EAL Teacher and Materials Writer
Unlike the other ELT specialists I’ve interviewed so far, I have never met Peter Clements in person - only through social media and online events. However, his vast knowledge on and passion for ELT are evident and his crisp writing style makes his posts and articles a real pleasure to read. I’m delighted he agreed to this interview and he didn’t disappoint: Peter shares his personal experience about his ELT career and online teaching, advice on writing teaching materials and his views on TEFL Q qualifications. Enjoy!
How did your ELT journey start? What inspired you to become a teacher?
The journey started during my BA (2004). Most of my tutors had started out in ELT and they inspired me to follow a career in teaching. I was captivated by their stories of teaching in Mexico, Indonesia and Sweden. My first TEFL job was in Bognor Regis – somewhat less glamorous.
You are currently in Thailand. Why did you choose it as your teaching destination? What advice would you give to those who want to teach there?
My wife chose Bangkok - I’m a trailing spouse. She got a contract at a great international school over here, so I tagged along and searched for work.
Thailand’s a good place to live. The weather is great, food is delicious, people are friendly, the students are fun and there’s a lot of respect for teachers. Pay and conditions vary, as with any place. My advice to those who want to teach here would be to broaden your job search beyond private language schools. There’s plenty of work in state schools, teacher training, international schools – something for everyone really.
How did you get into writing/editing? What do you find most challenging about this area of ELT?
I started out writing in-house materials at the British Council. That was a good CV builder and gave me an insight into the writing process. I actually got my big break as a freelancer through LinkedIn. I tweaked my profile to make my hobbies and interests related to materials writing, and I started to get picked up in searches by editors/publishers. I cannot stress enough how useful LinkedIn is – if you are interested in getting into writing then get on LinkedIn!
What do I find most challenging? When I was first starting out, dealing with (sometimes brutal) feedback from editors was tough. These days though, the biggest challenge is being both a writer and a teacher. I still teach full-time, so bigger contracts like writing coursebooks can be quite tough at times. They’re doable, but you need to manage your time well.
What practical advice can you give to teachers who want to go down the writing route?
See above, the LinkedIn thing. Also, I’d say that if you’re offered a writing contract, don’t get impostor syndrome or start doubting your ability to do it. Take the work, remember that you’ve earnt it, be ready for the ups and downs, and come out the other side more experienced, more confident, and published! Also, join writing/freelancer groups online (like ELT Publishing Professionals). People there are very helpful and supportive.
Your articles are very engaging. How do you choose your topics?
Thanks for the compliment! I choose topics based on my mood and my audience. I started the blog to share teaching tips with others, so I try to keep that up. I find that my blog audience like listicles so I write these now and then. Personally, I like to write reflections on my practice or my studies. These help me understand my view of certain things, although hardly anyone reads those posts. I don’t blame them - I’m a bit of a rambler!
The only real choice I’ve made regarding blog topics is to write less reviews. I try to write honest reviews, I won’t just write promo for people. Being honest is more trouble than it’s worth sometimes, and reviews are time-consuming too.
Working towards a TEFL Q (DELTA or DipTESOL) qualification is a real commitment, in terms of effort, time and money. Many teachers wonder if it’s worth it and if it can bring ‘real' professional advantages. What are your views on this?
Great question. I think the DipTESOL is an awesome course for professional development, and it certainly offers advantages in addition to becoming a better practitioner. At the British Council here in Thailand the Dip or the DELTA is a prerequisite for management roles, so if you see ELT management as your career progression then these courses are worthwhile. Also, the independent research project on the Dip is a great chance to start building your portfolio as a writer. My first published resource was a lesson I created for that assignment.
However, there are alternatives to a TEFL Q which I think are well worth considering. Courses such as the PGCEi offer a route into working at international schools, where pay and conditions are often good, career prospects are excellent, and precarity is less of an issue. I guess it really depends on where you see your career going.
Due to the global pandemic, you are currently teaching online. Could you mention some advantages and disadvantages to this? How easy/difficult is it to plan your lessons for an online setting?
Some of my EAL learners seem to thrive through online learning. Whereas before they might have been inhibited to speak, now they have a chatbox which gives them confidence to express themselves in other ways. Where they may have needed more time to formulate questions than class time might allow, asynchronous interaction means they are able to take time to formulate their questions. The range of tools available to support learning and promote collaboration means there are plenty of advantages to online teaching.
Still, as time goes on it is becoming a bit alienating. I miss the energy of face-to-face teaching, and the ‘real’ interaction. I’m sure some learners do too. It’s important from a well-being perspective that we don’t overload young learners with home/online learning. Less is more. It’s been great to see how well supported many of my learners are at home, but I imagine this is not the case in every context.
Planning-wise, things have been very different. We have been following an inquiry-based approach this term, culminating in a project. The learners have worked well independently, but when they need support the teachers are always available. There’s lots of student choice, so you never know what they will need help or support with. Will it be language, content, concepts…? You have no idea until they rock up to Google Meets. Planning? Less than usual. Thinking on your feet? A lot, lot more!
On Peter’s ELT Planning, you’ll find:
...and lots more!