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Editorial NRInglês

Interview with – Catarina Pontes

Troika: Let’s start at the beginning: How did you become a teacher? What academic path did you follow? Above all, when did you first feel like a teacher?

Catarina Pontes: I first stepped into a classroom as a teacher back in 1997 – I was reaching the end of my English course the year before, my teacher then saw potential in me and invited me to teach at the same school. Truth be told, it took me a while until I really felt I belonged in the classroom, but when I did, I knew that was where I wanted to grow. I was finishing college when I started teaching, and thought at first I’d only be a teacher for a while; as time went by, though, I kept looking for ways to improve what I did and knew before long that, somehow, I’d never leave the classroom anymore! I had the opportunity to take a number of courses for teachers, both focusing on language and on methodology (some of which are not even offered any longer, such as the ARELS Diploma, the CEELT and the ICELT), and knew soon enough that if I wanted to excel as a teacher, I had to have a learner attitude to everything that I did.

Doing the DELTA many years after I started teaching topped it all and also gave me a broader view of the profession when thinking about a wider range of teaching contexts.

T: Looking back, what were your dreams and aspirations, your plans at that point?

CP: Once I felt teaching was the career I wanted to pursue, I kept dedicating myself to being the best teacher I could be. Lesson planning took up a great deal of my time – I loved finding the best resources to be used in the lessons and preparing the perfect activities to go with them – and something I believed made all the difference was that I never looked at what I did as ‘just a job’. I took what I did very seriously -and still do, obviously! – so I put a lot of energy into giving my best to my students, and had no problems sharing the extra activities I planned or designed with fellow teachers in the staff room. Soon enough one of my managers got me involved in more tasks at the school (like helping with the onboarding of new teachers, organizing events and other admin tasks that gave me a broader perspective of the business) and as I saw the work I was doing then could reach more people, that showed me it was time to build a different set of skills and climb the next career ladder. Helping and sharing knowledge with teachers began to hit home to me and proved to be a path I really wanted to pursue. No regrets there!

T: What advice would you give to yourself as a novice teacher?

CP: I guess the first piece of advice would be “don’t let other people’s negative opinions interfere with what you do”. I remember being mocked because of my enthusiasm and dedication when I first started teaching, but I don’t regret anything – it has certainly paid off and contributed to the professional I have become. No matter where or when, we will always run into people who are unhappy or just sour! Another piece of advice (and something that I recommend even to more experienced professionals) is to never lose the learner attitude. When you choose to teach, you need to accept you have chosen to learn for life, too (which is especially true when the subject matter is English). This belief goes hand in hand with one of my favorite educational quotes, which is by Edward Lindeman and says, “Education is coterminous with life” – or we only cease to learn when we die.

T: If you compare your situation when you started to that of young teachers today, how have expectations changed? What’s today’s scenario for those beginning to teach?

CP: I think it is fair to say today there are far more possibilities for novice teachers than when I started back in 1997 – working remotely is quite common today and can be done pretty much all the time if you want to, and nobody even dreamt of that in the late 90s. There also are way more resources today, that’s for sure – I am positive many novice teachers reading this piece cannot imagine teaching without resorting to the internet, which was the case when I started. I think my colleagues from the same generation will remember listening to songs countless times so we could extract the lyrics and prepare activities for our learners, or watching a movie snippet dozens of times to type the script so we could bring more interesting and current activities to class. It is obvious there is much more access to information today, and the challenge I believe is faced today is related to how to curate content so what is relevant, accurate and reliable is used as a source for teachers to prepare their lessons. With regard to attitude, I notice that, at times today, teachers might be somewhat impatient and want to “get there” (wherever ‘there’ is) too quickly. If I could share my two cents here, too, don’t rush into anything, take your time and do a good job and you will certainly get what you want.

T: How has your career developed over the years? What were the most crucial changes / decisions to get you to where you are today?

