Willy Cardoso is a teacher, teacher trainer, and author/blogger in ELT. He’s currently based in Europe where he works freelance on teacher development projects and conferences. http://www.willycardoso.com. | August Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas
1) Could you briefly describe your academic and professional background? Why did you decide to become a teacher and teacher educator?
I started when I was very young; had just graduated from high school. Teaching EFL was my first job, one that practically fell on my lap one afternoon at around 2pm when I was called to teach my first ever lesson – at 6pm of the same day! But it came naturally to me in a way. I have always looked up to my relatives who were English teachers, and have even studied under their tuition in the language institute my aunt used to run in São José dos Campos, Brazil – where I grew up. So being in an English classroom was very ‘familiar’ to me. It turned out I grew very fond of English (and disliked every other school subject), and took my first teacher training when I was only 17. Although I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher in the long run, I knew teaching was a good start, and as it happens I haven’t been much else than a teacher since then.
In 2010, I moved to London to take an MA in Education. I taught EFL there too, for about two years. It was a very good experience, and meeting students from all over the world really helped me improve as a teacher, especially regarding intercultural awareness. More generally, being in the UK contributed hugely to my professional development as I was had more access to ELT publications, conferences and networking events than I had back in Brazil.
About teacher education, it came little by little alongside teaching, and today it occupies most of my time. Since I focused my MA studies on the overlap between teacher development and other areas (e.g. curriculum studies, sociology and globalization), and throughout my career I have always had some TD responsibilities on the side, this year I started to work as a freelance trainer and consultant. Lately, I have mostly written teacher training materials and given workshops to teachers in Europe.
2) You have had the experience of teaching English in the UK, where it seems that native teachers are highly favored. Did you face any barriers resulting from the fact that you are a non-native-English-speaking teacher?
It is natural and expected that there will be more native-speaker teachers in the UK, it’s just a matter of demographics, so I wouldn’t say for sure that they are ‘favored’, I mean, in a negative sense to a non-native speaker’s perspective. I have met a few NNESTs in the UK and they all worked under equal terms. Sometimes I think that some of these barriers can be worse in non-English-speaking countries – in terms of pay rate for example. I don’t see as many job ads in the UK stating ‘native-speakers only’ as I do from other countries posting on international job boards. While in many places I’ve worked in Brazil one could secure a job (and some perks) based on nationality, in the UK by and large the first requirement to be met is a recognized TEFL qualification. Of course, the teacher’s language competence needs to be around the same level of other job seekers; though it happens they are native-speakers, so that in itself makes it a challenge.
Regarding peers and students, I haven’t had any barriers either. Maybe an initial surprise or doubt, but once the ball is rolling and you’re a good player (among staff) and a good coach (in the classroom), it’s a team spirit. On the other hand, sometimes I myself let my confidence be shaken a bit. When for example I was assigned advanced business English students, or when asked to give in-house workshops for teachers and to represent the school at conferences, but then I realized that if they gave me that responsibility, then it meant I was doing my job well.
3) You are a young ELT professional and have made your way quite quickly towards international recognition, considering the many events in all parts of Europe that you are constantly participating in, having recently been a keynote speaker in a large conference (ISTEK ELT, Istanbul, in April 2013). What helped you achieve this? In what ways was your professional development path “conventional” and in what ways was it “unconventional” and perhaps organic?
The short answer to what helped me achieve this is: my blog (authenticteaching.wordpress.com). To the second question, I’d like to think it has been unconventional. But let me elaborate, because it is not that straightforward.
In 2009, I started to give some open and free workshops for English teachers in Sao Paulo, and decided to open a blog in order to make the material available online. I then discovered there was already a bustling community of ELT bloggers, who also networked on twitter, so I started to read other bloggers, comment, tweet, etc. In other words it was sort of a socialization into a very vibrant and dedicated community of practice, and also an alternative to my staff room, which at the time was not very inspiring. Shortly after, I went to two conferences that completely changed my life. The first ever conference I presented at was the CTJ TEFL Seminar, in Brasília. I had such a great time and I learned so many new things and met so many interesting people that I thought I had to find a way to make going to conferences part of my work. A year later I presented at the BrazTesol conference in Sao Paulo, and I was rather surprised that a small number of people knew who I was because they had been reading my blog. That was also when I met two exemplary movers and shakers of the Brazilian ELT, Fernando Guarany and Henrick Oprea; and two of international esteem, Jeremy Harmer and Herbert Puchta – the only reason they knew me was because of my blog and twitter. That for me was a turning point. It was a confirmation that the do-it-yourself approach I have always taken regarding professional development started to pay off, and that I had something to say that could contribute to the profession, after all – to my surprise – there were people listening. There was the initial risk of putting my ideas forward to public scrutiny and the investment of spending hundreds of hours blogging and hundreds of $$ to pay my way to many conferences. So far, it has paid off. Lately, I’ve given successful teacher development presentations for the British Council in Croatia, Slovenia and UK, as well as talks with good repercussion at big conferences such as ISTEK and IATEFL.
So about my professional development, I first thought it was unconventional, as I said at the beginning. But I’ve seen a good number of people doing similar things, like writing blogs and then finding great work because of that, so maybe it’s probably becoming a more mainstream approach these days, since once you can show you’re worth your salt via blogs and conference presentations, some more open-minded employers won’t put so much importance on how many qualifications you have on your CV. I think this is great.
