Monday, October 10, 2011

Blog challenge: What’s Your Story?

I love learning more about my PLN-friends through the blog challenges they’ve set for each other.  This time it was Vicky Loras setting a challenge to tell a story “about anything you consider important in your life or career, that has helped shape you as a person or educator”.

I’m going to tell the story about how I came to be an English language teacher.

The last thing I thought I’d be when I was at school was a teacher.  Being a librarian was probably the second last thing.  But I’ve been both!  I’ve also studied and worked in IT, as a computer programmer, systems analyst and website developer, and bringing my first two professions together, I also worked as an information architect.  I came to teaching late, only 7 years ago. 

I think I have always liked language.  I’ve certainly always loved reading, and admired beautiful use of language.  In all of my travels I have made an attempt at learning some basic language, either in short community-based classes, through finding an international student willing to tutor me in exchange for a bit of cash, or rote-learning listening to cassettes while driving.  I love learning languages, but I’ve never progressed much beyond the most elementary level, I think because I’ve tried to learn so many of them.

I first got interested in the idea of teaching English while I was learning Italian before a trip to Italy. I had a good friend who had migrated to Australia from Italy 30+ years before and, when I talked to her about my attempts to learn Italian, she told me about the difficulties she had experienced arriving here with no English. Then I saw an ad on the wall where I was doing the Italian classes asking for volunteers in a program to help migrant and refugee children with their school homework.  I joined that program and worked first with a young man who was between school and further study and went on to work with several other high-school students individually and in a drop-in centre.  I started investigating courses I could take to help me develop skills in helping these kids with their English, but the timing wasn’t good for me to start studying. 

Around the same time, I also did some volunteer assignments in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, developing skills of staff in local organisations in the areas I was working in at the time: library and information management, IT and website development.  During the fourth assignment, working with a sports newspaper in Hanoi, I was asked if I would teach English to groups of reporters.  It was ‘love at first class’!  I worked with two groups: one with advanced skills doing role plays of interviewing athletes and coaches and writing articles in English for their website; and the other, nicknamed 'The English class for people with a sense of humour', learning English through songs and stories and random activities and questions the learners brought to the lessons (very 'unplugged'!). 

Returning to Australia, I spoke to my Italian friend again and she told me about how her wonderful volunteer home tutor had helped her.  I immediately joined this volunteer program, the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) Home Tutor Scheme. During the 8 x 3-hour tutor training course, I could feel the passion of the teachers who were presenting the course.  We also got to ‘practice’ with the adults in the AMEP classes.  If I had fallen in love with the idea of teaching English in Vietnam, I was now completely infatuated after being introduced to these teachers and learners.  I interrogated the teachers to find out what I needed to do to work in their program and persuaded (begged) them into taking me on for a practicum, even before I had enrolled in a TESOL course!  Later I wondered if they had only taken me on because I was so persistent, but they said that they had recognised that I had the right attitude and aptitude for the work, which is why they went out of their way to help me.

I undertook a full-time Graduate Diploma in TESOL at a local University.  At the same time I was working around 20 hours a week (solely to pay the bills, but in a job I enjoyed), observing and practice teaching with the AMEP for 3+ hours a week, tutoring my Home Tutor Scheme (HTS) student, and also volunteering through the HTS to help run a conversation group at a local library.  It was an exhilarating year, learning so much in theory and in practice, but also exhausting trying to juggle all of these activities. 

All the hard work paid off with HDs in all subjects and a job!  I had impressed the teachers at the AMEP with my dedication and in turn I was grateful to them for sharing their professional expertise so readily with me and keen to work with them.  But this was just the start of my education as an English language teacher.  I have continued learning since: doing an MA TESOL, lots and lots of PD, learning from other teachers and, most of all, learning from the learners. 

When I first started teaching, I tried to keep my IT knowledge quiet as I just wanted to teach, and learn more about teaching.  But eventually, as I gained more confidence, I saw how I could apply my IT knowledge and skills to teaching.  I was also very happy to be able to give something back to the teachers who so patiently mentored me, in supporting them in using technology.  This has grown into a new role for me in my institution, and to more study, a Master of Online Education.  I will never stop learning.


Cherry Mathew Philipose said...

Dear Lesley
That's in deed a story with all the twists and turns. Enjoyed reading and learning more about this wonderful ELTChat cousin of mine. Would have liked to know a bit more about the handle that you use - cioccas. Guess you'd do that soon.
Btw you inspire me a lot along with all our PLN and I just want you all to do that more.
Best from Burma, Cherry.

Lesley said...

Thanks 'cousin' Cherry!
There's no mystery behind my Twitter & Blog handle - my family name is Cioccarelli, and my nickname has been Cioccas (pronounced 'chockers') since school.
You, and all my PLN-friends, inspire me daily to keep learning!
L :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lesley!

What a wonderful story you have shared with us - thank you so much for joining the challenge : )

I love how you describe that you liked the passion of the people teaching and decided to go forward. It was also great to see how you decided to incorporate your IT knowledge in your teaching.

I wish you nothing but the very best in your life and career!

Kind regards,

Lesley said...

Thanks Vicky :)

It is so satisfying working with a group of people so passionate about what they do. Come to think of it, that's what I love about my PLN - should be renamed 'PASSIONATE LEARNING NETWORK'!

Cheers, Lesley

Sharon Hartle said...

A great story Lesley,

It's so nice to learn more about the people in our PLN. I think we get to know each other quite well in this way. One more box ticked for social networking

Sharon :-)

Unknown said...

Hi Lesley. It's such a lovely thing to go past the'only 140 characters' that everyone derides as being impossible to use to find out about each other. I love your idea of the Passionate learning network. Cheers
Sue, from Jersey.

Lesley said...

Sharon and Sue, thank you both!

I read/watched both of your posts for the challenge in preparation for mine and will revisit them again now.

Sue, it's a good thing I'm limited to 140 characters in Twitter as I tend to go on, and on, and... :)

Cheers, Lesley

seburnt said...

Talk about persistence and enthusiasm--two of the exact qualities that we need in great teachers for our industry!

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Lesley

Another great post, and it's so interesting to find out more about how you came to be an English teacher!!

It's wonderful how you have combined different skills to become the dedicated teacher you are.

Thanks so much for sharing your lovely story!

Lesley said...

Tyson and Janet,
Many thanks for your kind comments, which carry lots of weight coming from two of the very dedicated, enthusiastic and persistent teachers I am proud to know through my PLN.
Kind regards, Lesley

Deb Frazier said...

Congratulations you are a Versatile Blogger!

Suzanne Kiraly said...

Thanks so much for sharing your journey, Lesley. I really enjoyed reading it and share the tenet of "never stopping learning"! Cheers Suzanne

Lesley said...

Deb & Suzanne
Many thanks for your kind comments.