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Editorial NRInglês

✭ Interview with Nancy Lake


JS: Could you please tell us first a little bit about your background and why and when you came to Brazil and decided to settle here?

NL: After graduating from the University of Minnesota in Spanish and French Education, I started an MS in TESOL, but interrupted it to move to Porto Alegre with my Uruguayan husband and five-month-old son. We lived and worked in Rio Grande do Sul for three years where my daughter was born.

We moved to São Paulo where we educated our children and truly settled into our professional lives. For me, it was a change from teaching in public schools in the U.S. to working at a private language institute, but it has certainly made my professional life grow in many more ways than I could ever have imagined.

JS: During the many years you’ve been a teacher trainer, what have the main areas of focus been and how have they changed?

NL: I think one of the biggest changes in focus has been moving away from focusing on methodological paradigms as the essence of teaching to focusing on the learner him/ herself and the conditions necessary for learning to occur.

The way we look at how the brain processes language has given us tremendous insight into what we might be able to do to facilitate learning.

When I first started teaching, we were trained to focus on form and show learners how to manipulate form. By recombining forms, eventually, learners communicated — we hoped. As researchers discovered more about how languages were acquired, all sorts of labels sprung up to describe approaches to teaching. Most of them involved following intricate steps and phases to guarantee that the approach was respected. As time went by, newer methodologies were proposed until in more recent years, all of the labeling of approaches seems to have fallen a bit by the wayside as we teachers help our learners attach meaning to language learning and focus on the individual needs of each learner.

JS: How has technology impacted on Teacher Education in the Brazilian context and what major changes can you anticipate as a result of such influence?

NL: Technology has had a huge impact on Teacher Education, especially in the Brazilian context. Through technology, teaching certificates are now more available online than ever before at all levels. For example, it’s possible to do parts of diplomas such as the DELTA and complete MAs in the distance mode thanks to online access.

On a smaller dimension, we are able to give access to teacher updating materials online thanks to technology. Probably the most significant impact has been being able to use technology to have international and local speakers become available to us even though we are spread out across such a large country. IATEFL conferences in the past two years have been made available through the British Council site both while they are taking place and asynchronously.

JS: How do you see the preparedness of the younger generation coming from the licensure in Brazilian Universities?

NL: One of the things that genuinely concern me about licensure in any country is how the discrepancies appear from one university to another and therefore, how the quality of teachers varies tremendously from one institution to another. This means that when new teachers come to a language institute, for example, the amount of training and supplementing of teaching background can be enormous. It seems to me that ministries of education are busy making requirements for students without taking their teachers into consideration. How often are recently-graduated teachers asked what they felt was missing in their curriculum once they started teaching? How often are standards discussions conducted using real teachers as the starting point?

Many language teachers are not required to be proficient in the language they are going to teach, and yet they obtain licensure. Who should be measuring this? Should a candidate be accepted to be a language teacher without a minimum of language proficiency in the language they are going to teach? And whose responsibility is it for guaranteeing this proficiency? There are so many unanswered questions.

JS: If you were asked to recommend one subject to be included in the licensure curriculum, which one would it be and why?

NL: This is difficult, but I would have to say that it would be the Psychology of Motivation in Education. I believe that this can help us focus on understanding and impacting students’ motivation to learn. We need to constantly understand how to help our students learn and this is achieved through the study of motivation.

JS: When selecting trainees, what are the main qualities you look for?

NL: Basically, we look for professional attitude, ability to teach and linguistic proficiency. Each of these aspects can be dissected and re-dissected into much smaller categories, of course, but this is what a student needs and looks for in a teacher in order to be successful in learning.

JS: Which three most important features do you look for when you observe a lesson?

NL: First, I look at preparedness. This involves planning, preparation and awareness of the lesson itself, the lesson in a wider context and a readiness to connect with learners.

Next, I look for real listening to students and a general sense of “being there” or “plugging in” during the class. When I observe a really good lesson, the teacher might be a little nervous at the beginning, but after a few minutes, her attention is so connected to what her learners are giving her that she becomes a part of the learning process of the moment, and I become a simple outsider.

Last but not least, I look for a moment of learning realization, when the students can identify what they can do now that they couldn’t do before they came to that class. This sense of achievement is tantamount to a good lesson.

JS: How much freedom should teachers have to depart from the program /the syllabus, if they feel it is useful to do so?

