New Teacher Tales – Fiona
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.
Fiona teaches in Spain and talks about leaving her job as a jeweller to teach in Spain, visiting a bullfight and what she would do differently if she was to start it all again. You can find out more about her life as well as advice and tips for teachers on Profe Fiona
Where do you work now?
I work in Granada for a company called Esztertainment. Our focus is on English learning as a lifestyle, and integrating language learning into your day to day and making it something fun!
What is your position there?
All sorts! We make videos for parents giving advice about how to maintain interest for English in their kids, working or playing together as a family so that English isn’t just about what you do once a week in class! We also hold workshops in English open to adults and children on anything from slime-making to educational workshops about other countries (and a lot in between!) And of course I also teach English in a classroom setting (sometimes hehe!)
What’s the best thing about living in Spain?
I have lived in 2 cities in Spain and they are quite different! Madrid had a lot of facilities and quite an international scene, which I liked, but it was expensive and not very intimate. Granada is much smaller, I feel more connected to and supported by people here. The city is also beautiful!
Why did you become an English teacher?
It’s actually quite a long story! I was working as a manager of an independent jewellery store in London. I had trained for 2 years and sat a 6-hour exam to be properly qualified to sell diamonds and other jewellery, and some parts of the job I loved. However, it was so competitive! I spent 12+ hours a day in heels and a skirt suit trying to get rich people’s money in exchange for overpriced branded goods while constantly fending off the threat of other staff who wanted to take my job. There was little comradery, it was very money-focused, I worked a silly number of hours and I finally just found myself one day asking why the hell I was doing it all!?
Around the same time, I made friends with an Egyptian-Spanish girl who had come to the UK from Spain in search of work. I helped her with her CV, with the language, with finding somewhere to live and with her search for work. Once she had found a job, she offered myself and my partner at the time a free holiday in Spain, staying with her other half just outside Madrid, as a thank you.
Spending a few weeks there, with things at home being as they were, it wasn’t a hard decision to make! We both decided that we would train to teach English and move to Spain!
How did you start?
I did an online TEFL course, it was awful! I was totally unprepared when I started and it was an incredibly steep learning curve! I didn’t know what to expect from the job so I didn’t really know until I started teaching that the qualification wasn’t worth the paper it was written on!
As some of you may know, British kids in the 80’s and 90’s didn’t learn grammar in school and we barely learnt other languages either. My TEFL course didn’t really cover much past the basic idea of present simple, continuous, a bit of past and future and a little section on how teaching kids can be hard sometimes. I had no classroom experience either! When I walked into my first class, waiting in the office of a Telefonica Director, I was just praying he wouldn’t show up! I felt completely out of my depth!
What was your first teaching job?
Teaching in-company for Telefonica and AXA Seguros in Madrid. I pretty much just got the job because I was young, British, white and pretty. I would go to the offices of execs and partners in tall office buildings in Madrid and listen to bosses who pretty much just wanted to talk at me and perhaps impress me. They already had a great level of English, the classes were included with their position and well, I didn’t get much out of it and really, I don’t think they did either. After a year doing that I left and joined another academy that offered training to new employees because I still felt so unprepared and under-qualified in my job as a teacher.
Where have you taught?
Madrid, Granada & online. I’ve taught in an academy setting, for an NGO for migrants, in large companies including AXA, Deloitte, Telefonica and Ferrovial, online privately and with iTalki, by phone as part of my academy job, and with both adults and children ranging from 5-17.
What was your favourite place to work? Why?
My current job, definitely! I love our methodology and ideology and the variety of tasks that the job involves.
What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
Hmm, not related to teaching but I met my other half in Madrid after becoming an English teacher! I think that’s the best thing! Related to the job though, I’m not sure I can pin it down. I think the best thing is the number of related opportunities I have been able to explore within the world of English language learning and teaching.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
Wow! Erm… I went through quite a difficult separation a year after moving out here, on top of that there have been a few health issues with friends and family abroad during the last few years. I think dealing with the usual traumas while in a new country and constantly having that question in your head ‘should I go back? Am I doing the right thing?’ without your usual support networks, in a foreign culture and a foreign language. It’s quite hard sometimes.
Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a teacher?
I’ve got so many silly little anecdotes I’m not sure which to choose! I think the most impactful cultural experience was seeing a bullfight. I was reluctant to criticise the custom until I had at least seen it. I went with my brother and a Spanish friend who explained everything to us. Honestly, I kept an open mind. The first fight (there were 6) disgusted me and I wanted to leave, but we stayed and watch a further 5 bulls slaughtered. The bullfighter was also injured in one of the turns.
By the 6th bull, I had almost become accustomed to it. Seeing the dead animal dragged out of the ring on ropes had become pretty ‘meh’. The next day I reflected on the whole thing and decided I could fairly say I was anti-bullfighting now! I was shocked, not only by the brutality of it all, but also at how quickly I had accepted the whole thing and just got used to seeing such a huge, strong, beautiful animal slowly and painfully dying. So yeah, now you can put me squarely in the ‘disgusted and judgemental guiri’ bracket! I absolutely won’t be repeating the experience!
Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?
If I could go back, I would pick a different course for my TEFL. I’d do an offline course with teaching practice, and I’d choose a course which covered grammar and teaching theory in some depth.
(Here is our advice on how to choose a TEFL course)
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English teacher?
First, pick the right TEFL course.
Second, enjoy your job! Sometimes it’s easy to get nervous and to focus on appearing professional, but your students aren’t interested in that! They won’t learn if they don’t feel safe and relaxed, and for them to feel safe and relaxed, you have to feel safe and relaxed!
Third, learn the language of wherever you’re living. It’ll help you in the classroom as well as to integrate into your new home.
Thanks to Fiona for this interview. You can find lots of advice and ideas for teaching English on her excellent blog Profe Fiona.
If you liked this, we have many more interviews by people teaching English all over the world, in our New Teacher Tales series, including Malaysian Evonne who runs her own school, Emma who has taught in Argentina, Spain and Portugal and Angela from the Philippines who’s worked in Vietnam and Tanzania.