Another year, another inspiring group of applicants for our annual Pearson English Global Teacher Award.
Back in October, we announced that the competition was once again open to teachers who wanted to share their inspirational stories and compete for a chance to win an all expenses paid trip to IATEFL (UK) or TESOL (US). Applications flooded in from dozens of countries, and we have been inspired, surprised and motivated by your videos.
Teachers told us three-minute stories about how they motivate their students to dare to learn and talked about their greatest achievements in transforming their students in their English language journey.
Now that the competition is closed, it’s time for the judging process to begin. Today we spoke to one of our judges, Nick Robinson, ELT writer, editor, teacher and co-founder of ELTjam: a learning product design agency, consultancy and training academy based in the UK.
It’s great to have you on the judging panel this year! What are you looking forward to the most?
I feel very privileged and honoured to do anything that helps raise the stature of teachers in general, but also that of language teachers specifically. I feel it’s been a shame, historically, that teaching has never got the kind of recognition that other professions get. It’s great that Pearson is driving initiatives like this forward.
Why do you think that awards like this are important?
Awards like this are a way of recognising exceptional teachers – and anything that can drive teachers to try and be exceptional and try and do better has got to be a good thing.
If you look at some of the research into the psychology of motivation – recognition is seen as a very strong motivator, even more so than financial rewards. Knowing that people are noticing what you do and giving you some kudos helps you stay motivated. It shows that you are valued and helps you remember that you are doing something worthwhile.
What are you looking for in a winning application?
One of the reasons I’ve been in ELT for almost 20 years is because I am aware of the impact it has on people’s lives. When you realise just how life-changing it can be for the people on the receiving end of our services, it makes you see just how high the stakes are for the teachers.
When it comes to judging criteria, I would say it’s not about whether you can follow a lesson plan to the letter, or if can you explain grammar paradigms perfectly. What I’m looking for is evidence of impact – and that’s not only measured by exam results, but also by the impact your teaching has on your students’ lives. This is what I really enjoyed about last year’s winners. It was obvious how much they cared about their learners.
When you were growing up, which teacher had the most effect on your life and why?
For me, there was a French teacher at school – Mr. Eyre – who made an incredible intervention in my life during a parents’ evening, just before my GCSEs. He told my mum that my biggest problem was that I didn’t write very well. He told her that she could solve the problem by making me read more. And this was totally counterintuitive to both of us.
He recommended six books, which my mum bought. I read them over the summer holidays and then continued to read and read and read. As a result, I became a very proficient writer and eventually went on to make a career out of writing.
You could say he had a huge impact on your life!
Yes, that’s the magic. Teachers can literally change people’s lives with one intervention. How many other people has Mr. Eyre done that for? How many other people have benefited from my ability to write well? The network effect is huge – and that’s why teachers are so important.
What is the difference between a good teacher and a great one?
I think a good teacher does what is required – they get through the curriculum, they teach the required content – they don’t tend to mess up or offend anyone. Everyone walks out of the classroom feeling that they’ve learned something valuable.
A great teacher, on the other hand, ultimately makes enough impact on someone to change their life. And they do this repeatedly – and therefore has this incredible long-term effect on people. Moreover, they recognise the impact they have on their students’ lives and they take their profession extremely seriously as a result. Really, they make it their imperative to help people.
I also think it’s important to say that great teaching is not just about charisma. That’s something we instinctively look for because it’s indicative of the connection a teacher has with his or her students. But it’s not everything. I’ve seen highly charismatic teachers that have a great relationship with the people in their classroom, but at the end of the day – the students walk away saying “I really liked her, but I don’t think I learned anything”.
Of course, if you don’t learn anything it’s a waste of time. ELTjam’s Learner Experience Design methodology centers on that concept; it’s important that students both learn a lot and have a delightful experience doing it.
When and how did you start in ELT and how has your career progressed?
I started in ELT with a CELTA course, which I took in September 2001. I came out of a French and Spanish languages degree – and really, I just wanted to live in Barcelona. At that time, ELT was the easiest way for a 21-year-old to do that.
But I loved my CELTA course and fell in love with teaching straight away. I soon became very serious about it professionally. I was especially interested in the material development side of things and I found myself rewriting course books, making resources, and developing my own class materials.
Then I came to realise there was actually a job that allowed me to do that professionally – and I moved back to the UK to work for Cambridge University Press, where I was an editor. I segued out of that into materials writing; I wrote a couple of course books, some teacher’s books, and started writing some digital content and doing some teacher training. Ultimately that led me to focus on digital learning. In 2009, I became the publishing manager at blended learning platform English 360. It was a totally different world and completely a different way of looking at everything.
Is that what led you to co-found ELTjam?
Exactly. My co-founders at ELTjam, Laurie Harrison and Tim Gifford, came together over a shared interest in the way in which technology was impacting ELT.
It started life as the three of us writing blogs for fun – and it was incredible fun! It’s a weird time to look back on. While we all had demanding full-time jobs – we’d all get home every evening and write blog posts for hours. It was an amazing rush of creative energy and very purpose-driven work. Looking back on it, it’s clear it was an attempt at a rallying call for change – a new way of looking at things. We could see that the way the industry was approaching digital learning wasn’t working.
Subsequently, we turned it into a business by helping publishers build digital products. We then started training publishers on how to build digital products and even started creating our own digital products too.
And that ties into these awards – this is what the best teachers do. They make it about the learner, rather than the curriculum, the materials, or themselves. Next year it would be great to see students getting even more involved by nominating their favorite teacher.
We look forward to announcing the winners on January 25th. Join us at the live event which will be streamed on Facebook.
In the meantime, meet the rest of the judges.