New Teacher Tales – Pete
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, Pete, a British teacher who currently works as a teacher and materials writer in Bangkok Thailand, talks about working on the EPIK scheme in South Korea, living in a Spanish town with storks on the cathedral spire and feeding a summer school’s resident badger.
Where do you work now?
I’m at the British Council in Bangkok. There are five teaching centres here, mine’s a small one on the edge of the city.
I’m a teacher and teach young learners, teenagers, and adults. I’m also a Materials Writer for the British Council MyClass, an adult product for our Central/East Asia region. This means that as well as teaching lessons, I design them for teachers all over the region to use.
What’s the best thing about working at the British Council in Bangkok?
I’m always learning. There’s lots of technology at school to try out, like interactive whiteboards, with interactive coursebooks to make lessons engaging for learners. We have wifi in the classrooms, so we can use QR codes, Plickers and Kahoot for formative assessment, webquests, etc. There are also new course materials to pilot for the MyClass lessons. Day to day, I teach a range of Thai learners which presents varied challenges. Overall it’s tough but rewarding.
Why did you become an English teacher?
Honestly, I kind of fell into it. I finished a Master’s in 2008 and wound up in a job in insurance. I had no real prospects and after a couple of years I went off to Korea and thought I’d give TEFL a go. It was a fantastic decision. I like my lifestyle, my job is interesting and as time has gone I’ve come to really love it!
How did you start?
I did a CELTA equivalent through my Uni. It was called ‘Principles and Practice in ELT’, and run by Kings College, London. It had the same teaching component and input hours as the CELTA. I never had a problem gaining employment with only that, but then I never applied to schools like the British Council so I’m not sure what would have happened.
Actually, I was very lucky. The course tutor was Tricia Hedge, who wrote ‘Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom‘. She was very supportive during the course and extremely knowledgeable!
Was this the right way to start?
It worked for me, but I’d say get the CELTA straight away. It’s recognised almost everywhere. I didn’t need it to work in Korea back in 2010 but it’s been a prerequisite for all my other jobs.
What was your first teaching job?
Ew. It was at a summer school for 6 weeks in Chichester. I won’t say the name of it…….
I was a terrible teacher and was very nervous. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. The school just chucked a copy of Headway (a typical ESL textbook at the time) in my hands and told me to use it to teach a group of teenagers. It was an awful experience for me and I felt like giving up straight away.
Things didn’t get much better until I started out in Korea actually – that was four years and three summer schools later! I suffer a bit when it comes to confidence – I really felt that the EPIK scheme was good for me and I got lots of support.
Can you tell me a bit more about what you did on the EPIK scheme?
I think the scheme has changed slightly since my time (2010-2012). Basically, I taught 22 hours per week in a high school in South Korea. I was the ‘Guest English Teacher’, and my job was to do the speaking parts of the textbook the students were following. Classes had upwards of 35 students normally seated in rows. We had a computer and chalkboards to use. I had to teach the same lesson to all Grade 1 students and the same to Grade 2, meaning I planned two lessons and week and taught each one 11 times! I had to do a speaking assessment once a year, but there wasn’t much in the way of admin. In truth, the job was quite straightforward. That was great for me at the time as it helped my confidence and gave me time to explore South Korea, which is a fantastic country with lovely people and great food.
What did you do before you started teaching English?
I tried my hand at a PGCE but dropped out. It wasn’t the right time for me. I think I’d be a much better state school teacher now but I’m enjoying what I do too much to retrain!
I have a Master’s in cognitive science/psycholinguistics. For a long time, I tried to get a funded Ph.D. place and kept getting interviews but no joy. I might revisit that idea one day.
Where else have you taught, apart from Chichester and Korea?
I worked on the EPIK scheme in Korea for a couple of years, learned a lot on the job, then returned to Europe, and did the actual CELTA at International House in Hungary, just to consolidate my skills.
Since then, I’ve done five different summer schools around the UK, and spent two years teaching in LTC Eastbourne, on the south coast of England, while doing my DipTESOL. I’ve also worked at a winter camp in Spain, for the British Council in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and now for the British Council in Thailand.
What was your favourite place to work?
Palencia, Spain for a company called Baker Street International. I bet many people will think, ‘Palencia, er, why?!’
I was only there briefly. I really want to learn Spanish and people there were so helpful and friendly. It’s a nice little town with a great cathedral. Storks nest in the spire and I like birdwatching. The kids I taught were nice, my colleagues were absolutely fantastic, the boss of the company was a really cool bloke too. It was just a good set up.
What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
Too many things. I’ve met and taught students from around 40 different countries. I’ve learned so much from them. I hope some of them have learned something from me too!
Once a student from the Czech Republic gave me a card when the course finished. He wrote this amazing message in it about how he felt he learned a lot from me and would love to meet me in ten year’s time to see what we’d both achieved in life. That was such a great note to receive.
And what’s the worst thing?
False starts. I once went to start a job abroad. I left my girlfriend in England and was apprehensive about that. Then when I got to the teaching centre and did the induction nothing felt right. I was really keen to start my TESOL Diploma but the school told me I would need another four year’s experience. I was really lost straight away and I just wanted to leave. So, I did. The whole experience left me about £400 out of pocket and must have really annoyed the school.
Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a teacher.
I worked at a residential summer school which was in a converted stately home. It was the summer home of the Duke of Devonshire and there were portraits everywhere which were really spooky. Anyway, there was a resident badger there who used to scratch at the staff room window late at night. I used to feed it titbits. Once I fed it leftover birthday cake from the staff room fridge. It loved it and kept asking for more. After about four massive slices it trudged off. I never saw it again. To this day I’m worried the badger suffered death by cake.
Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?
I probably wouldn’t be so hard on myself. I tried to hard when I first started out and wasn’t patient. It didn’t help my confidence.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English teacher?
When you get to a new country I recommend taking language classes straight away. A lot of people say ‘Once I’m settled I’ll start learning a bit of the lingo’, but learning some of the language as soon as you arrive will help you settle, meet new friends and stand on your own two feet. It might help you out in the classroom too.