How Did You Get Started Teaching English?

Brock Brady

How Did You Get Started Teaching English?

If you’re ever making small talk with a group of TESOLers and you need an inspiration for something to say, that’s not a bad line. I think almost everyone will have an immediate response, and on many occasions I bet you’ll hear an interesting, well-rehearsed story.

In the general course of my TESOL career, I’ve heard a lot of people’s stories, especially during my time talking with prospective students as the codirector of a university TESOL program. A few things are clear. First, almost no one decides they’re going to be a TESOL instructor when s/he is five years old. It’s almost always a profession that one comes around to later in life after having other experiences. In fact, one phenomenon that I have always found interesting is how many TESOLers have told me some variation of, “I was always sure that I never wanted to be a teacher, but then I tried teaching English and found it was something I was good at doing, and something I wanted to do.”

Here has been my theory: I think most people go into TESOL because they really enjoy working in intercultural environments, and less because they are incredibly passionate about being teachers (not always, but in many cases). TESOL is a way that you can work interculturally, you can get paid for doing that, and you can feel like you’re making a positive contribution to global understanding. Chic, no?

I have shared these ideas with many people over time, but as I was composing this blog I realized how short-sighted I had been. While I have always been active in supporting the rights and the strengths of nonnative English speaking teachers (NNESTs), I never stopped to realize that the generalizations I had been making about TESOLers were based primarily on native speaking English teachers (NESTs). I can think of examples of NNEST colleagues who did “come in the backdoor” to English teaching, but is that the case for most? I don’t know. Maybe more NNESTs felt early on that they had an affinity for English for some reason and therefore decided to become English teachers quite early.

It would be interesting to find out. It would be great to hear from more people about why they started teaching English. Might we hear from you?

Brock Brady
President, TESOL

About Brock Brady

Brock Brady
Brock Brady is the programming and training education specialist for the U.S. Peace Corps, a volunteer development agency. He was President of TESOL International Association from March 2010 to March 2011. Before coming to Peace Corps, Brady served as Coordinator then Co Director of the American University TESOL Program in Washington, DC for 12 years. Brady also directed English Language Programs for the State Department in Burkina Faso and Benin, lectured at Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) for two years in Korea, served as a Fulbright Scholar in France, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, W. Africa. Brady’s research interests include English language planning and policy, program and course design, and pronunciation. He has also taught English or engaged in educational consulting in more than 20 countries
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16 Responses to How Did You Get Started Teaching English?

  1. Brock Brady Brock Brady says:

    I will disagree with “learn Spanish language” a little bit. Young learners up until adolescent seem to be able to acquire a second language w/o great pains, and some research has shown that secondary students might actually have the best of both world for learning a language in classrooms: they have some of the plasticity of younger learners and the conscious study and learning habit we associate with mature learners.
    And certainly there are those of us who have become fluent and proficient in a second language as adults. Immersion certainly seems to help in terms of developing fluency and proficiency.
    What we want to be cautious about doing is making English mandatory for every young learners. They may have little motivation to learn and little occasion to encounter or use a foreign language. In these cases, another language may be viewed as a distraction or learners may actually resent the foreign language. At least clear learner motivation should proceed language instruction.

  2. Lahcen Tighoula says:

    Hello colleagues,
    As a NNSET from Morocco, English has always been synonymous to opportunity and success. Being so close to spain and eventually to Europe, we are fascinated by Foreign languages! almost every young person in Morocco can say a few sentences in two or three foreign language, regardless of their literacy level; even those who haven’t been to school – we still have them!
    The first time I heard someone speak English was when I was sixteen, first year in high school. I said “Waw!This is my favorite language; I will never stop learning it”, and it became my passion! I knew since then that I would pursue my higher education to be a university teacher. But for socio-economic reasons, I couldn’t continue my studies to get an M.A and a Phd, so I was contented with a B.A and entered the teacher training college to be a high school teacher. I have been working for twelve years now, and what a joy it is to teach English! I don’t think I would have enjoyed another job any better!
    I decided to become an EFL teacher because the first English sentence I heard had a magical effect on me!
    Cheers,
    Lahcen, Morocco

    • ZINEB EL HOR says:

      HI..I STILL REMEMBER YOUR WAY OF TEACHING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE…I STILL REMEMBER THE ADVICES THAT U GAVE ME YEARS AGO..ON ASSADAKA ALL-GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL…SO AS TO TALK ENGLISH FLUENTLY..SO AS TO HAVE A GOOD WRITING..I STILL REMEMBER EVERYTHING..BECAUSE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE BECOME MY FAVORITE LANGUAGE..THIS IS WHY..EVEN IF I AM LIVING IN ITALY …I DIDN’T FORGET IT..AND SO..I M STILL STUDYING IT..ON THE CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL OF ENGLISH..YOU SAID:I decided to become an EFL teacher because the first English sentence I heard had a magical effect on me!
      AND I JUST CAN SAY THAT YOUR WAY OF TEACHING AND ENJOYING IT HAD A MAGICAL EFFECT ON ME.I’M ZINEB EL HOR..HOPE THAT YOU REMEMBER THIS NAME.HOPE TO HEAR FROM YOU SOON.

  3. Greetings,
    I am a NNEST. Based on my experience and observations, I believe that NNESTs have reached the level of teaching ESL out of their passions to the learning and teaching of the English language and its culture. NNESTs must have started learning English at relatively early stage in their lives. Accordingly, they must have developed that passion for teaching ESL to be in the field they are passionate about in that early stage in their lives.
    I agree that for NESTs, being a TESOL instructor is almost always a profession that one comes around to later in life after having other experiences. Presumably, native English speakers’ knowledge of the English language coupled with their knowledge of other academic majors add to their credits as teachers of ESL especially to adults. Adult-ELLs to class with various needs, knowledge, skills, cultural and language backgrounds.
    Thank you.
    Abdelmonem Saad Ahmed

  4. Brock Brady Brock Brady says:

    Rajesh,
    I think the easiest way to continue to develop as English language teachers is to find a peer–a fellow teacher–which we can work with regularly to share our questions and our suggestions. Having a “second pair of eyes” on what we do always makes what we do easier for others to understand and an ongoing, supportive discussion of teaching makes everything we do more engaged–and we will be less inclined to burn out.

  5. Great suggestion, Yes passion to be teacher cant be obtained only going through the materials we know, so i too want to grow some delineation skills and hope your suggestion are very fruitful to us but we request to you how teachers of english like me and TESOL can grow paralally?
    Hope to find your cooperation in coming days too….

  6. Lbr says:

    Hi,
    I taught EFL part-time in college and decided to return to it after the economy changed. I wanted to pursue a career with a lot of flexibility, and I believe ELT offers just that. Wit the right credentials, I have the opportunity to work almost anywhere in the world, with any age group, in any setting. Moreover, I can go into administration, consulting, or publishing/editing. My ultimate dream would be to design and publish engaging and helpful curriculum.
    Having said that, both of my parents are educators and I grew up in an academic household. So while I do appreciate the multicultural environment, I also believe it’s in my blood to teach. The English language fascinates me as well. So many great works of art – whether in print or media – are composed of English. I’d like to share my knowledge with anyone who’s hungry to learn.

  7. Brock Brady Brock Brady says:

    Guliya,
    An inspiring story and just one more that shows a lot of people come to TESOL after doing many other things.
    My best wishes,

  8. Guliya Shaykhutdinova says:

    Hello everyone!
    I’m an EFL teacher at a secondary school in Salavat, Bashkortostan, Russia.
    Many years ago in the 20th century :) I graduated from the University with a red diploma. But it so happened that two years later I left my homeland (reckless youth!) and moved to another republic of the former USSR. For almost 8 years I had been working at a tractor producing plant where my job had nothing to do with English.
    The next ten years I was on a maternity leave (I have three kids). So after an 18-years break I found out that I had almost forgotten English. I was sure I’d never return to school and even tried to find a job at some plant or a factory again! I felt so desperate after failing to find it, that one day I even decided to go to a local fortune-teller!:) She told me: Return to English! Work hard! Do your best! Be the first!
    It was in 2000.
    And I followed her advice, first unwillingly, trying to find some spare minutes for the language between doing domestic chores, taking care of my little children, etc. I had to work hard to make up for the lost years (lost only professionally).
    Now ten years later I must admit I can’t stop it! I can’t stop learning! I can’t stop teaching! I adore English; I love my students and my profession. In my 50-s, being up to neck in housekeeping and upbringing three kids, I’m still eager to learn new things, to meet interesting people, to strive for excellence in teaching. My nearest dream is participation in the TESOL convention in 2012 in Dallas.
    And do you believe fortune-tellers? :)))
    Guliya Shaykhutdinova,
    “Teachers to Teachers” LTMS exchange program finalist (2007)
    National Project “Education’, “The Best Teachers of the Russian Federation” contest winner (2009)

