Welcome to a new post in the Trainer Conversation series! (It all started last year here, and this is number 16) This time I had a chance to ask a lot of questions to Teresa. Even though we have never worked on a course together, we found that we share some beliefs and practices. In what way(s)? Please read on!
Z: I am very excited to have a chance to talk/write this post with you Teresa! Am I right that we first connected on Twitter, but then also met in person in 2018 when I attended your InnovateELT session on Guided Visualisations?
T: Yeah, meeting face-to-face was wonderful! In one respect though, I think a positive of the pandemic has been that there are more online events to connect you with people you’d never normally get the chance to interact with. For example, I’ve recently ‘met’ Mike Griffin and Matthew Noble after years of following them on Twitter through ELT Workshop (run by Mike Griffin and Tim Hampson). As they are based in Asia, it would be unlikely that we would ever meet up at a conference.
Z: Out of the many areas of ELT-related work you are doing, which one(s) do you mainly identify yourself with?
T: It’s tough, but I’ve recently stopped saying I’m a teacher as I spend very little time in the classroom now! I guess nowadays my main focus is writing, but it still feels strange to say I’m an author! I haven’t held anything in my hands yet so perhaps that’s what it doesn’t feel real yet, but I worked on a Teacher’s Book for the Cengage NGL series Look and more recently I’ve worked on a couple of coursebook series for secondary with Prime Press and Smooth Content.
Z: How did you become a teacher trainer? What was the main reason/motivation for you?
T: I was actually really lucky as I started working at a school (Active Language) which offered the Trinity CertTESOL during the summer and they trained me up to be a tutor. Then I did my DipTESOL and when Active started to offer Unit 4 for the DipTESOL (the assessed teaching practice), I was able to get involved in that as well.
Z: Why did you choose to be a Trinity Trainer (not CELTA, etc.)? How different/special is the course, in your opinion? Or in other words, why do you enjoy working on it?
T: As I say, it was more through circumstance that I went down the Trinity route rather than Cambridge. One thing I think is great about the CertTESOL is the four hours spent learning an unknown language, as I believe on the CELTA they only do an hour. It’s one of the most positive and memorable parts of the course for many trainees I’ve seen over the years.
I’ve been struggling a little recently with my feelings towards this type of pre-service qualification though. On the one hand, it’s incredible to see how teachers develop their skills in such a short period of time; but at the same time, I feel there’s so much to try to fit in to what is an incredibly intense course and I wonder if they really have time to consolidate their knowledge. It’s really difficult at times to find the balance between sharing what they need to know and not overwhelming them.
Z: What do you see as your core/key training beliefs? What (and how) might have shaped them?
T: Ooooh, that’s actually quite a tricky question as nobody’s ever asked me before! Interestingly, in a recent chat we were saying how it’s important for freelance teacher trainers to be aware of the teaching beliefs or policies when they work in a new centre as what you believe may be different to what the centre prefers to tell its trainees. Having only really trained through Active Language, a lot of my beliefs have come through working alongside Dani Jones, Dan Barber and Simon Pearlman.
I saw Rachel Tsateri and Lina Gordyshevskaya talking a lot about the Train the Trainer course they took back in January and wondered whether to take a similar course myself as I think it’s always good to see different approaches and hear different narratives…maybe one day I’ll have a bit of free time to do it!
[Note to readers: you can read more about Lina on this blog here, and our trainer chat with Rachel is coming up later this year.]
Z: What is one training activity you have tried in an online training format and enjoyed (as a participant, or as a trainer, online or face-to-face)?
T: I really enjoy using Mentimeter both in online sessions and in ‘live’ conferences too. I think it’s a great tool to engage people and get quick feedback about something. There are lots of different slide types, but one of my favourites is the wordcloud – participants post their answers to the question and then they start to pop up on-screen. Although it started as a business tool, I think it would work well with teens too – though obviously in moderation!
Z: You are a co-founder of the TEFL Development Hub (with Simon Pearlman) How did you come up with the idea of/for this community? [Note to readers: please follow the Hub on Twitter and consider joining the group on Facebook]
T: It was all Simon’s idea 🙂 I think it came about partly as we did a series of webinars during lockdown and at the time it felt like people really wanted that ongoing input. So we talked about creating a space to promote ongoing professional development as we’re both aware that whilst some centres have CPD programmes in place, many don’t; plus there are loads of freelance teachers who are looking for a way to interact with like-minded professionals. Conversation, questions and dialogue are key for us as a way for people to connect, share and develop and we wanted the Facebook group to be a place for engaged interaction, rather than a place for people to just pop links and resources. We’re really pleased with how it’s evolved so far and we’ve recently launched the website too, which is also exciting.
Z: What is the current activity of the Hub? I attended one of the recent webinars, and I enjoy the colorful and informative notes you create each time. I remember there are also Coffee Breaks, teacher trainer meetings, manager meet-ups… What else?
T: We currently run events on Tuesdays and Thursdays and also post a question in the group on Wednesdays to generate discussion. The Thursday events alternate between a webinar and Coffee Breaks; then on Tuesdays we have monthly Management Meet Ups and Trainer Talking Time and every fortnight a Focused Forum (I’m a big fan of alliteration!).
