New Teacher Tales – Anna
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, Anna from Ukraine, tells us about being a government school teacher, why she did a CELTA as well as a language teaching degree and how she ended up teaching business English in an I.T company in Lviv.
Where do you work now?
I moved from my hometown of Odesa to Lviv, Ukraine about a year ago to teach in an IT company. They call me a Language Instructor. It’s quite a formal title as it’s business atmosphere and everything has these fancy names and titles.
What’s the best thing about living in Lviv?
Though I haven’t moved abroad, Lviv is quite different in atmosphere and mentality from Odesa. People in the latter are more outspoken, occasionally rude, but you know what they are when you meet them. Lvivians, on the other hand, are reserved and mysterious, I’d say, like a puzzle to solve.
Why did you become an English teacher?
In Ukraine, universities specialise in specific subject areas, so you kinda have to decide what area you want to go into at quite a young age. We have kind of preparatory university courses – after school, several hours per week, to prepare for entry into our chosen university. I attended one of those to enter the Faculty of Marine Cargo Transportation. After several months I got fed up with Maths and Physics, dropped out and did absolutely nothing till the exam season came.
When it was the time to decide which university to enter, the Faculty of Marine Cargo Transportation was not an option anymore as I had dropped out of the preparatory classes. The Pedagogical University was one of the easiest to get into as it wasn’t prestigious and the competition for a place in the Language Department was not as fierce as in the other ones. And I was quite good at English and Literature, so I got a place there.
When I entered the Faculty of Foreign Languages I was absolutely convinced that I’d grow into an interpreter or a journalist; being a teacher was neither well-paid nor promising back then. After graduating from the university, I had to work for 3 years in a state school (one of the conditions of government-paid higher education).
What was your first teaching job?
Coincidentally, I ended up in the same school I had graduated from and I worked there for 4 years. When I started there I was a fifth-year student with pierced ears in worn-out jeans, who would come to the lessons having barely slept and sometimes with a hangover after all-night parties. But from the first days there I found a mission there for me – to brighten the days of those children and to show them that they are respected and that their opinion mattered (That was a result of me seeing how badly they were treated by some other teachers).
Why did you take a CELTA course, when you already have a degree in teaching?
While I was working in the high school, I realised that for 5 years I had studied some irrelevant and useless things for teaching English. I felt that I knew nothing about teaching English. So I started to read blogs and came across CELTA. That was when I started dreaming about taking it.
Then one day my mom found me a part-time job. She just dropped by at a language school near our house and gave them my number. That’s how I got my first job interview. I failed a demo lesson, but the headmistress was kind and gave me a second chance. Working in school gave me very little money so a part-time job was very welcome.
I started studying for the CAE exam (Cambridge Advanced, an Advanced level English exam) at London School of English in Odesa. They offered me a job teaching there, and then paid for me to do my CELTA at the British Council in Kiev (London School of English now run the CELTA course themselves). During my CELTA I felt like a fish in water.
Where else have you worked?
After a few years, I started to feel stuck in a rut, left the school and participated in a social project Vilna Osvita whose aim is to popularise online learning platforms like Coursera and create co-learning hubs.
Unfortunately, then Ukraine had a very rough time and the project funds were frozen for a while and I started to look for another job. I didn’t want to go back to any kind of school and was thinking of started teaching online (I had a picture of me travelling around the world and teaching by Skype for example).
So I was asking around a few friends about their experience of studying online and what they enjoyed, when one of them sent me a job opening in an IT company. As being a corporate teacher had also been one of my aspirations, I applied for it and got the job. The conditions were wonderful – a comfortable classroom, small groups, and smart students. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working for me much in Odesa in general, so when a friend of mine from Lviv said their company (IT of course) was looking for an English teacher, I decided to move.
What was your favourite place to work? Why?
I’d say, now I’m really enjoying my work because we have a team of teachers and it’s vital for me. I like that we can bounce some ideas, or gossip about students or moan about workload. Secondly, I teach Business English and I learn a lot myself – all these topics connected with soft skills, behaviour it’s partly psychology now, not only language. In addition, we have freedom of choice as for how to run classes – it’s the result that matters.
What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
I’ve been always kinda envious of those who could travel and teach, but after I moved to Lviv I felt like I can be one of those teachers and the world is basically my oyster.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
In my current company, we have quality performance assessment once or twice per year – I hate the part where I have to rate my co-teachers. It reminds me of the series Black Mirror (Ep1 S 03) when people’s lives depend on the ratings they receive. I always say “who am I to judge and give good ratings”?.
Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a teacher?
When I was working in the state school, we (a few other young teachers and I) were sent to participate in some demonstrations in support of the local government. I went there twice, and then refused to go there again. Such disobedience was a huge scandal. The deputy teacher and the headmistress tried to force me to go, but I stood up to them.
Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?
I should have been stricter and more demanding – surprisingly, students want to be controlled and pushed and challenged
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English teacher?
- Take it easy. Don’t get upset if the aim of the lesson is not achieved today– you’ll do it better next time.
- Don’t work if you are ill – stay at home and get better. A coughing teacher with a runny nose is an awful picture.
- Make your students feel welcome and respected – you don’t know how you change their life.
All photos are either Anna’s or ours.
If you want to contact Anna, please comment on this blog or send us a message here or on Facebook. We’ll pass your message on.
If anyone wants to be interviewed as part of this blog series, please get in touch with us!