Originally from New Jersey, I have been in Europe since 1981 where I teach English at the University of Graz, train teachers, work with corporate clients, and write articles, course books and other materials. My latest books are 'Spotlight on Learning Styles' with Delta Publishing and a chapter in 'Creativity in the English Language Classroom' with the British Council (edited by Alan Maley and Nik Peachey). I also wrote regularly for the Cambridge University Press website, Professional English Online, from 2010 till the end of 2014 and was a speaking examiner for FCE and CAE till mid-2015. In addition, I am an NLP trainer and have run courses on NLP for teachers and companies. Travelling is a big part of my life and I love giving workshops in other cities and going to conferences to present, meet colleagues and gather new ideas. I was the IATEFL BESIG Coordinator from 2009-2015 and on the Membership Committee of IATEFL where one of my duties was running the IATEFL Webinar Series. In January 2015 I stood unopposed for the position of Vice President/President of IATEFL and stood down from my other positions in mid-January to serve as Acting Vice-President. Since the AGM on April 12 at the Annual Conference I have become the President of IATEFL and Chair of the Publications Committee.
As I studied music at university, I also welcome the chance to sing and have recently performed at the Open Mic night at the IATEFL Annual Conference in Harrogate, UK and at the 20th anniversary of the International Women's Association (IWA) in Graz.
I blog on reflections on teaching and learning at http://learnerasteacher.wordpress.com/
1. How did you get into ELT?
I came to Europe in 1981 as a singer and did some auditioning for opera houses and gave some concerts which did not earn enough for me to live on. As I needed to find another source of income, I began teaching at an adult education centre. I had been a teacher in the US so this was a logical step. I then did a diploma in Austria in adult education and took a number of professional development courses in ELT. Several years later I was asked to co-train with a colleague on a teacher training course and this started me off in this area as well. I had always tried out new ideas in the classroom and found that I was creating a lot of my own activities. This creative part of teaching helped keep it all fresh and fun for me and for my students (at least as far as I could tell). Getting my activities published became a personal goal and I put together a number of business English activities and sent them off to the major publishers. Most sent them back but an Austrian publisher decided to go ahead with the book and my first photocopiable book ‘Communicative Business Activities’ was published in 2001. Since then I have written other photocopiable materials, course books, work books and even CD ROMs.
2. What interests you most about ELT?
I like the variety the field offers. I am very happy not having a routine job where I do the same thing every day. It is fun working with university students as well as with corporate clients. What I love about ELT is the fact that we can bring in experiences from other aspects of our lives and they become part of a lesson. I worked in an advertising agency in the US and now chair meetings at IATEFL so can talk about these experiences with business English learners. With my multi-national university students, we discuss a variety of topics including traditions in different countries, cultural norms, current events, the subjects they are studying and the goals they have. What I love about the job is the freedom to be creative and use my learners as a resource. I also have fun doing what I do – this makes it less of a job and more of part of my daily life. Having taught for 34 years, I can’t imagine now doing anything else.
3. Which writer has had the most influence on you?
I think I would have to say Jeremy Harmer. I was asked to teach the methodology part of a teacher training course and used his book ‘The Practice of English Language Teaching’ as a guide. Everything was explained clearly with wonderful examples and it helped me to organise the lessons. I was thrilled to now find myself in the index of the fifth edition.
4. What was your most rewarding teaching experience?
This is so hard to say as so many of them were. I greatly enjoyed adult ed courses using fantasy identities for the learners in order to break down barriers and just have fun in class. These were ‘sold’ as ‘superlearning’ courses so included other elements of suggestopedia. The main thing I learned from teaching them was that both the teacher and the student can enjoy themselves and the sky is the limit. We laughed together, learned together and my memories of those courses are all positive. I also greatly enjoy working with my university students who are come from all over the globe. The majority are Austrian but we have a number of foreign students and I am lucky in that I have the freedom to help the students also learn from each other. We have a set curriculum but how I teach it is up to me and my students love it when we do a song or a game or make posters using glue and scissors. My corporate clients are also great to work with and I like the fact that what I do is based on real situations. I have even been asked to come along to meetings with partners from other countries when the discussion is in English to help out if necessary.
5. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an ELT teacher?
I would say to get some training on teaching, go and observe classes and decide if this is really the field you want to be in. I would also recommend going to conferences and attending as many talks as possible. ELT is such a broad field and there are so many aspects to consider. I don’t think that one or two pieces of advice can be given – it would totally depend on the situation.
6. What have you learned from being the president of IATEFL so far?
I have learned to prioritise the things that need to be done. I think it is very important to keep the big picture in mind while also looking at the details. As far as practicalities are concerned, I have learned how to set agendas, chair meetings and keep them on track as well as how to look both backwards and forwards at the same time.
7. In your opinion, why is it important to be part of such organisation?
IATEFL is a wonderful way to be part of a PLN (personal learning network). I have met inspiring people through the organization and have learned so much from many of them. The friendships formed with those around the world is something that cannot be measured but I value them highly. I never feel alone when visiting foreign countries. I have gotten to places I had never expected to go and spent time with colleagues there which is very different than going as a tourist. A wonderful example of this was a colleague contacting me on Facebook to ask if I would recommend visiting a place I was in at the moment. I said ‘absolutely’, he went and then he looked for colleagues on Facebook while he was there and had lovely responses from people. Perhaps it is because we are teachers that we are such a social bunch, but this is one of the things I love about being in IATEFL as well as being a member of local teaching associations.
8. Can you tell us what it the benefit of CPD for teachers?
I cannot imagine my job without CPD. For me a teacher is someone who is always learning and the availability of CPD for us helps us to do this. With CPD we might try out something new or we might simply remember something in our ‘teacher’s tool box’ that we had previously used and forgotten about. The other advantage of CPD is the chance to exchange ideas. I just finished a tour of teacher training sessions and introduced a variety of activities which teachers then talked about how they would adapt them for their own classes. This flexibility and creativity is all part of CPD and ELT for me. Conferences are also extremely important as we can work on our own presentation skills, learn from others and make contacts with people all over the world.
9. What role has creativity in your professional life?
As I trained as a singer and performed quite often in the past I have always enjoyed creative activities. I am very comfortable bringing music and art into the classroom and allowing my students to enjoy it and take part in whatever way they can. I feel that my learners are wonderful resources and make important contributions to the class and the learning process. For me creativity is also finding new ideas and stretching out of our own comfort zones. I think this happens in every class I do and I enjoy finding new ideas and activities to engage my students.
10. Finally, what do you like doing when you are not working?
For one thing, I go to the opera. I have a subscription for the premieres of the operas in Graz and get to some eight performances a year. I also enjoy reading, mostly fiction which I find relaxing. Cooking is another hobby and we usually do this on weekends. In the summers I generally travel, usually to Greece with my partner for real R&R and then to the States to visit family and friends. When I have free time in Graz I enjoy going out for dinner with friends and just chatting. The difference between ‘working’ and ‘not working’, however, is not always clear and I feel that my work and non-work life are well balanced although they may overlap. But an evening with colleagues and friends discussing ELT or teaching in general can also be relaxing and fun. I like the fact that work is also pleasurable and therefore does not need to be left in the classroom, but is a normal part of what I do and who I am.
Thanks very much for sharing your time and insights with our readers.