The End Of An Era

The Teacher James


If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, or follow me on social media, you should be aware of my involvement in BELTA. BELTA is the Belgian language teachers association, which I co-founded in 2012 with Mieke Kenis and Guido Europeaantje, and have been president of since its inception.

I won’t tell you the full story of how BELTA started here, you can find out more on our website. Suffice it to say we started it from scratch and in four short years we have hosted 3 annual conferences with plenary speakers including Jeremy Harmer, Luke Meddings, Hugh Dellar and Philip Kerr, had nearly 30 webinars, two online conferences with TESL Toronto, published our journal the BELTA Bulletin, ran a very successful blog, and brought something new to the ELT scene in Belgium and internationally.

So why am I telling you about this now? Well, simply put, I’m…

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Possibly my first post should have been about something more serious, or at least something more obviously ELT-related. In my defense, I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for quite a while now, so being tagged in the recent eleven-random-facts challenge that has been making the rounds was an excellent reason to stop procrastinating. Plus, if I’m honest, the challenge was fun! I enjoyed finding out more about the people in my PLN.

These are the steps:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Here we go.

Hana Tichá, who tagged me, is an EFL teacher from the Czech Republic, and an #ELTchat blogger. I’m somewhat in awe of the fact that she only started blogging last summer and is already up to nearly 50 posts, as well as impressed by her many insightful tweets on #ELTchat (she is @HanaTicha on Twitter). Thanks, Hana, for giving me this gentle nudge to start a blog!

Random facts about me:

  1. When I was in elementary school, I lived in Tripoli, Libya, for six years, but sadly know only a few isolated words of Arabic. I can still read the script though, or at least like to pretend I can.
  2. I enjoy following Ruth Crilly’s blog, A Model Recommends. For the writing. Seriously. And the pictures of her cat.
  3. I used to have the most acute elevator phobia. The first time I rode in an elevator on my own was at the age of nineteen.
  4. I taught in high school for exactly one day. Then I ran quit. I have the utmost admiration for all teachers who work with young learners and teenagers.
  5. I’m supposed to be doing a PhD in Applied Linguistics, but it would take too long to go into why this is not going quite according to plan.
  6. Apparently, I’m allergic to octopus, which is mildly ironic seeing as the school which I co-own is called Octopus Language Services. I wasn’t the one who came up with the name, though.
  7. I’ve spent at least part of every single summer on the Croatian island of Vis, where my grandfather is from. This remote place – it takes two and a half hours by ferry to get there – served as a military base in the days of Yugoslavia and tourism is therefore still a relatively novel concept. I still marvel at the fact that we now have a phone line and wifi…ok, the neighbors have wifi.
  8. I wore contacts for a few years while I was in junior high. They were soft contacts, but wearing them was still extremely uncomfortable and I was relieved to be able to go back to glasses.
  9. If I start on a book, I make a point of finishing it even if it takes a while. “The Corrections” had been sitting on my shelf for at least three years until I finally read it last summer.
  10. Croatian is my mother tongue, but the last time I actually had Croatian class was in third grade. As a result, I’m slightly paranoid about my written Croatian and convinced it must be full of errors.
  11. I like the scent of basil, and candles when you blow them out. Preferably not at the same time. 🙂
View from the porch on Vis
View from the porch on Vis

Answers to Hana’s questions:

  1. If you could change one thing about education in your country, what would it be?
    I’ve only ever worked in the private sector, apart from teaching at university, so I can only claim familiarity with the working conditions of adjunct faculty. The first thing I’d change would be the pay.
  2. Have you ever thought of quitting your job as an educator? Why?
    I didn’t plan on being a teacher. I thought I’d be a journalist or a career diplomat at university (and for some time afterwards). Now, however, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Running a school was partly an attempt to do something in addition to teaching, but even then I never considered giving it up completely.
  3. What’s your earliest memory as an educator?
    The first class I got paid for was with a group of doctors, nurses and technicians in an emergency room. I was in my last year of university and think I’ll always remember the slightly stunned faces. I wish it had been because they were bowled over by my competence and professional approach. In fact, it was because they had just witnessed the world’s shortest (albeit most detailed) presentation of the form and function of the past perfect, and their heads were literally spinning. 😦
  4. Is education valued where you live? If not, what is the main reason?
    I haven’t lived in Belgium long enough to judge, so I’ll stick to Croatia. In theory, education is valued – politicians are forever talking about how Croatia is “the country of knowledge” and how education will propel the country forward. In practice, most educators are underpaid and their working conditions are far from enviable. I cannot claim that it was much better before 2009, but things have certainly deteriorated markedly over the last five years, as the country keeps struggling to pull out of recession – and failing miserably.
  5. How do you think we could help to make teaching a more prestigious job?
    Frankly, I’m not convinced it will ever be described as prestigious, but I’m okay with that. Maybe time will prove me wrong. Until it does, I’m glad to be able to describe teaching as worthwhile, meaningful, gratifying, inspiring, fulfilling…and really mean it.
  6. Apart from burning out, what’s the biggest danger for a teacher?
    Thinking that there’s nothing left for them to learn. I briefly felt that way, a couple of years ago – for reasons that would take another post to go into – but was lucky enough to quickly receive a reality check.
  7. Did anyone try to put you off teaching in the past?
    No. That said, I can’t remember anyone actively encouraging me either. Maybe because I never actually said, “I want to be a teacher.” I’m happy with the way things turned out, though.
  8. Why do you think teaching can bring so much satisfaction but also frustration?
    I think any activity in which you are deeply invested does that. There’s also the fact that you connect with students in a way that you can’t with accounts or figures. But the human element is what sometimes makes teaching a “messy” job. It spills over into your personal time and is essentially a never-ending story. There’s always something to plan, grade, write up…and the effort is not always recognized. If there’s constantly more frustration than satisfaction, maybe it’s time to consider a career change.
  9. What makes you happy?
    When I force myself to do something which I know is the right thing to do, but I’m either too frightened or too much of a procrastinator, and so keep putting it off.
  10. When did you last laugh out loud?
    Yesterday, while watching The Big Bang Theory. Call me juvenile, but I love that show.
  11. If your child/best friend wanted to become a teacher, what piece of advice would you give him or her?
    I would probably find it very hard to restrict myself to one piece of advice. Today I think I’d say they should focus on making their teaching learner-centered. As a teacher trainer, I’ve often seen it take a while for new teachers to become comfortable enough in their role to be able to focus more on the student than on themselves. But tomorrow I’d probably say something different. 🙂

Now we come to the part where I’m supposed to nominate eleven bloggers. I’ve given this some thought and decided to change the final steps. Everyone I can think of (with a blog) has been tagged already, and most people more than once. Also, as I’ve only just started with this blog, I thought it better to set myself some homework.

The following questions touch on some of the topics that I would like to write about, so I’m going to attempt expanding at least some of them into posts over the next few…months, most likely. A lot of them may turn out to be too general and will probably need narrowing down. If anyone decides that they’d like to answer any of the questions on their own blog, please do let me know; I’d love to read your post(s)! So that’s a kind of tag, I guess. 🙂

  1. What are the pros and cons of teaching only online?
  2. Why are you enthusiastic about eLearning?
  3. Which (new) technologies did you try out last year?
  4. What do you like about Moodle?
  5. Can a teacher run a successful business?
  6. What do private language schools look for in a teacher?
  7. Should a DoS teach?
  8. What are the biggest differences between teaching adults (in-company courses) and university students?
  9. What are your favorite ice-breakers?
  10. How do you ask for student feedback and what do you do with it?
  11. Do you prefer working with a textbook or without one?