How my mentor transformed me

July 1, 2014

Priyanka Pandey

I feel very fortunate for getting a mentor when I started my teaching career. My mentor was an experienced and skillful teacher who guided me, changed my perceptions regarding teaching profession, and later made me determined to be in the field of ELT.

The school I worked for (Tiny Seeds Pre-school, Kathmandu) had a system of assigning two teachers in one class; a grade teacher and an assistant teacher. I was selected to be her assistant but initially it was very stressful because I didn’t have any idea about “play-way” method. Being a student of Education, I knew how to make lesson plans in theory, but I didn’t have clear idea about how to make practical lesson plans and how to teach effectively in English medium.

On top of that, I didn’t have good communication skills in English. For instance, I used to feel scared when I had to respond to the principal. I used to feel difficult to answer even to the children. My heart would start racing when I had to speak in meetings. In the school, we were not allowed to speak Nepali inside the school premises. We had to tell stories in English every day which used to be the biggest challenge for me because I was extremely poor in English. Therefore, I could not tell stories clearly and make the students understand them.

Naturally, it gave me a lot of trouble and made me restive. Decorating the class, making lesson plans to match the learners’ level, being more creative, teaching through the play-way method in English medium became huge challenges for me. It was not easy at all to fulfill their demands and sometimes I would think of quitting the job instead of having unnecessary headache. And if it was not for my mentor, Kalpana Subedi, I would have left the job altogether.

It is not easy to teach young children because we (adults) have to match their level and interest. However, these things became easier for me later because of my competent mentor. She motivated, instructed, trained, and directed me and guided me through the beginning stage of my teaching career. Because of her, I succeeded to overcome those challenges and later I became able to handle all the ups and down very well.

Because of her helpful, cooperative and supportive nature, she became a source of inspiration for me. I cannot forget her in my life and I always mention her name when I have to talk about the person who inspired me to teach. She was the one who aroused the beautiful passion to teach and helped me overcome the difficult situations when I had to go through.

She not only inspired me to teach, but she was also provided solutions to my problems. She listened to me with great care and gave me right and valuable suggestions whenever I faced a problem. She was there for me when anyone tried to pull my leg. She taught me how to deal with such situation in a work place and taught me how to work in a group. It is common that in every institution, there are some bullies who create difficult situations for others and sometimes I had to face such bullies in that school as well. But Kalpana ma’am always alerted to stay far away from them.

Because of her, I overcame the problem of hesitation to speak. She always stood by my side and pushed me up by mentoring me on how to get the things done. She taught me a lot of strategies which we need to apply while teaching young learners. She used to observe me teaching and gave me positive feedback and that encouraged me to work. She had patience to tolerate my mistakes and ability to correct me in an encouraging way.

In addition, she would also give me emotional support whenever I got restless, hopeless and depressed. As a result, all the negative things, fear, anxiety, tension, nervousness, stress  gradually went way after spending some time with her; and it would make me more confident than before and my own learning started to take place rapidly.

And thus, her unconditional and continuous support made me more skillful, knowledgeable, and more mature. As a result, teaching English became a passion for me once I started to teach in English medium and later I decided to become English language teacher. Transformation which she brought on me helped me to become an ideal teacher for pre –school as well as other higher levels.

priyanka-pandey

Priyanka Pandey
Kathmandu University (M.Ed. ELT)
Currently in the Fourth semester

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Speakers’ Club for Professional Development

July 1, 2014

Umes Shrestha

As we wrapped up the June 20 session of our Speakers’ Club (KU), I remembered how a small dream that I always had turned into a magnificent reality. I had a dream of getting involved in a professional club like the Toastmasters but with English language teachers as its members. And in this article, I want to share the reasons why I wanted to set up the club and talk about how the club helped me in my journey of personal and professional development.

After joining KU’s M.Ed ELT program, I had this idea – the idea about setting up a speaking forum – in my head and luckily my professor Dr. Laxman Gnawali had also thought about it for some time. After spending some time with some seniors and my classmates brainstorming about how to set up such forum and discussing on its name and modality, on August 2013, we officially started with the first session of the Speaker’s Club. It had the participation of students of M.Ed. ELT and M.Phil. English Language Education as well as a number of faculty members.

Our sessions would follow the Toastmaster’s model with four featured speakers, four guest speakers, there would be a grammarian, a time keeper, a fidget analyzer and an ‘aha’-counter. After the designated speakers complete their four-minute speech on a pre-defined topic, the other participants would vote for them, and the four guest speakers would complete their sessions. To make these weekly sessions more interesting, we would also have short video clips of inspirational speeches downloaded from youtube. Then, the evaluators would step in front to present their evaluations, usually in a constructive way. The following week, we would switch around our roles and there would be a new set of speakers and evaluators.

