New Teacher Tales – Emma

In our New Teacher Tales series, we interview people teaching English abroad, about how, why and where they started out, about their experiences teaching abroad, and what advice they have for new teachers.

In this post, we interview Emma, a British teacher who trained with us in Thailand, and then has worked for International House for the rest of her career to date, in Argentina, Spain, and Portugal. She tells us about starting out teaching classes of 60 students in Thailand, running social media for a school in Argentina and getting the opportunity to visit Iraq for teacher training.

Emma

Where do you work now?

I work at International House in Coimbra, Portugal, where I am Assistant Director of Studies (Assistant manager).  I’m also an online tutor for International House Online Teacher Training Institute.

What’s the best thing about living in Portugal?

It’s hard to choose just one, but I’d probably say the food!

Why did you become an English teacher?

It was a suggestion from my old French teacher.  I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do after I finished university, although I knew I wanted to see more of the world.  She suggested trying ELT, so I did! I figured that if it didn’t work out I could always try something different. I took 6 months after graduation to travel a bit and do some temporary work to try and get some money together and then off I went!

How did you start?

I signed up for a TEFL course with TEFL International in Thailand.  It was all quite random, I had been back in the UK about a week when I received an email about a promotion they were running – a discounted course with guaranteed work for one semester.  I must have signed up for their mailing list at some point, but I figured it was worth a shot… so I didn’t really do much research, I just went for it.

Was this the right way to start?

In a way, yes.  With hindsight, I’d have spent more time researching the course and company.  However, the price swayed me.  As I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to teach long-term, I told myself that if it really wasn’t for me, I could stick it out for the semester and just enjoy being in Thailand.

However, I ended up loving the course and the job, and whilst I’ve not taught in a secondary school since, Thailand was a great place to ease myself into teaching and I met lots of people, some of whom I’m still in touch with (including Kate & Kris).

What was your first teaching job?

At a Thai Secondary school in Saraburi (roughly 2 hours NE of Bangkok). It was……eye-opening! It was very, very different to my school in the UK – there were 60 students in my classes, so on my first day I was given a microphone and a box of chalk!  I soon realised that when teaching groups of 60 a microphone was very handy.

I had a Thai co-teacher who dealt with discipline and the register in the majority of my classes.  They also taught them grammar in a separate class.  I was in charge of speaking and listening classes.  I also taught the Special English Program classes, where there were only 20-30 students per class and I had more flexibility over the content of the classes.

Overall I really enjoyed my time there.  There was a very international staffroom and the students were really respectful (for the most part!)

Thai students in a high school in Saraburi. My first teaching job

Where have you taught?

I’ve taught English in Thailand, Argentina, Spain, Portugal & also teacher training in Turkey and Iraq.

What was your favourite place to work? Why?

I would have to say Argentina.  It’s the place I stayed the longest (5.5 years) and where I learnt the most.  I arrived fairly inexperienced (just the one semester in Thailand) and left with a DELTA (the Cambridge Diploma in teaching English as a foreign language) and academic management experience.  I was lucky that I got employed by a great school (International House, San Isidro) and was able to develop hugely as a teacher, but also as a person.  I was encouraged to experiment and find areas that I was really interested in.  I was given responsibility for creating and managing the school’s social media presence as well as being given the opportunity to present at conferences and do some teacher training with local secondary school teachers.  I also had my first article published whilst I was there and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my time in Argentina.

Not only that, but I also met, and worked with, some amazing people, many of whom I’m still in contact with although we’re now spread all over the world and I also got to explore parts of South America – a continent that had long fascinated me.

What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?

It’s hard to choose just one thing – however, in the past couple of years, I’ve become a lot more involved in teacher training, both online and face to face.  Spending 10 days in Kurdistan, an area of Iraq, this summer training local teachers has to count among some of the best things. This was especially as I was able to visit places and experience things which, at the moment, are still fairly off-limits to many people.

Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan

Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan

Market in Iraqi Kurdistan

Market in Iraqi Kurdistan

What is the worst thing that has happened to you?

Probably when, in my previous job, my contract wasn’t renewed, despite a verbal agreement, and no real reason given.  However, as the school then closed less than 6 months later, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise!

Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a teacher?

Not sure it counts as bizarre, but I was giving a talk at the International House Director of Studies Conference in London (an annual conference for all DoSes and Academic Managers of the International House network, now called the IH AMT (Academic Managers and Trainers) conference), and it was my first time at the conference, so I was feeling pretty nervous and generally overawed.  I had been talking for about 5 minutes or so when this older gentleman walked in and took a seat.  I thought he looked familiar, but couldn’t place him, so carried on talking.  Being quite nervous I spoke even faster than normal and ended up finishing about 10 minutes sooner than planned…… which was when said older gentleman came up, thanked me for the talk and introduced himself as Jeremy Harmer (author of many English teaching books including ‘How to teach English’). That explained why I recognised him as I’d been quoting him in DELTA essays the year before! I’m just glad that I didn’t recognise him during the talk as I was already nervous enough…

Is there anything you would change?

In general no, perhaps, with hindsight, I’d have waited another year or two before doing my DELTA, because it was a challenge and more teaching experience would definitely have helped. However, I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out so far and where I am now.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English teacher?

Give it a go! There is so much information online about the different courses available (both positive and negative) that it might be difficult to know what to do and where.  However, I’d say that investing in a genuine course by a reputable provider is worth it in the long run.  Talk to people who have done the course you want to do or are working where you want to work, and don’t believe everything you read online!

Hopefully, this blog will help you sort through some of the options available, as the teachers we interview are actually working in the field, and have been where you are now. We will all be happy to give you feedback and advice about what course to do and where to work, so post a comment or get in touch!

You can find Emma on Twitter at @emcresswell and read articles she has written in the International House Journal of Education and Development. If you have a specific question about something she’s done or said, send us a message or write a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

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