Jennifer was born in California and grew up in New York. Her teaching career started when she first arrived in Hamburg, Germany back in 1986, where she taught English in small private schools. In 1988, she returned to New York, where she also taught English and did some teacher training. She moved back to Germany in 1990, this time to Berlin, and after a few years of working with children and in the Volkshochschule, she began working as a teacher of business English at various accounting firms and then as a teacher of technical English at Siemens. She then moved to York, England, where she worked briefly as a teacher, mostly for managers and other business people, before returning to Berlin to continue working at various accounting firms. More recently (starting in 2016) she began working at universities and “Hochschulen” as a teacher in academic and media English for both university students and administrators. In her free time she likes to try her hand at creative writing, acting and herbalism.
- When did you join ELTABB and what role has it played in your career?
I joined pretty much at its inception. Kristi Decke wanted to set up an association similar to ones that already existed in other German cities and either she or someone working with her told me first about her plan and then about its actual implementation. I think shortly after that I came along to one of the meetings. So many enthusiastic teachers and their different sources of work made it a fun and fruitful organization to join.
- How and why did you get into teaching?
I wanted to be a teacher already at a very young age but was discouraged by other family members both subtly and outright. My grandmother, for example, lamented to me that we already had “too many teachers in our family.”
Directly after college I worked as a researcher at a Japanese bank in New York, but the lifestyle didn’t suit me and it wasn’t long after that I took off for Europe. One of the few jobs available to ex-pats with only a BA at that time was teaching English. From the start I enjoyed the challenge and the contact with people.
- You’ve been teaching English a long time, and in many different contexts. How have you adapted your teaching methods over the years?
When I first start working in a new context, whether business, technology or in academics, I do my best to understand the participants’ work/study and use a great deal of the prep and teaching time getting to know the industry as well as I can, not only so that I can correctly teach the vocabulary, but also so that I have a good idea about how the participants will be using the English, whether in presenting, telephoning, writing reports, etc.
- Do you incorporate intercultural competence into your classes at university?
Not only at the university. I would say it’s unavoidable in all types of English teaching. Once students have a better grasp of why we use certain formulations in English in one context or another, students will not only be more willing to take these (otherwise foreign-seeming) expressions on board, but are also more likely to remember them when needed.
- How have your found the transition from business English to EAP? Which do you prefer? How do they complement each other?
I’ve found the transition to EAP exciting. Just to clarify, I continue to teach business English while working in EAP as well. Since I have somewhat of an academic background in terms of my family origin, it was not too difficult a transition.
Where I’ve found overlap is that participants in both areas tend to be very motivated especially in learning the area-specific language. As far as context, the overlap can be found in the training needed for participating in conferences, giving presentations, and writing emails.
- What advice would you give a teacher who is about to start giving classes at a university?
As a beginner teacher, make connections as soon as you can with some of your colleagues; they may be able to give you tips not only on preparing for your classes, but also on what you need to know about the administration, the students, etc. This can be especially useful in large universities, which can at first seem overwhelming.
Otherwise, find out as much as you can about the subjects the students are learning. Let them know that you are curious about their area(s) of study and they will likely be very willing to share and inform. If possible, make this a part of the first few lessons (and beyond).
- I’m curious if you’ve been able to connect your personal interest in creative writing with your work teaching EAP – are there any specific ways that you’ve incorporated it into academic classrooms?
That’s a good question and one that I’ve wondered about myself. I think in some cases my enthusiasm for (good) writing has made me motivated to find ways to convey to students how to improve their writing and how to have fun with their writing assignments as well. This has motivated me to take some online university classes in teaching writing, which I hope will help me to be able to do this more competently.
- How did teaching children compare with teaching technical English at Siemens? How did you adapt?
It wasn’t too hard to adapt, since I was teaching adults simultaneously while teaching children. I make it a point whether working with children or adults to find the fun in what we’re doing, at least to whatever extent it’s possible. Whether young or old, people (mostly) enjoy games, so, when appropriate, I incorporate them into my classes.
- What’s your favourite thing to do in the classroom?
I think that always changes. I enjoy the classes most of all in which everyone, including myself, is engaged and comes away with the feeling that they’ve learned something useful. At the moment, my favorite classroom activities are teaching grammar and holding (successful) classroom discussions.
- How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
Since I enjoy teaching and my schedule isn’t too heavy, I don’t have too much trouble maintaining a good work-life balance. I do sometimes get very busy with work but those times are temporary and afterwards I make sure to devote more time to family, friends and hobbies again.
Edited by Eleanor Johnston