In my teaching and training career I have been extremely lucky to work with many incredible people. One of these is my friend, colleague, email buddy, and role model Zhenya Polosatova. I am very pleased to share my recent interview with her. This is the first but hopefully not the last interview on my blog. Followers and readers of Josette LeBlanc’s excellent blog “Throwing Back Tokens” might have already seen an interview with Tana Ebaugh, one of the co-founders of ptec. Zhenya is the other co-founder. You can find out more about Zhenya and ptec in my interview with her below. Enjoy!
Hi Zhenya! Thanks so much for joining me. Can you tell me about yourself. What sort of work do you usually do? Where have you worked?
I have been in ELT classrooms since 1999, when I came to teach part-time at a state school in my native Ukraine. At that time I was a college student trying to choose the area to start my career (I had a double major in Psychology and TESOL) A big turning point for me was taking a teacher training course that year, where I saw how I could apply both of my qualifications. This was with International House DNK where I worked for the following 11 years, developing as a teacher and then exploring academic management and teacher training. Later I became a teacher trainer and started working on various short teacher training projects abroad, bringing the ideas back to school and sharing them with my colleagues. I worked on courses in Tajikistan, USA, South Korea, Poland, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma).
I see. How exactly did you get started in teacher development?
I was teaching for about 5 calendar years; had a weekly load of about 40-50 teaching hours per week. Teaching was my passion, so planning and reflecting were ‘built in’ my daily schedule, and in combination with a great team of like-minded souls in our school this made me enjoy the job even more.
If you add attending and presenting at various workshops and conferences you will see why those 5 years could seem to be a much longer period of time. There was a moment, though, when on the one hand such teaching life started to feel exhausting (well, it was!) and on the other hand having taught all possible age groups and proficiency levels of students brought a need for a new professional challenge. My friend (and a small language school owner) suggested that I try and run a two week course for her teachers. I did it, and then applied to become an SIT trainer, got my license … and I can’t stop working with teachers until these days!
Great! I know how passionate you are about training. Is there anything new going on with you lately?
Exploring new areas and gaining new skills is something I am becoming more interested in lately. For example, in 2012 I got involved in curriculum development project together with my colleague and friend Tana Ebaugh. This resulted in creating and then piloting a new teacher training course for Korean teachers of English.
Inspired by the curriculum writing experience, Tana and I decided that there is much more that can be done in our partnership. We sat down in a coffee shop and brainstormed what skills knowledge, expertise and vision the two of us have and thought of trying something together. This is how ptec started.
Ptec? Can you tell me more about ptec?
The letters stand for Pioneer Training and Education Consortium. Very briefly, ‘Pioneer’ in the name is a symbolic feature in our backgrounds (if you are very curious, you can visit our website and read more on this! Training and Education seems to be self-explanatory, because that the skills and experience we have, as well as the area of interest and vision for ptec lie in this field. Consortium is a group of people bigger than a duo, so this is where some explanation would be helpful: our idea is to make ptec a community of educators (or ptec Members) and our potential customers (or ptec Alliances) to find each other, and together initiate changes in education (for example, helping learners become confident and active users of English, or have higher scores on international exams, etc.)
What skills, knowledge, attitude, awareness come to mind when you think about being a good trainer? What about a good teacher?
First of all, both good teachers and trainers help their learners succeed with their goals in the most effective, efficient and enjoyable way possible.
My other belief is that a good trainer is also a good teacher, that’s why it is hard to separate the two questions. I imagine an onion with layers where a ‘teacher’ layer is under the ‘trainer’ layer. For this reason, let me start with a good teacher.
A good language teacher is comfortable with the subject he or she is teaching, and is aware what areas are weaker and need more work. In other words, a good English language teacher is working on his/her knowledge of English.
A related skill would be the ability to help students become clear with various language structures and vocabulary in a simple, engaging, positive, and encouraging way, making the process of learning enjoyable. Another important component would be goal setting, planning and teaching skills and techniques, positive attitude to students and seeing them as individuals, helping them learn how to learn. A good teacher is also reflective and ready to learn from his/her own experience.
Turning to the ‘trainer’ layer, we still need the above, but now on two levels: you have language students and language teachers to take care of! As a trainer you need your teachers to become aware of what a teacher needs to know and be able to do, and what kind of attitude helps learners and learning. A good trainer can model the teaching he is talking about in his/her course. However, training is not simply delivering ‘what teaching is’ to the course participants: a trainer needs to be able to work with a group of adult professionals, be aware of group dynamics and possible conflicts, be ready to be flexible and still lead the group to the overall course goal. There is a lot about people skills, time management skills, and life skills even, because a training course is often an intensive and intense period of time bringing transformation and change to its participants. Both good teachers and trainers are learning and stepping out of their professional comfort zones. In one book I found an interesting adjective for education professionals: becoming. I think that this ‘ becoming’ state is a unique combination of being aware of yourself at a certain moment and also being aware that this is not your maximum, that there is a lot more ahead.
Thanks. Are these aspects seen in ptec? How?
They are in ptec, and moreover, I think seeing those aspects as important for a good teacher/trainer/mentor/educator was a reason to actually start ptec. The thing is that the way those skills and qualities of a trainer or teacher are formed largely depend on where the teachers are from, what background they have, how long they have been teaching, and who their students are, their needs, backgrounds, dreams and hopes. Creating a ‘universal’ course, or a recipe book for ‘everyone everywhere’ would be simply… wrongif we want to really achieve the level of ‘good’ teacher / trainer. Any ptec project begins with through needs analysis and learning the local context, both professionally and culturally, and the end product is tailored to the target learners or participants.
What is your vision for ptec?
The strength of ptec lies in combining solid educational background and experienced professionals with being mobile and flexible, being able to reach any place worldwide.
Creating a community of ptec Members who share the same professional beliefs, and who have worked in very different contexts and formats means that great results can be achieved, and together we can serve Learners on a new level. Bringing ministries of education into ptec Alliances would turn ptec into a ‘bridge’ between the private and public education sectors. This will ensure that changes in education happen on local, national and international levels.
And one final question if it is OK. What advice do you have for people interested in becoming a teacher trainer?
I think the most important thing is to actually try working with other teachers: it can be observing someone and reflecting on that lesson together, thinking of a workshop/presentation topic for your colleagues in the school, or anything that is outside of ‘teaching’ work. While trying this out, listen to yourself, your feelings, your thoughts. And answer a simple question: Do you like it? Do you see that you can help other teachers, and do you feel that this is useful for your own professional self? If your answer is ‘yes’, go for it. And if the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not sure’ then… perhaps later 🙂
Thanks for doing this interview! Talk to you very very soon! 🙂
UPDATE: Zhenya also has a blog of her own here.