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How did we ever grow?

"I have been trying for years to get a mentor, I have been complaining for years about not having a mentor. Why haven't I been a mentor to others for so many years?"

Last Friday I recorded another installment of a Teacher's Lore podcast. Our topic was on Professional Development. My two guests could not have a more different background. One was a native English speaker that sort of backed in to teaching and found it to be her true vocation. The other, a non-native English speaker who has worked since college to become a teacher and wants it to be her true vocation.

They started sharing. They took turns telling personal stories about how they learned a particular thing from a person or circumstance. They both learned and developed their skills in a sort of chaotic way. Formal academic training aside, there is not a great deal of regularized accessible natural ways to develop professionally in the field of EFL/ESL. I share these same fractured set of experiences, interactions of people and events that somehow shaped me into a lot of who I am today as a teacher.

In an uncanny coincidence, I attended a workshop entitled, "The Real World-IEP Edition" this last weekend's CATESOL Regional conference speaking to primarily graduate students on this very same topic. Very informative.

Unfortunately, I wanted to deliver this content via the podcast but, the Podcast's audio file became corrupted and the entire audio conversation was lost. What lies hence is a rough account from my memory and notes of that podcast session, as well as gleanings from the workshop. 

Here's a short list of advice for professional development in the ESL field in no particular order:

1. Get Experience. This may mean volunteer work, it may mean driving miles on the fwy but experience is what gets you to and through interviews, diversifies your skill/knowledge set. allows you to get a feel for how different teaching institutions work. You also have the potential to meet a lot of great teachers.

2. Go to Conferences. This is obvious. If you don't have enough money, then volunteer a part of your time and you will then be able to catch a few sessions anyway. Also, you CAN learn from bad presentations. Just don't do what they did.

3. Present at Conferences. Sure it sounds scary, but so did 2nd grade when you were in 1st.

4. Cast Your Nets Deep. Find a niche area. It might be pronunciation, or grammar or writing, or technology. Develop for it. Excel in it. Be innovative in it.

5. Cast Your Nets Wide. Accept any teaching offer if you don't have much experience. This is your time to grow. You may find out that you really do like teaching reading. A diversified list of classes taught goes a very long way with being hirable. Especially if your resume is heavily leaning on one skill area only. This means to a curious employer that you are limited in your skills and have shown a reluctance to improve and expand your skill/knowledge set.

6. Do Not Continue as a Luddite. Learn how to use technology efficiently and also hone your ability to train and resource other teachers. Beware, don't get caught up in faddish 'methodologies' or ESL computer programs hawked by vendors at conferences. Most of the technological stuff sold by these folks is snake oil.

7. Use the internet wisely. But don't let it use you. Use it for communication, and the acquisition of content that is relevant to your students.

8. Make It Your Vocation. If you could only get 1 class this term, then use the time that you would have been teaching a second or third class and train yourself. Ask to 'shadow' other more effective teachers in the various institutions you have ties with. Get permission to use their libraries and media resources.  

9. Ask ask ask. You have questions, ask those who have more experiences than you. Ask your students-face to face, but more importantly, via some form of anonymous written feedback. Ask a colleague to observe you.

10. Reflection. Go to the regional park in your neighborhood with a thermos of your favorite flavor of stimulant. Bring paper, your notebook, a novel. Bring things that are directly related to teaching and make it an exercise to find analogies, and connections. You may have an "Aha!" moment. I remember having a very hard week teaching in an IEP and I wrote out an article on CLT in anger. It became the basis for one of my bread and butter class activities called 'Afternoon Dialogs'. You have had these moments too but you never wrote them down and they are too soon forgotten. You need to somehow record these ideas down. I get a lot of my ideas while driving, so what to do? Send yourself a voice message-handsfree of course.

11. Share What You Do With Others. What do you suggest?