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Building bridges in Brazil: keeping Teflers in touch

By Fernando Guarany and Valéria Benévolo França

The Braz-Tesol (BT) English language teachers’ association (a not-for-profit organisation) represents close to 2,000 professionals, drawn from all parts of Brazil, working within strikingly different teaching contexts and scenarios.

The association was founded in 1986 under the leadership of Bob Carrington. Since then we have had a number of distinguished presidents, all of whom have dedicated a great deal of time and effort to making the association a driving force in the development of ELT professionals.

With our head office based in São Paulo, we are largely run on a voluntary basis by the members of the executive board, the advisory council, the regional chapters and SIG committees, all of which represent our rich regional diversity. Despite limited and often scarce funds, BT supports teacher development through the organisation of events and courses run by local chapters (Rio de Janeiro, Natal, Brasilia, Goiania, Curitiba, Manaus, Recife, Salvador, Belem, Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte, Londrina, São Paulo and  Joinville). BT is an affiliate of Tesol International (USA), of Iatefl (UK) and a member of Southern Cone Tesol (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay).

With the continuing growth in membership, the setting up of new chapters and the revival of older ones, BT guarantees its sustainability as an active association which seeks its own national identity within the international field of ELT. Teachers are looking for their own regional and national voice in terms of the culture-specific and pedagogical challenges which the ELT scenario presents within the state-school sector, private language institutes and schools, and university environments in Brazil.

This becomes clear as one reads the articles in our quarterly newsletter sent to all members. The newsletters contain research and classroom-based reflection-in-action articles, as well as texts which provide practical activities for teachers. BT members are encouraged to contribute their own articles as a way of highlighting the work being done by local leading lights.

The events organised throughout the year by local chapters (‘Refresh your teaching’, ‘Beyond Formulas, Towards Results’, ‘Relax and Unwind with Teaching’, to name but a few) also demonstrate the degree to which members are concerned about furthering their professional development. Based either on a one-day seminar format or a half-day event, with concurrent and plenary sessions, the chapters count on Brazilian professionals, who have a chance to present their work either locally or throughout Brazil. The chapter events sometimes count on the participation of key international speakers, often sponsored by the publishing houses, which work very closely with BT.

Last year was special as the 13th Braz-Tesol national convention was held in Rio de Janeiro with the most significant level of participation ever – nearly 1,300 Brazilian members gathered. For the first time there also were a number of international participants, professionals who came to Brazil to discover more about our approach towards ELT.

Braz-Tesol has for some time been exploring ways to use technology in general, and social media in particular, to reach a greater number of ELT professionals all over Brazil. For last year’s convention, we used an upbeat video shot in beautiful Rio de Janeiro to invite teachers to the conference. The video, which can be watched here, was instrumental not only in attracting participants but also in bringing to the surface the sense of pride of members in the association. The call for papers and the registration process was also carried out online.

At a regional level, the Brasilia and Goiania chapters organised and ran our first ever webinar. The online gathering brought together three enthusiastic guest speakers who presented sessions on ‘Practical Ideas for your Next Class’. The interesting thing is that each of the three presenters was located in a different part of the globe (Argentina, Brazil and Japan) and participants joined from an even greater number of countries. The recordings of the sessions are available here.

In a nation such as Brazil, with a geographical area of continental dimensions and a huge variety of realities, effective communication and collaboration are of the essence to consolidate a teachers’ association identity. To that end, a Facebook group was created last year in which BT local chapter committee members can share news, ideas and best practices, and interact with one another. The initiative has been successful as we have seen an increase in integration between chapters from various regions. This integration and collaboration is vital as Braz-Tesol seeks to expand its benefits to members.

The year 2012–13 saw the handing over of the presidential mandate from Vinicius Nobre, who was able to steer the growth of the association by 180 per cent, to Marcelo Barros. Marcelo’s main objective is to continue growth and help consolidate our sustainability. The vision is to have BT represented in as many locations as possible serving teachers from both state and private sectors. This involves strengthening links between chapters from different regions as well as establishing effective communication channels with the national board.

Starting and sustaining a teachers’ association is no small feat anywhere in the world. In Brazil the existence and work of BT has been supported by a number of institutions, organisations and individuals who firmly believe in the importance of quality English language teaching for the development of any nation. Over the years, teachers from all over the country have found a sense of belonging in BT; they have found out that they are not alone and that the ELT profession is bigger than just one person. Through our activities, not only have teachers been able to become better at what they do but also take more pleasure and pride in what they do. Our fuel to carry on is the passion of each member who devotes their time, energy and talents to the association and believes that together we are stronger.

Fernando Guarany is a member of the BT advisory council and ELT development manager for the British Council Brazil. Valéria Benévolo França is first vice president of BT and head of teacher development for Cultura Inglesa SA