Why taking your kids out of school is the best thing you can do for them…

Angelina Jolie’s recent announcement that she would rather her children read a book, or devote their time to gaining new experiences like  learning how to play the guitar, than attend a school, may fly in the face of education purists; however, she’s not alone in viewing alternative educational methods as more progressive and effective. Any teacher worth their salt will admit (and incidentally I am one) that if you have the cash, a private tutor is the best way to go.

Larger classes do provide a social dynamic which is certainly important for children, but it is definitely possible to find other ways for your children to interact with other children their own age, through clubs, playdates etc. Without a doubt, children who do not attend a school, if educated effectively at home, are not necessarily placed at a social disadvantage. Actually, my experience of children who were homeschooled was that they had a much better developed understanding of people of all ages, and were therefore better equipped to deal with people and to befriend those significantly older and younger than themselves. This kind of social intelligence is incredibly beneficial in adulthood.

When I attended school, I worked hard but like many other children found the syllabus unchallenging. Attending NAGC classes after school and studying in my private time certainly saved me from a crippling intellectual boredom. Growing up a rural home-counties girl, it was perfectly normal for children to be taken out of school on a sunny Summer’s day to go horse riding with their parents, and I certainly made the most of my ‘free time’, discovering Dickens and Shakespeare, French and German, all amidst the beauty of the English countryside. As Ms Jolie said, our experiences certainly shape our development. The current front page news stories regarding low literacy levels in UK schools reveal a shocking truth about the current system – it simply isn’t working. Homeschool if you can, your children will be a lot better off in the future.

Where have all the language teachers gone?

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2010 at 6:21 pm


George was a portly fellow with a mouthful of yellow teeth, a teddy boy rocker’s quiff which he kept slicked neatly back with Brylcream, and a dangerous penchant for tight black leather trousers (somewhat unbecoming for a man of his girth). Although not exactly a looker, Gerorge took great pains to present himself as ‘an interesting man’ to anyone who would listen for more than five minutes. He could regularly be heard waxing lyrical on such diverse subjects as: the greatest achievements of Western philosophy, the virtues of Pagan rituals, and basic motorcycle maintenance. Between offers to show any female with a pulse around Berlin’s “incredible and inspiring”  S+M clubs, George dropped a bombshell – confiding that he wasn’t really an ESL teacher. Hell, no! His ambitions, he claimed, lay in the glamorous field of erotic photography, and he also planned to expand his burgeoning East London based fashion business – selling rubber catsuits and other “specialist costumes” by opening a shop in East Berlin – “latex is going to be HUGE in women’s fashion this year” he stated authoritatively.

George really was quite a character. As proud as he was of his intellectual acumen and his custom-made motorcycle, his greatest pride lay in his boastful ignorance of the German language. Although he had been teaching in Berlin for the past 10 years, his German was still only A1 (at a beginner level). But after all, George wasn’t going to spend his whole life in this business – he was really going places.

The sad fact is that George is ubiquitous in the TEFL industry. He’s present in every writer/artist/photographer/business artist I have ever worked alongside. More often than not, teachers delude themselves with grandiose dreams. It’s all very romantic. Here’s a newsflash: if you go to a language school to teach English for 8 hours a day, then you are just AN ENGLISH TEACHER.

The embarrassment implicit within the title “English language teacher” leads people to create all manner of alternate job titles such as “Intercultural language consultant”, or “Financial language trainer”. It sounds ridiculous but makes some sense in an industry where teachers are generally paid very little and treated extremely poorly.  A career in ESL is unlikely to be a lucrative one, even should you decide to embark upon a DELTA qualification, a DOS position often pays little more than a language teaching post, and is considerably more stressful.

Back in London, the Departmental Coordinator at my language school bemoaned the fact that the Latin American students have a tendency to praise the teaching staff , but treat the reception staff very badly: “the trouble is” she said “in their country, teaching is a very respectable profession, so they see the receptionists as inferior to the teachers”.

She hardly needed to add a follow-up comment (which was spoken as mere fact, not insult), “of course, over here it’s the other way around”.


