One Year in Penang

Another year abroad done. It’s been a really good one. I first heard about working for British Council when I was finishing up my CELTA in 2012 and it instantly became my dream company to work for. This past year — my first year with them — has met all expectations.

It feels like every teaching job that I’ve taken on post-CELTA has been an upgrade from the last. I went from teaching in a university in Kuala Lumpur with the most basic classroom — nothing but a whiteboard and a CD player — to using interactive whiteboards in Hanoi with a computer in every classroom and an amazing teachers’ room stocked with stationery and good people. BC Penang is easily the best so far in terms of resources and facilities. The support I’ve received since I arrived has been nothing short of amazing. I also have my own desk and computer. It’s messy, but it’s mine.

I’m staying in Penang in a little bit longer and I’m optimistic about what the future has in store. In terms of pursuing DELTA, it feels like the desire has died down a little. I still want to do it because I would still like to become a teacher trainer some day as I don’t think I’ll want to keep teaching in the classroom forever, but it’s currently not a priority. I think my creative pursuits have sidetracked me from that, but I have to say that being creative brings me a happiness that keeps me sane.

Looking forward to what’s ahead, as always. 🙂


The Quest for Paper (part 2)

In 2014, I wrote about my decade-long quest for paper, which ultimately resulted in the acquisition of a college degree. Not long after that, I landed a teaching job in Malaysia and fast forward to two years later, I am about to complete my second expatriate stint in Vietnam.

Although Vietnam would be happy to keep me, I have begun the process of applying for new jobs in another Southeast Asian country in the hopes of finding something more long-term and comfortable. I wish I could say that my search has produced positive results, but on the contrary, nothing has turned up yet. Admittedly, it is a rather large step up that I’m trying to make, but I remain determined and optimistic.

One of the outcomes of seeing all the job adverts – and there are many – has been a realisation that I’ve still got a lot of work cut out for me. Getting the college degree wasn’t a finish line at all, but rather, the first checkpoint of who knows how many.

Despite being a fully-qualified and somewhat experienced English language teacher, I now have a few new barriers in the way.

  • Schools are looking for native speakers. According to Wikipedia, “a native speaker is someone who speaks a language as his or her first language or mother tongue.” I consider myself a native speaker because I grew up in an English speaking environment – we spoke English at home and I attended international schools where everything was done in English. I didn’t speak my country’s local language “fluently” until I was eighteen. Unfortunately, my passport automatically classifies me as a non-native speaker.
  • Because of the above point, I now have to give proof of my proficiency in English. Because I didn’t attend formal schooling, I can’t produce grades, so I’m left with having to do certificate courses to prove my English language abilities. I can do this through the IELTS or Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE) exam. Both of which cost quite a bit of money.
  • Although I have the IH CYLT qualification to teach English to children and teenagers, there is an additional requirement for teaching in preschools, which is the Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education. Attaining this as a foreign student will cost an arm, two legs, and probably a kidney. Though a useful qualification to have, it’s a rather large investment for an area that I’m not even sure I want to dedicate myself to.

So, two years on, the quest for paper has not ceased. In the back of my head, I fear that being Asian provides an obstacle in my chosen career, though I remind myself that any institution that shows any sort of discrimination is not a place worth working for.

Right now, I think that DELTA is still the logical next step. If I were to invest a large sum of money into something, it would definitely be that.

In the meantime, the job hunt continues.

Back to School

Summer is officially over which means the end of back to back classes and late night finishes. It means going back to working two days over the weekend. It marks the end of my Summer Mentor Teacher position and it means saying goodbye to all the summer teachers and a few full-timers.

The end of summer usually means heading back to school for students and teachers who get the summers off. As for myself, I’ve decided to go back to school, too. Well, not school exactly, but learning.

My education has been unconventional, but I like learning and I enjoy being a student. I spent maybe eight or nine years in a proper school and the rest of it has been online—high school, about a dozen Coursera courses, some ELT professional development courses, and most recently the IH CYLT.

Now that I have a bit more free-time on my hands, I’m going back to online education. At the end of August, I’ll be starting Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics with Coursera, Universiteit Leiden and Meeterns Instituut. In mid-October, I’ll be starting Understanding Language with Future Learn and the University of Southampton. As you can see, these courses are career related. On a side note, they’re both free.

I did some research recently about further studies and what sort of experience and qualifications I need to advance in my career and it looks like the next step is the DELTA. It’s a very big and intimidating step, not to mention an expensive one, but it is half the price of a Master’s Degree and it will ultimately enable me to reach my career goals.

It’s something that I definitely want to do. If I start saving and preparing for it now, I think that I can probably do it in about a year or two. Let’s see how it goes.


