Keeping the Fire Burning

TimeMay 23, 2019 by ELT forum

Chaz Pugliese is an internationally recognised trainer, presenter and author based in Paris. He has been the Academic Director of Teacher Training at Pilgrims, and works as a consultant for the British Council. He lectures on creativity, leadership and intercultural communication, and is also an accomplished guitarist.. Here he talks to me about his career in TEFL, the challenges of motivation, how the profession has evolved, and where he sees it going in the future.

How long have you been teaching EFL? How did you get started?

I’ve been a teacher for over 25 years. As with so many of us, I kind of stumbled into ELT. After a degree in Linguistics I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, until I heard from a friend about EFL, she’d done the CELTA, lived and taught in exotic places, so I found that scenario appealing. And I enrolled on a CELTA course myself. Then I moved on to do a Delta, and a Master’s. My first job was in Mexico, then England, and then Prague, right after the Velvet Revolution, before the Mecjar split. I was actually living in Prague when Bratislava divorced Prague, so to speak.

What are the most important changes you have seen over the course of your career?

Well, I started teaching just when the Audiolingual method was being phased out, even though books like the Streamline series were still around and being used by so many teachers. I was never sold on the stimulus-response idea of learning, and I find Skinner a bit of a creep, to be perfectly honest. But I did use Streamline at the very beginning of my career. So, I guess that’s the first change I saw, the shift from AL to more communicative ways of teaching. That was the heyday of the CLT approach. I cut my teeth with books like the Strategies series, and then when Headway arrived that was something else, the equivalent of a methodological Big Bang, almost.

The second change would be the advent of TBL (Task-Based Learning) and later, the Lexical Approach. Is there a teacher out there who hasn’t heard of lexical groups? Lately, there’s definitely more emphasis on tests and exams now than there was when I started out, test results, scores and suchlike seem to be the main drivers for many institutions, parents, teachers, and that is sad.

But by far the biggest change is the work of Mike Mc Carthy, Ron Carter, Douglas Biber (in the US) who opened our eyes and showed us how spoken language really works in context. This is very exciting, a real revolution, as far as I’m concerned.

Your workshops focus on motivation and keeping students’ attention. How important is the teacher’s role in motivating students? What are the best techniques you can recommend for this?

I’m not sure you can actually motivate anyone to do anything for you… Motivation isn’t something that gets done on people, it’s a very personal, internal process. You’ve got to have that fire burning inside… That said, I think the role of the teacher is crucial in building a motivating environment which may lead to self-determination. There’s no silver bullet (I wish!), but as I see it, there are strategies. It’s a little strange if you think about it: if on the one hand I’m convinced I can’t do much to motivate someone who’s clearly unmotivated or demotivated, on the other hand, I’m just as convinced that I can do a whole lot to actually demotivate someone who was keen to learn in the first place! So, the way we use language can have a huge impact, for example, the way we give feedback, the classroom atmosphere, the tasks, and the teacher’s classroom behaviour. All that can lead to demotivation. I wrote a book on this very topic, ‘Creating Motivation’ in which I explain what works for me in my teaching context. After interviewing more than 150 students, I’ve come up with a framework which I call GPS, where G stands for Group Processes, P stands for priming, preparing our students, and S stands for Surprise and Stimulation. In short, my contention is that if I pay attention to the group dynamics, if I get the students ready for the lesson, and if I provide them with tasks that are surprising and stimulating, I stand a good chance. But it doesn’t always work so neatly, I should say. Teaching is not a science, it’s never a zero-sum game!

What are the most exciting developments you see for TEFL in the future?

Uhm… I can’t see any, to be perfectly frank… I’m not all doom and gloom, but so much of what’s been flagged as exciting and new fails to grab me for one reason of another. I’m thinking of ICT, CliL, EMI… I realize I may come across as Stone Age, but fundamentally, I think teaching is a lot less complex that many would have us believe. Which doesn’t imply that it’s simple as ABC and anyone can do it, of course. What we need is leadership, superior interpersonal skills, linguistic, psychological and pedagogical competences, and since teaching is more a craft than a science, we need bucketloads of creativity, without which you won’t last long in a classroom. That said, I’d like to see the non-native/native teacher divide disappear, and I feel we’re on the right track, thanks to the unrelenting work of Peter Medgyes and Silvana Richardson, though much remains to be done. I’d like to see women take a more central stage too, but I think, that too is changing. All that, plus the emphasis on creativity, I think that’s really exciting! Back in 2013 Alan Maley and I founded The Creativity Group, a bunch of likeminded teachers who are trying to propel the creativity agenda forward and redress the balance. The group is young and bubbly, anyone can join. Check us out here: www.thecreativitygroup/

Finally, what advice can you give new teachers starting out?

You’ll need a backpack, and a torch. The backpack because you’ll be carrying your experience, your tricks, your emotions, your toolbox every time you walk into a classroom. A torch because stuff will happen, and you’ll need to shed some light on the myriad of critical incidents that you’re bound to encounter, investigate them, analyze them so you can, eventually, learn from them. This advice comes straight from the work of Parker J. Palmer, and it has served me well throughout my career.


Chaz will be leading a plenary session on motivation at the ELT Forum in June entitled Teach me, and I’ll forget. Surprise me, and I may remember: Why surprising our students leads to motivation and will also be delivering a workshop: Focus Interruptus: How can I distract them so they pay attention?

author: Graham Strouts, teacher at the Bridge

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#Interviews 2019

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