In this way, we have been running the sessions for almost a year. We have seen the number of participants increase from mere a dozen to over seventy. We have also had a few wonderful professional speakers come to the sessions and share their stories and ideas. Some of them were – current NELTA president Hemanta Raj Dahal, youth motivational speaker Rajendra Mulmi, member of a Toastmasters Club Sikshit Bhatta, English Language Fellow to Nepal Miriam Cornelli and media personality Santosh Shah.

One of the reasons why we needed to have the club is very obvious. English language teachers of Nepal usually do not have a very good command over the language they are supposed to teach. I may have put this very bluntly but I do believe that many of us focus on learning ‘declarative knowledge’ but we miss out on how to acquire ‘procedural knowledge’ and ‘communicative competency’. We know the grammar rules and definitions by heart, but we commit various mistakes/errors specifically while speaking in English. The club therefore gave the English language teachers and students the perfect venue to enrich their communicative skills.

Likewise, another reason to set up the club is to give a unique space for the English language teachers to enhance their personal and professional skills. Similar to any workshops or trainings, the club itself could become an opportunity for teachers to develop. And for this very reason, I was so passionate about the Speakers’ Club. Many a times, I concentrated more on the club sessions rather than focusing on my regular studies because I could feel my speaking skills developing in a very tangible way. For instance, I have significantly cut down the filler words (um, aha, you know, etc) while speaking and I have also developed how to control my movement and gesture.

I vividly remember the first time I gave a speech in the club. I was literally scared stiff through out my speech, I got stuck so many times and my filler words were embarrassingly all over the places. It was a pretty nerve wrecking experience. I used to think – “I am a teacher, and I speak all the time. So speaking in public should be a simple task”. But I soon realized that teaching in a classroom full of students and speaking in front of an audience and evaluators are two completely different games. And thus learning the art of public speaking, I can bet my life on it, has definitely made me more effective and confident teacher. I have seen some of my club friends transform from very shy, zero-confident speakers to very self-assured, energetic speakers.

Another reason why the club sessions are so beneficial to the teachers is because of the evaluation process. The team of evaluators gives a speaker feedback, comments and criticisms on his/her grammar efficiency, timing, structure of the speech, movement, gestures, eye contact and overall effect. This gives the speaker a chance to improve his/her verbal as well as non-verbal communication skills. Most importantly, this process makes the participants more open to criticism. We don’t like being criticized, do we? But here, we learn the art of giving constructive criticism and we also develop the art of reacting positively to such criticisms. (I like comparing this to the concept of peer-observation because one of the ways to develop teachers is by having peers give honest and supportive feedback.)

There are a couple of more things very important related with the evaluation process. First, it makes the audience truly appreciate the effort speakers put into their speech and not form ‘opinions’ about anyone who speaks in public. With this appreciation comes the feeling of empathy. Second, audience members can learn from the mistakes the speakers commit and understand ‘dos and don’ts’ of public speaking. In theory, the club provides both reflective and experiential learning to all participants.

And finally, one of the direct benefits of the club is that we can ‘network’ and build relationship with fellow teachers and public speaking enthusiasts. Human beings are inherently hardwired for communication and the club provides the context for English language teachers to communicate with each other. For us, the club has been an amazing place to meet and interact with colleagues from different batches and level.

As I mentioned earlier, the club has made a tremendous impact on me, personally and professionally. It has given me a space to ‘practice’ and has helped me become a better presenter and a confident speaker. I believe the club has also provided a push for me in my continuous drive to ‘becoming’ an open-minded and reflective teacher.

And here’s the biggest takeaway for anyone reading this article. You can easily set up the speakers’ club in your schools and colleges with zero expense. All one needs is a group of motivated members who can ‘invest’ at least two hours a week. The club could have your own model and procedures which the members can collaborate and decide on. If the club can have consistency, it will turn out to be a great learning platform for both the teachers and the students. So don’t wait, just jump right into it.

Umes Shrestha
M.Ed. ELT
Teaches Business Communication and Literature to undergraduate students

 

 


Professional Development through English Teachers’ Club

May 1, 2014

Shashi Kayastha

Teacher development is a continuous process which includes teacher’s regular engagement, constant support and constructive feedback from peers and tutors, innovative platform, self initiated steps and committed dream. In the scenario of growing need for establishing professional communities of learning, English teachers’ club is one of the effective initiatives to collaboratively develop teachers. It is a platform for English teachers where they associate and network with other members of the same profession through collaborative engagement in capacity building activities. In this blog entry, I briefly introduce English teachers’ club, followed by its significance and finally highlight on the importance of joining such associations.

