Teacher development: an interview with Debora Schisler

Teacher development is the core of what we do at BrELT. Our community believes that everyone should have a chance to develop, but we also understand many people don’t know where to start.
Our guest today is a woman who is passionate about teacher development, a woman who has contributed to the training of many teachers from all over the country, including two of our current BrELT moderators. Learn a bit about one of the most important ELT professionals in Brazil, Debora Schisler from Seven Idiomas.

Tell us a bit about your career as a teacher and teacher trainer.

 I graduated in Anthropology in the US, and when I came back to Brazil I tried to work in this area with women in grass root communities. But as this did not bring income for my survival I started teaching English. After 7 or 8 years still trying to work in my field, and enjoying teaching, I decided that what I really loved was teaching. This led me to my MA in Applied Linguistics.  That is what consolidated my career. I worked at a renown binational school in SP, but when a group of teachers decided to open their own school that is when my career took off. I became the person responsible for teacher training. At the beginning of SEVEN I soon heard of an organization which does not exist anymore called LAURELS ( Latin America Related Language Schools). For us to join it, I had to present a workshop – I guess to see if we had quality and could contribute. Through LAURELS many doors opened. We organized conferences, met international speakers, began presenting there and at Braz-Tesol. It was through LAURELS that I was able to be trained up as an ICELT tutor, and 10 years later a CELTA tutor, and more recently a DELTA 2 tutor. Being the academic director of SEVEN also pushed me into attending international conferences, and bringing new ideas to implement.  These were incredible years. I owe a lot to all the wonderful people I met in this period.


What has changed since you started in the field of professional development for teachers?

Well, when I started teaching there was no teacher training!  But soon the binational centre where I worked had workshops and began teacher training programs. I remember once how they divided us into groups who were sent off to learn another language. We had to then relate this to our teaching. It was fascinating.  Soon Braz-Tesol and Laurels came into existence and this started changing the scenario. Laurels innovated and differed from BrazTesol in that it also offered professional development beyond teaching. At Laurels we began to create a certification program for Language schools – kind of an ISO-9000 that a school could use to evaluate its services from teaching to customer service and quality assurance. A lot has changed. Today Braz-Tesol has a Management SIG. The biggest change, however, are all the online possibilities that are making learning more accessible as technology improves. Online learning reduces cost and time. Today there are many great professionals preparing teachers online for language exams like the CAE, CPE; for the DELTA exam; giving workshops in interesting areas such as technology, 1 to 1 ; certification programs like the CELTA , CLET-P CELT-S, and TKT. If one organizes oneself financially, it is easier to attend conferences, not to mention taking the free MOOC (Coursera, Future Learn etc…) courses that are available.


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Debora Schisler

In your view, what motivates teachers to engage in professional development?

Curiosity, wanting to understand why certain things happen, to have more job opportunities, and personal satisfaction.  I have noticed that many who take the CELTA want to have the teaching abroad experience. Those who take the Delta want to become top performing teachers or trainers.  In my case I went after my MA because I wanted to understand why my students made the same mistakes in writing and speaking. I was curious to learn more on language acquisition. Had there been a CELTA back in the early 70’s in Brazil I would certainly have taken it.

I was an unconscious competent teacher (Maslow’s definition) who needed to understand what I was doing. I was what Penny Ur called a born teacher who needed to be made, because I had no clue of what teaching was about.
How important is the sharing of practical ideas that directly relate to the day-to-day operation of classrooms in teachers’ development programs?

Super important. Teachers have incredible solutions for teaching language and skills, using technology, dealing with problematic students and discipline, and class management. I have and am constantly learning when I observe teachers at my school, or in the teacher courses I give, let alone those who are the peers in these teacher development programs too. Once Marcelo Dalpino, now Academic Manager at Cultura Inglesa SP,  showed me how to do dynamic pair work with 25 students in a class at a regular school. He got every other student to stand up and face the other who was seated. They would do whatever they had to practice and when he clapped , the standing student would move to the right. So, all the  12 or 13 students were able to practice the task with another 12 or 13 in class, without a bit of disruption.
Why are some teachers reluctant to professional development and what can we do in order to change that?

That is an excellent question. First, I think that there are many teachers who are not aware (unconscious incompetent) that they could benefit from developing themselves. They probably think that what they have is enough. Plus I have heard people say, you “took such and such course, or a master’s and don’t make much money”. This is true, but what they don’t see is the satisfaction, the possibilities that open up in being able to teach different ages, or types of courses. Second, ego plays an important part. Many people are scared of taking courses, being corrected, receiving feedback on their teaching which they consider criticism. Some think they are already good, and don’t need anything or don’t see a perspective in investing in their development. Finally, there are those who would like to develop, but claim they don’t have time or don’t have the money. To me, this last case is a cop-out because today there are soooooo many free online courses, materials, sites available that can fit into anyone’s time and pocket.

There has been an exponential growth in the number of bilingual schools. On this note, what does the future of professional development hold?

In ELT teachers are professionalizing themselves more and more to teach anywhere around the world, be it in bilingual schools, language schools, regular schools, professionalizing schools, private classes, because the market is requiring both language and teaching certifications. They want people who know what they are doing. In Brazil the growth of bilingual schools has spurred a rush for qualified professionals in the market, so a university degree is not enough anymore.  
How do you think the role of the teacher trainer has changed and will change in the future?

We will certainly be delivering more online courses, but continue to be responsible for helping teachers become more aware of themselves and to help them develop a more professional attitude.
What would you like to say to our members?

Teaching is a fascinating and enriching profession. You are always learning with your students from their experiences and professional areas. Henrique Moura was my ICELT student. Today he runs the Teacher  Education Programs at SEVEN. I am constantly learning with him from things like how to use my Mac better to different ways to present vocabulary etc.

What tips would you give to a teacher willing to become a teacher trainer? What are the steps to follow?

First,  ask what this person has done and would like to do. Based on this there are some things that can be considered: offering them the opportunity to give workshops at their school, and creating a study group where teachers can research topics and sharing them with their peers are some ways of stimulating them. Encourage them to become a member of a professional group like BrELT, Braz-Tesol and to participate in their events and conferences, or write for the newsletter. Networking is essential. Parallelly, recommend going after their certifications both in language and teaching.

Debora, thank you so much. You are a role model to many and we understand that’s not only due to your extensive knowledge, but because you are generous and kind.   
If you want to see Debora’s participation in our Women’s Day Chat, click here.


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