1. You taught in Hong Kong for a while, what took you there?
I think it was a culmination of things, but ultimately it boiled down to wanting a challenge: getting out of my comfort zone, working on my professional development, diversifying my experience. At the time I was in a comfortable work situation at Wall Street English, and freelancing on the side, and it dawned on me that I was already settling – at 24! So, my partner and I decided it was now or never, and headed to Asia for the first time.
2. Where and who did you teach in Hong Kong?
I taught at a private language school that had 10 centres spread out across Hong Kong. I was lucky enough to work on the island itself, inside a small shopping centre. My classroom had the luxury of … a window! That opened! My youngest student was 2.5 years old and my oldest student was 16. I taught general English, prepared the students for secondary school interviews, and also for the Trinity examinations.
3. What differences in the culture of learning and teaching did you observe?
There were a lot of differences. The parents showed me a lot of respect, and valued my opinion and feedback – even if it was (constructive) criticism about their child’s performance or behaviour. It seemed quite different to the experience of many people I know who are primary and secondary school teachers (in the UK) and are seemingly always dealing with parents’ disbelief that their child isn’t working hard. English proficiency (at least from 6 years up) was based upon written ability and grammatical accuracy, which reflected how English was taught and assessed in the public school system. Slightly unrelated, but thinking about the overlapping nature of language, culture and politics, I found the competition for prominence between English and Mandarin very interesting, especially when you consider the changing status of the region.
4. Did your teaching style change after you came back from Hong Kong? If so, how?
In a funny kind of way, I think I’ve become more no-nonsense or assertive. With children or young learners, you are always the authority in the classroom – you’re bigger and older for starters – whereas with adults, it’s not always that straightforward, you need to prove yourself a little to command their attention. I was only ever addressed as Miss Moorhouse and I got used to that aforementioned sense of authority. These days in Berlin I’m quicker to stop my students interrupting and no longer shy about telling them to stop talking over another student – probably because I had to do it a hundred times a day whilst in Hong Kong.
5. Do you find there is any overlap between teaching kids and teaching in-company?
As Dorothy said, every adult is a kid at heart. Young learners and business learners alike want to have interactive lessons where they come away having enjoyed themselves but also learnt something. Both groups require a lot of creativity with material. I spent a lot of time in Hong Kong trying to make phrasal verbs fun for sulky teenagers, and I still spend a lot of time adapting telephoning material to be more fun and authentic. Same dilemma, different context.
6. What time management tips do you have for busy freelance teachers?
Answer emails whilst on the u-bahn, dedicate two nights a week for all your teaching prep and work admin, really utilise Google Calendar, and have your food shopping delivered.
7. I hear you’re learning German at the moment. Has this influenced how you teach English at all?
Definitely. Learning a second language in general, regardless of it being German, has made me a better teacher. I can have honest, productive discussions about language learning techniques and give recommendations for things that have helped me. Plus, it’s an ice breaker. I’ve yet to meet a student who hasn’t at least cracked a smile when I explain how I used to diligently ask for Flash Kaiser instead of Fleischkäse (Leberkäse) whilst I was living in Austria (and spoke next to no German).
8. You recently had a baby (congratulations!). Do you have any tips for new or future parents who are also freelance?
Good question. To be honest, I’m sure there are many experienced Eltabbers with children who could give you far more comprehensive advice than me! I returned to work after 6 months, and my son isn’t in nursery yet, so it’s simply been a juggling act. My best advice is to simply own it. Whilst remaining professional, I’ve been honest with the schools, companies and private students about the set-up and in return I’ve received a lot of support. I’ve been known to bring the pram into the school at 7.45am when there are no students and few staff, because I need to get some photocopying done! You have to find your new normal, get a good routine going, and embrace time management. Oh and double your coffee intake.
9. Now you’re back in Berlin, what are your aims for the future?
My aims are similar to the ones that led me to Hong Kong, particularly regarding professional development. I’ve got some thinking to do about which direction to go in next, and get my German to B2 before my son does. Overall, my aim is to keep enjoying what I do and not get complacent.
10. Who would you like to nominate as Eltabber of the month and what question would you like to ask them?
I’d like to nominate (to be confirmed), and find out more about his experience of teaching on the other side of the world.
Edited by Mandy Welfare