Like many other teachers around the world, my route into ELT was poorly planned and probably a little haphazard at best. I came to Asia having quit a career I did not enjoy back home and with little in terms of what to actually expect. My only teaching experience was limited to tutoring math, teaching sales people how to use an HP10B financial calculator to calculate vehicle loan repayments and coaching chess. Looking back, I should probably have done a CELTA way before starting in ELT, but I didn’t. By the time I decided that I actually enjoyed teaching and wanted to keep doing it, I was in a race to get myself qualified and find role models. Unfortunately, in Asia, that is a little harder than one would probably expect it to be. At first, it was easy to find senior teachers or examiners willing to chat over a beer, but soon, I felt like I had outgrown that kind of professional development and wanted something more. My wife and I started a small language school and soon I was the person people were asking for advice. I realized how little I actually knew and to be honest, I was embarrassed by it. I had done a few TEFL certificates, but nothing as robust as a CELTA or Trinity Cert.
At that point, I joined IATEFL for the first time. Due to the costs of studying (I did a Delta, MSc Ed and a PGCE, but not all at once), I let my membership lapse for about two years until my studies were completed and then rejoined. Overall, I have now been a member for about 5 years. I have remained a member mostly because I really find it worth the while. The webinars and magazines have a wealth of information that I could apply not only to my school, but also to people asking me for advice. I was aghast at the poor advice I was given by people early in my teaching career and the idea of being in contact with people who actually take this ELT thingy seriously was a breath of fresh air. I promised myself to always make sure I have role models that I can look up to and people that I could learn from and that I would never give the type of poor advice I had received when I started. IATEFL supplied this and more. I have made great contacts through the years and learned a lot. I am currently a member of quite a few Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and all for their own reasons.
- YLTSIG (Young Learners and Teenagers) – In Asia, young learner teaching and examining is a huge part of the market.
- LAMSIG (Leadership and Management) – I had to learn how to manage my teachers and school better and used lots of their articles in my Delta module 3 as I did it on ELT management
- TDSIG (Teacher Development) and TT&ESIG (Teacher Training and Education) – To help me develop my training skills
- TEASIG (Testing, Evaluation and Assessment) – As a big part of what I do now is examining and assessment and occasionally training assessors and examiners
- MaWSIG (Materials Writing) – And this has actually lead to some writing work that has been very rewarding.
I also subscribe to most of what is available through IATEFL in terms of magazine and other subscriptions and find that although there’s a lot of reading, I have remained true to what I set out to do, which is learn and find role models and hopefully be a role model for others.
So, what exactly did I do?
Finding the role models was actually fairly easy. If you find an article that really appeals to you, email the author. Very often they are more than willing to answer questions and direct you to other reading. I have managed to connect with some of these people on Facebook or at seminars and conferences, and they have introduced me to others.
Write and contribute
Once you’ve read the publications a few times, why not contribute. It’s great for development and one of the reasons I am writing this. Magazines like the SIG publications or ETP or Modern English Teacher are always looking for articles. You might not get published immediately, but the process is well worth going through. If the idea of writing an article is daunting, why not start with a review or a blog post, perhaps for the IATEFL blog?
Watch the webinars
There are so many it is often hard to choose. Actually seeing people at conferences or seminars that have done webinars is a great conversation starter and again puts you in contact with people in the industry that actually make a career out of it, and that is what I really wanted; to make a career out of teaching.
Attend the conferences
This, unfortunately, is not something I have been able to do, but it is on my list of things to do. I would love for more IATEFL conferences to take place outside of Europe, but considering that the main conference is often streamed online, there is no reason to not take advantage of this.
In short, I don’t think I would even have known what Delta was had I not joined IATEFL and the people I have met, webinars I have watched and articles I have read have made every cent I spent on membership and subscriptions worthwhile. I look at myself 15 years ago and think “I have grown into something I can be happy with.” I am hoping I can do the same for others. The role of IATEFL in this process has been amazing and I hope others get to experience it as well.
Gerhard Erasmus is currently the Director of Studies at a language centre in Taipei, Taiwan, and actively involved in teacher training, from entry-level qualifications to tutoring on the Cambridge Delta. He has authored a Young Learners series and co-authored the ebook Brainstorming with Hall Houston. His main area of interest in ELT is teacher development, including continuous professional development. He has recently become a member of the YLTSIG committee. You can contact him at [email protected]