ESL for kids

Now that the Summer kids intensives are over, ESL teachers all over the globe are looking back on the Summer courses with fond memories; thanking God that they have another year’s reprieve before the next load…

I too have mixed feelings. Teaching children in Berlin was initially a somewhat terrifying prospect. I spoke very limited German, had no experience with kids, and consequently no idea what to expect. As it turned out, taking over the “Intensive Childrens Camp” was not only very rewarding, but it also provided me with an opportunity to gain more responsibility over the structure of my classes, and an insight into how to keep cool under pressure.

I spent 1500 Euros on a 4 week intensive CELTA course in Berlin. During this grueling and stressful course I was taught about teaching methodology – for example the advantages of the ‘Communicative Approach’ over ‘Total Physical Response’ theory, the importance of using realia, or of creating a generative situation to aid in the explanation of a grammar point. Throughout 8 hours of observed teaching practice, I was so heavily criticized that I was sure I would never find work in this profession, even if I did manage to pass the course.

Finishing the CELTA was a huge relief, and mustering up what little confidence I had left, I began to apply for English teaching positions immediately. As luck would have it, I practically fell into a teaching position with an internationally renowned language school in Berlin fairly swiftly after finishing the course, and after a brief period of adjustment, during which time I was retrained in order to familiarize myself with their specific teaching method and pre-prepared materials, I was quickly getting a lot of company classes – so far so good!

However, by the time summer rolled around I was faced with a lot of cancellations due to students holidays. When the school’s Director of Studies called me into his office one afternoon, I was convinced I was about to get the sack.

“So, I noticed that you have a lot of gaps in your schedule at the moment,” he shifted position uncomfortably, and leaned closer, “how would you feel about running a Childrens Intensive Course?” Hmm…children. Could I teach children?

“Sure; I’d love to.” I replied without thinking.

The children were apparently a “rather mixed group” in terms of ability (something every English language teacher just loves to hear), aged between 6 and 12 years, and there were 10 of them.

When I enquired what had happened to the previous childrens teacher, the Director mumbled “Er…well, you see he’s on holiday, and…last time things, erm…didn’t really work out with him”. Not very reassuring. Luckily, I was told that to make me feel more comfortable with this daunting new situation, I was to be given (more!) training. This consisted entirely of being given a 1000 page training manual to read the night before the first class, and the director slapped me on the back saying, “Thanks, and good luck! I’ve never taught children, so I’m afraid I can’t offer you any advice”.

As I didn’t have time to read a book the size and obscurity of Ulysses that night, I figured I was pretty much on my own with this one. It was suggested that I tell parents I had been teaching children for one year, just to set their minds at ease…

Meeting and greeting the parents and kids the next morning was exciting, and the children seemed so sweet, chatty, and enthusiastic. It was 9am and the lesson was about to start, when the classroom door opened and a tall, stern looking man swaggered in. “Yes? This is our classroom.” I ventured, thinking one of us must have the wrong room.”

“I’m the teacher.” He replied in a booming American drawl.

“Mr. Barrett asked me to teach this course.” I told him as we stepped outside the classroom, and his face began to glow beetroot red. Then he stared to let rip.

“They asked me three weeks ago to teach this class” His voice was getting louder.

“There must be a mistake. Talk to the receptionist?” I suggested gingerly, and could believe it when he approached the reception desk and assumed a bellicose attitude, shouting at the receptionists “You INCOMPETENT IDIOTS!”.

Thank God the parents had left.

As I hurried back to my classroom of awaiting children, I lost my last shred of remaining dignity whilst singing an a cappella version of Old Macdonald in an attempt to drown out the ensuing ruckus in the hallway, and the belligerent teacher who was now shouting obscenities (with a “f*** you!” here and a p*** off!” there). I fervently hoped that these 10 little angels would not go running back to Mummy and Daddy to tell them about the funny new English words they had heard from the angry English teacher.

Thankfully, after the initial shaky start, the rest of the week went surprisingly smoothly. I found teaching children tiring but throughout the course I developed a genuine affection for my students and their progress, creativity, enthusiasm and achievements were amazing.

On the final day, they told me that had really enjoyed learning English and that they didn’t want to leave. I thanked them and told them that I would miss teaching them, but I wonder whether they will ever realize just how much they taught me.

Amy Wu


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