Is it common for other professional groups to hang out mainly with their own or is it just us teachers? And do all teachers talk shop whenever they meet? It never ceases to amaze me how, despite complaining about school, when we see a fellow teacher we immediately start talking about it again, comparing, suggesting, exchanging information. And you know something? Because education is such a deeply political aspect of our lives, it permeates everything. The other day we had agreed to discuss anything but our jobs. We were three teachers of English and an ex teacher of French. We had agreed but, of course it kept coming up. It’s not such a bad thing after all. It even inspires blog posts!
The three of us are in such different teaching situations and have arrived there from at least two different paths. V has recently taken up teaching in private afternoon schools after being a stay-at-home mum for years. She is enthusiastic about her job, tries hard to keep up with the challenges of it and is still trying to find the ropes around ELT in Greece. E graduated University a few years ago, would like to work for state schools but until this happens she also teaches in afternoon schools and experiences frustration when she has to deal with ignorant English School Owners. Yours truly works for state primary schools, has all the security she needs and lives constantly in the fear of becoming one of those teachers who sit behind their desks at the beginning of the term and are dragged out of the classroom at the end of it. There are many points that could be discussed here about qualifications, about wanting to work for State Education (and how sane this is), about security and pay but today I’ll write about something else.
At some point E raised the question of professional development. What happens, who does it, is it obligatory, how can I do it, why school owners don’t do it are some of the questions that came up. I remember a similar discussion I had had with two friends of mine who aren’t teachers. More than ten years ago, when the first exam for State School Appointment was given, teachers who were already teaching as substitutes were complaining that how could anyone ask them to be examined on things they hadn’t been taught. Even today professional training is a permanent demand made by teacher unions. However, my non teacher friend saw things from a different perspective and asked why we teachers never took advantage of the already existing opportunities for professional development. Even then there were hundreds of learning opportunities either by EU or other professional groups, TESOL conventions and workshops but most teachers either ignored them or even snubbed them.
Now, the situation has changed dramatically. Having a computer and an internet connection is like taking part in an on-going conference, like having hundreds of presentations at your fingertips, like having access to the most up to date library, like being a kid in a candy shop and no money limit (be careful there, we don’t want you to get an information overload).
So I would say that professional development is obligatory for each one of us whatever our teaching situation and when it is not offered we should seek it. And for new teachers out there who might complain that they don’t have enough time to correct papers, let alone to attend seminars and read articles I would argue that maybe if you attend these seminars you would learn how to manage your time better.
So here is a guide on how to start you own Personal Learning Network and continue your professional development.
1. Become a member of an association either local, national or intenational. For example UTEK (Union of Teachers of English in Karditsa), TESOL Greece, or IATEFL). These associations usually have newsletters or publications with interesting articles and organize seminars and conventions. If you could go to an international convention it would give you enough material for PD for a year.
2. Use Twitter and Facebook for professional reasons. Twitter is an excellent source of information and links of any kind, whether you are looking for teaching material or useful blogs or polemic discussion. Start today by following influential educators such as Marisa Constantinides, Shelly Terrell, Karenne Sylvester, Russell Stannard, Vicky Loras
3. Another opportunity for development that started in twitter and may go far beyond it, is ELTchat. This is a professional discussion that takes part every Wednesday night since September. Members agree on a topic by poll, and discuss it on line using twitter. The transcripts of previous chats as well more information about it may be found here. But most of all it is a fantastic way to create your own PLN to find people doing the same thing you do in different countries in a different way. Their enthusiasm is addictive!
These were just some of the tips I had to share. I have written about twitter and how it has changed my teaching life again and though sometimes I have so much information in my hands I don’t know what to do with it, I never regret spending time in cyber world. So if you are new in ELT, if you don’t know where to start, if you have many questions don’t hesitate to ask. Don’t hesitate to make connections. Wonder! Keep learning! If nothing else it will make you a better person!
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY, full of challenges and opportunities!