English Teacher or ELT Professional?

SCELTELT, ELTForum.sk, History, Lynda Steyne, Main, Professional, Teacher Training

By Lynda Steyne

During my MA TEFL studies over 20 yeLynda Steynears ago, our methodology teacher Sue Pahle told us how important it was to join a professional English language teaching association after graduation. She explained that there were so many new ideas in ELT every year that the best way to keep up with them was to become a member of an ELT association like TESOL or IATEFL. I nodded. It sounded good. But I didn’t join either organisation. A year later, I came to [Czecho]Slovakia to teach and enjoyed my busy life as a native-speaker English teacher in the ‘Wild East’.

In 1992, I attended the 1st National ELT Conference at the Faculty of Arts in Bratislava. There were workshops with English teachers from the Peace Corps and the British Council, and the plenary by Ulla Connor was grand. I loved the input and the camaraderie with my new-found friends and English colleagues.  Sue Pahle’s words were ringing in my ears – and so I joined the Association.

But my life was full and I didn’t seem to need to actively participate. I’m a fairly creative individual and I love teaching so ideas for class came easily. I attended a few more ELT conferences in Slovakia, worked on various English projects, mentored any young teacher who came through the English offices at the schools where I taught, and relied on my own creativity and experience for my teaching. Little did I realise the world of ELT was changing without me and leaving me out of the learning curve.

In 2002, I finally took the plunge and joined TESOL. I received the official newsletter and magazine. But it was the content of the emails from the interest sections that astounded me – so much had changed in ELT in the 12 years since I’d finished school. There was so much new information, methodology, research findings…there was even new terminology that I didn’t understand. It was overwhelming, but I started learning (and asking questions) again. It was like coming up for air after being underwater too long – air, joyous life-giving ‘air’. I could breathe. In 2005, I decided that the investment would be worth it and joined IATEFL too. I still haven’t been able to afford to attend either a TESOL or IATEFL conference (although I did attend my first IATEFL-Hungary conference a couple months ago), but I have not regretted membership in either organisation. I have become part of a profession in which I can learn from others and share my own expertise. I have become an ELT professional.

In June of 2011, there was another ELT conference in Bratislava, the ELTForum.sk Teacher Development Conference. The enthusiasm about English teaching was palpable. Attendance was higher than any other ELT conference had had in years – teachers from all over the country came. Sue Strakova (the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Presov) and Gabi Lojova (the Department of English Language and Literature at the Faculty of Education at Comenius) willingly shared their expertise. Michael Swan gave an incredibly encouraging keynote on the exceptions to the rules of English. Despite the withering heat, you could feel the energy in almost every session. Many of us didn’t want to lose that energy. I know I didn’t.

Eight months later, I was asked to join the organising committee for the 2nd ELTForum.sk conference. And it was there, with a couple of colleagues, that the idea for a new professional organisation of English teachers in Slovakia was hatched.  We’ve christened it the Slovak Chamber of English Teachers.

SCET is a professional organisation, dedicated to the professional development of English language teachers in Slovakia. We are a group of English teachers passionate about teaching, teacher training, networking and supporting each other. We’ve already started teacher training workshops: we hosted Mark Andrews and his ‘Teaching Unplugged’ workshop in 5 cities in October and, as members of the organising committee of next June’s ELTForum.sk conference, we’re working on putting together the best possible conference we can imagine. Using Facebook, we’ve been notifying English teachers about seminars, workshops and conferences that we find out about. We also share interesting lesson plans and helpful teaching aids via that page. In the English Office, also on FB, we’re creating community – a place for all English teachers in Slovakia to network, to share ideas and expertise, to share and find resources, and to get answers to those frustrating questions students sometimes ask. We’ll be using this blog in much the same way as the FB page, but with more detailed information and, hopefully, your input.

Twenty-two years ago, I ignored my mentor Sue Pahle’s advice and didn’t invest into my own professional development as an English teacher. The arrogance of that choice now amazes me: How could I possibly think that I knew enough about teaching and English to do it all by myself? What’s more, what did I miss out on because of my poor choice then? I won’t ever know. But I am doing something about it now. And we, as SCET, can do something about it for other English teachers in Slovakia as well. Sue would approve.