In our post this week, Juan Uribe interviews guest blogger, Claire Venables.  In it she talk about her passion for teaching young learners and shares her concerns and advice for teachers working in  this area of ELT

When did you first become interested in teaching English to young learners?  

I come from a family of teachers.  Early Childhood Education was a natural career choice for me I think.  I didn’t become interested in teaching English until working with ESL students at a high school in London.  That was when I became really interested in pursuing a career in TESOL.  I’ve taught students of all ages and levels since then but teaching young learners and now very young learners are what I am most passionate about.

What is an important lesson that you have learned about being a Young Learner teacher?  

First of all, I have learned the importance of looking after myself.  I know that might seem like a strange thing to say but when you work with children you have a huge responsibility for their physical and emotional well-being. You can’t take care of anyone else if you haven’t first taken care of yourself.  I’m also a big fan of David Vale and his idea about developing positive relationships between the students and the teacher and between the students themselves.  I enter the classroom everyday trying to be mindful and look for ways to connect personally to every person in my group.   With children, this can be as simple as getting down to their eye level when they talk to you and really listening and responding to what they say.

You have mentioned you feel there is a lack of professional development opportunities for teachers of young learners. What are the needs that you notice and how do you conceive this challenge can be tackled?  

I think a serious conversation about professional development for the Young Learner Teacher is well overdue.  Children across the world have begun learning English at an earlier age and Brazil is no exception.  This has led to an increased demand for YL teachers and, consequently, the need for additional training for teachers wishing to work in this specialized sector of ELT.   Now, I’m all for the learning of foreign languages at preschool, but I truly believe that a child can only benefit from an early start if that experience is an effective and affective one.   Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions and oversimplified views about working with children which lead to schools placing unqualified and inexperienced people into YL classrooms and offering very little support.   We need more training opportunities for these teachers urgently but they need to be both practical and cost effective as for many teachers, professional development is something they have to pursue and pay for themselves.  

What are your plans for the future?

Not surprisingly, I would like to devote more time to teacher training. I feel this is where I can make the biggest contribution at this stage of my career.  I have developed and am running a course which is accredited by Oxford TEFL. It’s an online course which means it is available for teachers from anywhere in Brazil.   Aside from my course, I’m also big into connecting with teachers and sharing ideas and projects and I hope to continue doing more of that through my blog, social media and the talks and workshops I give.

What advice would you share to other Young Learner teachers?

YL teaching is something you have to be very passionate about first and then invest in if you actually want to become good at it.  When you do, you will find teaching children to be the most rewarding experience you will ever have.  I would also encourage new and experienced teachers alike to remind those around you that our work is not a mere extension of mothering but rather an incredibly important job which will have a huge impact on the lives of our students.  Don’t be afraid to charge what you deserve for your work.  Passion does not pay the bills!


Claire Venables
Claire Venables spent a decade teaching in Europe where she obtained her diploma in TESOL through Trinity College, London. She has wide ranging experience as a teacher, teacher-trainer, materials writer and Director of Studies. However, her true passion is teaching English to very young learners. Since 2011 she has been creating and implementing immersion programmes for children in Espirito Santo, Brazil.