An interview with eltforum.sk presenter: Lenka Kroupová
An Interview by Lynda Steyne
Many of us who teach English never intended to teach at all. One such teacher is Lenka Kroupová, instructor of Portuguese and English at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, and presenter at ELTForum.sk next weekend. Not only did she end up teaching, she ended up teaching learners that many of us in Slovakia never encounter: the deaf and hard of hearing. We spoke to Lenka about teaching, networking, and the ‘plugged/unplugged’ debate.
SCET: What or who inspired you to go into teaching English?
Lenka: To be perfectly honest, I never wanted to be a teacher and such a prospect terrified me. Half of my family are teachers and I didn’t want to follow the beaten path. Nevertheless, I naturally ended up on that same path during my university studies when I needed to boost my pocket money by teaching English and Spanish. I eventually realised that I enjoy it! Now I’m absolutely thrilled to be a teacher but I’d have never ever believed that might be possible!
SCET: How did you become involved with teaching English to the deaf and hard of hearing? Do you use sign language at all? And how do those lessons/learners differ from hearing classes?
Lenka: It came about quite unplanned. I ran across a job offer made by ‘Teiresiás’, the Support Centre for the Students with Special Needs at Masaryk University. Teiresiás helps the visually impaired, the deaf and hearing impaired, and people with mobility problems and other disabilities to manage their university studies.
Although at the beginning it was all new to me and I wasn’t quite sure if I could make my lessons work with my “well-proven and tested box of tricks”, after the training offered by the Teiresiás centre I started to experiment in the lessons and gradually got into my stride. It’s great to have such a teaching experience! Although hearing loss certainly presents challenges to language development – and even more so to second language development – my non-hearing students need exactly the as my hearing students.
Do I use sign language? Every day. The finger alphabet and numbers. I can sign the typical classroom language like ‘great’, ‘please read’, ‘I understand’, ‘good idea’, colours, and so on. But I definitely want to improve! I hope to start an intensive course in September.
SCET: You were able to attend this year’s IATEFL conference in Liverpool. You’ve mentioned that you found it profitable, but attending conferences can be expensive. Why do you think they can be beneficial despite the expense? What did you learn at this year’s Liverpool conference?
Lenka: Liverpool was such a great experience! I went as the representative of the teacher’s association I belong to, MSATE/MSUA (Moravian and Silesian Association of Teachers of English), which helped pay my way. IATEFL Liverpool was also quite demanding in terms of its time span – 5 full days: from Monday (dedicated to Special Interest Groups and Teacher Associations) to Friday.
Although I’m a strong supporter of smaller scale conferences as they feel more familiar, and perhaps more focused, seeing the huge ELT wheel moving was incredible. I was astonished, 22 concurrent sessions in one time slot about says it all. I was running like mad from one room to another and in every room and every corner I bumped into somebody who I wanted to meet or exchange a few words. So, to my mind, it is really worth seeing what IATEFL is all about. I highly recommend it to all teachers to go and get the “IATEFL annual conference feeling”!
SCET: You’re also quite active online, networking with other teachers from around the world. How does that work? How did you find out about these groups, websites and organizations?
Lenka: Before I started to use Facebook professionally, I thought it was utterly stupid. Then I realized that Facebook, if used carefully and sensibly, might be one of the best teacher development tools ever. I get to know about so many opportunities I would have never learnt about from the school notice board. Online, I meet fantastic people who I’m happy to be in touch with and from whom I learn a lot. Actually, most of the conferences and seminars I attend I learned about thanks to networking. Once I started and added my first teacher friends, it was easy because they started recommending different pages and groups. And I also enjoy using Facebook with my students.
SCET: Your presentation uses the terms ‘unplugged’ and ‘plugged’. What do you mean by that? Do you think one methodology is better than another?
By plugged I understand teaching approaches which are technology driven and by unplugged those which only need a creative mind and possibly a pen and paper to get started.
I like playing with both solutions. A few years ago I was the biggest fan of paper-&-pen based activities because I hated queuing at the photocopy machine and I usually lost half of the copies on the way to the classroom. Then I started experimenting with technologies and I discovered a world of new opportunities which technology brings into language education. In fact, I need to be ready for both a chairs-and-desk-only classroom and a hi-tech room becaue I never know which classroom I’ll be teaching in at the beginning of the term.
This term, I actually conducted an unexpected little experiment. I taught a Portuguese A2 course which was split into 2 groups. One group got a brilliantly equipped classroom so we created Glogster posters, made Jing videos, used YouTube and so on. The other got a room which had no more than chairs and desks so we did a lot of speaking and pen-and-paper activities. At the end of the term, which was a week ago, my students sat the final test and I asked them to fill in a feedback questionnaire. Neither the test nor the questionnaires suggested one approach was better than the other. Sure, it was only a very small experiment but it made me think we should not forget our resources-light goodies in light of new technology tools, but that there’s also no need to hide from those tools.
Lenka Kroupová is an English teacher based in the Czech Republic, currently teaching English for the deaf and hard of hearing. Her areas of interest range from learner autonomy, bringing fun and motivation into the classroom, professional development, technology and unplugged solutions. She is always happy to connect via Facebook with other teachers and share ideas.