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“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
—Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), English author
Learning to Walk by stumbling
As the Bulgarian adage goes, “Many learn to walk by stumbling.” The ability to zoom out and reflect upon an English lesson; what worked, what didn’t work, what could be done differently, etc. remains essential to our growth as English teachers. By reading, reflecting, and developing a Personal Learning Network, some accidental English instructors grow through experience, thus becoming better, more effective teachers. English language learners also benefit from our development.
A mid-career, California professional recently asked me for advice in becoming an English teacher. I noted that while many countries will still hire native speakers as EFL instructors without a strong teaching background, it behooves her to take professional development seriously. And she didn’t have to go back for another graduate degree in education or TESOL.
Seeking out as many training opportunities as possible – both for your students’ sake and your own pursuit of excellence – remains advisable. Can you fake it? Perhaps. But teachers’ conferences, professional seminars, and finding a mentor help English teachers develop their craft. There are, however, a million ways to get things done.
Building a PLN (Personal Learning Network)
How do you continue to improve as an English teacher? How do you find new teaching resources and new EFL materials? Where do you go to exchange ideas, find research, and reflect on your English classroom experiences?
The traditional answers include earning a graduate degree in education, attending a professional organization like TESOL, or going to an employer’s professional development workshop. They all work. However, these traditional answers also require some money or access to credit. Yet the internet and social media also open up new options. They provide us with other, more affordable choices. Free, quality ELT, EFL, and ESL resources surround us.
We can form our own bespoken Personal Learning Network (PLN) today. In other words, we can choose to follow fellow educators and researchers on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. For a growing number of English language teachers and trainers around the world, these posts, threads, and chats provide an astonishing range of perspectives and experiences. As a result, we can follow our own intellectual interests and design our own professional development program. As my friend Brent Warner noted in a 2015 CATESOL presentation on Twitter, you can often learn more – for free – from your PLN than by earning a very expensive graduate degree in TESOL. What’s not to like?
Some Favorite English Language Training (ELT) Blogs
Here are some insightful links for becoming a more aware, practical, and effective English teacher. I have personally followed and learned from these blogs over the years.
Ferlazzo has become a living legend among American English language and social studies teachers for his ability to find, analyze, and describe the best sites for educators. I learn every time I allow myself the pleasure to explore his “best of” series of links. Ferlazzo has also authored several outstanding ESL books, including The ESL /ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide.
Scott Thornbury is best known as the founder of the Dogme (not dogma) movement in ELT, as well as that guy who keeps writing TEFL textbooks advocating TEFL professionals stop using textbooks. Scott started this blog as a means of updating entries from his 2006 work, An A-Z in ELT, one of his many noteworthy publications on ELT methodology. He currently teaches at the New School in NYC training a new generation of English teachers.
Another excellent, often insightful blog comes from Jeremy Slagoski, PhD, an English language educator specializing in curriculum design and pedagogical research. Additionally, he has often addressed a personal pet peeve: the significant gap between ELT researchers and English teachers and tutors working with English language learners. (I presented at TESOL 2017 and TESOL 2018 on this topic.)
Michael Griffin, an educator currently working with graduate students at a Seoul university, shares his knowledge and perspectives on a variety of topics related to the English language teaching experience.
From tech savvy, energetic English teacher trainer Shelly Terrell. This blog continues to attract a large audience of autotelic English teachers.
The Australian education blogger Sue Waters also provides insights and shares resources.
Last, but certainly not least, the TESOL International Association’s official blog remains an excellent resource.
This list remains a short, personal list of some favorite blogs. Further, you can find a longer list of curated ELT resources here. While our field may be young compared to history or literature, we also have a very diverse, rich choice of resources. Why not take advantage of these possibilities?
Become an Autotelic English Teacher
In conclusion, we’re very lucky, from my perspective, to live and teach English in 2019. We can learn more, know more, and share more than previous generations of English teachers. We also have more freedom and more possibilities. There are opportunities to work and teach almost anywhere. We can become autotelic – self-driven and self-directed – English educators.
What resources do you recommend for novice English teachers seeking to deepen their professional knowledge? What ELT voices to listen to in your efforts to become a better English teacher?