Milestone 1:

I am officially certified to teach young learners and teenagers as of the 19th of July when I received my certificate and reports. My marks and tutor feedback were quite positive. I received 17 out of 38 Above Standard marks, and the remaining 21 marks were Standard. I felt a wonderful sense of achievement when my tutor handed me the papers knowing how much work I put into it and knowing that I’ve been applying everything I learned in the classroom with good results.

It was a tough 3 months and it’s hard to believe that it started nearly 6 months ago, but I definitely feel that I have improved as a teacher. I’m thankful to everyone who supported me in this undertaking.

Milestone 2:

I am nearly at my 2 year post-CELTA-classroom-teaching-experience mark. This means that I can apply for more jobs, particularly those that ask for this specifically. With that and my YL qualification, finding employment should be much easier after I move on from Vietnam.

Milestone 3:

I have been living in Vietnam for 11 months now, fast approaching a year. This also means that I’ve been living and working abroad for almost 2 years. It doesn’t feel like it’s been a year in Vietnam or 2 years away from home. Time is flying.

IHCYLT 5: Finished

As of April 30th, the course has officially ended. We were given a week to get our portfolios compiled and sorted for submission for final assessment which wasn’t too difficult to do. The portfolio is just a collection of all the work done over the 12 weeks of course work — 2 assignments, 8 observation tasks, 7 portfolio tasks, and all the documents for the 4 teaching practice sessions.

I’m quite happy to be done. I’ve spent the last week catching up on much needed sleep, getting my energy back, and basically enjoying all the free-time and boredom that I was looking forward to for many weeks. At one point, I didn’t know what to do with myself because I had absolutely nothing to do. It was great.

It will still be a while longer before I get my final marks for the course as well as the certificate itself (assuming that I passed the course). For now, I have about a week of teaching to plan and then I’ll be off on a much needed holiday for two weeks which I am very much looking forward to. It will be nice to do non-teaching related things and give my brain a chance to reboot. Once I get back, it will be the summer schedule which means no holidays and many late night finishes for the next three months, but no need to think about that just yet, though.

Hurray for finishing!

IHCYLT 3: Past the Halfway Mark

It’s approaching the end of Week 7 (out of 12) on the course, and it has been laborious. There have been many times when I found myself thinking that I could have been done with this in two weeks if the YLE course in Saigon hadn’t been cancelled last November, but then I remind myself that those kinds of thoughts aren’t helpful to anyone.

The upside to doing the course while working is that I get new input every week and I learn lots of new things and get a lot of new ideas that I can try out in the classroom straight away. I see what works, what needs tweaking, what can be adapted, and so on. Doing it that way helps me learn better rather than taking a mental note of it and saying, “Yeah, I definitely need to try that in my class one time” and ultimately just forgetting about it or forgetting the mechanics of it once I get around to actually trying it.

I’ve completed 2 (out of 4) Teaching Practice observations at the A2 pre-teens level (upper-intermediate, 10-12 years old) and my final 2 will be with A1 kids level (beginner, 6-8 years old). I got positive feedback on my first observation — which I was happy about, obviously — and I’m getting my feedback on the second observation later on today. I’m not sure what to expect because it was a grammar lesson with the future continuous, and I feel like grammar has never really been an area of strength for me in terms of teaching it. I will find out how I did in a few hours, though.

On a side note, I’m currently recovering from yet another bout of illness, this one actually rendering me incapable of leaving my apartment and forcing me to call in sick, which I have not done in years. I think it’s spring now, and it’s what people are calling “Moldy March” because everything is getting moldy — books, clothes, shoes, walls, floors, cabinets, utensils, bags, tea bags, luggage, cables, etc. The weather can’t seem to make up its mind and goes from cold to temperate, but constantly damp and humid. The kids are sick. The teachers are sick. It’s grim.

But on the plus side, I’ve got 5 more course weeks left and then I might actually have time to be bored again. Will update soon.

IHCYLT 2: Week 4

I’m currently on Week 4 of the course. One month (nearly) down, two more to go. It has been a lot of work so far, as promised. There are readings, tasks, and discussions to get through every week, and every week has a deadline to complete all the requirements. Because I’m doing the course work on top of working full-time hours, I have had to find a way to manage my time efficiently, which, admittedly, I’ve only really been able to do this past week.

Since my teaching hours don’t start until the late afternoons during the week, I’m quite used to sleeping in, but because of the course, I’ve had to start waking up early every day to get work done and be productive. Work basically consists of course work, lesson planning, lesson prep, and writing reports. It adds up. So the more hours I have available in the day, the better (though I have given myself at least one of my days off to sleep in). One of the perks so far, though, has been that waking up early has meant fewer problems falling asleep at night. I’m usually so exhausted at the end of the day, I can just fall asleep (or at least fall asleep in less than half the time that it usually takes me).

