impedes communication a bit, and when you are f2f there are more means to convey the message. On the other hand, it is our inevitable future. Maybe, not now, not in 10 years’ time, but in a couple of decades it may be the way we all communicate, and teach people how to teach. I hope it will become as good as offline environment. I hope we adjust and grow professionally. It would feel more professional from our point of view, and it won’t be as painful as it felt in March of 2020.
Z: This sounds as inevitable as doing the DELTA and becoming a trainer (all laughing)
M: Let me share a joke about the early so-called ‘TV lessons’ back in 1970s. I remember it from Junost (Юность), one of the best literary magazines in the USSR.
Question: Dear Halyna. There are some wonderful lessons broadcast on TV. I love them. Is it possible that we have more lessons delivered like this, e.g. Science, Maths, or even PE?
Answer: Dear Mykola, It is most certainly possible, however, you will see your certificate of secondary education… on TV!
Z: Haha, love it!
M: It shows how different the attitude to remote learning and distant teaching was 35 years ago. It is also a reminder that things in our life are unpredictable. What seems weird and unbelievable today can become a reality in 50 years’ time!
Z: I think this brings us to a wonderful closing point! I am grateful to you both for the time and the input. I personally treat these as my ‘Trainer Professional Development’ activity.
Anna Basarab is a teacher of English as a Foreign language holding CELTA, IHCYLT and DELTA certificates. She has been working in ELT since 2009 and enjoys teaching children and adults. Anna has been an active member of the ILC school team in Kyiv, Ukraine, preparing and delivering teacher training seminars, courses and summer school projects. Being a CELTA, CELT-S and CELT-P trainer, she enjoys sharing her experience with other teachers.
Marina Gaiduchenko is a CELTA Teacher Trainer at International Language Centre, ILC in Kyiv. She started teaching English in 1984. She passed FCE exam with one of the first groups of Ukrainian students in 1997 and did IH Teacher Training Course the same year. Marina has an MA in Teaching from School for International Training in Vermont, the USA. She has been a Teacher Trainer since 2006.
Notes and Links
OSI NYC Open Society Foundations, formerly known as the Open Society Institute (OSI), is a grantmaking network founded by George Soros.
At the moment the program Marina is talking about is called MA in TESOL Hybryd Program.