Originally from Cyprus, Harris has been around the block both geographically and professionally. He recently found his home in Berlin – and, luckily, it came with a full-time job as a school teacher at a private secondary school! But of course, Harris has more than one interesting story to share…
- What brought you to Berlin, and how long have you been here?
I landed in Berlin on a January morning from Moscow, where I was teaching English at the time. The temperature was a balmy (for January) 9 degrees, and in comparison to a Russian winter it felt like Hawaii. I enjoyed Moscow and teaching at language schools there was a nice experience, but somehow I felt ripe for a change. When I found out that Berlin public schools were desperately looking for teachers, my decision was made.
- Can you tell us a little bit about what it‘s like to teach English in Cyprus? It’s famously split between Turkey and Greece. Did this influence your work?
Actually Cyprus is an independent country in the EU, but the sheer number of Greek or Turkish flags that confront visiting tourists often gives another impression. Luckily, we have English so we can all speak to each other! English has a special place in Cyprus. We were a British colony until 1960, and even now most kids from the age of 9 or so have private English lessons after school, since parents see speaking good English as a big part of having a good education. Some even see the introduction of English as a third official language as a way to solve the famously intractable Cyprus problem, but that’s a different story…
- Most people try to leave *to* the sunny Mediterranean… Why is the reverse true for you?
As a kid I never minded the heat, but at some point in my life I started to truly panic whenever the temperature climbed above 30 degrees. So apart from the fun Berlin vibes, I find that the climate here really agrees with me.
- How did you find ELTABB, and what are you hoping to get out of your membership?
Someone had mentioned ELTABB when I was looking for a job, and then I got more information at your desk during the Expolingua fair at Tegeler See. I’m hoping to meet more people working in the field, and especially other teachers working in secondary education so we can exchange views and experiences.
- You are training to become a teacher at a private secondary school, which means you‘ve signed up for the notoriously challenging staatsexamen! What‘s your experience been like so far?
I’m just at the beginning of this journey, but I’ve already experienced a few of the famous observation sessions, when someone from the university or the Education Department comes to watch your lesson. In the dreaded feedback sessions after, they ask you an innocent-sounding question, e.g. ‘Now, please tell me why you chose to do that after … ‘, and you instantly know you’ve done something terribly wrong! I was lucky though to have nice colleagues who gave me tips on how to survive these observations.
- Teaching children can be difficult (adults pay to attend lessons, children often have no choice)! How do you deal with uninterested or rowdy kids?
The 64,000 Dollar question! It seems that I have more patience than I’d ever imagined (this can be good and bad), but also I learned a few very useful lessons during my time working at language schools in Russia, where I had endless classes with kids starting from four-year-olds! One such lesson was to alternate activities: short, fun bursts of activity followed by more low-key tasks like writing. I found that this also works with older students.
- Teaching kids is also said to be rewarding’ – what has been your most rewarding moment, and was it when teaching kids?
There hasn’t been a single huge rewarding moment, but the odd lessons that worked in exactly the way I’d planned, and in which the students were engaged and contributed to discussions, are definitely rewarding. And although teenagers can often seem jaded, at other times they have a fresh, honest outlook that more than makes up for the former.
- Does working in a religious school influence the language teaching at all?
I would say not at all. Students have their religious studies classes, or philosophy of religion classes when they get older, but English lessons are completely secular. We often deal with material and topics that shock even teenagers!
- Have you always been an English teacher? If not, what did you do before, and how did you get into ELT?
I seem to have taken the opposite path from that of many EFL teachers, who after travelling the world teaching English for a few years turn to other careers such as IT. I started out as a programmer, and then I had a small transitory period working at Nicosia’s English bookstore before becoming more interested in languages and linguistics and becoming an English teacher.
- What dark secrets of TESOL do you get let into once you reach MA level?
The dark secret I learned in my MA TESOL is that there are no hard and fast rules in EFL. Anything may or may not work, depending on many different factors (students, setting, teacher), and often studies give contradictory results. Sorry!
- What‘s your favourite thing to do on a beautiful day in Berlin?
I enjoy going on runs along the river, and now that it’s finally spring I’m looking forward to exploring the countryside and the lakes around Berlin on my bike.