Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Interviews with our Plenary Speakers: Ken Wilson

Please tell us a few things about yourself and your involvement in education.

I'm an author and trainer. I started out teaching English in Spain, and when I returned to the UK, apart from continuing to teach, I got involved in writing songs and books, and also TV and radio programmes for English learners. Then I joined a theatre company called the English Teaching Theatre and wrote sketches and songs for the company, too. Nowadays, I mainly work as a consultant or editor-in-chief on ELT writing projects.

What attracted you to the field of education?

Like many English-speaking graduates, I didn't know what to do when I finished university so I did a short ELT training course and went off to teach in Spain (it could easily have been Greece!). I didn't know what I would eventually do, but I enjoyed the teaching so much that I continued. 

Which are some of the most memorable highlights of your career in education?

When I was a young teacher, it was a highlight when I felt a lesson had gone well and everyone had progressed (or at least had a good time). There is a definite physiological sensation that goes with that. 

When I worked with the theatre, we performed shows in amazing places - the back garden of the British Embassy in Cairo, a 3,000-seat theatre in Bucharest (thankfully it wasn't full) and a school in Mali where every time the audience laughed, the monkeys in the surrounding trees started making a noise! But some of the best shows were in little schools in the suburbs of cities in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Greece - they were all highlights.

Now that I'm lucky enough to travel to different countries to give talks and other kinds of training, I'm just amazed at how enthusiastic teachers are everywhere I go, at least the ones who go to conferences! I've presented in more than forty countries, and I can genuinely say I found something positive in every visit.

Which aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

That's an interesting question. Because I work by myself most of the time, I really appreciate the chance to talk to people in different countries. But at the same time, I still get a bit anxious, about travelling and also because I can never be sure if I will get a good response from the teachers. 

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I am doing a Masters in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, London. I have to write short stories and plays, NOT for the ELT market. This is the toughest thing I've done for ages! 

In ELT terms I am editor-in-chief of a primary course for Vietnam. The books are being written by very talented local writers, and being edited in Hong Kong. It's a really interesting international project designed for pupils in one country - the best type of project, in my opinion. I think 'international' course books will soon be a thing of the past.

In addition, I'm about to start work on the third edition of my OUP American English series, Smart Choice.

What are your professional plans for the future?

I have written more than a dozen series of coursebooks, and frankly that's enough from one writer! So I don't plan to do any more of those. Nowadays, I try to work more as an editor or consultant. Smart Choice 3e will take me until the middle of next year, and the Vietnam project will take me until 2017, so that's enough for now. 

What should your audience expect to learn during the plenary session at the 22nd TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Northern Greece Annual International Convention?

My main interest at the moment is how teachers can connect with this new generation of tech-savvy students. I think I will be promoting old-fashioned values of face-to-face interaction, not face-to-screen.

What are the three words that sum up your session?

Oh dear, what should I say??? I HOPE - interactive, informative, fun. 

You are a teacher trainer, an author, a composer, you have been a performer and you have written English sketches and radio and TV programmes for BBC English (hope not to miss something). My question is: Is a teacher's success based on his talents and in what ways all these skills helped you to build your career?

You missed out audio producer! :-) Seriously, that's a part of my work that I really love.

The first part of your question is easier than the second. If a teacher has a talent - singing, playing a musical instrument, miming - then she should of course use it. But a teacher's success is ultimately based on how well she knows her subject and how well she communicates with her students.

As for my 'talents', the fact is I didn't know I had most of these skills until someone invited me to use them. I had never acted before I joined the English Teaching Theatre, and my singing and guitar-playing had to improve dramatically before I was good enough for the stage show. As for writing, I didn't know I could do that either until someone invited me to try.

I very much like the quote from US tennis player Arthur Ashe, the first black player to win a Grand Slam tournament - 'Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can'.

On top of that, my advice to teachers is to keep trying new things and take any opportunity for training or experience that you can. 

Thank you very much,

Efi Tzouri
For TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, Northern Greece

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