Suzan Bartholomeusz has over fifteen years of teaching experience – she has lived in Canada, Germany, the UK and Turkey, speaks English, French and German, has a BA in Marketing and an MA in the English Language and is a keen believer in ‘learning by doing’… Our poor editor is left feeling rather unqualified in this month’s interview! (But he can, at least, play the spoons)
First of all, we hope you enjoyed the holidays! Happy New Year!
Do you have anything to say about the wild year that’s just finished? Do you have any highlights or particular thoughts?
Happy New Year to you too. The ‘dooms and glooms’ of teaching during the 2020 pandemic led to a number of ‘red tape measures’, which at times caused confusion, the inability to plan in detail, mandatory mask-wearing, additional strict hygiene measures, asynchronized school breaks, and classes being reduced to small cohorts as well as more imminent monitoring of the students.
From the learners’ point of view: limited capability to participate fully due to lack of IT capabilities or lacking the required equipment or receiving the support needed – and yet the ‘Zooming’ of students acquired a new meaning due to online learning, as well as developing the key attribute of independent learning.
And the year to come…do you think that when Corona is (hopefully very soon) over, it will have had a lasting impact on TEFL?
The aftermath of COVID will give us the drive to acquire key skills in applying digitalisation for the benefit of our future in teaching/learning languages. In hindsight this phase will equip us with the necessary skills and make us as professionals much better prepared against, immune to, and able to persevere through the unexpected in a holistic global sense.
From your background in marketing, what led you to teaching English as a foreign language?
Marketing has given me the edge to think creatively ‘outside the box’. SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, reachable, targeted) is a key term in marketing to enable a product/service to compete in the market and be a success. The same goes for teaching. Hence, I use an analytical, visionary, and reactive approach when I teach.
Have you taught English in all of the countries you have lived in? What variations are there in TEFL in each?
No, though I wish I had. My base has been predominantly teaching in and from Berlin, Germany since my early days in teaching. In terms of variation encountered over my many years within the field they were determined by the learner and learner groups themselves. The learners differed in their sociocultural, behavioural, and cognitive modes as well as their purposes of study, depending on the setting (college, in-company, school-based, home-based). I rather perceive the variations in TEFL by their individual merits.
At what point did you join Eltabb, and how has it impacted your teaching?
My intention during my infant years in teaching was to join a group of like-minded professionals who were interested in enhancing their skills or sharing their experiences, knowledge and networking. I joined ELTABB in 2007 by word-of-mouth recommendation. In the past ELTABB has enabled me to keep up-to-date with relevant topics and local matters. In summary, it is enriching and an asset to the profession.
What have been your favourite workshops?
Unfortunately, I have not attended any lately. Though in the past, they were the ones that encouraged and enabled me to critically stipulate, question, reflect, and shape my teaching approaches. The interactive nature of workshops promoted ’learning by doing’ and sharing our experiences at the end. A good workshop encouraged me to apply and adapt the newly acquired techniques and tools to my teaching.
What are some examples of different language acquisition techniques?
Here are two examples.
Intermediate level: Reading a novel and trying to use interpretation techniques to understand the text. The aim is to foster autonomous learning. Students are then required to write or conduct an oral summary of the text they have just read by encouraging them to use the newly acquired vocabulary. I enjoy challenging my learners by applying a variety of acquisition techniques using the ‘experimental’ and ‘discovery’ techniques as well as the ‘learning by doing’ approaches at these levels.
Beginner levels: Exchanging emails is something I regularly do. Following a lesson on ‘going to’ my elementary students were invited to practice the ‘going to’ future form. For this task they were asked to complete a two-fold task: 1) to tell me as much as possible about what they were going to do at the weekend and the next week 2) to find out what I was going to do by asking me questions and guessing by writing emails to me, as their teacher. This in turn enabled them to engage with the language outside of school and apply it in real life. An interesting and enjoyable activity.
Can you give us an example of a favourite ‘Learning by Doing’ exercise or lesson?
Whilst teaching at a secondary school, I had my 7th graders draw up posters of famous street names in their areas and provide a presentation. They would then discuss the street names by elaborating on the person they were named after and what impact this person had on their local community, e.g., Karl-Marx-Allee (Karl Marx was a famous German philosopher). They would then receive feedback on their performance. This allowed for providing for a personalised session input and developed their skills and confidence in holding presentations in front of an audience. I would engage the audience by assigning them the role as judges of the presentations, thus encouraging them to think critically and constructively and convey invaluable feedback to the presenters by writing at least one positive aspect and one item for improvement.
How do you engage learners with ‘creative methods’ and what methods are your favourites?
I constantly seek creative channels to maintain learners’ motivations and maintain a challenging learning environment. There is a bag with an entire host of resources that I enjoy drawing from. I like to consider ‘creative’ methods as ‘eclectic’ methods in teaching with the focus on making a session interactive, enjoyable and dynamic, i.e., through role-plays, personalising the sessions, activating learners’ knowledge and experience, using different classroom dynamics and empowering learners in the classroom decision-making. Beyond this technology plays a pivotal role in my sessions. Varied approaches and resources boost creativity, facilitating learning.
And, not TEFL-related, but in preparation for this interview, you said you enjoyed ‘Nordic skiing.’ What is that? (Bonus points if you can make it TEFL-related!)
So here is my acronym description of Nordic skiing:
N: northern way of living
O: outdoors and fresh air
R: relaxing and refreshing activity
D: durable equipment (skis, poles and wear)
I: incredible outdoor sports
C: cool and cold to keep fit
Hope this makes sense! (Double points awarded – Ed.)