This was originally posted on September 19, 2011 at

Find below my first column for the DISAL blog. It will available from tomorrow:

Brief intro

First of all, it is a great pleasure to be writing my first post for my first column ever. I’ve been giving workshops at DISAL for nearly six years now (well over 30 workshops so far), and it makes perfect sense to me to take this partnership to a new level. I’m thrilled and proud and hope this column will be of use to you teachers. In advance, however, I apologize if this first one ends up a bit longer than the ones in the future will be, but a few considerations have to be made.

I was really excited when I first got the invitation (thank you, Juliana!), even if I immediately started panicking: What to write about? Would it be best to write about something different every month, or would it lend the column more cohesion if I addressed the same topic every new post (talking about video activities, for instance)? Should I focus on language, teaching, both, neither? After burning the midnight oil trying to come up with the perfect topic, what I eventually decided to do is to narrow the scope down to one area I am very fond of – and which is thankfully very wide: the area of teacher development.

Teacher development

Most of what I do professionally nowadays involves teacher development – mine and otherwise. In my capacity as a teacher and teacher trainer, I have always been a firm believer in teachers’ having the obligation to hone their language and teaching skills for their own sake and that of their students. It sounds obvious, of course, but the only thing which can propel a teacher’s career (yes, career! Not just a job!) forward is hard work, even if sadly it may sometimes feel like schools and employers in general don’t have a knack for noticing our efforts (not all of them, mind you! Just the ones you shouldn’t care about either!).

Working, for instance, on your English language skills (and I’m including native speakers of English here as well) is your surest path to teaching advanced levels, exams preparation classes, language courses for fellow teachers. Teaching these levels is, in turn, certainly one of the most successful ways of guaranteeing good job offers and competitive pay, which will therefore allow you to invest even more in your development, consequently bringing even more rewards. A veritable virtuous circle.

On the teaching front, courses such as the CELTA (Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) will give you more than an edge over the fierce competition nowadays, for example, in the area of private English teaching. Cynics will be quick to say most regular students of English don’t have the foggiest idea of what a CELTA is, and they’ll be absolutely right. What they
fail to see, nevertheless, is that any student of English can tell a very well-prepared ELT professional from a speaker of English who teaches it for no other reason other than just because they allegedly can.

In a nutshell, the case I’m trying to make here is that it’s high time we decided whether we’ll be class-givers or professionals. Is the only thing we know some English, or are we actively trying to always become better at not only English, but also at understanding, as my (brilliant) friend Vanessa Prata wrote here recently, why our students learn English or not? Are we interested in, for example, the (riveting) Second Language Acquisition theories (SLAs) that to some extent underpin our understanding of how students learn what we’re trying to teach, or are we going to continue thinking, for no informed reason, that some students learn and some students don’t?

What I then invite you to embark upon here with me is the incessantly surprising world of enlightened English Language Teaching, area which, according to H. Douglas Brown, “will guarantee you more than your fair share of challenges, growth, joy
and fulfillment.” And boy, it will!

Task 1 – September 20 – October 20 2011

Our first task will involve language, not teaching (from next month, there will be at least one task on each).

In my classes for teachers (and general English as well, of course), I always harp on about students never reading enough – which is thankfully changing – and the importance of reading vastly and variedly. Therefore, the first thing I want to suggest here is that you become readers in English, as a first step towards language proficiency.

Firstly, I’d like to ask you to write a very short review of a book (in English!) which is very close to your heart and why. Do this by leaving a comment here on this post, the intention being to get people interested in reading that as well. Let’s agree on, say, a one-hundred-word limit? Secondly, have a book in English at the ready for October 20th. I suggest The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon, but it can be any fiction book written in English. Just have it ready! What to do with it comes in
precisely one month’s time.

That’s it! If you’ve read this far, thank you very, very much! I hope this column will be of use to you and that we can share some truly great ideas and lots of knowledge here. Think of this as an interactive column where your feedback, comments and work are indispensable. I’ll be looking forward to your comments via this blog and by email:

As an afterthought, I’ll be giving a workshop at DISAL on a very important area of teacher development this coming Friday, the 23rd: Lesson Observation. Hope to see you there from 2 to 4 p.m.

Read on!

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