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Sandy Millin: Turning points
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Where am I now?
I currently work as the Director of Studies (DoS) at International House Bydgoszcz, Poland. I’m also a CELTA trainer and I do some materials writing (and have published an ebook on speaking skills). None of this was planned, though I knew that at some point I wanted to move into management, and perhaps own a school. Now I’m not so sure I want the stress of being an owner! So how did I get here?
While working as a freelancer, and trying to work out what I wanted to do next, I went to the International House DoS conference. During one session, I happened to be sitting next to my predecessor at IH Bydgoszcz. We got talking and he said that he was planning to leave at the end of the year. Over the next two days, he talked me into the job, one I wasn’t sure I was qualified enough or ready to take on. I’m so glad he did as I love the DoS job I have now at a very supportive school in a great city!
Networking at conferences has given me many opportunities, and has enabled me to build up my professional profile. It has led both directly and indirectly to materials writing work, including my ebook, and has helped me to build up a Professional Learning Network (PLN) who I can call on when I need help.
I’d just finished Delta Modules Two and Three, and was taking a much-needed holiday. I decided to visit Brno, where I used to work, and catch up with old friends. One of them told me about a job opportunity at IH Sevastopol which she’d heard about as the Director of the school used to work in Brno before I arrived there. As with the Bydgoszcz job, this was another case of being in the right place at the right time, as the job involved me taking on DoS responsibilities for the first time and training up as a CELTA tutor. It’s also an argument for working to maintain ties with old contacts, as you never know who will be able to help you.
Living in the UK was never something I wanted to do long-term, so after a year at IH Newcastle in the run-up to London 2012, I was looking for a new job abroad. I was therefore very surprised when the school director asked me to his office on his return from an international conference. He’d been talking to someone there about me (I still don’t know who!) and wanted me to stay at the school with a new role. This enabled me to negotiate the terms of my contract, and I was lucky to get a loan to help me complete the Delta, to be paid back over the rest of my time at the school.
By raising my professional profile online and off, I have (I hope!) been able to build up a reputation as a teacher which puts me in a positive position when job hunting. It has taken time and effort outside work, but I believe it is worth it.
The IATEFL conference is the highlight of my year: four days of professional development and networking organized by the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. The first one I attended was in Glasgow in April 2012, when I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship. When I applied for it, one of the requirements was to submit a speaker proposal for the conference, something which I’d never done before and had no idea how to approach. I put out a request for help on the #ELTchat hashtag on Twitter, where I’d first heard about the conference and the scholarships, and will always be immensely grateful to Ceri Jones for her advice in putting together my proposal.
By asking for help from a community I had already contributed to, I was lucky enough to get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one which I now try to share with other people by volunteering on the IATEFL Membership Committee.
Oxford University Press launched a competition looking for supplementary materials for their English File series. It was called ‘Best Extra’, and the winning materials were shared in the English File online community within the OUP Teacher’s Club. I saw a tweet advertising the competition, and decided to send in a few different entries. Some of them were chosen, and subsequently I was offered my first writing work, contributing to the New English File Advanced online writing practice.
Taking part in online communities has led me to many different places in my career, both literal and metaphorical, which I would never have been to otherwise, from materials writing to blogging here and elsewhere to webinars to presenting at a conference in Barcelona, and much more besides.
As I graduated from university and having not long completed a part-time CELTA course, I was ready to embark on my teaching career. But where to start? The world seemed like such a big place, and it was so hard to choose just one country to apply for jobs in. I asked my CELTA tutors for help, and they recommended Central Europe as a good place to start. I applied for a job at a few IH schools, and IH Brno, my second choice, accepted me. It set me up excellently for the rest of my career and started my love affair with Central Europe. It also taught me to follow where fate leads instead of setting your heart on something: my only requirement of my first school was that it was by the sea, and if you take a look at a map, you’ll see Brno is about as far from the sea as it’s possible to get in Europe!
If you’d told me back then that in August 2016 I’d be sitting in Poland, waiting to hear about the success of my mortgage application for a flat in a town called Bydgoszcz, wanting to settle down a bit after having lived in many different countries and got so much personal and professional experience under my belt, I doubt I would have believed you. You never know where life is going to take you.