Upon reflecting on how I became an EFL teacher in Venezuela (by Miguel Mendoza)
“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swiveled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.”–Bryce Courtenay
I have been teaching English for more than 20 years. From teaching children to adults; from teaching students to training teachers; from EFL to ESAP; from using board and chalk (I still do!) to computers, flipcams and smartphones; from teaching F2F to emoderation; from being trained to teach able-bodied students to “training” myself to teach and care for functional diversity students; and from contemplating a career in arts to choosing my second best: teaching English. And from this last revelation, and maybe you sitting on the edge of your seats, you might be wondering how I ended up taking the road of teaching – and not exactly the one less travelled! Sorry about that Mr. Robert Frost and Sir Ken Robinson. No regrets, though.
To make an artistic career short
Since the early days of my childhood, I showed this interest in drawing and music – heavily influenced by family and –maybe- some genetic predisposition as well. In primary school, I joined a “Estudiantina” (a traditional student band instrument made up of guitars, mandolins and cuatros) and made it to the school choir as well. Secondary school was a sort of hiatus from drawing and playing instruments -even singing-, but I became a heavy listener of English songs (Er-including Disco) and was doing pretty well in both Arts and English. Towards the end of secondary school, I had to decide which university career I wanted to follow. I was at a crossroads. My Arts teacher advised me to take up (drum roll)…Arts! But Venezuela being a matriarchal society, I shouldn’t-couldn’t-wouldn’t-mustn’t skip my mother’s advice…And the balance tipped towards (drum roll again) my mother’s suggestion: becoming an EFL teacher. At the time she was thinking about usefulness and job opportunities. And once again Mr. Sir Ken Robinson was not around (much less Youtube) and I was not exactly a James Dean kind of guy. Now you might be wondering why I agreed on teaching English? Well, I liked it. I did pretty well in this subject all the way through secondary school. Incidentally, this unofficially made me “the tutor” for my classmates to help them pass English. While doing so, there was something about the whole act of “teaching”, you know, helping; clarifying and the “Oh I got it”; planning activities; checking out progress; the “I passed Miguel!” excited remark that finally lured me into embarking on the journey of teaching English as a foreign language. I’ve never regretted taking my mother’s advice nor my very own final decision of saving Arts…for my next life-Yep, that is how optimistic I am.
Au revoir arts?
Now arts hasn’t been absent or totally banished from my work as an EFL teacher. In fact, I would say it subtly ignites my passion for the things I enjoy doing including teaching. I hope you understand what I mean. It is not something I deliberately do; it just happens. I think it shows in my handcrafted EFL materials from the 80’s (“Young Editors” – a magazine for trainee EFL teachers- and “Children” – a “coursebook” material for young learners). At the time I was doing my undergraduate studies and starting my teaching career in a language institution (English Center) and the only “technologies” available and affordable for me were pencils, paper, a rapidograph, and a typewriter. In the 90’s, Internet , office software, and computers became a turning point for creating my EFL materials when working for “Forum Asesores, C.A”. During this time I focused more on content, layout, and fonts. Late 2005 turned into an unexpected opportunity to delve into learning technologies a bit more and explore new ways to create materials online. It all started with an email from Mark Gregson (British Council) – Venezuela- asking me to do some part-time work in a CALL teacher training project. Grabbed the opportunity and travelled to Manchester for a one-week training attending the seminar ICT in ELT: putting the ‘Learning’ back into ‘E-Learning (early 2006). After this, I began training Venezuelan EFL teachers from public schools and universities to integrate ICT in ELT. This was a great opportunity to explore blogs, wikis, Second Life and very shyly social networks (Facebook and Twitter). For some time -and while teacher training F2F- I focused on the design of web based lessons using blogs.
Afterthought: Some ESL-EFL teachers believe quality (referring to content) is more important than visual appeal. I think both are. Content can be more engaging, inviting because of the way it looks (fonts, lay-out, images, color). One of the things I love from the web 2.0 is the possibilities one has to create and publish (blogs/videos), embed, upload, codify (html), take your own pictures (digital camera / smartphones / Ipads), record (podcasting/videos), remix, write and publish your own content (blogs, wikis), create avatars, you name it. As I see it, the Web 2.0 is a sea of tools (educational or not) available (free or paid) for educators to be used in a principled manner to create content to engage our students and enhance their learning.
“You’re not a Hawtch-Watcher you’re lucky you see!” Dr. Seuss
From the start, my EFL career has been a series of fortunate events I never planned or even thought of. I’ve tried to grab every chance that came my way in spite of my (70%) shyness and (100%) introversion: job opportunities, coordinating, master’s degree, moderating online, webinars, teacher training, projects, writing posts, presentations, committees, associations, scholarships (The Consultants-E & British Council), travelling abroad. But opportunity doesn’t happen on its own or miraculously. There are wonderful friends, colleagues, family who have helped to make all this happen. So OK I am not a modern Renaissance artist, but an educator who has really enjoyed helping his students learn a foreign language and be a different person.
Advice: to pre-service and in-service teachers: What you do matters. It won’t pass unnoticed as some of you may think. Someone’s taking notes on the good things you are doing. This will translate into changes, opportunities you should grab without hesitation. And you know what they say: Opportunity may only knock at your door once.
And what would I have missed?
Had I decided to go Andy Warhol, what would I have missed? Heaps! I would have missed meeting my two best friends: they were key to get the jobs I have held as and EFL/ESAP teacher. I would have never known how rewarding it is to help my able-bodied and functional diverse students step up to the mark, thrive and become different people. I would have never met my current PLN. I would have never met my students, colleagues and friends locally and abroad. Maybe I would have never travelled to the places I’ve been to including my detour to the Netherlands to visit two great Dutch amigos in Rotterdam. I would have never gotten notes like this one. I might have never been “mike08”, “Orwell Mineff”, much less “miguelmendozaefl“…I would have never understood what teaching really means (or at least what it means to me). I would have never written this post.
What are my current interests as an EFL/ESAP teacher?
I’m currently interested in extensive reading, functional diversity, and learning technologies integration. The former as a way to encourage reading for pleasure in and outside the classroom and complement intensive reading activities in my ESAP courses; the two latter ones as two key educational issues any ESL/ EFL teacher should be familiar with and/or trained. I have been interested in extensive reading for some time (it was my dissertation for my master’s degree) and I am currently working on a program that provides both reading in the classroom using graded readers and online using Google forms and wikis. As for learning technologies, I am interested in their integration in a principled manner in the teaching and learning of a foreign language (General English / ESAP) and as an alternative way for teacher development (PLN, webinars, conferences). With regards to functional diversity, understanding what it is and how we can provide help to integrate and promote equitable access to students with autism (Asperger); motor, visual and hearing disabilities including circumstantial or temporary ones; or any other type of disabilities. I am part of a committee that offers supports to functionally diverse students in the school of librarianship at Universidad Central de Venezuela (CAEDEBA). I also represent the Faculty in CIUD (Committee to integrate UCV students with disabilities). In my opinion, both ICT integration and functional diversity should be required subjects in any ESL-EFL undergraduate studies or as part of any teacher training development course. And along with all these challenges and new interests, there will always be a bit of brushstrokes here and there.
Note: This article by Miguel Mendoza originally appeared as a guest post on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.