CP: During my time in the classroom, I took different positions still as a teacher – developing conversation and prep courses, coaching novice teachers and teaching specific courses (such as pronunciation and language improvement), too. After about 10 years as a full-time teacher, I looked for a career move and ended up in a managerial position at the same institution. Doing this allowed me to broaden my understanding of the business as a whole, and helped me to start developing my leadership skills. Fast forward a few more years and I joined the academic team of the same institution, where I was in charge of both pre- and in-service initiatives, course design and tutored teachers doing international certifications. I also started attending international conferences and did volunteer work with BRAZ_TESOL (as a minder in a conference and later as president of the São Paulo Chapter) and with IATEFL (being first a member of PronSIG and then its coordinator), which contributed to meeting colleagues from the four corners of the globe and making amazing friends along the way. I can whole-heartedly say that working with education is what moves me – be it inside the classroom as a teacher, as a teacher educator, or developing materials for learners to study – education is what can make a difference and have the greatest impact on the opportunities people have in their lives.

T: Tell us a bit about your current position. What does it involve working with innovation in today’s world? How much of that young teacher is still there?

CP: Working with innovation in such a fast-paced world is no easy task. Many people only associate innovation with technology, but being innovative means coming up with new, insightful uses and purposes for well-established products and solutions. In the words of Stephen Shapiro, “(…) innovation is about staying relevant.”, so the key and the constant work of my area is to look for ways in which the learning of English and Spanish can stand out and be relevant in such a competitive market like ours. I have been learning a lot about materials design and about innovation in the franchise business, and I can certainly say all the time spent in the classroom as a teacher has been contributing a lot both when designing and when implementing new materials (having been a teacher truly helps when selecting content and activities for the student’s book, or when planning what kind of information to insert in a teacher’s book).

T: You are also an author. What motivated you to write “Getting into Teacher Education”?

CP: Having always been an avid reader, I had also always dreamt of writing a book, too (quite ambitious, I know!). Vinnie Nobre and I worked together at the time, he knew about this and when he was invited to share his knowledge and experience in a book, he invited me to be his co-author. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and having learned so much from the experience of putting everything on paper. It was not an easy process at all and I did consider giving up halfway through the project, and today I am glad I didn’t! The best thing about Getting into Teacher Education: a Handbook is receiving feedback from educators from all over the country when we meet in training sessions or at conferences (and sometimes over social media, too) about how much it has helped them to take up a new position as a trainer and face the challenges it entails. This is absolutely priceless to me!

T: How can teachers today focus on professional development? What options / steps are available in the market?

CP: We all need to look at teaching as a full-time job that demands work before and after the actual teaching, too. Finding the time to study as a teacher can be challenging, but it is not impossible. With so many good initiatives being offered online, and oftentimes asynchronously, too, it is more doable to invest time to become a better teacher today than it was 10, 15 years ago. A must for teachers, in my opinion, is the Cambridge CELTA course, which is designed to prepare a professional to become a teacher, and frequently done by novice teachers, but even those with some experience can benefit from it. Investing in teacher language awareness is crucial, too (that is the learner attitude I mentioned before). Being a language teacher means being curious about the language and wanting to learn more about its use and varieties, as well as the impact these can have on communication. And a third way to boost your career is to get involved with teaching associations. If you haven’t become a member of BRAZ-TESOL yet, do so now and be part of the biggest teaching community in the country, where you can learn and share your knowledge with peers all over Brazil and abroad, too! Lastly, if you think you have reached a level of maturity in which you feel ready to start helping other teachers develop, you can become a teacher educator, sharing your knowledge and helping the profession be seen with the level of respect it deserves. Doing a course to become a teacher educator is the best way to get you prepared and make sure all the aspects entailed are being catered for.

T: What about those professionals who have just started their careers? What advice would you give them?

CP: I believe the most precious piece of advice I can share with those embarking on their teaching journeys now is ‘never compare your chapter one to someone’s chapter twenty.’ What I mean is you will find a whole lot of professionals you will look up to and get yourself wondering how come they are so knowledgeable and know so much about teaching, materials, assessment… you name it. What you need to bear in mind as your admiration is built is that these folks might have been around for a while and they have certainly spent a good number of hours reading about teaching, studying and taking courses to get this far – and you can do it, too, if you put your mind to it!

About author

Catarina Pontes is Executive Projects & Innovation Manager at CNA. She’s been in education for 25 years, with vast experience in teacher education and development. Catarina is a conference speaker, writer and co-author of Getting into Teacher Education: a Handbook, and Learning to Learn with Ourselves and with our Peers through Technology. Past president of Braz-TESOL’s São Paulo Chapter and past coordinator of IATEFL’s Pron SIG, Catarina is also a certified Cambridge Assessment tutor.
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