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Case Study: Sophie

Personal details
Degree:MA Modern Languages (French) WIYA Profile picture
School(s): School of Modern Languages
Year of Graduation:Jun-1999
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: The British School Group, Italy
Job title: Teacher of English as a Foreign Language
Occupational Sector: Teaching
What has been your route to getting your current position?

Around 6 months after graduating, I completed a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course in Edinburgh. The course was one month long with classes from 9 -5 Monday to Friday plus assignments. A few months after completing the course, I was offered an EFL job in Shizuoka, Japan. When I arrived in Japan, I was surprised that not many other EFL teachers had a CELTA certificate and all new recruits, including me, were given 3 days training by the company, according to their teaching methodology. Initially, I enjoyed my life in Shizuoka sharing a flat with teachers from Australia and New Zealand and learning about the Japanese culture and language. The high salary in Japan meant that I was able to save whilst also exploring other areas of the country at weekends such as Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo and Mount Fuji, which I climbed with a group of teachers. The job was initially exciting too as it allowed me to meet new people and explore a new culture. The class sizes were small, the students very quiet and polite and the lessons extremely easy to prepare. It was probably the easiest job I had ever done but after 6 or 7 months I became eager for greater challenges and transferred to another company based in Tokyo, where I had the opportunity to take on larger classes of both adults and children. I finally left Japan in May 2002 and applied for a job in Italy, a country I had dreamed of living in for many years.

What does your job involve ?

I teach a mixture of children’s and adult classes. Most of the classes consist of between 6 and 12 pupils but there are some lessons with individual pupils and some Business English classes. Classes generally take place in the school but some courses require travelling to either company premises or local state schools. The school provides course books and supplementary materials but teachers are expected to use materials from the internet as well. I generally prepare my lessons in the morning and teach them in the afternoon and evening. An average working day can be long – from around 9.30am to 1pm with a break for lunch and then from 3pm to 9pm. Luckily most of the lessons take place from Monday to Thursday with maybe only 1 or 2 lessons on Friday. Apart from lesson preparation and teaching, I have also had the opportunity to become a Cambridge examiner for young learners’ speaking tests and am involved in exam invigilation/ supervision 2 or 3 times a year. Most of the school’s courses prepare pupils for the Cambridge exams; KET (Key English Test), PET (Preliminary English Test), First Certificate and CAE (Certificate of Advanced English).

What are the best bits of your job ?

I particularly enjoy teaching First Certificate as pupils at this level already have a good level of English and often tend to be well educated and motivated. I also enjoy teaching children’s and teenagers’ courses as these can often be fun to teach and involve lots of games and activities. Also, examining is one of the perks of the job as it is relatively easy and often involves travelling to different towns. Probably the best part of the job is the end of the year when the exam results arrive and the pupils do well. Some pupils will come into the school to thank you personally which is very gratifying.

Why were you successful?

I think the main reason I was successful was because I was qualified and had already had experience teaching English in Japan. The school I applied to work at in Italy was particularly impressed that I had had experience teaching larger classes of children in particular, and that I was familiar with some of their course books. The school was looking for someone who was independent and able to adapt quickly to a new environment. Foreign language skills were not a requirement of the job, although already having a good knowledge of Italian worked in my favour.

What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
Having a degree in French enabled me to learn Italian rapidly which definitely helps when I need to explain more difficult English vocabulary to my pupils. Having said that, using the pupils’ mother tongue is generally discouraged in EFL and I only resort to it when absolutely necessary. Studying French grammar at school and University has definitely helped me to assimilate the concepts of English grammar and to teach it, particularly at a higher level.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?

Invest in a CELTA course, particularly if you are interested in teaching in Europe. Be prepared for long hours and hard work, particularly if you decide to teach in the Far East. Teaching in Italy is much more relaxed and informal and classes often don’t start until late afternoon. The social life in both Italy and Japan is also great and many of your pupils will invite you out in the evenings. Make sure you research companies thoroughly and that you are offered a decent contract with a good local wage and holiday pay. Ask about professional opportunities the company will be able to offer you at interview and the possibility of receiving company sponsorship to study for the DELTA (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults). Above all, don’t get stuck in a job for too long and keep your eyes open for positions or courses which offer further professional development. I am currently applying to do an International PGCE so that I can teach English and French in International Schools in Spain.