- It sounds like you first became an English teacher almost by accident. What about your initial teaching experience led you to further pursue the degree and career that you did?
Well, it wasn’t exactly an accident; it had been at the back of my mind for years but circumstances had not really allowed it. I just found once I started that I really enjoyed interacting with people, but I think what I most enjoyed was learning new things together with students. I got into ESP [English for Specific Purposes] pretty early on; in fact, my second ever student was an engineer who needed interview practice, and I was able to use my previous non-academic experience to help them.
- How have your teaching methods changed since you first started out?
In the beginning, I used to take a lot more paper with me. Then, working at the language school, we took folders with pre-prepared lesson plans in. After a while, I started to focus more on individual students’ needs.
Coming to Berlin and getting involved in ELTABB also caused me to develop immensely. I think the biggest difference is how much less I talk now–my biggest focus is on increasing student talking time and student autonomy. I encourage them to bring the materials and take much more control of their learning than I used to.
- How do you find the teaching scene in Berlin differs from where you began teaching? What have you done to adapt to this market?
I started in Bochum working for language schools and was pretty much the only English person in the city. I was lucky that I transferred to Berlin while employed by a language school so I didn’t have to do too much. When the company exited Germany, I had enough of a network to work mostly for my own clients, both business and private.
- Having been employed by a language school, what were the benefits and disadvantages, in your experience, compared with freelancing?
If the question is about being employed versus self-employed, then being employed is better in nearly every way. Sick pay, holiday pay, regular income, the ability to plan your life further ahead than month to month.
However, if it’s working at a language school versus going it alone…I enjoyed having colleagues in the past but I don’t miss working with language schools. I feel many don’t really support the teachers like they should, either financially or professionally. In a lot of cases, it seems like an unnecessary middleman. I feel so much happier working directly with my clients now than going through layers of (often unpaid) bureaucracy, and financially it’s been a significant improvement too.
- You worked at Wall Street English, which was known for its standardized Wall Street Method. What were the advantages and disadvantages in teaching from a standardized and tightly structured syllabus?
Repetition is crucial for learning, and that can go for teachers as well. I felt Wall Street English’s method was beneficial particularly for beginners and intermediate students. The activities and exercises get learned by rote, and I still use some of these when issues come up in my classes today. The method requires the students to prepare for the class, which is often the biggest challenge, in my experience.
If I’m honest, I used their framework more as a baseline or a starting point than strictly adhering to their syllabus. I felt the structured preparation meant that a bit of freedom and flexibility in the teacher-facing time could be tolerated.
- Blended learning is a booming new frontier. What have been your challenges and benefits of moving into this new area?
It’s something that benefits from the economy of scale; to do it as an individual requires a lot of time and effort. Also, finding ways to successfully monetise it can be challenging. It goes against what a lot of people, some teachers included, think of as effective learning. But, it encourages learners to spend time on their own learning and allows for much easier repetition, which are probably the two most important factors for effective language acquisition, in my opinion.
- Question from Yuliya: What has been ELTABB’s most fun and effective workshop for you?
My most fun ELTABB event was probably one of my first back in 2016, as it introduced a lot of new concepts to me. It was HOT listening (Higher Order Thinking). It was my first exposure to Bloom’s Taxonomy and really opened my eyes to what was possible with listening tasks. I still use several of these tasks and concepts to this day. I also really enjoyed Scott Thornberry’s talk at GLS–the point he raised that really sticks with me was about language spheres and how important it is to find out and focus on what the learner needs.
- Who would you like to nominate as ELTABBer of the month and what question would you like to ask them?
I decided to nominate Vicky Parysek for next month. My question is: what’s the present and future situation in universities in Berlin in regards to EAP and teaching classes in English? I know your university is pushing in this direction, but how would you say it is progressing?
Edited by Stephanie Anderson