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IATEFL 2017 Conference plenary speakers
 
         
Gabriel Diaz Maggioli Sarah Mercer J J Wilson Jane Setter Imtiaz Dharker
Photo credit Ayesha Dharker (Imtiaz Dharker).
 

Questions to our plenary speakers
We've interviewed each of our 2017 plenary speakers to discover their views on various issues. Read on to see what they think. We'll be adding a new one each month.
 
   
Imtiaz Dharker

1. What made you become a poet?
I think all children have the potential for poetry in them, experimenting with language, playing with words and rhythm, discovering their own ways to use them. It is an adventure that is sometimes forgotten as they grow older.

Poets are great eavesdroppers, and what I really do is eavesdrop on the world. For me, poems come from being involved with daily life and a line of a poem, or the idea for a poem can come unexpectedly, at any time, on the street, in a railway station, in conversations walking by. You have to catch the line while it’s still live, and if you are lucky, with craft and ruthless editing, it may turn into a poem.

So I may find a line in the hubbub but I hone it in the still hours of the night, when there are no distractions. Sometimes the miracle happens and the poem feels like a heartbeat put into words. That’s why I keep writing.

2. Looking back, what has had the biggest influence on your poetry?
I grew up in Glasgow listening to ghazals on a Grundig tape-recorder every Sunday and my parents would recite Urdu lines from Faiz and Ghalib to each other, so I thought poetry was just part of a normal conversation. Then I discovered Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Donne, and the way they used language made me feel as if my brain had been turned inside out. I found a whole world of poets who felt like my real ancestors and I am influenced by them, as I am every day by incredible contemporary poets, young poets, hardly-even-published poets from everywhere in the world. I am changed every day by things I see or what I read or hear, and I want my poems to reflect that, to live outside borderlines.

3. Does poetry have a place in the English language classroom? Or does dissecting poems just ruin the poem and put students off?
Reading a poem is like opening a door, and a good teacher can use it to open up whole new rooms and storeys in the mind. It’s often enough for the students just to know that poetry is not an inaccessible mystery but something that speaks about the world they live in, and that what they think counts.

I find more and more young people are turning to poetry, as well as the shared experience of live readings. When I write a poem I have to read it aloud to know if it works. That is the only way to check if the music is there, and if it sounds like a true voice. Reading the poem aloud makes it possible to detect the wrong note and find the rhythm. Ideally, I would like people to hear the poem read in the voice of the poet, the breath, the pauses, the accent, and then go away and rediscover it on the page. For me, one of the greatest pleasures is hearing a poet, perhaps half-understanding, then finding the book and taking time to delve into the poetry.

I travel around the country every year with five other poets on Poetry Live! and we read to thousands of students every year. They arrive in boisterous hordes, seeing it as a day off school, but as soon as the poets start reading they listen in pin-drop silence, and their questions afterwards show that they really are paying attention. As much as anything else, they see that the poets are real, living people talking about things the students recognise in their lives, in language they understand. Instead of being just an exam question on a page, the poem becomes a lived experience.

When we stop and listen to each others’ voices, we make a still space in the world. That’s a space for poetry, and it is needed now more than ever.

 
 
   
Jane Setter

1.      Could you share one of your (professional) passions with us? Something that gets you excited?
My subject is Phonetics, and my passion is finding novel and effective approaches to deliver my subject in a way which brings it alive to students, makes it more accessible, and helps them to understand how useful and pervasive it is.  Students often assume it's going to be a dry, dull and rather useless subject, but the way people use their voices to communicate fascinates me, particularly in varieties of English.  If I've managed to impart the tiniest fraction of my enthusiasm to my students and helped them really get to grips with the subject and its applications, it is enormously satisfying. 
 
2.      Looking back, what has had the biggest influence on your professional development?
I'd have to say excellent, innovative teachers.  Some of the outstanding and award-winning teachers I've experienced at school and university, either as tutors or colleagues - including Peter Roach at the Universities of Leeds and Reading, Aileen Bloomer at York St John University, Patricia Ashby at the University of Westminster, and Susanna Martin at City University, London - have really helped to shape my approach to being an academic and my pedagogical ethos.  Student feedback, positive or negative, is also highly influential; I have used to it adapt my teaching to make it more effective, and have worked in partnership with students to develop aspects of the curriculum.  I'm currently researching students' thoughts on the use of the technological approach "flipped learning" on home and overseas university students, for example.  The evidence that these things have aided my professional development is reflected in the university teaching awards I have won.
 
3.      In your view, what are 21st century skills/competences for teachers of English?
In my opinion, English language teachers have got to be members - or, at minimum, have an awareness - of the global online community, and have a good understanding of the influence of language and the internet, in order to be in touch with their students and colleagues, locally or globally.  It is crucial for teachers of English to understand how the language is used online - whether we're looking at, e.g., text, audio, video or face-to-face (f2f) communication such as Skype - in a variety of settings (at work, as consumers, when gaming, etc.) and by a variety of speakers from all over the world to really understand the modern use of the English language.  This can help teachers work out what the priorities are for their learners so they can be better supported as users of English in the lives they currently have and have ahead of them.    
 
4.      What do you see as possible future directions for IATEFL?
IATEFL's stated mission is to "link, develop and support English language teaching professionals".  I'd like to see the Association develop one or more scholarships to enable members to study for a higher qualification such as an MA TESOL, particularly those who come from less well-off backgrounds or disadvantaged groups who would really benefit from support in this way.  While I know there currently exist "Global Issues" and "Inclusive Practices / SEN" SIGs, I'd also like to see these areas receive more attention and support from IATEFL as a whole.  English belongs to everyone who uses it and no learner should be left behind.
 
