Christopher Chandler is our new Chair of the Board – this is actually his second time as ELTABBer of the Month, but we thought it would be interesting to see what’s changed since then!
He moved here in 2011 and has been a freelance English teacher for the past seven years; although now Chair, he has also served as Treasurer and Newsletter Coordinator. In his spare time he perseveres with learning German, follows repeats of Top Of The Pops and loves any kind of deep and meaningful music (Eurovision, Schlager… you get the idea).
With all your rich teaching portfolio and years of corporate experience, how did you eventually choose Business Communication?
I was having one-to-one German lessons at a private school, and the owner asked if I would like to teach some English lessons. It all started from there. I realised that there was a new path I could travel down – if I wanted to. It was also difficult at that time to fit my experiences in the UK to Germany – I had a specialism that only worked in English speaking countries. I found that I enjoyed teaching, and I particularly liked the fact that I didn’t have to go to the same building – to sit in the same seat – in the same office – from Monday to Friday. I’ve found that I have more control over my professional destiny. For example, even in the way you teach a lesson or a training session, you can put your own spin on it. As a result, focusing on your personality and your approach makes you distinctive in the business English market.
Would you make the same choice if you had to decide in the post-corona world again?
What tips would you give to people trying to get into business-English teaching?
- Volunteer for ELTABB in some way – you will build up contacts and it will win you respect within the community. [Hey! I was promised caviar and cuban cigars! – Ed]
- Add your profile to the Teachers’ page on the ELTABB website
- Join BESIG (Business English Special Interests Group) – you will need to join IATEFL (International Association of Teaching English as a Foreign Language) first, which, as an ELTABB member, you can get a substantial discount for.
- Go to ELTABB workshops and Stammtisches – you will meet people with years of experience of working in the business English sector.
- Put together a website (I recommend using wordpress) or some kind of online presence which acts as your marketing brochure. It doesn’t have to be detailed or flashy – but it does need to be clear and straightforward.
- Realise that business English as an industry has become more diverse in terms of business culture (it’s not like an episode of The Apprentice). Don’t be afraid to add some personality or character to your online presence – a company might see you as a good fit.
- Look beyond traditional materials and build up your own – TED talks, blog/columns/opinion pieces/news items relating to industries in your city/Berlin.
- Learn to adapt/create materials – Sue Kay is giving a workshop on this soon.
- Remember to use a ‘Needs Analysis’ and return to it regularly to ensure that what you are doing is in line with what the client wants.
- Understand that there is no one formula to acquiring clients – have several irons in the fire, and keep your radar switched on at all times as work can appear from unexpected sources!
How has the focus of your BE work changed or developed over the years?
Over the years I’ve found that if you use ‘traditional’ BE materials from ‘traditional’ publishers then you have to think more carefully about how you use them. These kinds of materials are OK if you’re teaching BE on the premises of a language school or Volkshochschule, but if you’re going to the premises of a company, don’t expect them to work in the same way.
Here’s why: prior to arriving in Berlin, I had only worked at a couple of different places, but here I have been exposed to many more. What I’ve discovered is that the culture of businesses in Berlin is a diverse one – in one company, you have to dress very conservatively; in another, it’s OK to wear a T-shirt and shorts – so it’s difficult to implement ‘one size fits all’ materials in such diverse situations. Also, the level of English, particularly in start-ups, is very high and I have had to put materials together myself – there doesn’t seem to be much discourse around that.
As a consultant/project manager, you worked with local governments. Have you noticed any big differences between the public and private sector?
Well, I actually worked in Local Government before going into the private sector! Local Government was about fairness, ensuring that all services were equally available to everyone, with a great deal of compliance (ensuring that contracts were fairly tendered, for example). It was also very risk-averse. Consultancy, on the other hand, was focused on the client, much more straightforward and there was a flatter, simpler structure within the company.
The last seven years have seen a massive increase in the ‘gig economy’ – most famously through Deliveroo, Uber, etc. Do you think this has changed freelancing in the teaching world at all?
Before I answer this question, I have to firstly acknowledge what has happened to our industry in the last twelve months. For language schools who have had to pay rent or a mortgage on properties, it must have been an ‘annus horribilis’. I also have to send my sympathy out to teachers, many with years of classroom experience, who had to deal with the culture shock of immediately giving lessons online without training and sometimes being shown no grace by their students.
To come back to the question, many people come into the industry for different reasons and intentions. If you have a look at SIG (Special Interest Groups) in IATEFL, you’ll see how diverse the industry actually is – so comparing our industry with Deliveroo, Uber and so on is, in my opinion, an ‘apples and pears’ situation.
You were interviewed four years ago for ELTABBer of the Month… Are there any questions from back then you would like to revisit?
Not really. I’ve noticed, however, that I have new things to say. I definitely think that members who were interviewed three or four years ago might have something fresh to add as an update.
What exactly does a chair do?
Ask me again at the end of the first year and I will tell you! I’m still working it out.
[Helps when you’re tired of standing. – Ed.]
What role has ELTABB played in your career?
It’s played a fundamental role. The CELTA course, for me, felt like four weeks of intensity followed by being thrown out into the big wide world. ELTABB gave me a sense of community and colleagues. I actually went to my first ELTABB event halfway through my CELTA course. I would heartily recommend volunteering for ELTABB. And definitely, it’s seen as a positive thing by the wider community and that has led to career opportunities. Also, the professional development that it offers has been very beneficial to me (because a CELTA is only the beginning of your professional development).
Why did you decide to volunteer again for ELTABB?
I was approached by Sarah, the previous Chair, to come back on the Board in some way, and so…here I am. Even though I stepped down in 2018, ELTABB has evolved substantially, particularly in terms of its digital presence. For example, we have an online journal, and the Board communicates with each other now using Slack. So I was intrigued to find out what actually was happening these days.
What’s your favourite thing to do on a beautiful day in Berlin?
I enjoy discovering the different styles of architecture that exist in Berlin. I love walking along Karl-Marx-Allee. There always seems to be something new to explore – I recently went to the Mäusebunker and the Hufeisensiedlung.