Vincent Wongaiham-Petersen interviews: Wendy Pirie

Describe yourself in three words.

Interested (in all things to do with English and teaching) / pushy (a bit) /stickler (for detail especially when it comes to ‘follow the instructions’; I know… I cheated – I used more than three words and didn’t follow the instructions – but I tried.

PS Hohoho – I’ve just reread the other interviews that have been held and see that nobody kept to the three words so now I don’t feel so bad. (BUT I really did try because I was told to!)

What are your HELTA credentials?  

I’ve been a member of HELTA for a loooong time from about 1989 when Hazel Slinn got a crowd from the Anglo English school interested and encouraged us to sign up.

Then there was a bit of a dodgy time when I had kids (dodgy in the sense of not being able to make it to m(any) of the meetings) and so my attendance was ‘in dire need of improvement’. But then as the kids got older (as they do) getting to meetings became hassle-free and my attendance improved dramatically.

I’ve never held any positions (sorry guys) although I love what HELTA is and what it stands for and I know I should. Luckily, there always seem to be enough people who are happy/willing to fill those roles and do a great job… so the rest of us can just enjoy coming to the events (thaaank you everybody).

Can you describe your teaching situation?

I worked many years as a freelancer before being lucky enough to get an employed position (first part-time, then full-time) at a university. Then changed to another university where I now also work full-time and will probably stay until I retire – yikes!

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

The students – again and again I realise how great it is to be in the classroom. Whatever little ailments I might have had before class (e.g. headache, tired, not really up for anything) seem to stop at the classroom door and I completely forget to pick them up on my way out. It doesn’t always work out that way obviously but, on the whole, I know if I’d stayed in the office all afternoon I would’ve found it hard to stay awake.

And the least rewarding part?

The planning/the timetabling – the dealing with students who, despite your best efforts, tell you they don’t feel they’ve learned very much. That is simply soul-destroying.

What do your learners say about you?

Ohhhhh – this sounds quite tricky but as we always have official feedback every term from every group this is still fresh in my mind. So, lots of good stuff, e.g. ‘fun’, ‘really caring and wants us all to do well’, ‘tries to bring in all students’, ‘offers varied activities’ etc so that’s all well and good; BUT I also got ‘gives too much homework’, ‘marks much stricter than other teachers’ and recently a student called me ‘controlling’ (because I made him put the lid of his laptop down which he thought was none of my concern) and that has rankled ever since.

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

Two things and both were given at HELTA workshops, which, luckily for me were at the beginning of my teaching career:  i) every time you make a photocopy ask yourself ‘Do I really need to copy this? Or can I somehow do it another way, e.g. on the board, or get the students to come up with the material themselves?’ and  ii) (which is related to i) above) what can my students do themselves which would mean I wouldn’t have to do it, e.g. writing a test or a vocab exercise (based on a text they have found)  for another group etc.

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

Try not to let the negative comments destroy your confidence (I am still working on this so I know it’s not easy). You can have several classes in one day which all go well but if the last one doesn’t you might go home pondering if you’ve chosen the right profession.

Even if the last one goes swimmingly and your feedback is great you’ll remember the negative comments, the sighs, the students on their phones and wonder what you’ve gone wrong. You’ll never please everyone all of the time but it shouldn’t stop you trying.

Do you have a guilty ELT secret?

Making unnecessary photocopies and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, not even using them! Scribbling down the answers to a listening/reading comprehension from the teacher’s book (mistakes and all) instead of actually doing the exercise myself.

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

For the next interviewee I nominate Jim Maloney. I’ve seen him about at various workshops and events and gather he’s been around HELTA/Hamburg and various other places for a while but I would love to know a bit more about him.

If you would like to be next on the HELTA interview chain, let Jim know you’re interested and he might just nominate you!

You can contact HELTA on the contact page.