March 20, 2017

Interviewing Affective Educators: Claire Venables

I met Claire earlier this year when she wrote me asking about my courses in affective language learning. She had lots of questions and I could immediately notice she had a lot of energy and interest in learning more and expanding her understanding and her skills in teaching English to young learners.

It was with great excitement that I learned that Claire, who lives in Vitória, was coming to São Paulo to attend a Braz-Tesol seminar on a Saturday. We managed to get together, I gave Claire a tour of Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo, and over lunch we talked about ways of promoting more teacher development opportunities for teachers of young learners.

Claire also agreed to share her experience being an Australian teacher of English to young learners in Brazil. Here is our interview!

Juan: You are Australian and Australia is really far. How did you end up coming to Brazil?

Claire: Love brought me here!!  It sounds corny but it’s true!  After living for over a decade in Spain, I moved with my family to Vitoria, ES in 2011.  It was really important for us to be closer to my partner’s family.

Juan: I know how that feels, Claire. I am very happy that I am back home after two years travelling around the world. But coming back to you, what were your first impressions concerning ELT here in Brazil?

A koala puppet engages kids to speak at circle time. 
Claire: Well, my first instinct when coming to Brazil was to apply for teaching positions at a private language academy.  Much to my dismay, the ‘escolas de inglês’ here in Vitoria were a huge disappointment.  It seemed that the only requirement to teach was to speak English fluently.  The lack of qualifications required was reflected in the rates of pay which were unacceptably low.  

I quickly changed tactics and began applying at schools that had or wanted English classes for kids.  I have several programmes running now as well as my own office where I coach adult learners, too.  It has been an incredible few years dedicated to honing my skills, experimenting with new methodology, researching, and reflecting.   

I guess the situation I found myself in forced me to go out on my own and that has been both professionally and financially very rewarding. The downside of this has been my separation from the teaching community.  I think I got a bad early impression of the ELT scene here and developed some misconceptions.  It’s only in the last 8 months that I have begun reaching out to other teachers and participating actively in some great online teaching communities.  Through these I have met some fantastic people who I learn from and am inspired by.

Juan: I understand what you say, many schools had a similar attitude towards teachers of young learners when I started teaching, but fortunately things have changed for the better in many schools. Let me ask you my third question: when did you first notice you would be an English teacher of young learners?  

Claire and a group at Na Brinca!
Claire: There are a lot of teachers in my family.  Early Childhood Education was a natural career choice for me I think.  I didn’t become interested in teaching English until working with ESL students at a high school in London.  That was when I became really interested in pursuing a career in TESOL.  I’ve taught students of all ages and levels since then but teaching Young Learners and now Very Young Learners are what I am most passionate about.

Juan: Tell us more about this passion, please.

Claire: Well, I think it comes from the autonomy I have to innovate, create, and teach in the way I truly believe in. The English immersion programme that I created for Na Brinca, a "brinquedoteca" in Vitoria is a great example of this. It incorporates elements from methodologies such as Reggio Emilia. CLIL (Content Language Integrated Learning) and PBL (Project Based Learning). Having the freedom to create and teach in this way is so rewarding. The response from the children and their families has been very positive and this fuels my passion for working with kids.

Juan: What do you stay fully present in your classes with young learners? 

Claire uses models healthy ways to talk to each other.

Claire: First of all, I make sure I’m looking after my physical and emotional health. Developing a self-care routine is essential for feeling healthy and happy. This allows me to have the right frame of mind for working with children. I try to make connections with my students every day on an individual and group level. One way I've done this is to include a special moment at the start of the class to give them positive affirmation individually. "You are kind, you are awesome, you are so helpful and brave. I am so happy you are in our group." I love the way they have started doing this more with each other too.  

Juan: I had the pleasure of showing you around my school. How do you incorporate the ideas that you see in other schools?  

Pictures taken at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo in São Paulo
Claire: There are many things that we learn from visiting other schools.  I loved seeing the way the classrooms were set up, the noticeboards, the presence of the students through the work which is displayed, however, the heart of a school for me is the staffroom.  You can tell a lot about the health of a work environment by examining the heart.  I not only loved the staffroom you have at your school, but also the way you talk about what takes place there and your pride in your teaching team.  It sounded like the kind of environment where teachers could learn from one another and develop together.  Fantastic!!

Juan: You have mentioned you feel there is a lack of professional development opportunities for teachers of young learners. What are the needs that you notice and how do you conceive this challenge can be tackled?  

Claire: I think a serious conversation about professional development for the Young Learner Teacher is well overdue.  Children across the world have begun learning English at an earlier age and Brazil is no exception.  This situation has led to an increased demand for YL teachers and, consequently, the need for additional training for teachers wishing to work in this specialized sector of ELT.   Now, I’m all for the learning of foreign languages at preschool, but I truly believe that a child can only benefit from an early start if that experience is an effective and affective one.   Luckily, most of the teachers That I have met who work with young children are VERY passionate and committed to their work. I have no doubt that these are the kinds of people who would really appreciate and benefit from more training opportunities. I am all for more courses that are both practical and cost effective as for many teachers, professional development is something they have to pursue and pay for themselves.

Juan: What are your plans for the future?

Creating, contributing, and connecting with YL teachers.
Claire: My mission this year is to create, contribute, and connect. Not surprisingly, I would like to devote more time to teacher training in 2017. I feel this is where I can make the biggest contribution at this stage of my career.  I am currently doing research into the developing YL teacher with the objective of designing a course which will cater to their needs.   

I’m also big into connecting with teachers and sharing ideas and projects and I hope to continue doing more of that through my blog, social media and the talks and workshops I give. This passion for helping others grow and develop has led me to becoming the Vice-President of a new Special Interest Group called Voices. We are part of BrazTesol and we work to promote and support gender equality in ELT. As you can see there is lots going on this year!  Hahaha! 

Juan: Please leave a message to our readers from around the world. 

So many magic moments when you are learning with children.
Claire: YL teaching is something you have to be very passionate about first and then invest in if you actually want to become good at it.  When you do, you will find children to be the most rewarding students you have ever had.  I would also encourage new and experienced teachers alike to remind those around you that our work is not a mere extension of mothering but rather an incredibly important job which will have a huge impact the lives of our students.  

Don’t be afraid to charge what you deserve for your work.  Passion does not pay the bills!

Juan: There is so much involved in teaching young learners. Agree that the work of teachers of young learners has to be valued and be better paid!

Juan: Thank you so much for this interview, Claire.

Claire: You're so welcome, Juan! It's always a pleasure to talk to you.

Juan:Happy to have one more lovely interview here in our blog!

Do you know anybody that you would like me to interview? It could be even yourself!

Sending you a big hug,

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