Eltabber of the month: Paul Hewiston

1. Question from Carol: What kinds of things have your students taught you?

Listen to what the student wants to learn before you start teaching what you want to teach.

2. For someone who has only taught in Germany, what are some of the challenges one might face when starting work in an Arabic culture?

For men, any kind of physical contact with women in some Arab countries is best avoided. For women, the problem can be social isolation. Going into a café where there are fifty men and only two females can feel daunting.

Families are massively important in Arab society and they are often eager to know about your family. In general, they seem to like small talk.

Don´t discuss religion! In Syria and Libya, Christians could worship openly but this is not always the case. Whilst other religions are often tolerated, atheism is not. For many Arabs, any God is better than no God.

3. What did you learn from your time in Syria?

I learned that there is no dress code for women; that there is system of education open to both sexes from primary school to university level; that there is a rudimentary health service, that all Syrian men have to do military service (only sons and the sick are exempted). Syria has some of the most amazing sites of antiquity (Palmyra, Crac de Chevalier , Dura Europa). There are some wonderful beaches but they are not always well maintained.

4. You’ve lived and worked all over the world. Do you have a favourite place? Why?

I have already said how much I love Syria, but I lived in Quebec, Canada for three years and would have been happy to have made my permanent home there. The scenery is fantastic, in twenty minutes you can leave Montreal and be in an unspoilt, natural environment. North of Quebec City, I once walked for five hours without meeting a single person. It helps to try to learn some French.

5. How has studying modern languages helped you as a teacher?

In two ways; I had not been in full-time education for more than 20 years when I started my BA (Hons) course in German and French. I know what it is like to struggle with a foreign language later in life. In practical terms, more clients of English Language Schools are expressing a preference for English teachers who can speak some German.

6. You’re a big storyteller! Do you ever use storytelling in your classes? If so, how?

I do tell stories; some would say too many and too often! However, I do try (not always successfully) to use stories to illustrate some aspect of the subject being taught. Whether I succeed is not for me to say.

7. You’ve had a long career; what advice would you give to someone starting their career?

I came t to EFL teaching late and had no ambition to go into school management, which for a younger person could be a good option. If you decide administration is for you, there are great opportunities if you are mobile and well-qualified. If you decide on management, I would suggest taking a course in marketing; you will make more money selling EFL courses than teaching them.

If you have a flair for it, you could try writing English course books.

8. Who has influenced your teaching the most?

Two people had a profound influence on my thinking. One was a professor on my TESOL course who, when I told him that that my student did not like following the lesson plan, said ‘Paul, who is paying your wages?’. The second was a colleague called Allen. Allen had never prepared a lesson in his life. Every class of his was improvised theatre. He regarded grammar books as part of the teacher’s room decoration, useful only to prevent a hot cup of coffee from marking the polished desk. His students loved him and seemed to make amazingly good progress.

9. You’re a regular Eltabb-goer, what do you like most about being a member?

ELTABB has given me the opportunity to see some of the leading exponents of ELT. That alone is worth the membership fee. However, the real value of ELTABB lies in the diversity of its membership, the humour, the friendship and the alcohol-driven (!) social events known as ELTABB Stammtisches!

10. Who would you like to nominate as Eltabber of the month and what question would you like to ask them?

John O’Dwyer (One of the founding members of ELTABB): He is the only honorary member of ELTABB. Were you always an ELF teacher, and if not why not?

Edited by Mandy Welfare