New Teacher Tales – Nadja
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.
Today, Nadja from the Philippines, tells us about doing the CELTA and teaching English in Vietnam, and how she became a Learning and Language Advisor to students at an international university there.
Where do you work now?
I work at RMIT University in Hanoi, Vietnam (An international campus of RMIT University, Melbourne Australia). The job title is Learning and Language Adviser to RMIT undergraduate and graduate students (the students are all learning in English, but mainly come from Vietnam), but I also coordinate peer-to-peer support programs for Hanoi and do a little bit of administrative work.
What’s the best thing about living in Vietnam?
The best thing, I guess, is that if you were an English teacher, you’d find a decent-paying job with language schools or public or private-owned universities anywhere here depending on your educational qualifications and years of teaching experience.
Vietnam has an ever-increasing need for educators, trainers and teachers in the industry. Once settled, you’d find that the cost of living is relatively lower than, say Japan, Korea or Singapore, which means saving up for that dream holiday or high-tech gadget will be within reach.
What did you do before you started teaching English?
I was an accent neutralization trainer for IBM Offshore Business Solutions for about 2 ½ years and then a communication and culture trainer for Convergys for another 18 months. Both were in the Philippines. For a brief period, I also taught a bit about IELTS exam preparation at a review centre before I ventured out of my home country.
Why did you become an English teacher?
I wanted to work abroad. I finished a short, online TEFL course before I left, but the minimum requirement then was a CELTA, some language proficiency certification like IELTS, and a few years teaching experience in Vietnam. I decided to teach English because it was on high-demand.
In 2010, I did my CELTA course at ILA in Ho Chi Minh City and after 5 weeks of intensive training, I found myself choosing among 5 different Asian countries to practice the trade: Japan, Korea, Singapore, China and Vietnam. There were so many considerations, but I simply needed to check how much money I had left in my account (and pocket) and then I was able to decide which country – Vietnam.
I waited a full month before I got hired by Cleverlearn (now AMA) to teach 4th and 5th graders basic conversational English. I guess I’d say getting a CELTA certification was the right way to start.
Teaching kids there (in AMA) was terrible. I had no idea what I was doing, if my lessons were any close to the standards (if any) that the school followed, or if the kids were learning what they needed to learn. One time, I was teaching four 5th graders but it felt more like I had 20 in the class! On top of that, the administration was disorganized. I never went back to teaching children in Vietnam (no offence to other teachers out there!).
Where have you taught?
In Vietnam, I taught at AMA (then Cleverlearn) for 2 months. Then a CELTA classmate of mine contacted me about an opening at ACET. I started working there in September 2010 and left 4 years after.
ACET was my first, real exposure to teaching English to a multicultural, adult audience. I learned so much from my colleagues who were experts in their craft – teacher trainers, IELTS examiners, academic coordinators, team leaders and managers. There was so much to learn, re-learn and unlearn from so many individuals with different backgrounds! There were social events that ACET hosted and this allowed me to mingle and form bonds with other teachers, which was the best part of teaching abroad.
What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
Best thing? I started earning a salary that was impossible to earn doing the same thing in the Philippines. I never knew that in some countries, teaching English was such a prestigious job and not just some calling that requires so much sacrifice for such a very low wage.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
I experienced racial discrimination. When you apply for a position and are rejected because it involves teaching a language that was not your first, or because the position was given priority to a US, UK, Australia, Canada, NZ or South Africa passport holder, the experience can change your personality or cultural perspective. I hurt a little bit, but learned to move on.
Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a teacher?
It wasn’t just one instance. My Vietnamese students kept reminding me of how I was getting much older yearly and that I should start looking for a husband to marry. Uh, hello? It’s my life? I’m the teacher here! (wink)
Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?
Yes. I wished I did my masters right after my CELTA. I have an M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology, and had I earned the qualification earlier, I would have been able to incorporate the knowledge and skills into teaching much, much earlier in the profession. Oh well.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English teacher?
To my fellow Filipino teachers in the ESL industry: Don’t think that because you learned English all your school years, you are already well equipped to teach it. I would say get or earn international certifications, take tests, and hang out with the native speakers.
Expose and immerse yourself in their culture. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as you learn. Ask and welcome the criticism and change. And in the process of learning, enjoy. At the end of the day, it is the interactions that make the experience meaningful.