Karen Schweitzer on Deborah Healey

She-in-ELT series - 1
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An interview with Deborah Healey

Deborah Healey

Deborah Healey has been involved in English language teaching since 1976, and with computers in teaching since 1983. Although she is very fond of gadgets, she has learned to temper her enthusiasm for technology with a dose of pedagogy and no longer thinks that every lesson must incorporate as much tech as possible.

Her time in Yemen from 1985-1988 taught her a great deal about the power of even minimal technology, used appropriately, as well as about running computers off truck batteries to keep them from being fried by power fluctuations. She has taught almost every class and every level and held several administrative positions at the English Language Institute at Oregon State University, from Technology Coordinator to Director, during her nearly 30 years at OSU.

She is now happily ensconced at the University of Oregon's American English Institute/Department of Linguistics, where she has been doing distance ed teacher training courses.

Her students so far have been mostly from Iraq, providing a very different look at that country from the one often in U.S. news. She has written extensively about CALL, including her early Something to do on Tuesday and current chapters in CALL Environments and A Handbook for Language Program Administrators. She presents frequently in the US and globally; recent workshops have been in Thailand, Singapore, Yemen, Vietnam, Qatar, Oman, and Egypt. Working with teachers and technology are her favorite activities.

Deborah was kind enough to share her thoughts on English language training and women in the ELT field in this exclusive interview for Kalinago English:

What made you decide to pursue a career in English language training?

I moved to Oregon in 1974 and realized that I could do just about as well going to grad school and getting food stamps as working at a minimum wage job. Since my undergraduate work was with languages, I headed over to Linguistics to see if they had any spaces still open.

They did, so I got a Master's in Linguistics. At that point, I cast about for job possibilities and found ESL and I've been in English language teaching and teacher training ever since.

Moving from a teacher to a teacher trainer was easy, especially after I became involved with technology and spent time helping my colleagues learn. CALL was a hot topic in many places, so I went from presenting at TESOL to presenting in other countries.

You currently teach in a distance education program at the University of Oregon's American English Institute. Can you tell us a little more about the class you teach?

I'm doing two fully online courses this summer. One is Shaping the Way We Teach English, a course developed largely by Leslie Opp-Beckman and colleagues at the U of O. My class is made up of English teachers in Iraq with a range of backgrounds and experience. Some are high school teachers, while others are teacher trainers themselves. That course focuses on pedagogy, with technology primarily as the medium of instruction.

I'm also teaching a course called Building Teaching Skills Through the Interactive Web. This course is designed to build skills in using technology in English teaching. Most of the participants are Iraqi teachers, though we have a few from other countries in the Middle East as well. The participants are doing reflective blogs - that's been a very interesting process!

Distance learning is becoming an increasingly popular education option among students and teachers alike. What sort of impact do you think this has had on the field?

I don't think that distance learning courses have had a very large impact on the field yet.

We're seeing a lot of material online, including many websites with a lot of information and resources for English teachers. However, the vast majority of what is online for free is also curriculum-free - meaning that the teacher would need to know how to structure the instruction him/herself in order to use it effectively. The courses that we're offering at the UofO are real courses, just delivered online. It's not cheap to do this kind of work, and we couldn't offer it for free. That said, the materials in both the Shaping course and the Building Teaching Skills course are available online.

Our idea at the UofO, like that at MIT, is that the materials are not where the real value is found - it's in the interactions among participants and with faculty members.

The great value that the Internet offers is in helping teachers create better face-to-face and hybrid (partially online) courses. The communication potential of email and now social networking sites is huge, especially for those in EFL settings. Students are no longer studying language in a vacuum; they can have online partners from around the world to use their English with in authentic ways.

Teachers are no longer constrained by the postal service in getting current material, since newspapers and magazines from around the world are available in real time online. You can be reading the same story in Tokyo, Eugene, and Doha at the same time (assuming some people like being up late). Teachers can provide an amazing collection of resources in a variety of media in their classrooms, thanks to the Internet.

Access to resources and communication tools is what is changing language teaching.

Has your teaching style changed over the years as new technologies were introduced?

I've become much more task- and project-oriented since it's been easier to provide students with resources and set them loose. Students get more of the classroom content with technology, too: I give students copies of PowerPoint shows and my notes, when I use them.

Rather than writing on the board, I write in Word and project it - that lets me archive what we've done for students, as well. I don't know how much of the change in my teaching style is due to technology and how much is due to experience - they certainly intersect.

There are some people who feel the most sponsored and influential EFL speakers and trainers are predominantly male. However, you have managed to accomplish a great deal in the field of teaching and English language training. Have you ever felt like there is a glass ceiling in the field?

It's been much easier to move forward since I got my Ph.D. That seems to be more of a leveler than gender, though gender is still an issue at the university. Far too few English language teachers with Master's degrees take the next step and get a doctorate.

Since most of the rank-and-file language teachers are female in the U.S. (and elsewhere in the world, it seems), it's easy to be held back by lack of credentials. The other plus that I've had is being an early presenter in a new area of language teaching with CALL. When there aren't very many people out there doing teacher training, then there's much less of a glass ceiling.

Do you have any other thoughts regarding the issue of being a successful female in the industry?

Women in the field need to do two things: one is to work together to ensure equity, and the other is to get advanced degrees.

Doors open through networking and with credentials. The great thing for me is that I've been able to have fun doing what I'm doing and get some share of respect at the same time.

Do you have any advice or tips for teachers or other individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in the English language training field?

The first step is to be observant during any training sessions that you attend and note what works and what doesn't. I've learned a great deal over the years at workshops and conference presentations, both what got people engaged and what would drive me out of the room from annoyance or boredom.

Part of doing that also is to be a learner yourself, on the receiving end of training. In order to get work, you need to network - do presentations at conferences, respond to email requests for help, put information out on the web for others to use, and meet people who are in a position to offer you work.

Once you've got work, use each session to learn something more about what works and what doesn't. English teachers are normally respectful of others, so I'll just make a note in passing that having respect also includes learning from those you're training and thanking them for what they're teaching you. If you enjoy learning from others, then you're more likely to be successful in the long run.

This interview was conducted by education writer Karen Schweitzer.

Karen writes the Business School Guide for About.com and has been serving as an advisor to business school students for more than three years. She also writes about colleges online for OnlineColleges.net.

To submit your own article for the She in ELT series, please visit this page.

3 Responses to “Karen Schweitzer on Deborah Healey”

  • Carol Goodey says:
    August 13, 2009

    Thanks Deborah, Karen and Karenne for a very interesting post with many useful insights and advice. It's always great to hear of others' experience and work.

  • Tamas Lorincz says:
    August 13, 2009

    I really enjoy listening to (reading about) other teachers' journeys. Every time I meet a fellow teacher it is a great way to find out how people think and what influenced their decisions. Deborah's beliefs are the result of working in difficult places at difficult times. Not taking things for granted, always being prepared for things to go wrong (even dangerous) teachers us lessons that we will never forget. This quiet readiness and commitment is what charmed me as I was reading the interview.
    Thanks for sharing this great interview. It's a great read with a cup of tea.
    A suggestion: read the questions first and think about your answers, then read what Deborah's answers. Great reflective practice. It worked we me at least.

  • rliberni says:
    August 14, 2009

    Lovely post. Wonderful to get other people's experiences and perspectives on teaching. Funny how we 'fall into' EFL I thought I didn't want to be a teacher and here I am 30+ years later!
    Thank you Karenne and Karen. I'm looking forward to seeing more on this theme! Brilliant idea.


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