We really wanted to try and make the activity in the Hub as accessible to everyone as we could, which is why we started writing up notes from the live events. Also, the notes try to include everyone’s voice, so as well as writing furiously during the live events, we’ll look through the comments on the webinar afterwards to share people’s ideas from there.
Z: I love how active and busy this Hub is! How and where do you find the people to join you? What is your vision for the Hub in the coming year? And 3-5 years in the future?
T: Neither of us is hugely business-minded so we haven’t done any marketing as yet! We just invite people to come along. We originally thought it would be a members-only space, but as the community on Facebook has grown, we’ve decided to change our approach a little – news on that will be coming shortly!
Z: How do you find the motivation to keep going?
T: To be honest, I love being in the Hub and at the moment it doesn’t feel like work – which also has its downsides as it means I haven’t really been pushing to make money from it! I love chatting to other ELT professionals and a lot of the content is community-generated, so although I’ll post a Wednesday Question each week, the questions often come out during live chat events in the Hub, or through something I see on Twitter or in another ELT group.
Z: I know you are also a blogger at Views from the Whiteboard. In what way has writing had an impact on you as a trainer?
T: I’d like to hope that as I became more experienced, my blogging became more reflective – though that might not be the case! Training definitely has an impact on writing though. When you write TP points for trainees on the CertTESOL, you have to be quite explicit about what you want them to do in their first lessons when they’re less experienced and the same is true for writing teaching notes to accompany a lesson. When I first started writing teachers’ notes for materials, it felt a little patronising to be so explicit; however, I can appreciate that the ‘joy’ of the teachers’ book is that you can pick it up and teach the lesson without having to think too much, which is why they tend to walk you through the lesson in detail. I originally started my blog as a place to store ideas for myself and I still find it a useful resource when I’m planning a session and looking for ideas 🙂
Z: How else do you develop as a teacher trainer? What are some of your favorite ways and tools?
T: Last year I was heavily involved in moving the CertTESOL course Active offers online and that was quite an interesting process as it made us reflect on some of the ways which had done things in the past and consider whether they were still suitable. Something simple like adapting an observation form made us engage more deeply with it and think about whether it was doing what we wanted it to do…the sort of questions you don’t always have time to think about ‘in-action’.
Twitter is also a HUGE part of my professional development and I love reading threads on there and picking up comments from other teachers and trainers. I said this in the Hub recently that I really do believe the ELT community is generally very open, friendly and enthusiastic about helping others.
Z: You are also a Conference presenter (in-person and online), and as we met at one of the sessions you were running, I wonder what you think about the future of training and teacher/trainer professional development. Online, in-person, or both?
T: I am really looking forward to a return to in-person professional development as there’s always such a buzz around conferences. Lots of conferences have tried really hard to replicate the social networking aspect of in-person conferences: InnovateELT did a really nice job with the breakout rooms during their event last September, the ELTons had a fun speed networking event and I’ve heard really wonderful things about the Whova app which was used at TESOL-SPAIN this year.
On the one hand, I think many people are feeling the same way – perhaps a little tired of sitting in front of the screen and desperate to really ‘see’ people again, but at the same time I feel like the pandemic opened up lots of opportunities in terms of professional development. I never would have attended the ELTons if they hadn’t been online and as I said before, it’s been wonderful to interact with people who have a very different teaching context to what I’m used to – chatting to a teacher based in China about classes with 50-odd students, or a group of teachers from the ELTA-Rhine group telling me about their university classes.
Z: What question(s) about teacher training have you always wanted to ask other colleagues?
T: Well, I guess going back to what I mentioned earlier – do you feel a pre-service qualification does enough? I know so much of it depends on the individual and how they choose to develop after the course, where they work and the sort of support they get and it’s obviously not a terrible way of getting into the profession as so many of us have taken that route…
Such a great question! [Note to readers: you can listen to Teresa’s ideas on this in the Sponge Chat she had with Jim Fuller last month. I highly recommend watching the whole recording!]
T: And another big one would be how (or when!) do you stop feeling like an imposter when you’re training experienced teachers?
Z: Another great question! It can well be a topic of one of the Trainer Meet-ups in the Hub, right? My final question: your Twitter profile says ‘Fan of zombies, vampires & anything with oversized, man-eating creatures.’ – Can you say more about those? (So curious!)
T: Ha ha, I just love those types of films and series – Jurassic Park, Dawn of the Dead, Buffy – I could happily rewatch any of them! And I also love a lot of those really bad B-movies too, things like Sharknado and we saw a great one a while back called Llamageddon which was absolutely hilarious!
Thank you for the conversation Teresa: it was my pleasure! Now, one of the questions I am saving for later sounds like this: ‘In what way do you feel ‘Hubbing’ has had an impact on you as a trainer?’ I am leaving it here in the hope for another chat with you in the future!
Teresa has been working in ELT in Spain since 2004 after originally coming ‘for a couple of years’. She’s worked as a teacher, materials writer, teacher trainer, academic manager, blogger, content writer and marketeer and is the co-founder of the TEFL Development Hub. She loves CPD and gets a real buzz out of speaking at conferences, though is admittedly one of those people with ‘15 Things to use on Monday’ rather than the theory side of ELT.
In her free time, she enjoys running and then drinking craft beer to counteract any good the exercise might do!