Six times you know you’re an English teacher when…


A(nother) moment of light relief here at Six Things. You know you’re an English teacher when…

1 You spend an inordinate amount of time cutting up bits of paper (yes, even in this technological day and age I’m convinced most English teachers still spend lots of time cutting things up… I still do and I’m pretty into tech)

2 You feel like exploding when you hear someone say ‘It must be great to have those long holidays’* (especially if you are in the private sector and probably don’t get paid holidays!)

3 You find yourself wishing sometimes you taught something else.

4 You can’t think of a name for your own child because they all remind you of someone you’ve taught.*

5 You have accumulated vast amounts of trivial knowledge from your coursebooks.

6 You start to think that sentences like “What means X, teacher?” actually sound almost correct .

* Credit where credit is due, I adapted numbers 2 and 4 from a great book called 100 essential lists for teachers by Duncan Grey.

Now, I’m sure you can come up with wittier and more clever ways of finishing the sentence: “You know you’re an English teacher when…”; why not add one in the comment box below? Go on, you know you want to!

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 9:17 am  Comments (64)  
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Six things about teaching English in Romania

Earlier this month I had the chance to visit Romania for a teaching conference.  It was my second time, and a very nice conference with teachers from around the country, held in the province of Constantza on the coast. Between workshops and meals overlooking the Black Sea I managed to gather part of the following six pieces of information which I share with you here. Back from the conference, I asked Melania Paduraru, a former school inspector in Constanta, for more details – all the text in italics is quoted from her e-mail to me.

(Note that these country lists are not intended as useful jobsearch information for travelling English teachers looking for their next post, as there are a million sites like that already. They are rather intended as information about the overall picture of language teaching in the country taken from the people who live there.)

When is English taught? A modern language (be it English, French, German or any other one) is a mandatory subject in schools from the age of 9. A second modern language is obligatory from the age of 11. The school year in Romania begins in September and ends in June. School days occur in “shifts” depending on various factors such as the grade, district etc. The morning shift can start as early as 7:00am and finish at 12. The afternoon shift can start anywhere from 11:30 to 1:30 and might finish as late as 19:00.

How does one become a language teacher in Romania? Becoming a teacher in Romania isn’t a case of a quick four week course. As I was told, All teachers (state and private school) need to have attended university. Nowadays, after completing a 3 year degree at university (the equivalent of BA), graduates can teach in primary and lower secondary schools (1st grade to 8th grade).

Those willing to be allowed to teach in upper-secondary schools (or high schools as we call them) will have to have completed a Masters’ Degree of 3 semesters. University means studying mainly English and American Literature, Cultural Studies, Grammar, Linguistics, Translations, Pedagogy/Didactics, Psychology and Methodology etc., but also many other subjects, usually depending on the university’s choice and offer.

How much do teachers make? Salaries for teachers in Romania are, quite frankly, shockingly low. A teacher starting out can expect to make €160 a month. This can go up to €450 with seniority and extra degrees. Different positions (director, school inspector) can mean more money too, but it’s still very low.

What is the level of English of teachers and students in Romania? The above point notwithstanding, both teachers and students of English in Romania have an impressively high level of English. I have often been amazed at how easy it is for Romanians to pick up new languages and English is no exception. By the time they are in high school students are already using Upper Intermediate and Advanced books. It’s one of the only countries that I know that has what they call “super-advanced” coursebooks. I was told that the reasons for this were as follows:

Romanian teachers and their students are said to be the best among the European speakers of English, with the least country-specific accent. One reason we’re so good at this: before 1989, English was studied in very few schools in Romania, the main modern languages studied at the time being Russian, French and German (French and German being obviously preferred, but Russian being almost compulsory); after the Romanian Revolution in 1989, English gradually became the #1 modern language in schools, while the interest for Russian dropped so drastically that now there are very few schools studying it. The interest for German has never been too high and French lost lots of ground to English.

A second reason might be the sudden burst of alternative textbooks, most of them written by native speakers, which provided access to genuine materials. These, combined with the enthusiasm of the English teachers, resulted in intensive-study or even bilingual classes. To avoid any misunderstandings, a regular class has 2 English classes/hours per week, an intensive class has 4 English classes/hours and a bilingual class has 6-7 English classes/hours per week. Intensive and bilingual classes are divided into groups (usually 2 per class) and are generally taught by 2 teachers.

A third reason: the conferences held in Romania and the scholarships offered to Romanian teachers. Both these meant an important turnpoint in many Romanian English teachers’ careers.

Another reason, affecting mainly children’s interest for the English language, might be the TV programmes presenting so many American and English films, not to mention the cartoons, which had a huge impact on the generations born following the revolution. Sadly, the cartoon programmes  nowadays are dubbed with voices of Romanian actors.

