ELTABBer of the Month: Peter Ryan

Peter, or PJ to his friends and family, was born in London but lived most of his life in Ireland where he started his teaching. He taught mostly General English before venturing into post-primary education as an English and History teacher. He has lived in Germany since the start of 2022 and mainly teaches Business English and one-to-one classes with students wishing to improve their conversational English. 

 PJ will be a Trainer in Training (TinT) with the Berlin School of English on their CELTA courses and is very much looking forward to this next step in his career. After completing his Delta in 2021, he has always enjoyed working with other teachers and improving as a teacher – so much so that he has chronicled a lot about his teaching on his blog, which is linked below. He is an active user of LinkedIn and loves to network with teachers from all over the world.

Website: https://pjryandotblog.wordpress.com/

  • Can you tell us about your story with ELTABB? How did you become an ELTABBer and what role has the association played for you on your professional journey?

As soon as my partner and I decided to stop dreaming and start planning a move to Berlin, I got excited but at the same time nervous as I had never lived abroad. As I normally do in situations like these, I look for help. ELTABB came up in my search results online almost immediately. Some of the articles published there helped me to understand the teaching scene here in Berlin, what it means to be a freelancer, and when I signed up, the job postings really helped me out. ELTABB has made me feel connected to other teachers and helped me to settle into my new surroundings.

  • We’d love to know what you like about ELTABB and what you’d like to see more of. Two stars and a wish: ready, steady, go!

The job postings were great for me to get a better understanding of the type of work available, and the articles that are published are great as well when I have a bit of downtime to read. It’s hard to think of a wish as I’m still exploring the site and the association as a whole and what it offers.

  • From what I’ve read, you used to work as an English and History teacher at secondary schools and now teach English to adults. What made you decide to make this switch and how difficult has it been?

I wrote extensively about this on my blog which you can read here: https://pjryandotblog.wordpress.com/2021/10/05/a-reflective-review-of-2018/

In a nutshell, I wasn’t enjoying it. I had started out in ELT and used it as a diving board to get into post-primary teaching. My experiences in ELT – working with adults who had clear motivations and were rewarded when they achieved success – just didn’t occur in my later context. I didn’t get that fire, and was worried my passion for teaching would fade away.

  • What has impacted you most to choose the career path you did? Did you have some clear role models as you went through your career steps?

I originally started out in TV working with writers and companies. One of my jobs was writing coverage reports on scripts. It was here where I sharpened my skills in giving feedback. At some point, someone asked if I had a background in education or instruction as my feedback was quite constructive and to the point for them. That was the moment I realised I could transfer this skill to something else.

I don’t think I had any particular role models but I liked teachers who did varied lessons, did things outside the box, and listened to the students and cared about their lives.

  • What impact has doing the DELTA had on your career overall?

This was another moment of sharpening my skills. Delta was an incredible experience and changed my whole view on teaching and what it means to be a teacher. I would implore anyone to do it, or the DipTESOL, if you are interested in giving your skills and knowledge a good workout. Delta got me to think more about the student and their journey. It got me to think about how to make progress more tangible for them. It also enabled me to move away from teacher-centred approaches to teaching and learning and towards student-centred ones which have made my job more rewarding and fun.

  • For any of our members interested in doing the same, could you describe the process of giving a workshop for ELTABB, and what was involved (before, during and after)?

If you have something to say or share that can be immediately impactful and practical for teachers the very next morning in their class, that’s always a good indicator that you should hold a workshop. Having experience and knowledge of your topic is obviously important so you can select what you want to cover and what to leave out. Preparation is key. Workshops should be interactive, so implementing ways for the audience to interact, discuss, practise ideas, and ask you questions throughout is very important. I always want to learn from my audience so I think of it as a two-way street. Reflecting on the workshop is important, too, as it can help inform your work and add ideas you hadn’t thought of with your chosen topic.

  • What is the difference between using LinkedIn to network with other teachers and meeting other teachers at professional development events? And what benefits does LinkedIn offer over other forms of social media in this respect?

Conferences are great but it isn’t easy for me to just walk up to people you admire or don’t know and strike up a conversation – LinkedIn can help to break the ice. It has helped me to connect with teachers from all over the world, share ideas, and ask for help. I have seen many ‘social friends’ meet up in-person and become good friends later at conferences. I seldom use other social media to connect with other teachers, but I think Twitter can be good.

  • I read on your blog that you like to use kinesthetic learning methods such as running dictation and walking debates in the classroom, particularly on colder days. Could you tell us a bit about how walking debates work, and what levels you use such activities with?

Walking debates is a speaking activity normally for intermediate to higher-level learners. In class, push your tables to the walls. Allocate areas in the room where the students should stand if they ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagree’ to your prepared statements linked to the context they are working on in class, e.g. technology, food, climate change. Say your statement e.g. “Children should be given smartphones at age 7.” Students walk to their area of choice. Get the students in pairs from different areas and ask them to debate their opinions. After some time, get them to report back what they discussed and learned. Repeat two more times.

  • Oh no! You’ve been asked to teach a lesson in five minutes… What’s your go-to activity?

It depends on the experience of the teacher. I use student-centred approaches and get them to talk about themselves, their lives, and to tell me a bit about what they have been doing in class that week. A task-based learning (TBL), Dogme or community-based learning (CBL) approach normally helps.

A clear example of a CBL approach to teaching that happened in my class was when a student talked about an altercation with a customer because they got their order wrong in a bar. As a class, we agreed to work on this context and work on language to do with clarification for orders and transactions and did a role play to practise this. The student really appreciated the time and effort that her peers had made for her.

For teachers fresh off CELTA let’s say, the BreakingNewsEnglish website can be useful. It always helped me out when I was in a pinch. Also, asking a teacher who knows the class might help, as they might be able to pull out a golden lesson plan or something from a coursebook.

  • Where do you see yourself (or hope to see yourself) in 5 years?

Oh gosh! I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow, let alone in 5 years. As I’m just placing my foot on the first rung of the teacher-trainer ladder, I’d imagine my experience in this role will be much better and hopefully I will have done a few CELTA courses here and there. Management would be nice, but I don’t have the yearning for it yet.

Edited by Eleanor Johnston