NL: Freedom is part of teaching and freedom to depart from the program or syllabus may be valid. The distance of the departure has to mean something significant in terms of success in learning; otherwise, it may not be truly useful. This requires time, planning and tremendous knowledge of learner needs.

JS: How do you perceive the concurrent teaching of English and peaceful communication to high school students? Are you in favor or against and why?

NL: I am in favor of teaching English and peaceful communication to high school students. It is a time when they are beginning to hone their sense of critical thinking and need to be empowered with the language of peace as a tool for their own survival and for the survival of our society.

JS: How can we encourage new teachers to begin their careers and plan their developmental growth as they get started? What do you suggest new teachers do immediately to plot this development?

NL: We have professional organizations like BRAZ-TESOL and newsletters and magazines like New Routes to help us find our way. These sources are wonderful doors of opportunity for professional development.

There are four stages of teacher development which are well defined and five categories of teaching knowledge and skills. A teacher can plot his/her competences and see which path to take in the future. It most certainly is a great help to all of us from Foundation level to Expert level.

JS: How can a teacher who is starting out, far away from the big cities make professional contacts that will lead to development without having to invest financial resources that are beyond their reality? Where can new teachers find resources to develop independently?

NL: Developing on your own is always a challenge, but the links from the free resources are an excellent start. As I mentioned earlier, there are many online contacts which can be made and essentially require a cell phone. New teachers can find New Routes very helpful because of the interviews and reviews of textbooks and teaching materials, and all that is necessary is to give one’s personal information online to DISAL.

BRAZ-TESOL gives new teachers many contacts to interest groups and an excellent newsletter. The site is With a small annual fee you receive reduced rates at events, access to exclusive areas of the site, and regular updates about our profession.

JS: You have been a very active member and also Board Member of the voluntary associations Laurels and BRAZTESOL. What in your view is the role of teachers’ associations in teacher training and development?

NL: Through teachers’ associations you can build awareness about good teaching practices all over Brazil and the world, and this has a positive washback on your own classes. They help you build a network that is a lasting source of personal and professional contacts that help in your own growth. They also help you understand a variety of teaching realities and solutions that can ultimately help you help your learners be more successful.

JS: Teaching is a very demanding and potentially stressful profession. It is also very hard to find time and energy after work for professional development. What advice would you give to teachers who are committed to life-long learning and sustaining their professional development? How can they strike a balance between achieving their long-term goals and their personal lives?

NL: Use your classroom as your laboratory. Choose something you would really like to improve in your own teaching practice and then begin doing some research to see if anyone has ever written about it. Chances are, there are quite a few articles to read online about the aspect you want to improve. This is a way to start and sustain professional development in a doable and focused way.

Striking a balance is energizing in itself; so once you have been able to improve or understand your teaching practice more, the sustaining energy will come. Sometimes our development doesn’t take the shape of certificates and diplomas but rather in the better understanding of our own teaching practices in terms of our learners. This is truly a goal to achieve.

JS: As an educational professional dedicated to quality education, what are your own challenges at the moment and your specific long-term goals?

NL: I’m sure that my challenges are the same as all teachers, and that is how to help learners juggle language learning with all the other things they do during the day. Making classes memorable, meaningful and pleasurable learning experiences will always be a challenge.

My long-term goals involve making teacher training more available in the distance mode. This requires collaboration on many fronts from publishers to ICT to school directors and curriculum developers.

JS: Finally, Nancy, what was your most embarrassing moment as a trainer? And your most rewarding?

NL: My most rewarding moment was probably when my own daughter got her MA in TEFL/TESL. She had been through our training course and decided that she wanted to make a professional choice and go on for an MA at Indiana University and then to teach in a Japanese university. Seeing her walk up to get her diploma with plans for a future in teaching EFL and ESL was like a promise for quality.

I really can’t think of “a most embarrassing” moment as a trainer, although I’m sure there have been a few. By and large, the rewarding moments outweigh them!

The interviewee
Nancy Lake is the Manager of Pre-Service Teacher Training for the Cel.Lep group. She has an MA in TEFL/TESL from the University of Birmingham (UK) and is currently a local tutor for the Distance MA Programme of the University of Birmingham in Brazil and ICELT (Cambridge TeachingAwards). She has also been a tutor for the Oxford Teaching Academy from the University of Oxford (UK). Nancy is a Speaking Examiner and Regional Team Leader for Cambridge English examinations. She has a BSc from the University of Minnesota (US) in Spanish and French Education, graduate studies in ESL and concluded a yearand- a-half course on Reflective Teaching at PUC São Paulo.
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