Unplugging This Summer

10/09/2012 13:13

“Teaching is not about filling a jar. It is about lighting a fire.”


Saturday morning, alarm clock set for 7 am. Tired from going to bed too late the night before, I was still hopelessly wondering why I had actually become involved in all of this – and was not allowed to enjoy my own peace as a result. The story behind that busy day is quite simple. While volunteering at the ELT Forum Conference for English Teachers in Bratislava this June, the only thing I was actually looking forward to was the one I had already left: my bed. “Looks like the time of my life, doesn’t it?” I sarcastically said to myself, half asleep. The truth is, quite often, the things destined to change your life, can rub you the wrong way at first. If only I had known what was going to happen I would not have longed so for my bed...


A Truly Devonian Experience


Ok, let’s get this straight: I was lucky. Very lucky. On the final day of that ELT Forum conference, I won an all-expenses-paid course for English teachers organised by SOL (Sharing One Language). Looking back now, the sole thing I remember about the whole event is Lyn Steyne’s surprise: “You?!” Yes, me! And although it is all over now, I still cannot believe it.


From August 15th to 25th, 2012, I really had the time of my life on a course in England with the unusual name of “Devon Unplugged”. I spent ten exciting days in Barnstaple, the capital of North Devon, with a group of the most extraordinary people. It is said that there is a reason behind everything and that nothing happens by chance. I had never believed that before going to Devon, but I surely do now because I am different. This course (and everything I have seen) has really changed my life.


As a teacher trainee, I expected the event to broaden my horizons, teach me new skills and show me a distinctively British way of life. But it has actually done so much more than that. Before, I had been taught to obey, but never to respect. I had been taught to know, but never to feel. I had been taught to imagine, but never to see. I had been taught to remember, but never to understand. It was Devon that showed me, taught me, changed me and made me involved. I learned that my point of view is not the only one. Instead, when I step outside of my world, I find a whole new perspective within my own reach. To put it in a nutshell, I learned to see the world through other people’s eyes.


The ‘Unplugged’ Programme


The first thing that instantly comes to mind when I think about “Devon Unplugged” is the teaching process. Teaching is an art and should definitely be valued highly. It is Albert Einstein who said: “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” And that is actually one of the key truths that our tutors Luke and Mark tried to voice.


Being given complete responsibility over our projects in much the same way as our own students ideally should be, we were supposed to come up with a newspaper by the end of the course. The 21 teachers attending the course were divided into 5 groups, each working independently so we all had a chance to visit as many places as we liked, talk to as many strangers as possible and experience so many stories of our own! The last day of the course was the time for presentations, when we all shared our work. It is unbelievable how much you can do in just ten days.


‘Unplugged’ Tutors


Mark Andrews and Luke Meddings, our tutors and themselves experienced teacher trainers, were another unplugging factor of my summer. It was actually our tutor Luke who showed us all how to let go of things in order to get more as a result. He is the co-author of the book Teaching Unplugged and a very keen follower of the DOGME approach in ELT. He is, in fact, responsible for the whole Devon course.


Both Mark and Luke challenged not only the way we view teaching, but also the way we view the concept of being a teacher. That is another aspect of Dogme ELT which advocates teaching “unplugged”: that is, in a materials-light and conversation-driven way while constantly focusing on the learner and on emergent language.


And that is exactly what we did. Have you ever had classes in an English pub; talked about teaching while watching the sunset near the Atlantic; been on a coach, sung songs, listened to guitar playing all at the same time; and, oh, so much more...all while learning? I can tell you, in all my studies I have never done, seen or experienced as many things as I did in those ten days. It is sad but true. As teachers, we are all trying to do too much. And it should all be about learning, not teaching. It is important to know that sometimes there is no rule, just a pattern. Let students do things! It is Mark and Luke who taught me to teach less, yet at the same time to give more. Because success depends less on materials and techniques, but more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom.


The Unplugged Adventure


Based on the Chinese proverb “Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand”, the aim of the course was to leave footprints in our minds and hearts by involving us in many activities. That way we had a chance to visit many places on the southwest coast of England. We enjoyed a surfing lesson; got lost on a beach (you would never believe how easy it is to lose track of your group); tasted Cornish Pasties (which is a delicious baked pastry filled with basically anything possible, associated with Cornwall, in particular), cream tea (which is tea taken with clotted cream, scones and jam fit for king) and fish and chips (of course!); visited local shops and interviewed local people... and basically thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!


Staying with an English family was another factor that hugely influenced our experience. I was lucky to get Elizabeth and Ron, who became my surrogate parents for a while. They were a source of inspiration, sharing their life stories, showing us pictures, helping us whenever we needed it. I know that I will never be able to thank them enough for the care they provided. Plus the fact that Elizabeth is a great cook (Three different kinds of cakes every single day!) influenced not only my attitude towards Britain but also my weightJ.


Unplugged, but Connected


Overall, every single member of our group greatly contributed to the success of the course. While trying to take every opportunity and put into practice every bit of advice I was given, I enjoyed every minute spent in England. Thanks to these enthusiastic people, who are nuts not only about Cadbury, but also (and mainly!) about teaching, I have learned that teaching must come from one’s heart. It is not a profession; it is a calling, indeed. And we should not let others – students, colleagues, family, friends – who don’t share our enthusiasm discourage us. If one can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. And that is exactly what we did in Devon. We learned to share one language. That of humanity.


Martina Bednáriková


I would like to thank Grenville Yeo, Luke Meddings, Lynda Steyne and Mark Andrews for teaching me that there is no rainbow without rain.



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