New Teacher Tales – Richard
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, Richard tells us about teaching English in Italy and Saudi Arabia and the problems with Google Translate as an English teacher.
Where do you work now?
I currently work with My English School (MyES), Bologna where I am Director of Studies.
What’s the best thing about living in Italy?
Italy is a great country for lots of things. I think what I like most is the atmosphere in the streets. It’s possible to walk around without purpose and have a good time, and that’s exactly what many people do in the evening. The cities, towns, and villages are beautiful and yet the beauty is kind of understated. I remember going to Verona and seeing frescoes on walls in back streets that would be a tourist attraction in any other place.
Why did you become an English teacher?
Like a lot of English teachers, I enjoy travelling and meeting people from different cultures. I had heard about people teaching English and travelling around the world while I lived in London and thought it sounded amazing. I had no idea whether I would like teaching or be any good!
How did you start?
I took a CELTA at Stanton School of English in London. I did a bit of research beforehand and it had a good reputation. It was either that or the TRINITY course; apparently, both are equally well-considered. I chose the CELTA and it was a shock. They got us up and teaching after just one or two days and it was nerve-racking! It was exhilarating and I loved it, and I made some good friends. We had a great teacher trainer, Natasha; she was very inspiring. I still think back to the advice she gave us.
What was your first teaching job?
I was hired by the school where I did the CELTA. It was a funny story actually because I’d gone back to complain to them about a detail they had wrong on my certificate and the Director of Studies said ‘I’m glad you’re here, I’d like to offer you a job’! I had to work very hard because I didn’t have experience and it was a very good school. I learnt a lot from my peers and I spent my days at the school even when I wasn’t teaching asking the other teachers questions and seeing how they did things. Eventually, I worked my way to full-time hours with the school.
What did you do before you started teaching English?
I took Fine Art as my degree at university. When I left I moved to London to be an artist. I rented a couple of studios and had some work in exhibitions, but nothing serious. I always worked while I was at university and as an artist to pay my way, mostly working in bars and restaurants. By the time I decided I wanted to take the CELTA I had almost completely stopped painting and was working as a restaurant manager. I managed two restaurants in London and gave them up once I discovered English teaching. I felt at home when I started working at the school.
Where have you taught?
I taught in London for a while and then also teamed up with someone to start a small school there. I was working 7 full days a week and realised I wasn’t doing the travelling that I had initially started teaching to do. I wanted to go to South Korea but my CV was picked up by a company looking for teachers in Saudi Arabia. They interviewed me and offered me a job, flying out the following week. As I was ready to leave London and the schools in South Korea weren’t taking on for another 3 months, I decided to go. Also, my mother lives in Saudi Arabia so that was another good reason to go. I intended to go there just for one year but enjoyed it and was promoted to Site Director so I stayed for 4 years in total. And then, nearly two years ago, I moved to Bologna, Italy.
What was your favourite place to work?
I have learnt a lot and met some great people in every place I have worked. I would say that Italy has a really good standard of life and the school where I work (MyES) really value quality, which is a fantastic thing to see with a school. But, I loved the students in Saudi Arabia, they were in equal measures infuriating, caring, and hilarious. I do have fond memories of London too, but perhaps I just being nostalgic as it was a really exciting time for me as I started out teaching.
What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
There are so many. People amaze you when you teach. They can surprise you with their kindness, their intelligence, and with their humour. I am continually amazed by the special people I meet while teaching. I would also say this is same with colleagues. In general, the people I have met in the ELT field have felt like brothers and sisters — they share a sense of humour, an open-mindedness, and a fondness for travel and a love of people. Sorry, maybe I didn’t answer the question properly?! My answer is ‘people’.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
I guess I have been lucky that nothing particularly bad has happened since I’ve been a teacher. We had some scary moments in Saudi Arabia because we were based in AlAhsa, which is where the MERS outbreak was a few years ago. We had some students in hospital then. And then there was an ISIS attack on the local mosque, which some of our students went to. Violence can happen anywhere, but it is worrying when it is so close. We also lost a teacher, his family and a student in a terrible car crash in the same year. It was just unfortunate, and not connected to the country as such.
Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a teacher?
Haha! I think I could write a book on this… although most of the stories I could only share in a pub with a beer. I will share one of the funnier stories, but it was my colleague in Saudi that this happened to. Sam ran the women’s’ college and I the men’s. We implemented a lot of project and task-based learning there, and it was occasionally very successful and sometimes less so.
One time we set the task of giving a presentation, I can’t remember exactly what it was about. Our students had a heavy reliance on Google Translate which we tried to curtail, usually to little effect. So, Sam students stood up one by one and gave their presentations. Each time reading from paper or from the screen and receiving a suitable round of applause. Then one student, Amani, stood up and gave her talk. Sam thought to interrupt her but let her give the full presentation which lasted over five minutes.
She did receive a round of applause but also some puzzled and bewildered looks. She had made a mistake with Google Translate and had given the entire speech in Spanish, thinking she was speaking English. She was a good example of why not to rely entirely on Google Translate.
Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?
Yes, I would like to have attended and taken part in more conferences. I haven’t been to any significant ones and I think they are a great opportunity to meet other professionals, maintain motivation, and to test oneself. Other than that, no, I am very happy with what I have done.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English teacher?
I would advise enjoying it. It’s a job that you can do with fun and enjoyment, it is very much part of it. In fact, I’d argue that you will be a better teacher if you have more fun and enjoy it.
Teaching English is a great opportunity to meet people, travel, and develop skills but it shouldn’t be used just as an excuse to travel. I was lucky that I loved teaching from the first, OK the second time I taught. If I hadn’t loved teaching I would have changed to something else.
My second piece of advice is to find ways to develop; work for a good school in which you can grow and develop new skills. Sometimes teachers burn out or lose their motivation because the field is not so wide. You need to keep finding ways to develop and expand your skills. Keep reading, speaking with other teachers, and learning.
You can read more about teaching in Saudi in another of Richard’s interviews here.
Richard also writes a blog. You can read his musings here.