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Teaching English in Europe and the U.K. (by Sandy Millin)

I’m a native Brit who loves languages. I did my CELTA during my final year of uni when I was studying French, German and Spanish. Once I’d finished my degree I decided to head straight to Europe and start my English teaching adventures, but rather than going somewhere where I could already speak the language, I took the plunge and went to the Czech Republic, a country which I didn’t really know that much about, but where there was a job available at a good school.

Three years later, I decided to come back from Brno (you can watch my video about my time here) and spend a year in the UK, choosing to work in Newcastle as it’s not far from Durham, where I went to university. Now that I’ve been here for two months, it’s time to compare the two and see what the differences are (for me at least) between working in Europe and in the UK.

Brno

  • I taught a range of students and class, covering ages from 7-60, general English, business English, preparation for exam courses, 1-2-1, groups…with up to 13 classes in any one week.
  • The students were mostly Czech, with many second-generation Vietnamese students in the young learner and teen classes.
  • About half of my groups were shared with one other teacher, one (intensive) group was shared with four other teachers – one day each – and the rest of the groups were mine.
  • Most of the time (particularly in shared classes) we followed a textbook, with the freedom to cover other areas if necessary to the students.
  • My timetable stayed largely the same throughout the year, with some variations as classes closed / were opened.
  • Most students started their course in September and finished it in June, with a few joining in October, but not many after that.
  • The working day was very variable – anything from one 60 minute class to a total of 5 hours divided between 4 groups in any one day. Teaching could start at 7am and finish at 7:45pm. Luckily I didn’t have any Saturday classes (although I have done in the past). In my final year the timetable was also very end-of-the-week heavy, with 9 of my 13 classes between 15:00 on Wednesday and 12:00 on Friday.
  • Motivation could be a problem for some students, especially about half-way through the course when it felt like a long way until the end of the year.
  • I didn’t have much access to technology – it’s not that common in Czech classrooms yet (as far as I could tell)
  • Outside school, I socialised mostly with other teachers, since they were often in the same position as me, or had been at some point in the past…that of ‘stranger in a strange land’. I used my time to explore a lot and try to get to know as much of the surrounding area as possible. The language barrier was occasionally a problem, but at the same time it really motivated me to learn a new language, and I had roughly pre-intermediate Czech by the time I left the Czech Republic.
Newcastle
  • I have one group which only I teach for 20 hours a week, 4 hours a day. In two months I’ve taught two groups, and will start teaching my third group from next week.
  • So far, I’ve taught students from: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Colombia, Panama, Brazil, Russia, Kazakhstan, Thailand…
  • The timetable is very regular, with teaching either 9-11 and 1-3 or 11-1 and 3-5 every day. The other hour of my day is spent in something called the Personal Study Programme, where students do their own study supervised and aided by a group of teachers.
  • Continuous enrolment means there are new students every Monday afternoon and people leaving every Friday, so that the class can include students who arrived that week and others who have been in the UK (and possibly that group) for months. This can make planning challenging, as we don’t follow text books. This gives me a bit more freedom to experiment with dogme and other teaching techniques, but since we have to create a work plan at the start of every week, I also need to have a rough idea of what we’re going to cover!
  • Motivation seems to be pretty high for most students, especially if they have paid for the course themselves. The cost of coming to the UK for even a short period of time is high enough that students want to get the most of their time. However, this can mean a lot of pressure from the students to put them up to the next level, with them having little awareness of what that actually involves / requires of them. There are also some incredibly ambitious students who believe that a few weeks in the UK is all they need to learn to speak English, so managing learner expectations is a large part of the job.
  • We have a few interactive whiteboards (IWBs), as well as one computer room and another room with 4 computers. This means I’m able to share a lot more sites with students which they can start to use to study independently outside class.
  • Outside school, although I’m in my native country, it’s not my native area, so I still feel a little like a tourist. On the other hand, knowing the language (!) makes things a lot easier, as does familiarity with typical city centre shops – I don’t have to think anywhere near as hard when I want to buy something! Sometimes I miss the challenge of the Czech Republic – it all feels a bit too easy here :)
Teaching in both countries has provided me with a real range of experience, and allowed to meet people from all over the world. Although there are downsides to teaching wherever you are, ultimately the diversity and challenge EFL involves are why I love my job, and I hope to be doing it for a while yet!

Sandy MillinI’ve been teaching EFL since 2006, and have loved it since the start. So far I’ve worked in Paraguay, Borneo, the Czech Republic and the UK, and plan to add more countries to that list very soon. I spend a lot of time on Twitter and curating my two blogs: one for general teaching and the other to crowdsource ideas for the ELT classroom.

8 Comments

  1. Barbara says:

    This is a great comparison, Sandy! I haven’t taught in either Brno or the U.K., but I can see similarities between teaching English in a country where it is the majority language and in a country where it’s definitely a foreign language. I imagine other teachers will see similarities as well.

    I love how everything you do sounds like a fun adventure–you have an amazing attitude toward teaching (and life!).

    Thanks for this :)

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    Thanks for letting me write for you Barb.
    At the moment, everything I do feels like a fun adventure, so it’s easy to make it sound like that – long may it continue!
    Thanks for the compliment :)
    Sandy

  3. […] just written a post for Barbara Sakamoto over at Teaching Village about the differences between teaching in Europe and in the UK. Even if you’re not interested in my post, I would heartily recommend taking a look at her […]

  4. I totally agree with Barbara – your enthusiasm comes through “loud and clear”!
    It is fascinating to read in more detail about your teaching settings and be amazed at the following:
    You teach in settings so different from my own yet your posts are full of useful suggestions and insights that I find very helpful with my students!
    Well, I suppose that is what “teaching village” is all about – how a teacher is a teacher and how much there is to learn no matter where we are!

    1. Sandy Millin says:

      That’s one of the things I’ve discovered through Twitter – it doesn’t matter where you’re teaching, there’s always something you can learn from others :)

  5. […] just written a post for Barbara Sakamoto over at Teaching Village about the differences between teaching in Europe and in the UK. Even if you’re not interested in my post, I would heartily recommend taking a look at her blog […]

  6. Bee (Fumi Ito) says:

    Sandy,thanks for sharing your great experience! I bet your adventure will be more successful and more fun with your passion and energy. Go,Go Sandy !

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