I’ve been interested in languages since my schooldays, and studied French and German at Glasgow University where I gained an MA degree. I then moved south to Bath and for many years I worked for the local Tourist Board in a variety of different roles, promoting the city to visitors from the UK and overseas, and liaising with local tourist organisations. I loved my job because every day was different and never boring, and it brought me into contact with people from all over the world, many of whom didn’t speak English. I thought I’d be working in the tourism industry till I retired.
Then 2020 arrived and tourism stopped. First I was furloughed, then, along with many of my colleagues, made redundant. I didn’t know what I would do next, because all I really knew was the tourism industry, and the future there was looking bleak.
Getting TEFL qualified
A chance conversation with a friend led me to think about TEFL and I decided to look into it further. What I found out really appealed to me. I hadn’t done any language teaching before, but I had trained staff and given talks to tourism students. I researched lots of companies, and decided on The TEFL Org, mainly based on its accreditation. Even though I was slightly daunted by the prospect of going back to studying and completing assignments after so many years, I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and it felt good to be doing something positive and keeping my brain active following my redundancy.
Finding a job
I gained my 120-hour certificate in twelve weeks, and then in autumn 2020, I started looking for an online teaching job. What a minefield! There were so many companies around, and I read so many scare stories about bad experiences and scams on the internet – the more I read, the more confused I got! Eventually, I decided I had to stop procrastinating, so I took the plunge and applied to some of the larger companies which kept being mentioned, in the hope that they’d be reliable. Some rejected me immediately through their automated application system. I think this was because my more ‘mature’ age didn’t fit their profile of 20-30 year olds, and, to be honest, I didn’t see myself as being able to act like a children’s TV presenter, which is what some companies seemed to be looking for. I think it was also the case of the vicious circle – they wanted applicants to have experience, but how do you get experience if no-one will give you a chance?
I was beginning to get despondent, and thinking that maybe TEFL wasn’t going to work for me after all, when I saw an ad for EF Teach Online (actually on the The TEFL Org Jobs Centre). I did my usual research into EF and liked what I found out – the fact that EF has been operating for 60 years, runs brick and mortar schools in several countries, and that I would be classed as an employee and would be supported by a London-based team.
I got a response to my application quickly and was invited to an online interview with a ‘real person’ from the London office. The interview was very thorough but friendly, and a couple of days later I was offered a job. I couldn’t believe it! From then on, the onboarding process was quick and smooth, and if I could choose one word to describe the company it would be ‘professional’. There is initial training, new recruits are given a mentor to support them, and there are weekly newsletters and regular webinars, plus an active Facebook community, so you really feel that you are part of a team.
Working for EF Teach Online
With EF Teach Online, teachers can decide what hours they want to teach and open up their online calendar. I currently teach Mondays to Thursdays from 9a.m-2p.m., (China is 7 hours ahead of DST), and my students are 5-11 years old. Since I started teaching at the beginning of January, I’m pleased to say I’ve been almost fully booked. You are encouraged to open up your availability for 20 weeks ahead, as parents often like to make a block booking for a particular module of the course. I’m not sure exactly why parents choose a particular teacher, but I think having a good profile on your Teacher page is very important, and I’ve seen similar advice given by other teachers. There are a lot of teachers out there, and you have to have a USP and say something which will make parents choose YOU! On my profile I mention that I speak several languages and I think that appeals to parents, because they know I will understand what it’s like to learn a different language.
All the lessons are taught via EF Teach Online’s virtual classroom, using colourful and interactive slides, and each lesson consists of a Warmer, Skill Focus, and Conversation section. The Skill Focus can be Grammar, Reading, Listening or Phonics, and the teacher is told prior to the lesson which element to teach in the lesson. EF Teach Online ask teachers to have a plain, neutral background while teaching, so that students are not distracted, but teachers can use props to enhance the lesson delivery if they wish. Each lesson is 1:1 and 25 minutes long, and the time flies by. After the lesson, teachers complete an After Class Report for the parents, to give them feedback on the lesson.
My typical day
My day starts with plenty of coffee and the arduous commute to my living room. The first thing I do is my Tech Check to make sure that my browser, camera and microphone are working, then I’m good to go. When I first started teaching, my stomach was tied up in knots before each lesson, and I kept asking myself why I was imposing such torture on myself. I wondered if I was going to have to go through this every working day, but before long I realised it wasn’t happening anymore and I could actually relax and enjoy the lessons. So far, my students have all been delightful young people, although by the law of averages, I’m sure I’m bound to come across some more ‘challenging’ students at some stage! They never cease to amaze me with their language ability and their willingness to engage with a stranger on a screen.
A lot of my students are regulars which is great, as it means you have continuity and can build up a rapport with your students. You get to know their individual personalities and little bits of information about them, such as what food they like or don’t like, and what pets they have, which you can incorporate into the lessons. At the moment approximately 75% of my students are regulars I see on a weekly basis, and 25% are one-offs. I really look forward to spending my mornings in China, and being fortunate enough to be able to get a glimpse of my students’ lives and culture. I feel really proud of them when they do well in the class, and if you can have some fun with them and make them smile too, that’s a bonus.
A year ago, if anyone had told me that I would be teaching English to Chinese children in the future, I would have told then they were crazy, but here I am, enjoying the challenges and satisfaction that each class brings. The saying goes that ‘when one door closes, another opens’ and in my case it’s true. I lost one job that I loved, and I’m so lucky to have found another one.
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