4) What topics do you commonly write about in your blog? Could you specify a post that particularly attracted your readers? On the other hand, have there been controversial topics that resulted in heated follow-up discussions?
It’s mainly a blog for English teachers, but one that focuses more on teaching than on English, I mean, it’s not a place for worksheets and stuff, or to discuss the specificities of the language, but more about reflecting on one’s role as a teacher, on classroom interaction, on curriculum development, etc. I’ve also written a lot about learner-centered approaches, against grammar-based syllabi, about my own classroom experiences – usually the difficult ones – and whenever I can I write critiques on things I feel are under discussed in ELT.
One discussion I am proud of having kick started was on why private language schools in the UK require a TEFL diploma (DELTA or Trinity DipTESOL, almost exclusively) for academic management positions and disregard other (more) relevant qualifications. As expected, some diploma trainers and providers came to defend their services, of course; but for me it was more a question of how the jobs market operates rather than the quality of the qualification. So it was good to have insider and outsider’s perspectives on the issue. You can find the post here:
Diploma Disease strikes TEFL
There are posts which attract lots of visitors, mainly those which are lists, or related to a ‘grammar mcnugget’ or the wonders of social media. This is what people end up finding on google, I think, but they generate hardly any discussions in the blog, so I don’t post this kind of things anymore.
More recently, a post with a different angle that was quite popular was the one inspired from the news about an initiative in Brazil to teach English to prostitutes, in order to prepare them for the upcoming sports events the country will host. This is the linkhttp://authenticteaching.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/english-for-prostitutes/
5) You mention that you expanded your Professional Learning Community by writing on your blog and following and responding to other blogs. Which blogs have had the greatest influence in your professional development and why?
There are many blogs, but two in particular were very significant in my development, not only because they were eye-openers and had a distinct voice, but also because the authors have personally encouraged me to do my own thing and get better at it. They are Scott Thornbury and his A to Z of ELT and Karenne Sylvester and her Kalinago English. Unfortunately, they aren’t active at the moment, but the archives are still available.
6) You recently presented a talk on Sociocultural Teacher Development. Could you please explain how this model of teacher development differs from the model aimed at forming technicians, as you say, and particularly, elaborate on how/why a sociocultural approach to teacher development might be more beneficial to NNESTs?
This whole thing started for me when I was given a pre-packaged British TEFL methodology to follow, almost religiously, and that really bothered me. In the occasion I was taking a teacher training course abroad, and expected things to be different of course, and I wanted to gain new knowledge that could inform my practice back home in Brazil. The problem was that the course completely disregarded my background and experience, because like in many teacher training courses and teacher education programmes everything (content, structure, methodology, and assessment) had been decided before any trainee stepped into the classroom. Considering the multitude of contexts in which one can end up teaching, it’s highly unlikely that a one-size-fits-all approach will work. So that is why we need sociocultural awareness, which in practice means focusing less on the transmission of a set of classroom management techniques that wrongly assumes everyone learns in the same way; and focusing more on equipping teachers with cognitive tools which will enable them to develop a situational understanding of their practice and consequently a contextually relevant pedagogy. In a training course or in in-house CPD, that would mean a lot of time for reflective inquiry, exploratory practice, peer coaching, feedback conference with students, stimulated recall using video recordings of the lessons, etc, and placing the processes and products of these activities within the social and cultural space the teacher was/is/will be situated. The range is wide, from interpersonal skills to cultural biases, from the quality of talk between teachers, learners and managers to educational policies that promote or constrain professional development. Although the most important focus of teacher development should be what happens in the classroom, since teaching is a social and intellectual activity, it is also crucial to signify it in the social realm, and allow that to inform practice.
At the psychological level, sociocultural theory provides a robust explanation of learning and development, and if we see teachers as learners of teaching, then there are many things we can take on board from SCT when developing teachers. To name a few: it is very important for teachers to uncover their histories as learners, as they highly influence how a teacher conceptualizes his/her practice, roles, beliefs etc; it is helpful to see how teacher cognition is mediated by cultural artifacts such as coursebooks and other big influencers of professional discourse, which like any discourse has economic and political functions as well as social.
To NNESTs, this is even more important I think, for it values and promotes home-grown knowledge, and stimulates a healthy skepticism towards ‘imported’ methodologies and their sometimes invisible ideologies.
7) In your particular case, how has your history as an EFL learner conceptualized your practice and beliefs as a teacher and teacher developer?
My initial interest in education might have probably come from my general disinterest in schooling as a teenager. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many good teachers then, I mean in general education. That was counter-balanced though by my English teachers, who were mostly excellent, but that was in the private EFL school I attended. The difference was mainly that the English teachers allowed me to include my own interests in the learning material; which looking back now I realize it was rather minimal, but still better than nothing at all. In my early years at this EFL school, the methodology was strictly audiolingual, and it took me some time and effort to grow out of this model later on; even though it worked on me, it’s not my preferred approach. The most expressive impact on my development as a teacher from the time I was an EFL student was probably the fact that I was able to have extra-curricular conversations with my teachers, I mean, there was a mutual interest in each other’s life experiences, and a few of these teachers also helped me with career questions and encourage me to pursue my dreams, which were to study music and have some experience in an English-speaking country. So, in sum, I think I’ve carried these good examples, as I’m generally interested in more than the grammar getting into my students’ heads, and try as much as possible to connect the content of my lessons to what matters to them. Luckily, there were very few cases in which I had to teach to the test, which is kind of a privilege these days.