New Teacher Tales – Amy
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.
Amy, a fellow teacher here in Kiev, tells us about starting out in New York, and why she loves teaching in Ukraine so much. Amy blogs at The Wayfarer’s Book, and you can read more about her thoughts on teaching, and her adventures traveling in Ukraine, there.
Where do you work now?
I currently work in Kiev, the capital of diverse and immense Ukraine! I teach English to teenagers and adults. Many of my adult classes are corporate clients, so I travel around the city and teach a mix of business English, general English, and English for specific industries.
What’s the best thing about living in the country you live now?
I love how Ukraine is in the middle of crafting its own history. As such a young country, Ukraine has some obstacles to overcome. It’s fascinating to hear older generations talk about life under the Soviet Union. And it’s inspiring to see the younger generations hustling to make their mark in their country and in the world.
Why did you become an English teacher?
I became an English teacher mostly because I wanted to travel sustainably – but I’ve been very lucky to actually enjoy doing it! When I was at college I briefly thought of becoming a high school English teacher, but the bureaucracy and politicking in American schools turned me off. I had already been out of university for four years when I decided to revamp my career and become an English teacher.
How did you start?
I almost got a TEFL certificate off Groupon – and I’m so glad I didn’t! After doing some research, I found out that most schools in Turkey (where I originally wanted to teach) require a CELTA. Issued by Cambridge University, it’s generally recognized as one of the best TEFL certificates out there. It’s not for everyone, but if someone is looking for a serious career in TEFL I would recommend the CELTA. I got mine in March 2013, and it has opened many doors for me since then.
What was your first teaching job?
My very first teaching job was working at a summer school in New York City. It was in-sane. We lived on campus with the kids up in the Bronx. In the morning we would teach English classes, in the afternoon we would lead them on excursions around the city, and at night we’d take turns trying to entertain them. It wasn’t a bad crash course in teaching teens, but it was crazy stressful.
After that I got a job at a center in Times Square, teaching adults from all around the world. That was a challenging but rewarding job. Teaching in an English-speaking country means you have an incredibly diverse classroom, with everyone from Brazilian university students to Saudi Arabian pilots to Japanese businessmen, all coming together to learn in a totally immersive environment.
What did you do before you started teaching English?
A little bit of everything! My degree is in screenwriting, so I tried working in the film business for a bit. But I didn’t want to move to Los Angeles, so I ended up working in an office as a marketing assistant. It was a great place to work, but I had too much wanderlust to stay put.
Where have you taught?
After teaching in New York City for two years, I quit my job to travel with my boyfriend at the time. We spent a few months in Singapore, where I taught part-time. After Singapore we came to Kiev, just temporarily, but I fell for the city so hard I decided to return and sign a year-long contract (which I’ve extended).
What was your favourite place to work? Why?
Each place has had its perks, but I do love working with Ukrainian students. They’re motivated, curious, and pretty hilarious. And Ukraine is one of the few places where an English teacher’s salary means you can have a pretty comfortable life.
What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
The best thing to happen to me is the moment I realized I had found a real way to combine travel and work in a sustainable, adult lifestyle. Sure, there are still a lot of limitations (I have to make enough money to pay my student loans back in the States!). But I’ve finally found a career that I enjoy that provides a comfortable quality of life (like having my own apartment – didn’t have that in New York City!) and supports an international lifestyle. After years of struggling to figure out what to do with my life and how to integrate travel, I felt like I had finally cracked the code!
What is the worst thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
The worst thing has been struggling to teach with mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression. Teaching is such a demanding, people-fronted job, it’s hard to muster enough energy and good vibes when your personal life is a swirling mess. Finding a balance between work and self-care is a struggle no matter what, but teaching with depression required me to really focus on myself and establishing healthy coping methods.
Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a teacher?
One of my most memorable classes was when I was teaching in Singapore, working with a group of mostly Korean and Japanese housewives. Their families had relocated because their husbands had work, but the wives didn’t have employment visas. Since English is one of the four official languages in Singapore, they were taking classes to make daily life easier. One lesson they wanted to know all about how to talk to doctors when their children were sick. You can imagine the kind of vocabulary we came up with, laughing the whole time as we struggled to describe – or mime – the different… symptoms.
Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?
I would like to be more motivated about personal professional development! I’m thinking about doing my DELTA soon, and everyone says it’s a good idea to start the required reading early. And, I want to, I really do. But I also want to work on my blog and try that new bar and watch the new Game of Thrones episode…
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English teacher?
Really research your employer! Living abroad is fantastic, but if you end up with a job you hate, you end up feeling stuck and panicky. Because our residency permits are often tied to our employers, it’s hard to quit and find a new job if you hate your working environment. Know red flags to look for in the application stage, talk to other staff at the company, and poke around the internet before you sign a contract. I’ve found that work weighs more in expat life than it does back home, so take your time to make the best decision.