Originally from Yorkshire, Mark travelled for a period before moving to Bavaria, where he lived for many years. He enjoyed the better summers and the wonderful outdoor life there, and the freedom of simply being in a foreign country.
After spending many years back in the UK, the double trouble of Brexit and Covid led him to pursue his 30-year old dream of moving to Berlin, which he managed to do in August 2020.
When did you first discover ELT as a career?
It was back in 1991. I had just come back from spending several months in Germany and I was looking at a way to go back there in a working capacity. One of my best friends had done a TEFL course in London the year before and had moved out to Italy. TEFL seemed like an ideal way to go abroad and work and I’ve never looked back.
Back then, there was no internet, so you had to use other means. I sent my CV to a whole bunch of schools in Berlin and took a week off work to fly over here. Unfortunately, that wasn’t successful. Then I saw an ad in the Guardian and had an interview up in Birmingham. That resulted in my first job in Augsburg
Why did you originally settle down in Germany – and where had you travelled before then?
Back in 1989 and 1990, I was really inspired by the changes in Central and Eastern Europe; it was fascinating and full of the optimism of a new dawn. Hence, I went travelling throughout the region. Germany occupied a unique position, as the country which spanned the old divide. Also, by chance, I met a German guy in London whose family helped me get my first job here and put me up for several months. That bit was pure chance. Ideally, I wanted to be in Berlin, but as I mentioned above, that didn’t work out on the job front.
Can you tell us something about your teaching experience in Bavaria and Yorkshire? Any similarities / differences?
I’d say there were very few similarities. In Bavaria, I was teaching purely Germans, and mainly business people. I was young when I started and most of the students were older than me. Teaching often meant driving out to companies and teaching groups of colleagues business English or teaching senior professionals on a one-to-one basis; I would say that in this time I also learnt a lot about the world of business.
Teaching back in Yorkshire was a whole different kettle of fish. First of all, the students came from all over the world, but mainly from the Arab world, the Far East and short-term students from Europe. They could not have been more different than the homogeneous groups (and one-to-one’s) in Germany. They were a lot younger than me (by this time I was in my forties) and were mainly interested in going to university in the UK, so a lot of the teaching was IELTS preparation. It was also a fascinating insight into other cultures and nationalities.
… And Berlin? I hear it’s very different to Bavaria!
I think you could hardly choose two parts of Germany that were more different. What I found in Bavaria was a wealthy area with beautiful scenery and a wonderful outdoor life of bike rides and beer gardens. Berlin, in contrast, has a real edge. It’s a huge of mix of the historical East and West; of rich and poor; and of many different nationalities. Plus it has the most fascinating 20th century history. It is not a comfortable or pretty place to live like Bavaria, but a place which continuously challenges and stimulates.
What was it like moving to Europe in the midst of Brexit? Did you encounter any difficulties?
Moving from the UK to Berlin in 2020, I felt I was caught in a Brexit/Covid sandwich. Brexit provided a deadline: move here before the end of 2020 and you can stay, so that’s what I did. But of course, it meant researching the situation before I came to check what my rights were. Once here, the bureaucratic challenges which I faced were mainly simply German, and not specifically related to Brexit, although I had to apply for my new residence document in the first half of last year.
Covid has presented by far the greater challenge. First of all, the borders were not even opened until July 2020 (I eventually moved here in August). Also, I still haven’t been back to England since I came; it wasn’t even possible at Christmas 2020 or Easter 2021 and I cancelled my trip at Christmas 2021 after the German government imposed quarantine on anybody coming in from the UK. The other problem with Covid has been that I know almost none of my teaching colleagues, as the majority of teaching has been online since I came.
I know that you teach both online and in person. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
At the moment I’m pleased to have a mix of online and face-to-face classes. Online classes are just so convenient and save you so much time on travel (of benefit to both teachers and students). But it’s not good for me to spend the whole day stuck in my flat. So I really look forward to getting out and travelling to my face-to-face lessons; and as I use the bike to get around, it even doubles up as my sport for the day! I don’t know how I would cope if I had to travel to all my lessons; I don’t think I could make it work here, as I’d be spending as much time travelling as teaching, and most of the time the travel is not paid.
How would you describe your own personal style of, and approach to, teaching?
That’s a good question. At the moment I have a lot of one-to-one lessons and my approach there is involve the student as much as possible in determining the content of the course. In group lessons I like to build up a rapport within the class. I think this is especially important in online teaching. Hence I like to let the class flow and encourage conversation as much as possible. In my experience, at the end of the day, speaking is what most of my students here need to be able to do and to improve. When I was teaching groups of full-time students in England who were focused on the taking the IELTS exam, the situation was very different. We had to follow a strict syllabus and then prepare for the exam.
Have you been to any ELTABB events? Can you tell our readers about one?
I’ve been to a couple of the beer garden meet-ups. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many of these because of Covid, but it was great to meet some fellow Teflers and I did make a new friend there. Hopefully, in spring these will start up again. I’m afraid I haven’t been to any of the ELTABB training workshops or webinars yet.
As our final ELTABBer of 2021… What’s your last word on this year? And what’s your first word on the next?
My three words for 2021 would be: Covid, lockdown, challenging. I’m sure most people would agree. Thank goodness for online platforms like zoom; otherwise, I would have lost my livelihood.
Perhaps my feelings for 2022 would be: It can only get better! I am looking forward to life returning to more of a sense of normality, to taking advantage of this wonderful city, and to making new friends.