Sandy Millin: Highlights from my teaching story
Becoming a teacher
I think I’ve always been a natural teacher. When I was at primary school, if the teacher was busy my classmates would ask me for help. I’d forgotten this until I met up with my primary school teacher again a few years ago and she told me. At secondary school, I used to annoy younger students in my tutor group by refusing to do their homework for them, instead asking them questions and making them figure it out by themselves.
Originally, I thought I’d work in business for twenty or thirty years, get some money behind me, then move into teaching in middle age. Then I discovered that people would pay for me to go and live in their country to teach English, and I’ve never looked back. Thankfully, I found this out before I even started university, so I never had to agonise over what I would do with my life. I’m so glad that I made this decision, and I’ve never regretted it.
My first memorable teaching moment(s)
As a volunteer teacher in the jungle in Borneo in 2004, I was working with seven to twelve year olds from two different tribes, the Kelabit and the Penan. The children lived at the school throughout the term as it would have been impossible for them to travel from their homes to school each day. There should have been about 100 children there, but there were normally only about 60, with the number varying on a weekly basis as children arrived and left. Some of the pupils at the school only spoke their tribal language, while others also spoke Bahasa Malay, the national language. A handful of them spoke English, some up to good elementary level. With children arriving at the school at any time in their prescribed schooling period, it was very possible to have children who couldn’t hold a pen or understand any Bahasa in the same class as those who were elementary.
I was there for six weeks, throughout which I taught a tiny class of nine year olds. The group started with two girls who had almost no English and were quite scared of me at first. I introduced the idea of a word monster as a way of giving them vocabulary each lesson and revising it repeatedly. They soon got into the routine and enjoyed playing games with the word cards. After three weeks, they were joined by two girls who had never been to school before. They understood the games that we were playing, but they never said anything. Two days before I was due to leave the school, one of the new girls finally said one word, and it made me cry because I was so happy – it was the first time I was ever conscious of really teaching somebody something. On my final day, the last girl said one word and I cried all over again. These were my first teaching moments, and since then I’ve had many more, but none of them are quite as special as those two words were.
Evolving as a teacher
As my career has developed, I have pursued further qualifications and became a teacher trainer and director of studies. However, by far the biggest influence on me has been joining in with the world of social media and accessing the amazing teaching community online. Through it I have made friends online and off, learnt about new ideas and activities and been challenged in my thinking. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to get a view of classrooms very different from my own. It has also opened many doors for me, including writing here, and I was inspired to create my own blog. I hope that through it I have been able to help many different teachers, and that I will be able to continue doing so in the future.
My teaching future
I have just started work as the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz in Poland. While it’s obviously impossible to know exactly what will happen in the future, I’d like to stay here for at least the next two or three years. Longer term, I plan to continue working as a CELTA tutor during the summer and hopefully supplement it with some materials writing. I also plan to continue writing my blog for as long as I can come up with ideas for it. With sixty post titles in my drafts at the moment, I don’t think that should be a problem for at least the next few months!
Happy Teacher’s Day everyone!
Read more from Sandy
- Returning from Borneo: https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/returning-from-borneo/
- Vocabulary box-ing (with added monsters): https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/vocabulary_box-ing/