The HELTA Interview Chain. No. 2

Andreas Grundtvig interviews: Kay Kilshaw

Describe yourself in three words.

I suppose that someone meeting me for the first time would say that I am a fairly serious type of person – definitely not giggly or an entertainer!  I think that I’m a natural listener; I really enjoy listening to people.  You learn so much by listening and observing.  And I’m generally curious to find out things – I suppose that links in with listening and observing.

What are your HELTA credentials?  (length of membership, how active, any position held, any proven skills – best cakes, discerning questions asked in workshops etc.)

I’m proud to be one of the 36 founding members of HELTA.  Way back in 1980 our colleague Patrick Woulfe spotted a need for a “grass roots” association of local EFL practitioners to support each other professionally – as well as to meet up socially.  I’ve been active in HELTA most of that time and was treasurer for many years until Wilton volunteered to take over the post last spring – I don’t mind admitting that the banking software was trying my considerable patience!  Wilton wisely viewed the software as a challenge and has come up with good ideas and streamlined procedures.  I’m still on the committee and will continue to offer whatever help is needed, but right now I‘m glad to see others coming forward and taking over the running of the association.  Actually I haven’t baked a cake for a HELTA event yet, but can well imagine that’s something I might add to my HELTA credentials.

Can you describe your teaching situation?  (who, where and on what basis; freelance, employed, full time, part time?)

I feel lucky to have found my way into the profession of EFL for adult learners.  I trained in the U.S. as a high school teacher for foreign languages, but soon realised after landing a job at a private language school here in Hamburg that teaching adults suited me much best.  I immediately loved giving lessons to interested and motivated adult learners.  I’ve always found it an enjoyable challenge to figure out how to put my own language across effectively to learners at many different levels of English.  After 13 years at a language school and doing the whole range of teaching and administrative work the school offered, I moved on to being a freelance in-company trainer — with the help of some training courses and adapting to the increasing demand for business English.  Fortunately plenty of work has come my way and I have taught in technical companies, banks and the shipping branch, as well as in two universities.  Due to the varying age groups, needs and levels of the learners who I deal with, my work has always been satisfying.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

That must be the fact that I’ve taught quite a few people who keep coming back for more!  I’ve taught some very long-running courses and some of the participants have stuck with me for a very long time.  I like the fact that these people recognize the important of regular practice to maintain their language skills and I really admire their perseverance.

And the least rewarding part?

When I taught at university level I had to write and correct exams.  I quite liked creating a good exam that really tested what the students needed to learn, but correcting it fifty times was not my idea of a fun Sunday afternoon.

What do your learners say about you?

The feedback that I receive from learners is generally along the lines that I’m well-prepared, organized and able to explain things well (which I should be able to do after so many years of practice).  Obviously it’s nice to receive positive and encouraging feedback from learners, but what I appreciate most is that they frequently say “thank you”!

What’s the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?

It was the everyday, practical bits of advice that I’ve remembered most.  When I was starting out as a young teacher, and older one advised me to get enough sleep!  I was a bit surprised by this, but it wasn’t long before I realized that the long hours I had to work were indeed physically and mentally taxing, and you can’t be at your best in front of a class when you’re tired.  So I sacrificed being “perfectly” prepared for lessons in favour of getting the sleep I needed.  A couple of teacher trainers also mentioned knowing how to “pace” yourself in class.  Learning how to do that was something I had to figure out for myself in my lessons, but I appreciated the tip and it gave me something to think about and work on.

Do you have any wisdom to share with your fellow HELTA members?

Perhaps I can say something to newcomers to the EFL profession.  I do think that some people are “natural” teachers, but there are many aspects of being a good EFL professional that can be learned, so I am all for getting involved with as many teacher training courses, seminars, workshops, and informal conversations with colleagues as possible – HELTA is a great place to do this.  Beyond that, I’d say that one has to think carefully about the skills needed for dealing with all kinds of people in a variety of situations.  If you have those skills or the will and patience to develop them, and you really want a job that is “people oriented”, it’s a fulfilling profession.

Do you have a guilty ELT secret?

Nothing springs to mind – and anyway, secrets have to be kept!

 Who are you nominating for the next HELTA interview and why?

I’d like to nominate Vincent Wongaiham-Petersen to be next in the chain.  Vincent comes from the Philippines and I’m curious to hear the thoughts and experiences of a member from that part of the world about working in the field of EFL.

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