English Teachers’ Club

Mutual problem solving and collaborative learning draw teachers into a community seeking for their development. Padwad and Dixit (2008) advocate the need of professional learning communities in the context of shifting teacher education from product-oriented mode to social constructivist, process-oriented mode of working. It motivates the teachers to strive for the continuous and ever innovative processes of “change and mend” sequence where they learn to collaborate, commit, construct and contribute in local level to the global scenario, and activities that involve professionals in open and dynamic discussion enhances professionalism.

Teachers association is an essential platform for the teachers that associates and network with English teachers in a community for continuous growth through different professional practices. In recent decades, such association or networking has been established as one of the effective means of professional development for the teachers across the world. Teachers’ club is one of such associations and it is a small professional community. The club might be formal and informal, but both of them primarily serve the purpose of a professional association. Compared to other like-minded communities, it is more focused on building on capacities of teachers for their professional growth.

English teachers’ club (ETC) is a network of like-minded English teachers who are seeking to enhance their capacity and collaboratively develop effective teaching methods for their career development. Further, it helps to establish better working relationships among colleagues and creates a forum for exploring new teaching ideas or addressing perceived (or unperceived) problems and concerns.

Significance

Unlike various governmental and non-governmental efforts to develop English teachers, English teachers’ club can be a creative way of identifying local issues and needs of English teachers and accordingly build strategies in sorting out them through collaborative approach. It emancipates teachers from territory of accumulating fixed knowledge of one-size-fits-all approach since it builds a kind of channel to exchange the ideas, innovate the  ways to surpass the issue related to the teaching, search out the genuine and contextual knowledge that is applicable in local context and situation. The teachers, who are engaged ‘teachers’ club’, get access of varieties of sources of knowledge within the community they connect and they can also put their efforts to build on contextual theories based on best practices. Besides, they enjoy sharing and caring of each individual of their community for collective improvement.

Legutke & Ditfurth (2009) elucidate that knowledge does not just develop by accumulating information but is shared, negotiated and constructed through experience in the communities of practice in which individual participates. The teachers’ club provides them a platform and opportunities for them to share their experiences and discuss among themselves.  Similarly, Hord (1997) points out regarding the benefits of any professional learning community that it helps to reduce loneliness of teachers, motivate them to be committed to the mission and goals and the teachers starts taking joint responsibility for the success of the student and ultimately gets the work satisfaction leading to higher morale etc.

Benefits of joining English Teachers’ Club

Socialization

The basic need of 21st century is to learn to live together with the acceptance of sociocultural, religious difference. The culture of socialization starts with the sense of oneness in difference and attitude of compassion, respect, and understanding. Teachers club is the society of teachers that socializes one for the convenient and the successful life in the planet of teaching. It brings out the teachers from the confined territory of the cultural and social constrains to the land of acculturation. Thus, associative team activities are the crucial one to administer the overall development of an individual’s sociocultural aspect. It is mainly significant to the language teacher since language teaching and learning is an interactive process. Richards and Burns (2009) emphasize the teachers’ collaboration as they say “teacher learning is not something that teacher need achieve on their own –it is a social process that is contingent upon dialogue and interaction with others”. They add that “teachers can come to better understand their own belief and knowledge as well as reshape these understanding through listening to the voices of others”. That means socialization incorporates the habit of listening to others, respecting the contrary views, collaboratively deciding, assisting, advising, participating etc. In the other words “engaging with other means accepting the difference” (Singh, 2002). Teachers in ETC joins for fulfilling this requirement .They co-work, co-think, co-coach, co-operate, collaborate with the common sets of goal and action. The co-operative nature in positive competitive environment expands the possibility of creation.

Language development

Teaching is an art; the art requires pedagogical knowledge, creativity and proficiency of content so that teacher can well manage the class, deliver the content, make the learning possible in any situations.  The basic prerequisite of language teacher is that they should be well versed in language skills. English teacher’s language skill basically refers to teachers’ proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. As it has already been underpinned in the theory of education that language skills can be developed through the active participation in interaction, peer teaching and correcting process, ETC arranges the suitable and convenient environment for the teachers to involve in different collaborative learning projects such as collaborative action research, team teaching peer observation. Teacher can plan and implement the need based activities for skill enhancement. Teachers can engage in their need analysis where the basic needs of the teachers regarding language skill are identified, and they collaboratively prepare feasible and effective action plan, and put them into practice. In the process teachers assesses one another’s improvement, they provide feedback. It also orients the teachers with a variety of language teaching skills and strategy.