Teacher training? Teacher development programmes? By this I mean formal organised teacher training. All the teachers at the conference were very enthusiastic about their teaching and development and I wanted to know more. Again, Melania helped me with the answer.

Although all teachers in Romania should attend some form of regular training or development programmes on a five-year basis, it is rather a matter of personal choice whether to do so or not. There are two different ways to do that:

– by obtaining the teaching degrees (which go from Definitive teacher to Second Degree and then First Degree – higher than that there’s only the Doctor’s Degree or Ph.D.), based  on continually teaching for a number of years and sitting for an examination (…)

– by attending different development programmes which must necessarily give a number of transferable credits (90 credits every 5 years); these do not need to be in English or have anything to do with it – one can get the credits one needs from attending a 3-module course in Management, ICT and Communication; also provided by the Ministry of Education through one of its departments of Continual/Permanent Development;

Unfortunately, quite a large number of courses offered by the British Council in Bucharest or the Teachers’ Houses in each county don’t get any credits; also, no credits for attending or presenting at conferences.

Who are the teachers? As you would expect, the majority of English teachers in Romania are Romanian. There are some private language schools in the big cities that employ native English speakers, usually from Britain or the United States. At the conference there was someone from the Peace Corps. Here is some more detail about this and other foreign teaching initiatives.

The largest impact and contribution belongs to the U.S. Peace Corps. They used to have between 60 and 80 volunteers going to Romania every year, for a 2-year contract, which means that, except for the first year, there were around 100-120 volunteers teaching English every year. The number of volunteers has dropped recently.

Another important contribution was that of the British Council and the specialists who went to Romania between 1990 and 2002. The British Council organised or co-organised lots of  annual general meetings for the school inspectors of English, conferences and other meetings, and offered support through materials and courses, which they actually continue to offer.

Many thanks to Oana, Claudia from Macmillan Romania for inviting me and helping me while their. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to former school inspector Melania Paduraru who provided me with all the information above and without whom this post would not have been possible. Melania gave a particularly good workshop on learners in the 21st century at the conference. She has her own blog about teaching English in Romania and her workshops here.

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 8:13 am  Comments (6)  
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Six things about teaching English in Libya

Tripoli, near the hotel I stayed at for my visit to the ELTEX conferenceThis year I had the amazing opportunity to go to Libya to give a plenary at a conference. While there I did a little asking around about English teaching there. This is the first of my Six Things about teaching in a particular country. I should note here that this is not intended as a guide for prospective teachers wishing to travel abroad. I am more interested in work by teachers from the country itself.  Being there for a limited time meant that I couldn’t get really in depth information, but what I could glean I share here. 

1. When is English taught? English is a mandatory subject from the 5th grade of Elementary school in Libya. The academic year in Libya begins in September and finishes in May.

2. How does one become a language teacher in Libya? To become a language teacher in Libya in the state system, one needs to study in either a teacher training college or a language college. These are four-year programmes of academic study.

3. How much do teachers make? An English language teacher who has bachelor degree and works in the public sector gets between 400-600 LD (Libyan dinars) per month. On the other hand, the estimated payment for private sector teacher is between 1500 –3000 LD per-month depending on their qualifications and experiences.  (1 euro = 1.7 dinars)

4. Where does the majority of English language teaching take place? The majority of language teaching takes place in Tripoli. However there is a growing market in Benghazi. Most of the students are employed by oil companies or are people who wish to work in the oil business. 

5. Teacher training? Teacher development programmes? There is very little by way of teacher training schemes. There are a few seminars and workshops done by Teachers Forum or by the Academy of post graduate studies. The British Council also does some teacher training for language teachers. There is an annual conference. 

6. Who are the teachers? The majority of language teachers in Libya are Libyan. However, most of the foreigners who are working in the field are English, Indian and, curiously, Iraqi.

Many thanks to Samer Hamdi, training manager at Alalameya Centre and Magda Al-Sharef Giornazi, Macmillan representative for their assistance as well as the other Libyan teachers I met who helped me with this list.

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 3:36 pm  Comments (13)  
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Six things for developing teachers

dev_teacher_medium_coverAnother guest list! This time I am joined by colleague and co-author Duncan Foord, director of the teacher training centre Oxford TEFL and author of a new book with Delta Publishing, The Developing Teacher. Duncan has been interested in teacher development for some years now, and his book is packed with practical, doable activities and ideas for teachers interested in their own development. I asked him, cheekily, to give me six of them for free!

1 Work from your own script Before committing to developmental activities think about what you really want to do and achieve. Don’t be tempted into reading this, attending that or joining the other without good reason. That good reason could be peer recommendations and your own intuitions about what will work for you. There are lots of ways to become a better teacher.

