The age structure of IATEFL shows that at the moment most members are in their forties or fifties, while the percentage of the youngest, those in their twenties, is more than three times lower than either of the strongest two age groups. Here's an interview with a young IATEFL member and a young teacher, who has been with us for just over a year. Mojca Belak has interviewed her for Views.
Mojca: Kristina, you have now been a member of IATEFL for a bit more than a year. Why did you join?
Kristina: I don’t think I have told you this before, but it was you who made me enthusiastic about IATEFL. In 2015, you invited your students to prepare short presentations for the international conference organized by IATEFL Slovenia. I was a BA student then, and I plucked up the courage to give it a go. I still remember the welcoming atmosphere at the conference; I was also surprised to see even the more experienced participants showing great interest in discovering new things. I believe a good teacher never stops searching for fresh ideas: new times bring new generations of students with different worldviews, expectations, and needs, which is what every teacher has to consider.
Mojca: You’re quite right, and IATEFL provides both professional growth and sharing ideas. How in particular has being part of IATEFL helped you as a young teacher? Is there anything you learned here that you later used in class?
Kristina: I have worked at the university since November 2019, when I started teaching grammar-related courses (Syntax, Verb, Morphology), which are challenging because many students find them abstract, and therefore intimidating. I think it is important for students to see that grammar does not have to be painfully tedious; it is within everyone’s intellectual reach, and it can be fun, even if you are not a grammar nerd. ;) I also teach Language in Use, which brings different challenges, as it is aimed at improving students’ reading, listening, writing and speaking skills. Since I had never taught such a multifaceted course before, I felt I needed guidance from the more knowledgeable colleagues to be able to create a pleasant and productive working atmosphere, in which students are motivated to participate and share their opinions.
IATEFL has helped me tremendously: its webinars provided me with ideas on how to “spice up” my classes and defuse tense situations that may arise when students’ opinions diverge. Most recently, I attended the webinar How to Teach Vocabulary, where I got excellent advice for diverse and effective vocabulary practice. Earlier this year, I participated in the webinar Short and sweet: motivating through powerful mini texts, where I learned interesting short activities to boost students’ creativity. My classes are an hour and a half long, so keeping things snappy is key.
Mojca: Of course, you need varied activities to hold students’ attention for 90 minutes. My next question is connected to your other love, music. You are a musician, so did your experience in playing the recorder on stage help you face learners at the beginning of your teaching career or are these two contexts completely different?
Kristina: There are many overlaps. Having experience in performing is definitely an advantage, giving you confidence and resourcefulness you need when you find yourself in an unknown environment. I am an introverted person; without the many performances, which used to put me well out of my comfort zone, I would not be as keen on teaching as I am.
Another important aspect of playing any instrument is the awareness that continuity is crucial. If you do not practice regularly, you will never make any significant progress. The same goes for language learning: if you do not want your language knowledge to become stale and rusty, you need to be in touch with the language on a regular basis.
Mojca: I wish our students were more aware of this. During the pandemic, teachers had to find alternative means to keep students in touch with the language and the learning process. Ever since you joined the Department of English at the University of Ljubljana, you’ve been a Moodle wizard. Even before the pandemic you helped colleagues with various features in e-classroom, and during lockdown your help in creating online quizzes and tests became invaluable. Do you think you are better with these things because you belong to a generation that takes all things digital for granted, or are you just interested in Moodle, Zoom and Exam.net and all they offer?
Kristina: I would say both. I have spotted an important difference in attitudes between younger and older generations. People who have not grown up surrounded by electronic devices tend to be more cautious when getting to know a new app. Before diving in, they ask themselves, ‘What if I break something?’ In my generation, this question never arises. My peers delve into something new thinking, ‘If anything goes wrong, I’ll fix it in some way.’ A positive attitude makes the start easier, that’s all. Some of my peers still don’t know how to use learning platforms properly, because they are simply not interested in them. During the lockdowns, I thought I needed tools to keep my students involved, so I purposely invested my time and energy in learning the ropes. I participated in webinars before being able to use the platforms confidently and was, in this respect, no different from the colleagues who are much older than me.
Mojca: Is there anything about distance teaching that you miss now you’ve been back in class for two terms?
Kristina: No! Because of the pandemic, I discovered many useful online tools and probably learned more about teaching and my students than I would have if I had taught face-to-face all the time. But this experience has made me realize that no amount of electronic media can make up for direct personal contact. I have transferred some of the online activities to my “post-pandemic” classes, so I think I have managed to keep the best of that world. However, the interaction with and among students is now much more vivid, which is why I hope we will never have to replace the physical classroom with the virtual one again.
About Kristina Gregorčič
Kristina Gregorčič studied English and French at the University of Ljubljana, where she holds a teaching assistant post at the Department of English. She is currently working on her PhD thesis, focusing on negative polarity items, quirky expressions such as lift a finger, which systematically seek semantically negative contexts. She is particularly interested in different aspects of linguistics, translation, music, nature, and (of course) teaching. She joined IATEFL at the beginning of 2021.
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