New Teacher Tales – Sharon
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.
Sharon, from Hong Kong, trained in the UK and now teaches and trains teachers back home in Hong Kong. She has some ‘interesting’ stories about dodgy teachers in the industry and students’ inappropriate behaviour in class.
Where do you work now?
At a private language training organisation in Hong Kong. As I’m Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer. I’m a jack of all trades! I also write material for courses we run in schools, for kindergarten, primary and secondary – teaching plans and student materials. I also lead professional development workshops for young learner teachers in HK and Macau.
What’s the best thing about living in Hong Kong?
I think Hong Kong’s always had a reputation of being really expensive when actually it’s not. I still think it has the best of everything. There are 4 seasons, there’s crazy city life and peaceful, beautiful nature and countryside. There’s that frenetic city energy, but a lot of calm when you look for it.
Why did you become an English teacher?
In my early 20s, I was working in PR and events management, doing sport events in HK. It was incredibly stressful and tiring. I hated nearly everything about it. I felt like a tiny cog, being ground down.
I decided to go travelling. I ended up falling in love and doing a part-time, face-to-face Cert TESOL course in the UK and settling down to teach in Bournemouth, which has a lot of language schools.
The Cert TESOL course was absolutely the right way to learn about teaching. It helped that there was guided teaching practice, meaning we taught and were observed and given feedback, which was essential in building my foundation teaching skills.
What was your first teaching job?
My first teaching job, post-Cert, was for a language school in Bournemouth, UK, now closed, which taught a lot of summer school kids and for the rest of the year, general and specialised English courses, such as medical English for nurses training to go into the NHS. Classes were generally small – 6-15 of all ages. It was staffed by some wonderful people, but the owners were complete cowboys – they were only in it for the money and didn’t really care about how the school was run or getting to know their staff. There were one or two dodgy teachers (no qualifications, questionable motives) but more of that later.
What was your favourite place to work?
I’ve taught in Hong Kong and Bournemouth and I loved both places for different reasons. I love HK because it’s my hometown, and my family are here. I really struggled with homesickness when I lived in the UK, because I missed the food, the nightlife, the excitement of going to a midnight movie and coming out and getting some noodles at 3am.
But Bournemouth was a great place to start out as a teacher, and it’s a beautiful part of England – the countryside is just breathtaking. But teaching English in the UK is just not worth it because wages are so low. Unless you plan to work in a university, I think it’s quite hard to move up the career ladder in a small language school there.
But then, that’s not only limited to the UK. If you work in any small school, you will face similar issues. There are a lot of advantages too. You generally have a smaller staffroom where most people get on well and are open and helpful with each other. In HK, if you are in a local school, quite often you can be the only English speaker in the school, and it can be very isolating.
What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
I’m not gonna lie – it’s pretty materialistic 😀 When I worked in a well-known kindergarten, the parents were incredibly generous at Christmas. I got gifts I never expected – the usual cookies and candy, but also brand name bags and wallets!
But kidding aside, the best feeling has been working with young learners, especially very little or weak ones, who hardly speak any English, and for them to come to you towards the end of the year saying how much they love your classes or love you as a teacher, then I know I’m doing something right.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?
Having unwanted advances made to me in my first language school from a colleague who was newly divorced from his wife, who also happened to be an ex-student of his. Sadly, this is a common fact in the TESOL industry – there are some people (from both genders) who see their students as a pool of potential mates.
Even when I complained to the senior management, nothing was done (the cowboys I mentioned earlier). It was then I realised there are a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing and I found myself a school that was accredited with The British Council after that.
Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a teacher?
This is very NSFW –had a Colombian student, male, in his late teens, who suddenly got very amorous / horny in class and decided to deal with it there on the spot. I was horrified for the girls either side of him. They were all doing a reading task, so no one else noticed, but I immediately barked out his name (he not knowing I had noticed) and he stopped straight away.
I don’t think anybody was paying attention but I was in shock. Didn’t know how to deal with it properly, so I told my DoS after the lesson and she handled things from there. I think he got a stern talking to.
Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?
Yes, I would have started saving money as soon as I started earning. Because I never felt like I earned enough, I never saved. I’m really regretting it now. Even a little every month, ends up making a lot through compound interest in time.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English teacher?
Save money. Say yes to teaching all kinds of classes (I’m firmly of the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach). Find your ‘niche’ – the age group, or course type you like to teach, and become an expert in it. Later on when you have more experience, try your hand at leading others, doing workshops, or writing material.