I hereby exemplify some strategies we use to enhance the language skills:

Strategy 1

We mostly organize a reading theater in our mini club where the entire group is divided into three: reader group who perform reading different literary and non literary genres, audience group as the active listener who jots down some notes as per the understanding and share, analyst group who analyze the whole process of the reading and audience group. We take the assignment to read and write refection which is peer checked in the following week.

Strategy 2

Collecting different national and international talk show, lecture, interview videos and audios and assembling for the listening practice where we the watch and listen the videos and share, comment and rethink about the topic in the group. It proved to be interesting and useful for the gradual improvement listening as well as the enhancing creativity and criticality, which but for being in group would be once in a blue moon.

Building Confidence

No matter what qualification and degree I have, until I have the deep faith deep inside me that I can do, no where I perform the best. The sentence seems very negative but it is the reality. Student starts gossiping on your unusual movement and babbling talk, counts how often you scratch on your hair, caricatures your perplexed look. All the content you give goes in vain and the teaching becomes the daunting task “leaving us with such physical symptoms as sweating and shaking”(Fifield, 2006). Hence it is necessary to build up the confidence along with improving the skill so that one can better perform what he /she knows. As already discussed collaborative approach in the teachers club is helpful in getting language skills as well as professional skills. Ganwali (2011) explains, “The members of an association will have greater confidence in their activities if we learn what our colleagues elsewhere are doing in the context” (p.189). In my experience, constant working with the people of the same profession of with different qualification, practices and potentiality equip you with daring and exploratory attitude towards teaching.

Accountability

Accountability is a policy of holding schools and teachers responsible for students’ academic progress. Accountability is taking responsibility for your words and actions.

ETC assists to grow a socialized teacher with the content, confidence that is sure to be aware of duty to self, duty to other. One pre service teacher viewed “Working with other teachers collaboratively created a synergy that helped me to look at teaching in ways I hadn’t considered…I now examine student motivation, teaching strategies, and accountability differently.”(Cited in Bates, 2010, p.63), that’s how the teachers’ whole perspective can be changed by the co-working environment of teacher club. Loughran (2005) explains that a communal practice where others are esteemed provides better prospects to reframe situation and that helps to modify one’s thinking about practice.

Empowerment

Establishing teachers’ community or networking through ETC is one of the fundamental objectives. The club is a medium through which the teachers get empowered and have access to higher level due to peer support and sense of group spirit. Hence, awareness in empowerment triggers several opportunities for professional growth.  In other words, it brings teachers networking, and networking is the strength to combat and create. ETC collects English teachers under a single roof as the united force to combat with the individual to the global issues of teachers that horn out leadership quality governed with knowledge and conscience in teacher, consequently leading him/her to get better career opportunities and especial identity. It has the power to place the teachers in professional competency to policy making level. Since the teachers remain informed and oriented of the worlds system and affairs in teachers networking, and gain maximum exposure to the different ideas in the area of their profession.

To sum up, the concept of the teacher club is not entirely new since we are familiar with different book clubs, teacher study circle, collaborative study groups, teacher associations, networks and so on.  English teacher clubs might be a possible forum to improve teaching as well as other professional skills. In a nutshell, it is entirely beneficial to the teachers to grow professionally.

References

Bates, A. J.(2010).Book Clubs as professional development opportunities for pre service teacher candidates and practicing teachers:An Exploratory Study6,56–73.  New York: The New Educator.

Fifield, A.(2006). (Retrieved from http://www.teflcorp.com/articles/79-tefl-how-teachers-can-increase-confidence-in-class/248-building-teachers-confidence-in-the-classroom.htm .)

Gnawali, L. (2011). Promoting ELE in Nepal NELTA way. In L. Farrell, U.N. Singh &

R.A. Giri. (2011). English language education in south Asia: From policy to pedagogy. India: CambridgeUniversity press.

Hord, S.M.(1997). Professional learning communities: Communities of Continuous Inquiry and Improvement.Austin: SEDL.

Loughran, J (2005) Teacher professional development in changing conditions.In D. Beijaard, P. C.Meijer, G.M. Dershimer & H.Tillemaet Springer(Eds.). Netherlands: Springer.

Padwad, A.& Dixit, K.K. (2008).Impact of professional learning community participation on teachers’ thinking about Classroom Problems. Retrived from http://teslej.org/ej47/a10.html.

Richards,J.C.,& Burns,A.(Eds.).(2009).The Cambridge guide to second language teacher Education. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press.

Singh, A. (2002). Setting the site. In C. Doyle, W. Kennedy, A. Rose, &K. Ludloweds, Teacher training: A reflective perspective. New Delhi: Kaniska publication.

Shashi

Shashi Kayastha
M. Phil. ELE
Kathmandu University


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