The HELTA Interview Chain. No. 1: Andreas Grundtvig.

Describe yourself in three words.
Spontaneous – Trying to plan life carefully is so tedious! ? Besides, you never know when the sky is going to fall on your head.
Adventurous – I’m usually up for anything new, especially if it involves a journey!
Silly – It’s so important to have an element of silliness in your life! I often ask myself if the things that I do (travels, adventures etc) are due to an innate Nordic absence of fear or just plain silliness. It’s usually the latter!

What are your HELTA credentials? (length of membership, how active, any position held, any proven skills – best cakes, discerning questions asked in workshops etc.)  Just like many things in my life, getting where I am ‘just happened’! I was first encouraged to join by my former colleague, Andi White, who also happened to be HELTA Chair. Back then the events committee were: Felicitas Van Vloten, Jim Maloney, Kevin Curran and Mike Hogan. When Andi left Hamburg, that team broke up, and Felicitas twisted my arm to become Chair.
I had just started presenting regularly so was busy networking, getting to know not just other associations but also many great speakers and encouraged them to come to Hamburg. For a while it was just Kay Kilshaw and I running HELTA but now we have a solid team that works so well together. Thanks to technology, we are always there for each other, wherever we may be – recently one of us texted from the Australian outback to another who was up a tree with a chainsaw, to deal with a HELTA matter! Oh, and then there’s Alma (in my case my wife is definitely one of my credentials), besides making excellent cakes she regularly puts up with strangers that come to sleep on, what I have come to call, our ‘TEFL couch’!

Can you describe your teaching situation? (who, where and on what basis; freelance, employed, full time, part time?) First and foremost, I’m a full time state employee, working as a teacher at the Berufliche Schule fur Medien & Kommunikation, a vocational college essentially for media studies. As part of that job I’m also responsible for the evening language courses at the school and I run the Cambridge Exams Centre Hamburg. In my freetime, I present teacher training sessions regularly at conferences around the world and as a consequence travel extensively, meeting teachers and learning about the latest developments in ELT. I have also written and published teaching guides but am a bit of a procrastinator there!

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
Knowing that teachers have helped someone understand and progress, seeing evidence of that and being appreciated for whatever part I may have played in helping that happen. Sometimes I am contacted on social media by former students who write to tell me that they remember my lessons with fondness, and say how they enjoyed being in my classes. When that happens I can’t deny it gives me an incredible buzz. I hate to hear about people who have missed opportunities or suffered because of insufficient support during their education. Occasionally I take it personally. One of the saddest things that I have seen recently, was when I met a teenage girl sat on a dirty street selling fruit in an ordinary African town. To wrap up the fruit that she sold, she tore up her old school books. Even though I had never met her before it was so painful to see that.

And the least rewarding part?
The endless, often unnecessary, admin questions that I have to plough through when organising and promoting exams. It really tries my patience, after I have taken careful measures to make things as clear as can be, and provided as much information as possible to then have to repeat myself. It takes a big chunk out of my day.

What do your learners say about you?
My friend Wilty recently said that when I present he often has no idea what I’m talking until, suddenly, it all becomes so clear and relevant! I really hope that is also true of my learners, that even though the things we do might not be obvious immediately they lead to those ‘aha moments’! But you’d have to ask them!
What’s the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?
Invest in the time to really find out who your learners are, and what it is that they want. It sounds simple but it’s so often forgotten. Be interested in what they’re into and try to connect that to what interests you. Right now I’m delivering a series of workshops about how what we want to believe affects our ability to make sensible decisions and creates ‘cognitive biases’. One of those is the Ikea effect, ‘the tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects that they partially assembled themselves’. This does not just apply to flat-pack furniture, but to so many things, including how we teach and learn. Our learners need to think that what they do is ‘theirs’ and not just something ‘prescribed’ to the masses.

Do you have any wisdom to share with your fellow HELTA members?
Haven’t I just answered that?

Do you have a guilty ELT secret?
Don’t be absurd, there are no flies on me! ?

Who are you nominating for the next HELTA interview and why? Kay Kilshaw. She has been there since the beginning: the time that I began as a fledgling HELTA member, and maybe even the beginning of HELTA itself! For many years she was treasurer, but since I’ve known her I’ve thought of her as an absolute HELTA treasure!

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