The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, December 01, 2017

Moscow: a return visit and a new venture

At the weekend, I had my first trip to Moscow in 30 years and my first independently-organized teacher training workshop.

I've been doing teacher training in some form for more than 15 years, but it's always been organized by someone else. I've given talks and workshops at conferences and at events organized by publishers and I've taught on the Oxford University ELT summer seminar (ELTSS). I’ve occasionally been contacted directly by teachers or institutions asking if I'd do some training for them, but until now, the requests have always been either too wide in their scope or they just haven't fitted into my schedule. But when I was contacted by a Russian teacher asking if I'd do something for teachers in Moscow, it sounded more feasible; a day of workshops on Teaching Advanced Writing Skills, a topic I'd previously covered at ELTSS. So I said yes. 

I've been looking for new avenues of work and thinking about opportunities to 'go solo' and it seemed like a good chance to dip a toe into a slightly new pond. So how did it go? Was it worth it? And would I do it again?

Arranging the trip:
The first dilemma was deciding on a fee. The workshop was for an independent group of teachers, rather than a large organization, so I didn't want to charge too high a fee, but neither did I want to sell myself short or leave myself out of pocket. After a few mental calculations (the time I'd be working, time travelling, time for preparation), I came up with a fee + expenses that my Russian contact was happy to agree to. It was only in retrospect that I realized I should have thrown a few more factors into my calculation ... I hadn't reckoned on the time and effort that getting a Russian visa would involve. In total, it probably took me 3 or 4 full working days of to-ing and fro-ing, getting together everything I needed for the application, then a day travelling to the Russian embassy in London because you have to apply in person. 

Overall, the extra time to get everything sorted means that I probably didn't make that much financially out of the trip, but neither did I make a loss. So as a learning experience, it was definitely worth it. For any future trips, I'll know to factor in a bit more admin time, plus more for anywhere with complicated visas.

What with all the effort of getting there, it would have been foolish not to add on a bit of time for sightseeing, so I arrived a day early and gave myself a full day after the workshop too to get out and about in the Russian capital. I'd last visited on a school trip way back in 1986 in a wholly different era. Back then we were shepherded around under the watchful eye, and painfully slow English, of an official guide and spent a lot of our time shuffling slowly round museums. So it was lovely to have the freedom to wander around, jumping on and off the fabulous Metro and making frequent coffee stops partly to warm up and partly to people-watch. Of course, the big architectural sights (the Kremlin, St Basil's etc.) were unchanged, but the Soviet era grey has been replaced with light and colour and shops ... lots of shops! And it even snowed too just before I left, giving everywhere that picture-postcard feel.

Looking across Red Square to St Basil's Cathedral

The training:
I was made slightly nervous at the start of the day when the organizer explained that some of the teachers had travelled from other parts of Russia just for my workshop ... no pressure then?! As soon as I got into my flow and the participants were smiling and nodding though, I relaxed and time flew. It was quite a full-on day with five and a half hours of workshops (split into three sessions), but the teachers' enthusiasm and willingness to engage didn't seem to flag, despite a slightly warm room. I used a mix of tried and tested material plus a few new ideas (thanks to Kath Bilsborough for passing on the 'exit cards' idea, they worked a treat!). I was also pleased that I'd asked the participants to email me a short summary of their teaching context in advance, it helped to know a little about them and it also gave me a sample of their writing to give some feedback on ... they took it well and, fingers crossed, no one was offended by my feedback. All round, it was a genuinely enjoyable day, a pleasure to meet such a lovely group of teachers and the feedback so far has been very positive.

With some of the workshop participants

Would I do it again?
Definitely! It had all the plus points that training always has - meeting new people, finding out about different teaching contexts and just the buzz of the interaction - plus the added benefit of being able to do my own thing. It would be great to do similar things elsewhere either on the same topic or in one of my other favourite areas. And to be honest, apart from factoring in a bit more admin time, I don't think I'd change too much. Thanks to everyone for making the day such a success!

If you're interested in arranging teacher training workshops in the areas of teaching writing skills, vocabulary or EAP, then drop me a line - contact details on my website www.juleswords.co.uk

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