This week is a particularly heavy one because in terms of the course, I have to complete the usual two modules, one portfolio task, a peer observation plus observation tasks, and planning for my first observed teaching practice. In terms of work, I have 19 hours to plan and prep for, and a workshop to attend.

I do feel that I have already made some improvements in my teaching. I think that the quality of my lessons have improved and I also feel a bit more confident in teaching young learners. I also have the support of my colleagues, and that helps a lot, too. So I do feel that by the end of the course, I will be a much better teacher. Definitely looking forward to it.

IHCYLT 1: Pre-Course

I got some news last week that my upcoming course was at risk of being postponed to a later date. I was beginning to think that I was extremely unlucky or just not meant to do this course. Fortunately, though, it is going ahead as scheduled and it’s set to commence in two days.

I’m looking forward to starting the course and being a student again. Over the last few years — doing my high school program and the countless Coursera ones — I discovered that I actually enjoy studying and it’s something that I’m not entirely terrible at. I was preparing all the things I needed last night and I was absolutely giddy setting up my notebook, putting my pencil case together, sorting the highlighters, post-its, and other stationery. Come to think of it, stationery is probably the reason I like being a student (and teacher).

There will be a lot of work involved in the course and I have been warned by a course graduate that it will take over my life for the next twelve weeks and I can expect to have no time for anything else other than work and study, which I’m completely prepared for (I think).

Something I’ve learned as a teacher is that it’s important to have an environment that’s conducive to studying and learning. Currently, my environment is an ice box. Hanoi winter is no joke, and it doesn’t help that I’m not built for cold weather like this. It’s cold, it’s damp, and it’s gray. I have not seen the sun in quite a while and mold is rampant and expected to get worse. In spite of this, I will do my best to get the work done.

For now, it will really come down to organisation and good time management. I may need to say goodbye to Facebook, Netflix, and other distractions temporarily. We’ll see how it goes — I’ll keep you posted as best as I can.

Lessons from the Classroom

I have been living in Vietnam and teaching young learners for four months now, and as much as I would like to say that I’m a complete natural at it and that I’ve adjusted seamlessly, the truth is, it has been a tremendous challenge so far and I still find that I struggle with many aspects of teaching young learners.

I find that teaching children is a completely different universe from teaching adults. A typical young learner classroom is filled with little humans running around shouting, playing, laughing, fighting, and crying. Oh, the crying. They will cry because of the most natural things, such as being hit by a classmate playing rough during break time, or because of some other reason, such as their group mate isn’t playing the game properly and/or is cheating. Since I started here, I have seen so many tears, so much snot, a fair amount of boogers, too much spit, and I’ve heard enough pencil cases crashing onto the floor to last me an entire lifetime.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned so far is that an effective classroom management system is key. I never used one for adults because, well, they were adults, and they held themselves accountable for their learning and their behaviour in class. With children, though, monitoring their actions and behaviour with a good reward or incentive system to ensure control of the classroom is imperative. The other challenge is that it isn’t only about finding the one perfect formula because what could work flawlessly for one class may have absolutely no effect for another. It’s about finding what works well for a particular class then using it and tweaking it in the most effective manner to get the best results.

Another thing I need to adjust to is energy levels. Adults are mostly fine with sitting down for long periods of time talking to their seat mates or occasionally getting up to do an activity or switch groups. Children, however, need a good balance of both, especially the younger they are. They need activities. They need to be active. They can’t sit still for extended periods of time. They will start to daydream and you will lose them.

I always knew that coming in to teach kids would require some form of myself having to leave my comfort zone of being a quiet and properly composed teacher. Kids need a teacher who can be active and silly and funny. The teacher’s mood does rub off on the learners. I have spoken to my academic manager about this and she told me that it isn’t necessary for me to change my entire personality to successfully teach kids, but that I do need to find some kind of compromise or balance. It will be a challenge.

My course starts in two weeks. I have a lot of work ahead of me and I need to balance full-time hours with the coursework. If the last four months has taught me anything, it’s that I need this course and I really want to do well in it. It isn’t just my inner overachiever saying this, it’s the part of me that knows I still have so much to learn and that doing this will enable me to become a more capable, competent, and confident teacher.

It’s like one really big puzzle. I love puzzles. But puzzles that I can’t seem to solve eat away at me until I get it, and this is one of those puzzles. It has a solution and I want to solve it, and I can — it will just need time, patience, and a lot of work.