Keynote Speaker


Photo of Emma Iliffe in black & whiteThank you very much to the New Zealand Sign Language Teachers Association for asking me to be Keynote speaker.

My name is Emma, I’m from London, England. I work as a British Sign Language (BSL) teacher Coordinator at an adult education college, the City Lit, London.

I have been teaching for more than 25 years, gosh!

What does teaching mean to me? For me, it is all about sharing my experiences and knowledge of BSL, Deaf culture and the Deaf community so that the students can learn and develop their own language skills. The students are able to improve their skills through regular feedback.

So how did I get into teaching? In the 1980s, I used to work in Oxford at a hospital interior design team. Someone approached me from the Oxford Deaf Centre to ask me to teach BSL classes to hearing people. It seemed like a good social opportunity. I was able to observe the other BSL teachers and this gave me a basic understanding to teach a language.

I also went to a conference about BSL and I learnt for the first time about linguistics. It was fascinating to learn all about the structure of the language, there was so much information about BSL grammar – the use of facial expressions, classifiers, etc - that I didn’t realise before.

While I was at Oxford, I heard the British Sign Language Training Agency (BSLTA) at Durham University had set up a new BSL teacher training course in 1986. It was the first course like this in the UK, and Deaf people were welcome to apply. The course was fully accessible to BSL users; we didn’t have to use our voice, or be highly skilled in writing. We only had to have the enthusiasm to learn how to teach and work hard at it. Unfortunately, I tried my best but I didn’t achieve the qualification this time.

During motherhood, I became an illustrator for Deaf children’s’ books, and for the BBC TV Hands Up series. As my children got older, my husband encouraged me to get my teacher qualifications at the City Lit. This time I achieved an STTC (Sign Language Teacher Training Course), City & Guild 7307, 7407 Stage 1 and 2 Teacher certificate, I then worked as a BSL teacher in some local Adult Education colleges. I was also BSL Teacher Co-ordinator at Enfield College.

All these experiences made me realise my passion for teaching, which I have had ever since.

For the next 14 years, I taught at Blanche Neville School for Deaf children in north London. My role involved teaching and assessing Deaf children, plus BSL classes for parents, specialist and mainstream staff. I then became a qualified A1 assessor and attended City University to gain a BSL Production Skills Assessor for children aged 4 to 11.

For the past two years, I work at an Adult Education College, the City Lit. I am BSL Level 3 & 4 Teachers Coordinator and help to supervise a great team of freelance BSL Teachers.

I become a member of the Associaton of British Sign Language Teachers and Assessors (ABSLTA) for 7 years before being elected onto the committee for two years. In April 2014, I was re-elected to become the new Chairperson.

As a volunteer for ABSLTA, I am delighted to share my wealth of skills and experiences. I especially enjoy the challenges of working as part of the volunteer team and leading ABSLTA through the complex digital era to reach out to as many potential members based around the UK. When deaf people work together as a team, rather than competing with each other, we can achieve so much more.

My absolute favourite thing is seeing the learner’s confidence improve and supporting them to become skilled signers, it is lovely to see. I do various activities with my classes which I think helps to connect them as a group. Students learn better when they work as a team.

The activities involve creating stories that aid memory building. As the story becomes longer and more developed as they improve. The students really enjoy this and do it over and over again!

If you are interested in becoming a teacher I would advise you to really look inside yourself and into your heart and ask yourself ‘can I become a teacher?’ You really need to have a passion for it. It is great fun but also hard work!

You also need a high level of signing skills and you need to be committed to learning about linguistics too. It is also important that you have an in-depth knowledge of the deaf community and deaf culture. You also need to be very good at planning and organising!

If you are thinking about applying to become a teacher, first you need to find a teacher who you can observe and work with as a role model. If you get on well, they are the right person to support you.

You can then apply to properly train to become a NZSL teacher.

You start with NZSL Teaching Training Course, which should be taken alongside the NZSL specialist unit, it’s incredibly useful.

If you learn how to teach with only hearing people who don't know NZSL, it won't be beneficial!

It'd be best to learn on a specialised course like at City Lit in London – last year we set up an STTC course, which stands for Sign Language Teacher Training Course. It runs one weekend per month for a year.

I am sharing my topic about ABSLTA and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) about Sign Language Teachers in UK. It would be great to set up two group works to discuss about SWOT for NZSL Level 2 Teachers and Level 2 students.

Hope you enjoy NZSLTA conference. It was really shame I can't join with you in New Zealand conference because of due to COVID-19.