Interview with ELTABBer of the month: Katerina Lanickova

Job: English language teacher

You have been involved with Eltabb on the events team for over 3 years. Why did you get involved and what have you enjoyed about volunteering?

First of all, thanks to Yasin for nominating me. What an honour!

To your question, I had just joined ELTABB then and I immediately liked the atmosphere of this community. So, when I was approached at the AGM shadowing the Events coordinator it felt like the perfect way of getting to know how a teacher association works – I was curious! I was still quite fresh in the Berlin ELT world and was on the look for contacts – both social and professional. Since then I have enjoyed contributing to the running of our workshops. As a member of the Events team, you get to socialize with the various speakers and this is good for your name in the broader ELT community. Last but not least, I love designing our event posters, which has made me think about layout and brought creativity to my days.

What do you like most and least about teaching?

In a nutshell, I love helping people express themselves better in English, no matter their level. Helping them with their email communication style, supporting them with presentation preparations or building their confidence and then seeing the results is a great thing. Working with people from various professional backgrounds makes every day far from boring. That said, I think that many teachers reading this can relate to some of the harder aspects of teaching: a lot of time spent on lesson prep, and (if you teach in different locations) schlepping around half of your possessions (clothes for all types of weather, books, a laptop, food, drinks, scissors…) We have an expression in Czech that says you look (and feel) like a Christmas tree. Big parts of my days are spent commuting on public transport in and around Berlin and on some days it can get to you. On the other hand, using my bicycle for some of those routes has made me very fit!

What’s your favourite activity for beginners of business English?

One of my top activities that I like to use at the beginning of a new course is called “Telepathy”. I use it in both business and general English classes and it’s very simple: each student gets a list of topics (interests, good at, favourite free time activity, favourite food, best client, travel, …) and they have to look at their neighbour and try to guess what the neighbour thinks and likes. No verbal communication is allowed. You can make it as easy as you need, even only using pictures. Afterwards, they are allowed to compare their thoughts. It always turns out to be great fun and a nice ice-breaker. (Credits go to Sonia Jersenska for showing me this activity!)

What has been the most effective marketing method for you in finding your own clients directly?

When you take the big step and decide to work as an independent contractor as opposed to working for language institutes, you must have a very strong online visibility. You need to have a website that can be easily found. You will want to look into SEO (search engine optimization). A webpage that follows the SEO rules will be easier to find on Google. You might not be able to build and optimize a webpage yourself, so paying a professional might be necessary, unless you are well-connected in the IT world. The money you spend on this will absolutely pay off. And let’s not forget – your expenses are tax-deductible. Last but not least, the best ‘method’ is and will always be personal recommendations.

Have you found that working with companies or private individuals has been best for you? What are the advantages/disadvantages of each?

I’ve had really good experiences with both formats. Working with company clients tends to be more regulated and cancellations are much less frequent. Possibly, the lessons take place much more regularly, you usually negotiate a very specific length of the course and it might have a clearer relevance to the students’ work lives. What I particularly like about company teaching is that you get to see very interesting surroundings and confidential documents (my favourite: discussing every tiny detail of cornflakes production with the COO of a cereal manufacturing company). You do carry a lot of business ‘secrets’ with you and that’s certainly exciting. Furthermore, you can usually negotiate a higher fee and putting the VAT on top of it is not a problem. Disadvantages: the training often takes place in the middle of a busy and stressful day and it takes some skill to tune the students into the language course mood. Also, the groups tend to be of very mixed-level, which in itself is not a disadvantage but it’s good to be aware of it.

Lessons with a private student can go on forever if you establish good rapport. Whether they choose a work focus or just want to improve their general English proficiency, the training is 100% tailored to their needs and pace, which especially with lower-level learners is a huge advantage. A big disadvantage is frequent cancellations so you need to be very flexible. In courses that run on for years it might be a bit more difficult to sustain motivation, especially where there is no specific course purpose.

You are moving to Austria soon. Why are your moving and what are your plans and hopes?

I have been a little homesick (I come from an area close to the Austrian border – Brno). Although, at this point I can’t really imagine leaving Berlin with its wonderful cafè and bar culture, and much more importantly the people I’ve met – friends, colleagues and students, who often fall into more categories. In Vienna, I’m planning to continue my career in ELT, in different roles but if all fails I’ll open my own bakery.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years and how are your professional choices helping you get there?

I definitely want to stay closely connected to the classroom (however you want to define it). I would like to continue with my examining work and hopefully by then I will have gained more experience as Director of Studies and/or a Teacher trainer. Materials development is also an area to explore. Moreover, I have been toying with the idea of developing a learning app or some other content-related product. I have experience with developing video-based online learning content so I might go back to that.

What advice would you give someone thinking of doing the DELTA?

I’d tell them they should absolutely go for it. It’s worth the money, the time and the stress. Not only will it open up new career opportunities but you’ll analyse the way you teach and become a better teacher for it. It’s a perfect combination of widening your theoretical knowledge about language systems and skills and practical methodology. I’d also advise anyone to find a centre close to where they live so that they can meet their DELTA classmates weekly as I’ve benefitted the most from the face-to-face discussions and input sessions. That said, if distant studies are your only option then at least allow yourself enough time for the course (e.g. one year) as you shouldn’t underestimate the time you’ll need for reading and essay writing, and for reflection.

You have taught BE to professionals in such a wide range of fields. How do you cater your lessons to address learners with such diverse backgrounds, in particular 1-1’s that can be very demanding?

An absolute must is a needs analysis, in whatever form you like – be it an informal chat about their goals, a written questionnaire, or a combination of both. The key here is not using the best possible needs analysis out there (I doubt there is one) but the repeated use of whatever you choose – I like to call it a needs analysis “update” – every two months or so. And it can be as simple as chatting informally with your students at the end of a lesson or activity – what they feel they can take away from it for their lives? Was this useful? How could it be done to be more relevantly? I have found out that by asking your students little questions but more often they’ll feel much more at ease telling you what aspects of your course content they don’t particularly like without the atmosphere of discomfort if you were only to ask them once a year. The more you and your students communicate the happier you both will be. Unlike teaching children, your adult learners will often hide their criticism out of politeness and then they decide to drop the course. Not what we want.

Who would you like to nominate as ELTABBer of the month for May?

That’s a tough one, I’d like to nominate multiple members. But because I can only pick one, I pick Mike Budden. He’s been a new addition to our Events team fairly recently and he has already made a big difference. I’d like to hear more about how he has benefitted from being a member of ELTABB in general and working with us in the Events team in particular.