How did you get into the ELT world?
I kind of fell into it by accident. I had just finished a degree in music and wanted to earn some money so I could do a masters in composition. I thought I’d do a teaching certificate to earn some money. I did a CELTA course and was just blown away by the methodology. For the first time I realised why I hadn’t been able to learn a language at school. I got really hooked on teaching and really enjoyed the classroom experience and learned so much myself from the interaction with and between students. That was in 1992. I still haven’t done the masters in composition and haven’t saved any money either.
With so many digital teaching resources nowadays, how do you separate the good from the bad?
Generally, I don’t find it too difficult. The good things just stand out. I have been doing this for 20 years now though. The main things I look for are resources that can go straight into the hands of teachers or students and enable them to produce something that will be interesting. Interesting generally means something that enables them to express or do something that enhances their day to day lives. Evaluating tools according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs gives a useful perspective on how to match tools or resources onto students lives and needs. There’s a presentation I created here about that: https://view.genial.ly/5a4e26f70ee0220500a04b1f
What is something about working as a freelancer that people might not expect?
It’s very hard to book a holiday. When you are being offered a lot of work you feel you have to do it, because you never know how long it will last, and when you are not being offered work you have to go out a look for it. Also, many people become freelance because they don’t want to have a boss, but instead of one boss you end up with lots, because every customer becomes your boss.
What are you currently working on?
I always have a number of projects on the go.
I’m working with EtonX, a company owned by Eton College, and I’ve been designing soft skills courses for them for delivery in a blended learning mode that mixes live online group classes with asynchronous self-study materials.
I’m working on a sequence of lesson plans based around images that I hope to build into a book on using technology to develop empathy, critical thinking and creativity to be published on PeacheyPublications.com
I’m trying to do a series of blog posts to follow up on a webinar I did for the British Council on Emotional Intelligence Coaching and of course I’m looking for work for next month and so on.
What do you think will be the main developments in ELT over the next ten years?
Well, in terms of technology in the classroom, when I look back over the previous twenty years I’m actually stunned by how little has changed. Teachers are using projectors and flat screens instead of OHPs and VCRs, IWBs instead of whiteboards, but the things they are doing are pretty much the same and I don’t really see that changing very much, though I would love to be proven wrong. Really the main changes have taken place outside of the classroom with lots more students accessing media rich interactive materials online, having live online lessons in virtual classrooms and taking much more control of their own learning potential, and I think that’s how things will continue. Learning opportunities, experiences and materials that are delivered directly to the student wherever they are will continue to grow and this will have an impact on publishing and on schools.
What does a perfect 21st century ELT classroom look like?
For me, in the perfect 21st century classroom, technology is invisible for most of the class and so are course books and rows of desks. Instead, students are working together to develop skills and use the knowledge that they have already picked up outside of the classroom through online materials. Lessons go beyond learning and practicing language items and they focus much more deeply at helping students to understand the nonlinguistic elements of communication and a range of skills that will help them to be more creative, innovative and empathetic people. The technology element will be available to students and teachers to support these classes as and when it’s needed.
You’ve lived in many different countries; where did you enjoy living the most?
That’s difficult to say. The place that had the longest lasting impression on me has been Cairo. It was the first place I lived outside of the UK and was so incredibly different and it hardly ever rained! I still dream about it. I loved Barcelona too, but every country has really been a unique and interesting experience.
What is your motto?
I have two very different ones. “Nothing great was ever achieved without passion.” and “Make sure you pay the mortgage.”
What is your favourite word/ idiom?
It’s actually a word from Arabic – mumkin – It’s a very useful and flexible word. It means ‘possible’ and you can use it in a lot of ways. You can use it as a question to ask for things if you add a noun, or to agree to something, or to say something is impossible (mish-mumkin). I like the sound of it too.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Mostly, those ones are not printable.
Which living person do you most admire?
That’s difficult to answer. There are lots of musicians whose music I really admire, but I also know that, as people, many musicians are deeply troubled and I guess that’s part of what makes the music so good.
From the ELT profession, the people who have had the most influence on how I think are Mario Rinvolucri and Alan Maley. Apart from that I’d have to say my wife and two daughters are the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I’m not sure that I’ve grown up yet. I still want to be a jazz guitarist.
What was the last book you read that you’d recommend?
For fiction – The Dry by Jane Harper.
For non-fiction, work related – Emotional Intelligence Coaching by Stephen Neale, Lisa Spencer-Arnell and Liz Wilson.
Tell us one fact about yourself that most people don’t know?
Here are two things. I used to go to clown lessons and learned how to walk on stilts. My first teaching job was in a prison, where I went once each week to teach blues guitar.