The End Of An Era

11196281_10205626987967174_328607292777173852_n

If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, or follow me on social media, you should be aware of my involvement in BELTA. BELTA is the Belgian language teachers association, which I co-founded in 2012 with Mieke Kenis and Guido Europeaantje, and have been president of since its inception.

I won’t tell you the full story of how BELTA started here, you can find out more on our website. Suffice it to say we started it from scratch and in four short years we have hosted 3 annual conferences with plenary speakers including Jeremy Harmer, Luke Meddings, Hugh Dellar and Philip Kerr, had nearly 30 webinars, two online conferences with TESL Toronto, published our journal the BELTA Bulletin, ran a very successful blog, and brought something new to the ELT scene in Belgium and internationally.

So why am I telling you about this now? Well, simply put, I’m no longer BELTA president. I’ve decided to resign as it’s time for a new stage in my professional life. There are things I need to do that I’m hoping will enable me to have more options professionally and it’s impossible for me to concentrate on these and dedicate myself to BELTA as I have in the last few years. It wasn’t an easy decision by any means, but I know it’s the right one.

DSC02813

Kicking off the first BELTA Day in June 2013

So I writing this post for two reasons. Firstly, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been involved in BELTA since we started. To everyone who came to our events, online and off, to every conference and webinar speaker, to every volunteer, to every follower on Twitter and Facebook, every blog reader, and of course, every BELTA member, thank you.

But most of all I want to thank my fellow BELTA board members Mieke, Ellen, John, Vicky, Vedrana, Joris and Jurgen. It’s been an absolute joy and a privilege to work with you and an honour to be your president. I’m still grateful for the day when you decided that I should be president even though you knew I would be leaving the country in a few months. There are countless examples of fine judgement you have shown since we started, and hope that it one of them! BELTA is the thing I am most proud of in my professional life, and that’s all down to you, so I really can’t thank you enough.

The closest we ever got to a photo of the board in 2015 - stuffing leaflets into conference bags!

The closest we ever got to a photo of the board – stuffing leaflets into conference bags!

The first BELTA board, Jurgen, Ellen, Mieke and me.

The first BELTA board, Jurgen, Ellen, Mieke and me.

When we founded BELTA, we were all complete novices. None of us had any experience in running a teachers’ association and we had limited contacts in Belgium. That didn’t stop us. I had a mantra back then that I used to set the tone for how we conducted ourselves:

We have no money, no members and no experience, but we’re going to act like we have all three.

The idea of this was to establish that our amateurism wasn’t an excuse for poor, substandard work. We commissioned an easy to navigate and attractive looking website as early as we possibly could. We started our webinars very early on and only invited speakers who we knew would be excellent. We have the same high standards for our conference speakers, and blog and journal writers. Our newsletters, posters and social media accounts look good and are maintained regularly. Our sponsors are extremely well looked after and listened to, as our members.

Introducing Hugh Dellar in 2015

Introducing Hugh Dellar in 2015

The lesson I have learnt is that you have to demand a lot of yourself when you offer a service. Of course, if you’re a volunteer then you will probably have less time than you would like, but that’s not excuse for something second rate. And whatever service you offer, paid or unpaid, you can’t expect it to be rewarding and fulfilling unless you pour a lot into it. It’s as true of teaching as it is of volunteering.

The effect of this approach is huge. I hope from reading this you can see the effect BELTA has had on me. If you wish to have a experience like this in your life, the only way is to go for it, to go all in, demand a lot from yourself, expect the same from others while respecting their skills, autonomy and commitments, and enjoy the process of collaboration. If you do, what you are able to achieve will surprise you and the rewards are huge.

BELTA will go on, of course, in the more than capable hands of the new president, John Arnold, and I’ll still be involved, whenever they need me, in an scaled back, advisory position. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.

Flipped Teacher Training

Webinar 9 Feb 2014 2

If you’re responsible for teacher development in your school, you might sometimes find that it’s a burden to continually try and find ways to come up with new materials and approaches. Given the choice, I’m sure you’d love to invite Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury or Penny Ur to come in and give a talk or do a workshop. However, thanks to the massive availability of talks and webinars online, it is possible for your teachers to be trained by the leaders in our field without the speakers even knowing about it.

I think the best way to use these materials in your training sessions is to use a flipped approach. Instead of watching the talk together, you can ask your trainees to watch it before the training session. They can make some notes of things they want to discuss and questions they have which they can bring to the session for discussion.

This was something I did a few months at my previous school. We watched Hugh Dellar’s webinar for BELTA, Five Golden Rules, on the Lexical Approach and then discussed the implications of his talk in the training session. What this achieved was that rather than being a solely trainer-led session, it was much more equal and discursive and offered an interesting variety to normal sessions. Continue reading

BRELT Webinar

BRELT webinar jamestaylor_dec2015

This Thursday December 10th, I will be doing a webinar for the good people of BRELT. You can find out more about it here on their website but if you don’t speak Portuguese here’s the abstract:

If you’re the kind of teacher who goes to webinars, reads books, goes to conferences and generally tries to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of ELT, it can be difficult to make sense of all of these ideas and opinions. In this talk, I’m going to try and cut through the noise and present my list of overrated and underrated areas in ELT today. You might not agree with all of them, but you’re sure to find it thought-provoking!

The talk is in English and not aimed particularly at Brazilian teachers, so I think it’s suitable for any ELT teacher. To get the link to the talk, you can check the BRELT Facebook page or follow them on Twitter. And to find out what time the webinar is happening in your time zone, click here.

It’s free to join, so I hope I see you on Thursday!

Update: You can now watch the recording of my talk here:

TEFL Is An Iceberg – Reflections on CELTA and Standards

Iceberg

When I worked in Costa Rica, my school required teachers to be CELTA or equivalent qualified. They didn’t care where the person was from, whether they were local, a native speaker or a non-native speaker, as long as you had the qualification and experience, then you could work there. To my knowledge, it was the only private language school in the country that had that requirement. The only one. The other schools, and there were quite a few, did not require  the same level of qualifications or experience. Most of them had a preference for native speakers (as I’ve written about here), but qualified teachers were not on their radar. As a result, the school where I worked normally recruited teachers from abroad to come to Costa Rica because, as my DoS once pointed out, all of the qualified teachers living in the country were already working there. Continue reading

A Letter To My Younger Self

Studio

This post is part of a blog challenge created by Joanna Malefaki in which we write a letter to our younger teaching selves. To read more posts in the challenge, click here.

Hi James,

So you’re just about to give your first lesson, armed with nothing more than a few pages of interview questions and a whole lot of curiosity. Before I give you some advice, you should know that I’ve teaching English for 9 years now and you have no idea about the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen. But you’ll discover all of that in time. Here’s what you need to know right now… Continue reading