  9. Bradytesolpe says:

    Debi,
    I taught at Postech for two years in the early nineties and my wife is from Pohang.  Where are you working?
    Brock

  10. Luri Owen says:

    Hi!
    I’m an American who swore she’d never teach anything and got a BA in English without getting a teaching certificate. A few years later, I had the opportunity to live and work in France, where I met a Moroccan who was studying the differences in the ways that mono- and bi-lingual people think. Not long after that, I saw a poster from the British Council for a certificate class for English teachers. I enrolled and enjoyed the class so much that, when I returned to the US, I went back to school to earn an MA in TESOL. I’ve been teaching since 1983, and I still love it!
    Luri Owen, ESOL Coordinator, Pine River Community Learning Center, Bayfield, Colorado

  11. Debi van Duin says:

    Hello,
    Lots of interesting stories! I love it.
    A long time ago, while I was at home with my first daughter (I have three, I discovered my neighbour had a little girl the same age as mine so we had play dates. Unfortunately she only spoke Portugese so first I had to teach them English! I did this using my daughter’s books. After a year I discovered that the mum had a PhD in Microbiology! Many years later I finally returned to school and acquired a BA and an MA and started teaching here in Canada and overseas. Now I am a University professor teaching Academic English in S. Korea and have been to Mongolia, China, Laos, and N.Korea teaching English.
    It is my dream job and all thanks to a very patient Brazilian lady who was gracious with my ignorance and thankful for my perseverence.
    Debi van Duin,
    Manitoba, Canada and Pohang, S. Korea

  12. Brock Brady Brock Brady says:

    Shakhanova,
    Thanks for sharing how you got started with English. I had suspected that pop songs in English may have created an English teacher or two, and now I know for a fact.

  13. Shakhnoza says:

    Hello!
    I am an EFL teacher at the World Languages University in Uzbekistan. And here is my story:
    When I was a teenager, I loved Michael Jackson’s songs. Couldn’t understand the lyrics, so I had a great desire to learn English. During several years I kept learning the language and understood that I know English better than anything else and wanted to teach somebody else some words of famous songs. Taught some words of the song “You are not alone” (by M.Jackson) to my cousins. They loved it. Later I did my BA and MA in Applied Linguistics and started teaching English at the university where used to study.
    Shakhnoza Abdurakhmonova,
    Uzbekistan

  14. Brock Brady Brock Brady says:

    Christel,
    I’m inspired. I often mention to student teachers that if the best way to learn something is to have to teach it, why can’t we make learning a little more like teaching?
    Also a couple of years back I had the honor to evaluate and advise a U.S. Embassy English language teaching program for Al -Ahzar University in Egypt, the oldest. and one of the largest Islamic universities on the planet. The point of learning English was for Religion and Islamic Studies majors to be able to explain Islam in English to the rest of the world as they felt it should be understood and English was the best vehicle to do that. I was very happy to see English support for that kind of communication, and it seems like your experiences have done much of the same.
    It’s a pleasure to meet you.

  15. Here is my story:
    I was a student of German as a Second Language for Turkish and Muslim Students in my home country of Germany. In order to deepen my understanding of the Koran I asked a local Imam if he would meet with me and teach me about Islam and the Koran. He agreed but asked he if I would barter English lessons for his lessons. I agreed and began teaching English to him. As always in teaching, when teaching something we become much better at it, right?
    A few years later, I received an offer from a US university to be an international graduate student with scholarship. I came to the USA, earned an MA in Literature, a teaching certificate, and later a doctorate. Today, I am a professor and director of an English Endorsement Program. What a journey!
    Christel Broady, Kentucky

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