This coming week is the IATEFL conference, which I wish I was going to but sadly finances don’t allow (next year, I hope!). As such International House (the company I’ve worked for for the last five years now) has asked teachers to share their ‘TEFL story’, which seemed a pretty interesting topic for a blog post on a grey and cloudy Saturday morning!
As a fifteen year old, adamant that I was never going to become a teacher, I started volunteering as a way to remain involved with a Girlguiding unit that I was officially ‘too old’ to be a part of. When choosing work experience working in a school seemed the obvious choice as in many ways it was much of the same – and so working with kids and teenagers became something that I ‘did’, something I enjoyed and something I was good at, even though it was something I’d never set out to do. Off the back of that once at uni I took a job working as activities staff at an international summer school, because sure, the kids didn’t necessarily speak English that well, but in many ways it was sill something I was used to doing. Summer school was amazing. Over the seven (?!) summer schools I’ve now worked, I’ve realised that summer school is a kind of ‘marmite’ thing. People either love it or they hate it – and I definitely fall into the former group.
As I ummed and aahed and generally made my university’s careers advisors despair, I settled upon the idea that maybe I didn’t want to become ‘that kind’ of teacher (teaching English Literature to bored teenagers seemed unappealing, I wasn’t confident enough in my French to want to teach secondary MFL, and the idea of having to teach primary school maths was downright terrifying)… but maybe being a teacher wouldn’t be all that bad afterall. I did my research, applied for the Trinity CertTESOL, and then embarked on probably the most intense learning experience of my life.
After five weeks of realising that my envisaged weekend walks along Bournemouth beach were not going to become a reality, I was a ‘qualified TEFL teacher’ – little realising that, much like when learning to drive, it’s after you clutch the piece of paper in your hands that the real learning begins. Then I worked for my university chaplaincy. I worked in the head office of a language school. In short, I did pretty much everything in my power not to have to sign the overseas contract and book the flights.
It always surprises people when I say that I’m quite a homebody. I like to have roots, to get to know people and places – and travelling for the sake of travelling has never been particularly interesting to me. When push came to shove and I found my fixed-term contract was not going to be extended, however, I ended up taking the leap and found myself on a plane, for the first time in my life, with a one-way ticket from Heathrow airport to Moscow. Had I been asked, in October 2011, how long I thought my teaching career would last, my answer would probably have been ‘roughly the same length as my 9 week trial period’. Four years later, I was still there.
I taught journalists, teachers and engineers. I taught sparky, brilliant teenagers and bored, unmotivated ones. I taught a charming six year old boy who could natter away almost fluently in English thanks to his Nigerian nanny. I taught a pilot who wanted to brush up on his interview techniques before applying to work for an international airline. Over the years, I realised that the job I never intended to do really was the ‘right’ job for me.
I’ve always loved summer schools, and having done almost every job there from activities staff, to activities manager, to teacher, to senior teacher (I have yet to cross course leader off my list, but am sure there is still time) it seemed oddly appropriate that it would be at summer school that I would meet, befriend, and later fall in love with one of the most creative, caring teachers I have ever known.
I left Moscow. I moved to Prague, where I now in a crazy trial-by-fire teach 27 hours of young learners a week. I am still learning, still growing, still finding new things that interest me and things that surprise, entertain and educate me.
I am a TEFL teacher. I can’t imagine doing anything else.