5.      Do you have a favourite motto / quotation to share with IATEFL members?
A personal favourite (and one of my mum's) is "It's better to be looked over than overlooked"!  But I think I'll go with one by Master Yoda (Star Wars): "Try not.  Do.  Or do not.  There is no try."  Tough words!
 
 
   
J J Wilson

1.      Could you share one of your (professional) passions with us? Something that gets you excited?
ELT is embracing social changes that make the world a better place. In recent years we’ve seen calls for greater recognition of non-native speaker teachers, award-winning materials concerning disability, and a kind of de-colonisation process which recognises that English belongs to everyone. These are great developments.

2.      Looking back, what has had the biggest influence on your professional development?
Two overlapping factors:
(1) Working with outstanding people and scholars such as Mike Rost, Jeremy Harmer, Antonia Clare, Frances Eales, and Steve Oakes. Their insights constantly refresh my interest in the field.
(2) Wide reading, particularly at the juncture between education and social justice. Works by figures such as Ivan Illich, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Jonathan Kozol have been seminal for me.

3.      In your view, what are 21st century skills/competences for teachers of English?
Teachers need to be lifelong learners, curious about language, about the profession, about the world. 21st century skills include the ability to synthesise research findings, adapt materials to make them relevant, and steal ideas from other fields such as psychology, drama, music, and gaming.

4.      What do you see as possible future directions for IATEFL?
IATEFL does a terrific job right now. The conference itself, the SIGs, the publications, the scholarship programme and the support for local projects are all excellent. More of the same, please.

5.      Do you have a favourite motto / quotation to share with IATEFL members?
Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” … the story of most educators’ lives, me included.
 
 
   
Sarah Mercer

1.      Could you share one of your (professional) passions with us? Something that gets you excited?
Well, passion is usually catching so seeing somebody else get passionate in respect to any area of language education is likely to get me passionate too! The topics that I get especially excited about are concerned with human psychology – what motivates, engages, excites learners and teachers in respect to language education. I enjoy reflecting on how we can work with understandings from psychology to enhance how we teach and learn foreign languages.

2.      Looking back, what has had the biggest influence on your professional development?
Throughout the years, there have been numerous teachers and learners who have influenced my development. Indeed, every encounter in the classroom is an opportunity to learn as a teacher. One particular individual who was very special to me was Alan Waters, who was my PhD supervisor and mentor – a passionate teacher and a kind and generous academic. In an ongoing sense, it is through my research that I learn the most – by asking questions and talking with and listening to teachers and learners from all walks of life. This helps me to get a better understanding of the rich diversity of people and perspectives on language teaching.

3.      In your view, what are 21st century skills/competences for teachers of English?
Well, obviously, I am biased to my own fields of interest but I am convinced that the skills we need more than ever before are interpersonal skills. Developing our social and emotional competences is vital in our increasingly multicultural world and in light of technological developments, which are changing the ways we interact and communicate.

4.      What do you see as possible future directions for IATEFL?
IATEFL has been doing and does a great job in providing a wonderful network and community for EFL teachers worldwide. All the volunteers who work for the organisation are a great inspiration in their dedication and commitment. In terms of future developments, conscious of its remit, I would love to see the range of opportunities for the support of teachers from all kinds of settings and backgrounds even further increased (50 scholarships at the 50th conference was impressive!), thereby ensuring the organisation and its annual conference is accessible for as many EFL teachers as possible.

5.      Do you have a favourite motto / quotation to share with IATEFL members?
From my work examining the power of holding growth mindsets and healthy but realistic self-beliefs, one of my favourite quotes is: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right” by Henry Ford.
 
 
   
Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

1.      Could you share one of your (professional) passions with us? Something that gets you excited?
Ever since I decided to pursue education as a career, I felt compelled to understand how it is that one becomes a teacher. Are we naturally endowed with a “teaching gene” or is learning teaching a process of accruing knowledge and experience in the classroom? Because of this, my research centres on how we become and sustain our identities as education professionals. I have a particular interest in how communities of professionals develop and sustain ways to empower themselves and their students, as well as to how the “old timers” in those communities welcome newcomers into them.

2.      Looking back, what has had the biggest influence on your professional development?
Without a doubt, it was my peers. Their modelling of good teaching, their selfless mentoring, and their efforts to make me become part of their community were the decisive factors in my becoming a lifelong learner of teaching. It was because of my peers that I pursued my graduate studies and joined the international associations I am a member of.

3.      In your view, what are 21st century skills/competences for teachers of English?
21st century teachers should have a profound knowledge of the pedagogy they implement in their classrooms so that they can effectively mediate the learning of ALL their students. Coupled with this, they should possess a thorough understanding of how their learners learn and how their learning rhythms differ. They should also possess a multicultural and multimodal predisposition that would allow them to make the necessary accommodations to their way of teaching so that they can effectively mediate learning in multiple sites and working with very diverse learners.

4.      What do you see as possible future directions for IATEFL?
As one of the two main professional associations of teachers of English, IATEFL has the necessary acumen and expertise to be able to effect powerful changes in the lives of the teachers they serve. I would like to see the association reaching out further to our colleagues far and wide, continuing to promote the building of networked communities of practice through involvement with the SIGs, as well as through the organization of local and regional conferences, webinars and other events. Lastly, I would love to see more of the expertise of the association and its members in print form, developing publications and e-publications that disseminate the excellent work they do.

5.      Do you have a favourite motto / quotation to share with IATEFL members?
I admire the work of Paulo Freire and have as a motto and personal belief this quotation from his 1973 book Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
“At the point of encounter there are neither total ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know.”
And this is the motto I live by.

 

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