- Sharing practical teaching ideas and discussing issues with teachers in Malta and elsewhere
- An opportunity to tell people about Malta and the Malta TEFL scene
- A learning experience for me
- Critically thinking about ideas and issues and also about my/our role(s) as teachers in society and the world
Basically, most of my work here in Malta has been focused on helping teachers to come together and realise they are not alone behind the closed doors of their classroom. When we share ideas we are able to strengthen our confidence in ourselves. And of course, this coming together, this sharing of ideas and experiences strengthens the whole industry here. So, therefore, one important targeted readership is Malta-based teachers. And I'd like the 'Malta-aspect' to come out in other ways, too. I don't mean that the blog is exclusively 'Malta-based', but it might be one way of differentiating my blog from those of others, both for those inside and outside Malta.
Although I have worked as an EL teacher for over thirty years, I really do feel that I'm constantly learning and there's so much to learn! I'm amazed about the whole learning-a-foreign language process, and learning in general. And I'd like to try and share that enthusiasm and wonder in my own blog.
And something I've enjoyed doing in all these years is looking for the practical aspects of things I've learned and then demonstrating ideas, techniques, etc practically to others. Especially to those who simply don't have time to devote to conferences, seminars, searching on the net, etc. Teachers are so very busy. So demonstrating an idea within a practical format -something maybe teachers can try out in their own classes - is what I enjoy doing. And at the same time it’s so important to get the rationale over, so that the principle and not only the activity stay with the teachers and perhaps then they can use the idea to generate their own materials and ideas. In the end the aim is to foster teacher autonomy, within a collaborative, sharing community. This is especially necessary here in this relatively young Malta TEFL world, of course, but also in those other TEFL worlds where teachers have so little opportunity to come together and share and grow with other teachers.
I also like to think of myself as a critically thinking teacher. For me, this has two meanings.
First of all, I've been around now for long enough to see methodologies come and methodologies go. For example, for one generation translation is fine, then it's taboo, then it's fine again. Same again with the role of grammar teaching ... and so many other aspects of teaching and learning. So every new idea that comes along, well, I just want to think about it and share some doubts rather than hungrily, unthinkingly converting to it and proclaiming it as gospel. There are people who can argue much more lucidly and articulately than I can about the advantages and disadvantages of such and such an approach. But many teachers do not hear these arguments: they're so busy preparing for tomorrow morning's lessons, marking homework, looking for visual aids, cooking dinner, etc. Yet in my experience most teachers I come into contact with are interested when they hear of these debates.
So perhaps that's a role I can play: a role where I can say hey, have you heard about this idea? What do you think? What are the practical applications, for you? Or Hey, wait a minute, just because X is all the craze and Mr/Ms Guru has said it's wonderful ... well, let's just consider for a moment which aspects are wonderful and which are a bit 'less wonderful'.
The second aspect (for me) of being a critically thinking teacher is to step back occasionally and see the wider, educational and social aspects of what we do in class. I mean, I'm mainly a private language school teacher and teacher trainer in EFL schools. How does what I do affect the world? Well, it might just be a question of the beating wings of a butterfly in one part of the world eventually causing a powerful hurricane in another part of the world. Everything we do has some sort of resonance, including, for example: the models we offer as an authority in class, and how we exert that authority - not only commanding respect as one who is authoritative but also earning respect as a professional, as a facilitator, as a teacher who respects our learners, as a listener, as one who cares; the learning approaches we might encourage and support in our classrooms such as co-operative and collaborative learning, and learner autonomy; the choice of materials we might use in class, including materials that are socially concerned and engaged; and also the promotion and development of critical thinking skills in our learners. Every decision that we make as teachers has some sort of effect, conscious or otherwise, on the present or future citizens of the world who populate our classes. It is worthwhile to reflect occasionally on the roles, models and styles that we are propagating.
A brief aside: being a critically reflective teacher also means that when, as teachers who have principles but who do not wear ideological straitjackets, we choose to use methods, techniques etc that may not fit neatly into the models we identify with (such as, for example, rote learning, or choral drills, or even some form of 'punishment'), these are always choices that are underpinned by a rationale: we know what we are doing and we know why we have chosen to do it this way, today.
The kind of teacher that I am, perhaps the kind of person that I am, means for me that somehow education entails getting through to the person. It's this kind of teaching that I am most interested in, where learners are given a voice and enabled to express themselves. If we can only get through to the person, or rather, create means and opportunities for the person to come through, so much more can become possible in the (language) classroom. I am aware that in some cultures such a focus on the personal may at first seem inappropriate and culturally insensitive. Well, it therefore needs to be managed even more carefully and sensitively than in those cultures where it is less alien. Language, thought, emotion: it is so hard to reduce these to separate components. They are interwoven and, for me, sometimes inseparable. So for me, learning/teaching a language is a holistic experience: ignore the person and the language learning/teaching suffers.
So I suppose that this is the colour and nature of the blog that I would like to develop with you. What are your thoughts on this? Do you have any comments or questions about this introduction? Is there anything you would like to see in this blog?
Hope to be hearing from you