2 Get some feedback from your students These are the people who know your teaching best and are best placed to help you improve it. It is also relatively easy to do. There are many ways you can elicit feedback. It can be formal or informal, written or verbal, from individuals or from the group. When students give you feedback they are infact also giving each other information on how they like to learn and their language needs, so everyone benefits. The feedback you get may help you “write your script” (see above)

3 Be observed and get some feedback from a respected colleague or boss If they are good at this, they will help you to build on the insights from your students helping you to see yourself better, challenge you and reinforce your self esteem. An alternative is to get someone to video you teaching. Undergoing the observation experience on a regular basis is a key to teacher growth, I’m convinced, yet it is a very underused practice in teacher development. Again, the feedback will probably help point you to other developmental activity.

4 Do a Diploma As well as developing career opportunities, doing a Diploma course such as the Trinity Licentiate Diploma or DELTA will have an enormous impact on your teaching. Basically you sign up for 200 plus hours of development! This includes reading, reassessing your teaching, developing your skills, finding new ideas from tutors and colleagues and, most importantly, opening up what you do in the classroom to the scrutiny of senior professionals. The fact that it is an assessed course will help sharpen your motivation. Some pain, but lots of gain.

5 Work on your time management Deciding what you want to do is one thing, making the time to do it is another. It’s easier to make a shopping list than go shopping! While some developmental activity can be relatively time efficient, in that you just add a developmental twist to your regular teaching as it were, other choices can involve a time commitment. Imagine you want to read a book (or even a journal) or attend a conference or participate in an on line teachers group, these things require time. Planning time is crucial, but respecting your plan even more so.

6 Enjoy yourself None of the above makes any sense if it doesn’t give you satisfaction or enjoyment. Students tend to prefer happy, balanced teachers as do their families (the teachers’ families that is!). Pay attention to signs of stress and deal with stress as a matter of utmost urgency. Curb your enthusiasm for professional development if other areas of your life suffer unduly.

Duncan Foord is a teacher, teacher trainer and director of  the teacher training centre Oxford TEFL. He is the author of The Developing Teacher (DELTA, 2009) and co-author of The Language Teacher’s Survival Handbook with Lindsay Clandfield (It’s Magazines 2008). He and Lindsay have a regular column in the magazine It’s for Teachers on Surviving Teaching. Duncan lives in Barcelona.

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 11:36 am  Comments (5)  
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Six English teacher deceptions

English teachers can be very crafty folk. As a teacher trianer I’ve seen many an artful dodger wriggle out of a tough grammar question or awkward situation. For those of you not wise to the ways of the tricky teacher, here are six common “deceptions”. Each is followed by what the teacher usually means, and some commentary.

1. That’s a good question. Does anyone have an answer to that question?

What it often means: I have no idea. 

A popular gambit to get out of a difficult grammar question and yet appear very learner centred and encouraging of learner independence. Follow up with: “Ok, everyone please find out for homework.”

2. T: What’s your name again?    S: Miguel.    T: No I know it’s Miguel, I meant your last name.

What it often means: I can’t remember your name, at all. 

Very clever bit of deception here, I picked this one up from the director of a school in France. Amazingly useful. If your student answers Rodriguez then just substitute last for first in the above exchange.

3. We are going to study this another day.

What it often means: I don’t know enough about this and yor questions are making me nervous.

A convenient smokescreen. Some teachers may say this and just hope the student doesn’t remember the question.

4. It’s American English.

What it often means: I don’t know if it is correct or not. It could be wrong, but I won’t take that chance especially if you heard it on television.

As a speaker of North American English, this “deception” is always annoying. Many Spanish teachers of English have confessed using this one to me. But I’ve heard a fair share of Brits use it too. Before I get too het up about it I have to admit hearing Americans using “It’s British English” in a similar way (to mean “it sounds too formal to be correct” and/or “you sound weird if you say it like that”).

5. Two more minutes. 

What it often means: I’m getting impatient. You’ve had long enough.

It’s hardly ever two minutes when a teacher says that. It’s more like 40 seconds. Unless of course the teacher is running late, or still needs time to organise something for the lesson. In that case, two minutes could mean five minutes. 

6. I would tell you, but it would just confuse you more. English is hard.

What it often means: I don’t know the answer or I didn’t even understand your question. Don’t bother me.

These fall into the category of what I’ve called “shock and awe” tactics. This is a not-so-subtle way of reminding the student of who’s boss. It can sound very condescending. This attitude becomes a bit self-defeating when the teacher gets frustrated with the class and shouts something like “For God’s sake, this isn’t rocket science!” You can’t have it both ways. Shock and awe tactics often include simliar comments about the impossiblity of learning English spelling, phrasal verbs or verbs that take ing/infinitive.


Of course I don’t believe we should go out and lie to our students, but before you think I’m being high and mighty with my list, I confess right now that I have used all of these at least once in my career.  Right though, over to everyone. Have you got any more typical deceptive tricks? Please, no offensive or rude comments!

Published in: on March 19, 2009 at 7:01 am  Comments (3)  
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