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Professional Development

Originated by Birmingham MA TEFL/TESL students

April 05, 2009

A MASH colleague going all the way!


In the last weeks of my college-level Travel English class, I had been feeling terribly bad about how the class had gone. My syllabus never completely came together and I felt as though I was more or less teaching my Year 1 Advanced class for another 90 minutes a week.

As a final project, I had teams of students make oral presentations about countries they studied. One team included the best student in the class: a young man who had studied in England for several weeks and was head and shoulders above the other students. It was clear during the presentation that he was far better prepared and much more knowledgeable than his teammates.
After his team had done a practice presentation for me, the student stayed behind to complain to me about his team members’ commitment to the project. He had been required to do much more than he thought he should have. We had a chance to talk about his role as a leader on the team, and he left considering how he could bring out the best in his team members.

For me, teaching English was never entirely about teaching English, but teaching students to be better learners and community members (something they rarely seem to learn in other classes). If a student can apply her or his English skills to grow not only as a language speaker, but as an individual, then both the teacher and student have something truly useful to show for their work.

A thought or idea in progress
I am researching the ways in which metaphor usage is shared between bloggers and blog commenters. I am hoping to show how metaphors are used, interpreted, and re-interpreted in comment threads. The starting point of this research is reconsidering how text is produced on the Internet and reconsidering the traditional ideas of written and spoken text.

I hope this research will grow into tackling several aspects of Internet communication, including how narrative is produced on YouTube videos and what exactly ‘dialog’ is in these instances. Hopefully, by building a model of these interactions, programmers and applied linguists can work together to create software and hardware that enhances human interaction, instead of getting in the way of it.

From teacher to teachers
Invest the right things in the right students. Remember that not all students need the same thing and not all students are A students. I always felt that if a C- student was able to get a C in my class and leave with a positive impression of my class, this was more successful than an A student getting an A, but not enjoying it. Success must have more than one meaning in your classroom.

Stephen taught English in Japan for five years before moving on to England. He enjoyed teaching, but he enjoys discourse analysis and research much more. E-mail him at S.S.Pihlaja(At mark)

Editor's note:
Stephen is an engaging, witty, and provocative young man who spends more hours a day watching YouTube videos than almost anyone else living on our planet (of course it is ALL for his PhD research). I really wish I had started my PD as early as Stephen did. I believe he finished his MA TEFL with Birmingham at age 11...


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Hi Stephen. I was just wondering where we might look to find out more about your PhD research, if not now, in the future? And what have you discovered so far?

Hey Phil,

You can see information about my research unit here:

I have yet to find much of anything as I am at the very beginning of my research, but I will be presenting at the American Anthropology Association conference in the winter as a part of a panel on 'The End/s of Religion'. I will be producing a paper for that and also for the British Association of Applied Linguistics conference in the Autumn. For right now though, I have only just finished my literature review for the Master of Research I need to complete before I begin my research in full. So it's slow going, for right now.

Right now, I am focused on my most important project: getting ready for the birth of my second daughter any day now!

Thanks for sharing the link and congratulations on the birth of your second daughter!!

I really liked your comment about teaching students how to be better learners and community members. I have been teaching in Japan for about 20 years and take the same approach. I try to teach my students how to use each other as resources and to learn from/with each other. I want them to rely less on the teacher and more on themselves and the resources available to them. And you are right, they don't get enough (any?) from their Japanese teachers.

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