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Where am I coming from?

So, I started following some ELT twitter people about two years ago, mainly as a way to distract myself from Delta woes, but it wasn’t until I’d finished M3 and felt the slightest bit of security in this profession that I started actually getting involved in those online conversations. The benefits the site offered me pretty much quadrupled overnight as I began reaching out for advice, sharing my own experience and ideas, and ranting and commiserating along with others in the field. It has even resulted in some off-line connections in the form of a newly-sprung English Language Teachers in Scotland advocacy group, who just held their second meeting last night.

The next stage has always been, for me, to have a blog. In fact, it actually came first. I have started a number of blogs in the past - set them up, thought of a name, come up with a semi-decent colour scheme – but I’ve never actually written the first post. The first post on this blog Coming Soon was optimistically written 10 whole months ago.

I wanted something easy to begin with. Some kind of statement of who I am and where I’m coming from. ELT is so varied, and it can take some time to work out what people’s contexts are, what their experience is, does it bare any resemblance, and therefore relevance, to your context? Also, as we all know, talking about yourself is super easy. First class, A1, beginner-level stuff. We’ll save the abstract concepts for later.

So, let’s begin.

I’m Rhiannon. Raised in Devon by an English father and a Welsh mother (this becomes pertinent whenever the Six Nations rolls around). I studied Divinity at the University of Edinburgh because I thought it would be interesting (it was). In the summer of my third year, a friend wangled me a job teaching English at a summer school in Belgium, which I enjoyed. I went back after my final year and decided to continue on to do the CELTA after graduating. I got myself a job in Spain, where I spent two years teaching YLs, teens and adults in a private language academy.

This is where the first of my many mixed feelings regarding ELT comes in. I hate the reputation that underqualified, online-“tefl”-certificate bearing, sun-seeking teachers have endowed upon the industry. But I, like many others, started off this way. I studied Theology! What on earth was I going to do with my life!? I clearly had no idea, and ELT offered me a pause button, a way to delay thinking about my future. My time in Belgium and Spain played no part in my wanting to take this career any further. Why would it? Everyone I worked with, including management, had zero passion for the job, no interest in CPD, and just saw it as a way to continue living the life they wanted to live.

It was pure luck which had me find a wonderful summer school in my hometown where the employment standards were super, super high. I was the only one without a Delta or a PGCE-equivalent. (I was also a year younger than their cut off limit of 25, but I’m an old soul and nobody noticed until the end of summer). Here, for the first time, I worked with people who cared about their job. Who knew literally anything about the subject they were teaching beyond the format of the Cambridge exams. I had a DoS with an MA where she had focussed on the effect a staffroom can have on teaching and morale (I think) and an ADoS who, on hearing I was new to pronunciation, team taught a lesson with me to show me how I could bring it into my classroom. This was absolutely crazy.

I moved back to Edinburgh after a break up and soon found a job at a private language school here where, conveniently, one of the long-term teachers was just about to move home to Canada. Covering a few holiday shifts quickly turned into having a regular class of my own and, three and a half years and a gruelling 18-month online Delta later, I’m still there. Private language school teaching has its ups and downs. This particular school has its own, unique, ups and downs as well. All in all, though, I’m pretty happy.

Moving forward, I have a few personal goals. I want to sort my life out. I want to get this ELT work into a rhythm which works for my mental health; I want a routine which doesn’t have me reinventing the wheel every Monday morning. I want to write. I want to get my ideas down on (online) paper because I think they’re good. I think I have insights and observations that could be of benefit to other teachers and I want to stop second-guessing myself and just write them down – I want to channel the confidence of the StraightWhiteMan™, but hopefully back it up with some research. I want to continue working on the advocacy group. There are changes needed in ELT, particularly in the UK where living costs are rising, and the gig economy is infiltrating every industry. I want to be a part of that change.

So, regarding my context, what is it? Where, if I do indeed continue with this blogging malarkey, will I be coming from? Well, as I said above, I work at a private language school. I teach mainly adults. These adults come as individuals or with a friend, and our average student is here for just two weeks. Every Monday, I get a new bunch of students and, every Friday, I say goodbye to others. We don’t use a coursebook. We have class sets but they are mostly avoided. Why would we follow a 12- or 16-unit coursebook if our students are only here for a fortnight? As a teaching team, these are the main problems we are facing, and they’re the ones which I plan to write about. How does effective teaching, and therefore learning, take place when students are coming and going all the time? How do we measure progress in such an environment? How do we make students’ limited time in Edinburgh as beneficial as possible, and how do we help maintain those benefits after they go back home?

Those are the questions on my mind and (dear God, Rhiannon write the bloody blog!!!) which I will write about. I will also bitch about ELT because I am cynical and that needs an outlet…

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