This month’s blog post picks up on the #MyTEFLStory campaign earlier this year where we encouraged TEFL professionals to share their career stories with us. Here Diana England, DOS at IH Torres Vedras, shares her TEFL story which has taken her around the globe. Keep an eye out for the 40th anniversary edition of the IH Journal later this month where we will hear TEFL stories from a few of the industry’s key figures who are also IH alumni!
Chapter One – Cairo
Left to my PRESET course trainer, I’d never have got a job with IH! Back in 1981, the precursor of the CELTA was then commonly called ‘the four-week course’, which I took in ILI Sahafayeen in Cairo. During my mid-course tutorial, I expressed an interest in continuing to work there, only to be told that IH wouldn’t be interested in taking on a ‘bird of passage’ such as myself. However, an unexpected and urgent need for a full-time teacher meant my trainer had to eat her words, and here I am, for better or worse, some thirty-five years later!
The communicative approach, underscored by the behaviouristic audio-lingual method, was in its heyday in the early eighties. The choice of coursebooks available to the 27-strong English language department at Sahafayeen was limited to the stunningly sexist and comical ‘Play Games with English’ and ‘Streamline’ series, and the more ‘PC’ functionally-based ‘Strategies’ course. A teacher’s ability to ‘swing from the chandeliers’ and perform were apparently the marks of a good teacher. PPP and inductive teaching using generative situations were de rigueur: any use of the students’ mother tongue was strictly forbidden, as was allowing them to write anything before it had been thoroughly drilled and practised orally. Imagine the fun I had trying to convey the meaning of ‘if’ with no recourse to its Arabic equivalent, or use of marker sentences on the board from which students might be able to deduce the meaning of the first conditional.
Chapter Two: Back to Blighty
Those were the days … when demand for learning English meant a gung-ho young teacher could progress relatively quickly up through the ranks. Aged twenty-four, I had already passed the equivalent of the Delta (then called the RSA Certificate) and was Head of Elementary Levels. However, the desire to escape the fraught tempo of the life I was experiencing in Cairo led me to return to Britain, taking up a post with Bell in Norwich and Saffron Walden, where I had the good fortune to work with people like Brian Tomlinson and Vicki Hollett. A year later, Central Department (the original recruitment arm of IH) offered me several options to become a teacher trainer, and Portugal seemed the perfect mid-point between the desultory predictability of post-punk Thatcherite Britain and the riotous anarchy of Egypt.
Chapter Three: Lisbon
So Lisbon-bound I went as an eager trainette. The process of ‘training up’ was much different from now. Mine involved a year of writing and giving seminars to Portuguese state-school teachers (presumably deemed a softer option than CTEFLA sessions – ha!), followed by observation of a complete CTEFLA course, then becoming a TP tutor for a month, then a ‘third hour’ tutor. It was during my observation of the July course in 1985 that I met my current partner-in-crime, Monica Green, who was a trainee. I took my role as trainer-in-training very seriously, and came to each session equipped with four different coloured pens: a black pen to write down the procedure of each session; a blue pen to record what the tutor actually said; a green pen to indicate the timing of each stage and the materials used; and a red pen to note how I would improve the proceedings – the sheer arrogance! At one point while I was busy transcribing, Monica whispered to me: “Sorry to interrupt you, but I just noticed you’ve used the wrong colour there.” It was only after I had spent some time re-reading my notes, and losing the thread of what the tutor was saying in the process that I realised she was winding me up. “Oh, f*** off!” was my response, and we’ve never looked back since!
Chapter Four: 106, Piccadilly
My training culminated in an obligatory three-month stint in IH London under the watchful eye of Martin Parrott before I was deemed acceptable to be unleashed onto the world of teacher training. My first day did not go well. I was being shown around 106 Piccadilly and introduced to various people I would be working with (among them John and Liz Soars and Maureen McGarvey). My mentor engaged in polite chit-chat with an older gentleman. After a few minutes I asked: “I’m sorry, but who are you exactly?” to be told he was John Haycraft. I wanted to ground to swallow me up.
Chapter Five: Valencia
A couple of months after my formal induction as a CTEFLA trainer, I went to IH Valencia to train alongside Scott Thornbury. His enthusiasm, knowledge, efficiency, organisation, originality and rapport, and the way he managed to drive myself and the other trainers to perform to their best whilst enjoying a life outside the course are aspects of training that remain with me as touchstones to being an effective teacher educator.
Chapter Six: new beginnings – Torres Vedras, part 1
Several CTEFLA and YL Courses later, I moved to IH Coimbra in 1986 as DOS and back again to Lisbon a year later as Teacher Training Coordinator. Around this time, Monica and I had bought an abandoned cottage north of Lisbon which we were doing up as time and funds allowed. Our focus moved away from Lisbon towards the nearest town, Torres Vedras. Seeing that the town had only one small language school, we thought it might make sense to open our own IH. So with Colin McMillan (Director of IH Lisbon) as a sleeping partner, we opened our doors in 1990, the two of us teaching company classes at 8 in the morning, and junior and adult classes until 9 at night. The first few years were tough financially, and there were months when, in order to pay our teachers and other bills, we were not able to pay ourselves a salary at the end of the month, and had to think hard about the amount of petrol we could put in the car.
Chapter Seven: Krakow and Timisoara
The newly affiliated IH schools in Eastern Europe needed a trainer in the summer months of the early 1990s, and I worked in IH Krakow and IH Timisoara giving CTEFLA, YL and Training-the-Trainer courses. It was a real pleasure to work with Romanian and Polish teachers and trainers who were such knowledgeable and hard-working professionals. Demand for learning English seemed limitless, and it was not uncommon to see a queue of potential students and their parents stretching around the block where the old IH Krakow building was.
As well as teaching and helping the school to grow, I moved into Delta tutoring and assessment, and worked as a Distance Delta Course Tutor for ten years. I returned to Cairo in 2009 to run a Distance Delta Orientation Course (they say if you drink the waters of the Nile, you’ll return to Egypt one day!). Although I have stopped giving CELTA courses, I still do teacher training in the form of writing sessions for various IHWO courses – including the IHCYLT and CAM, as well as designing and delivering courses for local primary and secondary school teachers. I still teach about nine hours a week (mostly Young Learners) which I really enjoy, and which I think is important if you’re going to be able to understand and relate to the issues that other teachers have. Earlier this year, I completed an MA in Teaching English to Young Learners with the University of York. IH Torres Vedras now has 520+ students (70% of them Young Learners) and 9 teachers – not bad for a town with a catchment area of 40,000. We’ve hosted the Young Learners Conference twice, bought our own ground floor premises, and also acquired an exams centre and school garden.