This week we chatted with Jack Scholes, who has over 40 years’ experience in the field of English Language Teaching in many different countries around the world including England, Germany, Nepal, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Jack is also the author of the The Coconut Seller, our popular reader set in Brazil. We talked about teaching, reading and writing throughout the world, and Jack also shared some special memories of Brazil with us.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): Jack, you have travelled the whole world as a teacher trainer. What can you tell us about teachers around the world? What do they have in common? How are they different?
Jack Scholes: I think teachers all over the world are really wonderful people! I’ve also worked with training in other areas, especially in the business world, where participants in courses are totally different. Teachers tend to be very open, friendly and participative in training sessions. They’re just really great people! I’m not sure which comes first. Whether you become a teacher because you’re a nice person, or you become a nice person because you’re a teacher.
Teachers also tend to be very modest and unassuming and in many countries they often erroneously believe that teachers in other parts of the world are somehow superior or better. I did an interview on national TV in Romania recently and was asked my opinion about the ‘level’ of Romanian teachers. People seemed surprised when I praised them on their high level of linguistic and methodological competence.
Teaching as a profession in many parts of the world is often seen as a low-status, poorly-paid activity, and we must remember that English Language Teaching around the world takes place primarily in the state school systems, where the teachers are non-native speakers of English. In many of these contexts the opportunities for professional development are rare and often self-funded. So I feel very privileged to be a trainer on the many seminars for teachers which Helbling Languages offer free-of charge around the world.
HRB: What is the most important idea about teaching you like to share with teachers?
Jack Scholes: To be a good teacher you have to love people. I often say, “If you don’t like people, find another job where you don’t have to interact.” You also have to love what you teach and show real, consuming passion and enthusiasm. It becomes infectious. Also, as teachers, we have an amazing responsibility. We can and do change people’s lives. Every time we enter a classroom we need to remember that we are going to influence our students. I always encourage teachers to ensure they make a positive influence.
HRB: What do you remember about the countries you have visited? Do you have any special memories?
Jack Scholes: First of all, I always remember the people. Then the food. And finally the geography and the tourist attractions etc. I have been very fortunate to meet some really fantastic people in my work, and many of them have become close personal friends. I have special memories of all the countries I have visited, but perhaps the most significant and enduring are the memories I have of one of my early teaching jobs in Nepal, a spectacularly beautiful country with a totally different culture from the one I grew up in. I think it was this experience more than anything that prompted me about to travel and discover new cultures.
HRB: You lived in Brazil for a long time. Tell us about your experiences in this country.
Jack Scholes: Brazil is my second home and a country I love very much. This is where I was immediately accepted and genuinely liked as soon as I arrived, and where I learned to like and accept myself. I am very grateful to Brazil and Brazilians for having made me what I am today, both personally and professionally. It is a country where I feel very comfortable and at home, sometimes even more than I do now in England, where I am currently living.
HRB: Your story, The Coconut Seller, is set in Brazil. What inspired the story?
Jack Scholes: First of all, I wanted to write a story for Helbling Languages that takes place in Brazil. As far as I know this is the only reader published by an international publisher where the story takes place in Brazil. Secondly, the details in all good stories must be true and verifiable and since I know Brazil so well, I could be 100% certain that details and descriptions would be real and accurate. What sparked off the idea for the story was a real incident in Brazil when thieves stole the results of the university exams and tried to sell them.
HRB: What inspires you the most?
Jack Scholes: The whole world around us is full of inspiration. Stories are often begging to be written, but we rarely take much notice of them. My inspiration for a story often comes from a real event, like the one I mentioned above. I also listen carefully to other people’s stories. We tell each other stories all the time. I often note down the basic idea and then elaborate on this to create a more interesting, more complex, original story.
HRB: Can you give some advice to people who would like to write stories for language learners?
Jack Scholes: Read a lot! This is crucial. Also read widely and make sure you read lots of readers to get a clear idea of what is expected for learner literature. Then when you write, try to imagine the story as if you were the reader. Don’t write to try to impress people with how well you write. Write for the reader, not for yourself or anybody else.
HRB: The World Cup is getting closer. Are you going to follow it? Who will you cheer for?
Jack Scholes: Of course I’m going to follow it! My partner is Brazilian, so I’ll have to cheer for Brazil! But I think that would be my choice anyway.
HRB: Than you for the interview, Jack!