An interview with eltforum.sk presenter: Candy Fresacher
An Interview by Martina Bednáriková
It is said that being positive makes for a healthier and longer life. Studies also tell us that having a positive attitude is important – in learning situations as well. People simply learn better when they are positive. At the ELTForum.sk in June this year, these are the issues that Candy Fresacher, an American lecturer at Vienna Module University and teacher trainer, is going to share in her workshop “Optimism and Positive Psychology in the Classroom”. We took some time to talk to her about herself, and her philosophy of life and teaching.
SCET: Dr. Fresacher, please tell us more about why you originally moved to Austria.
Candy: I moved to Austria for love! I met my husband during a two-month bus tour of Europe – he was the tour guide. For more info about what that meant to me check out what I wrote for TEA.
SCET: What is the ‘life’ story behind your teaching career?
Candy: I came to teaching late. I never really wanted to be a teacher but living in Austria meant looking for jobs. My first job in Austria was teaching American shorthand at the Austro-America Institute to people who wanted to work at the UN. Then I got a job at the UN but continued the teaching. After having two children I did not want to work full time so had a part time job but continued teaching shorthand at night. When the part-time job needed full-time attention, I turned to teaching and started teaching shorthand, typing, and oral communication in a private business college. Since then I think I have taught about 20 different subjects, all in English.
SCET: Tell us more about your teaching experience at vocational schools in Vienna. Where exactly have you been teaching and what do you like about it the most?
Candy: As I mentioned before, I have taught many different subjects, starting with American shorthand, keyboarding, business administration, general and tourism correspondence and oral communication. I was the only IATA qualified teacher for 15 years and taught students about airline ticketing and geography, I also taught the computer systems of Galileo and Amadeus. I have taught business English in evening schools and in companies. I have been teaching advertising English for 13 years, and a course in Improving Management Communication Skills for the last 7 years in Hungary. Rhetoric, Academic Writing, and Change Management have been some of my newer classes. Probably the most important topic that I taught (for me) was Office Management because there I learned more about my favourite topics which are now what I love to teach most. The soft skills needed in management are most important to me: Emotional Intelligence, communication skills, stress management, negotiating and generally – all the skills we need to work well with others.
SCET: You mentioned working at the United Nations. What exactly did you do and how did this experience influence your professional development as a teacher?
Candy: I worked for 4 years as an administrative assistant at the UN. Before teaching I worked many years in different companies and have had many classes in business subjects during high school and the university because I never anticipated teaching. Probably my years at the UN helped me to understand international working systems and the importance of cultural tolerance. I still love to teach international classes for just that cultural mix. I have gone back to the UN and taught seminars in Emotional Intelligence there over the past few years.
SCET: In what ways does a positive and optimistic attitude about life and successful stress management influence English teachers and learners respectively? In what ways does it influence your own teaching?
Candy: There have now been any number of studies that tell us that being positive is conducive to better health and longer life. Studies also tell us that having a positive attitude is important to many types of jobs – including teaching. We know that people learn better when they are positive. Think only of the courses in which you have learned the most – they are probably those that you enjoyed and that you felt the teacher enjoyed teaching. My worst memories are of my French teacher and that has influenced my ability to learn or speak French – even now, 40 years later. Emotions are contagious. I try to be upbeat and positive in my lessons. If I feel my students are “down” for some reason, I address that before I start class. I ask them on a scale from 1-10 how “happy” they are. When they are not happy, I ask for a short explanation. I find getting the problem out in the open means they can move on to being more concentrated in my lesson and leave that negativity behind them.
SCET: As editor of ELT News (for Teachers of English in Austria), what in your opinion are the main benefits of journals for English teachers? How do teachers profit from such networking? Drawing on your experience, why should ELT teachers blog, contribute to journals, and network and share ideas?
Candy: This is a pretty big question. I believe in sharing ideas, and however and whenever that happens is good. We now have many avenues to use to do this sharing. A journal is something teachers have that they can read and re-read and share with colleagues. It brings new ideas into the home or workplace with that “hard copy” authority. Having said that, our ELT News will soon only be available as an online edition. We have come to recognize that teachers are being pulled more and more towards internet resources. I personally believe networking is really important and so conferences such as yours are a great place to exchange ideas and experiences with others doing the same type of work. Bouncing ideas off one another in person provides an important function that doesn’t happen as often as it should – because of those internet connections.
Dr. Candy Fresacher, an American living in Austria for the past 35 years, has been teaching at various vocational colleges in Vienna for the past 21 years. In the past years she has become involved in teacher training as part of her position Chair of TEA (Teachers of English in Austria). She also edits their ELT News, a journal designed to disseminate information about new teaching trends and ideas to teachers of English in Austria and abroad. She has presented in Beijing, Manila, USA and throughout Europe as well as published a number of articles including, for example, in the online site Humanizing Language Teaching.