There’s so much I love about teaching English. There are few things that make me happier than spending my days in a room full of interesting people, talking about life and culture and learning, exploring language and language use, experimenting with different learning approaches and techniques, and being creative in designing lesson content and activities.
In October 2019 I took a six-month sabbatical from the school where I work as a teacher and teacher trainer, to travel around Europe in a van with my partner. I had already been doing some freelance work for ELT publishers for a couple of years - authoring articles and research papers; developing training materials; developing learning frameworks - so with the luxury of more time outside the classroom and being able to work remotely, I focused on generating more of this writing and consultancy work. I love it, as it provides me with the essential brain-food that I need to feel alive. I’m a teacher, unquestionably, but I don’t just teach. I think and talk and write about teaching and learning, I play, create, explore, research, discover, learn.
Our time on the road was exceptional. The changing scenery, diverse range of people we met, and cultural stimuli were inspiring, and dealing with the basics of living - collecting firewood, finding water, calling on friendly locals to help us jump start the van when we broke down - were invigorating. And in amongst it all - parking in the woods or on the beach, lighting the wood burner, and setting up the table in the van so I could work on fascinating and engaging consultancy projects. And then, in early 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic hit Europe.
I had been scheduled to return to the UK for a month in April to deliver teacher training courses at my school, but suddenly all bets were off. My partner and I drove back to the UK days before the first lockdown, and like everyone, have been navigating our way through the pandemic and its complexities ever since. We’re currently in Lockdown 3.0, and I haven’t been back in the classroom.
I’m fortunate in that my sabbatical from school had allowed me to further develop my relationships with publishers, and for the past year I’ve been focusing more on consultancy work - which I’m very passionate about and wouldn’t want to give up. But I feel likewise about teaching and teacher training. I know plenty of authors and consultants who have made the move from teaching to writing and not been in the classroom for many years, but for me the two realms are intrinsically linked. My teaching and teacher- training work informs my writing, and in turn, what I learn through consultancy informs my classroom practices. Working with publishers is rewarding too. I’ve often found that things I’ve been doing subconsciously in my classrooms for years are suddenly validated by new research or start to become established practices, and writing and developing materials allows me to draw on my classroom experiences and be creative.
What I miss about teaching most of all is the relationships: the relationship between theory and practice; the relationships with and between the people in the classroom; and the relationships in the teacher’s room. While the consultancy work is gratifying in so many ways, face to face dialogues are rare. I often find myself wanting to meet in a room with a group of ELT practitioners to brainstorm and refine ideas on sticky notes with different colour pens. The teacher’s room at school provides the luxury of a group of interested and interesting people with whom we can engage in ELT conversations - in passing or in depth.
On a wider scale, I also believe very strongly in developing and strengthening the relationships between teachers and publishers. Teachers are there in the room, they’re on the ground. More than anyone, they have first-hand experience of what’s happening in the classroom, how learners respond to the content and underlying pedagogy in ELT materials, and the usability of course books and resource books. But teachers rarely have the time or resources to develop enough of their own materials to meet their learners’ needs, and ‘the further away the author is from the learners, the less effective the material is likely to be (Jolly & Bolitho, 2011). The process of materials development, therefore, necessitates a dialogue between writers and teachers. For me, it is this crossover between being both a teacher and a writer/researcher that I find so rewarding. The relationship is reciprocal.
How much time needs to go by without teaching for one to no longer be able to call themselves a teacher? For now, I’m happy doing authoring and research work, and during such unsettling times as the Coronavirus pandemic presents us with, am fortunate to be able to do so. But I’m not giving up teaching. When circumstances allow, I’ll be straight back in the face to face classroom, exploring language and ideas with interesting people, and cultivating the relationship between my teaching and my writing.
Jolly, D. and Bolitho, R. (2011) A framework for materials writing. In Tomlinson, B. (ed.) 1998a. Materials Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
For teachers looking to go into materials writing:
IATEFL MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) offers tips and guidance on materials writing, and advertises writing opportunities in its members’ only Facebook group.
ELT writers connect have published a free ebook: A No-Nonsense Guide to Writing Materials
ELT Teacher 2 Writer publishes a range of ebooks and paperbacks that develop ELT materials-writing skills.
About Jade Blue
Jade Blue is an English language teacher, trainer, and materials developer. Her primary research interests focus on learner-generated visuals in ELT, learner autonomy, and integrating life skills into classroom practice. She has presented at various conferences including IATEFL and as a Keynote speaker at The Image Conference. Jade’s consultancy work for publishers includes authoring of articles, research and teacher guides, development of academic content for teacher training sessions, and ELT reference and coursebook content.
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