Interview with Yuliya Desyatova CCLCS LINC Instructor and PhD Candidate

Yuliya Desyatova LINC and TESL teacher at CCLCS

Yuliya photographed at Philosopher’s Walk, University of Toronto, Nov. 2021.

Interview and photography by Mike Simpson
Editing by Tim Cloutis

We are delighted to present our 3rd teacher interview. Please do follow Yuliya on social media via Twitter: @yuliyaesl

Can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Yuliya, Yuliya Desyatova. Originally from Ukraine, I came to Canada 16 years ago, and have been with CCLCS ever since. I am a LINC teacher, TESL instructor, and a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto, OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education).

How long after coming to Canada did you do the TESL program at CCLCS?

I became a TESL student at CCLCS about 6 months after landing in Canada, which was the earliest available opportunity to start the program part-time.

What Teaching Training did you have before coming to Canada? Why did you choose CCLCS?

I had a B.Ed. in Teaching English a Foreign Language from Ukraine, but I knew I needed to learn how things are done in Canada. Not to mention I did not feel very secure about my English at that time, so a TESL program turned out to be a good fit.

By the way, continuing with teaching was a wise advice from a counsellor at a settlement agency. I still remember her name – Shakira at Midaynta (they might still be there, on Yonge Street around Davisville). Without this advice, I probably would have gone on to some kind of career change which I was ready for. At that time, for me, fresh off the plane newcomer, teaching English in Canada sounded like an impossible goal. I felt I needed to learn a lot first. But Shakira was right – it was possible. I am thankful that this kind of settlement help is available for newcomers for free.

CCLCS was my first choice because it was one of the few TESL-Ontario-approved schools that offered part-time classes. It was within reasonable distance from where we lived, and the fees seemed reasonable, so it was the best option, and I believe it still is.

On Professional Development, Master’s and PhD

Can you describe your experience with professional development and taking the program at OISE?

I have always been interested in learning to teach better, and an M.Ed. program seemed like a logical step after 5 years teaching at CCLCS. I took the M.Ed. program part-time.

It gave me time to ask myself questions about what I was doing in the classroom: Why was I doing it? What was the impact/outcomes? How could those outcomes be achieved more effectively? etc. This kind of theory-practice learning felt so rewarding that I did not want it to be over. So I applied for a PhD program, and was thrilled to get this opportunity to continue at OISE, U of T.

On PBLA (Portfolio Based Language Assessment)

What was it about PBLA that made you choose it as the focus of your research?

The topic found me and did not let me go another way. I had been using very flexible informal portfolios with my classes long before I learned about PBLA, and I still think that learner portfolios can be helpful in language learning. Then, since about 2013-14, I started hearing from colleagues in other organizations about how unreasonable portfolio expectations were for the teacher. This baffled me right away, because I always thought that a learner portfolio was solely learners’ responsibility, and its role for a teacher is to be a source of additional information, supplied by the learner, not additional work.

At the TESL Canada conference in 2017 (which, sadly, happened to be the last national TESL conference for now) I had a chance to connect with LINC colleagues all over the country and to hear about the same challenges, the 32-40 portfolio artefacts to be designed by individual teachers, and so on.

And yet when I walked into any conference presentation on PBLA, which were aplenty, there was either a celebration of how great PBLA was, or further detailed instructions on how teachers should do it properly, which seemed to involve hours and hours of additional teachers’ work daily.

Clearly, the puzzle of presumed equation between learner portfolios and PBLA became so big that it deserved a formal study. And there I was, a first-year PhD student, so it was a perfect little storm in my head that materialized into a large multi-year research project.

On Publishing and Presenting the Research

You’ve published and presented your research. What’s been the response from teachers? from IRCC?

I have to say, when I started the research, I was sure that by the time I finish writing the dissertation, PBLA will be on its way out, or at least not pushed as hard as it continued to be. Apart from a few admirable aspirations, there were just too many issues in PBLA that did not make sense in practice: a tremendous increase in work hours required for paper management; limited relevance to beginner learners, too much jargon that beginner learners could not understand; and just too many things packaged into PBLA (task-based teaching, knowledge of the CLB, assessment design, etc.). Those issues kept surfacing everywhere – from extensive literature reviews, in conversations with teachers at conferences, workshops, questions and discussions online and in person. I had no doubt that there would be a constructive response within a year or two, while I had at least four years to finish my thesis writing.

So I was rushing to publish and to present while it was still relevant so that I could contribute to making that change from PBLA pressure to learner portfolio as a helpful tool.

And here we are in 2021, with PBLA still being the “mandatory assessment protocol” that, according to many teachers, has changed the way they teach towards assessment-driven classrooms… In their opinion, it is very different from what LINC was and should be about – settlement- and integration- oriented language learning.

I am still hopeful for change and I keep writing and presenting whenever and wherever I can.

There have been relatively recent changes in leadership at IRCC and the CCLB and I hope there would be more attention to the questionable situation that PBLA has pushed the whole LINC program into, where settlement, language teaching and learning have been taken over by assessment

It is time to make it what it is – one of many approaches at the service of teachers and learners.

On the Rewards and Challenges of Teaching

What is your favourite thing about teaching?

Helping people. Helping them find their strengths, their voice in the new language, in the new place. Building connections between people from around the world, seeing how different yet similar we are, and learning together how to make our lives, our homes, communities, counties, and the whole world a better place. As lofty as it sounds, this is still my hope that drives me to continue this work, whether it is in a language classroom, TESL classroom, or doing research.

Teaching and learning as a conversation, as a dialogue, where all parties listen to each other, think together, and work together for the goal of common, not just individual or for certain groups, but for the common good – that’s when positive change can happen.

What is the biggest challenge for you about teaching?

Being able to read people. Listening is important, but since I work with English language learners, they may not be able to tell me what I need to know about how to help them learn. So I am constantly learning to hear what cannot be said yet and to read what cannot be written yet. And continue meaningful conversations based on that. Conversations that make learners’ voices stronger and more articulate.

Thanks Yuliya for taking the time to answer our questions and contribute to the CCLCS blog.


  1. Thanks for doing the interview. The photos turned out great and I really enjoyed reading about your research and experiences with PBLA. Best of luck!

    • Yuliya

      Thank you, Mike! It was a pleasure to try and think about putting the answers the short readable format

  2. Dawn O.

    I’ve been quite aware of the varying opinions about PBLA, and especially the challenges of implementing this in a LINC classroom. I usually teach lower levels (which I love!) and hate to inflict the stress of numerous assessments on my learners.

    Yuliya does a great job of articulating the flaws with the current system. But Yuliya, I really appreciated your words about the joys of interacting with newcomers! I learn so much every day from my students, and have formed many friendships. It is rewarding when they tell us how being at CCLCS feels like family, and I’m happy to have the privilege of being part of that family!

    • CCLCS

      Even as LINC evolves (for better or worse), we can’t lose sight of the people that we serve. Thanks Dawn.

  3. We all owe you, Yuliya, a huge debt of gratitude for stepping up to become the David willing to take aim at Goliath. Yes, perhaps with new leadership at IRCC, we will eventually see some responsiveness and common sense that informs future policy. I will never lose hope nor stop encouraging teachers to fight for this.

    • CCLCS

      Hi Kelly — I will pass your comments along to Yuliya! -Cheryl

      • Yuliya

        Thank you for passing the message, Cheryl!

    • Yuliya

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Kelly! You work has meant a lot to many teachers across Canada (and probably beyond). You are right, hope is something we should never lose.

Comments are closed