We’re revisiting a past ELTABBer-of-the-Month for August/September. Hailing from Alabama, USA, and having taught English for a range of purposes across the world, Sarah has more to stories to tell! Since her first interview, Sarah has been ELTABB chair, worked with the Berlin Zoo and weathered the worldwide changes that corona has inflicted upon us all. You can read her previous interview here. – Ed.
Contact: – firstname.lastname@example.org
You already have 13 years of English teaching experience. We must have dragged you into the cult young. What was your path in, and what inspired you?
Hahahaha luckily I wasn’t dragged in kicking and screaming but quite the opposite. While I was studying abroad in Argentina and after taking months of Spanish lessons, the language school I was attending needed a teacher last minute. They asked me and I had my first 1 on 1 Business English lesson a day later! That continued for a couple months and I enjoyed it so much I found my calling then and there. The rest is history, so to say.
You’ve taught in the USA, in Argentina and now in Germany. What have been the differences – or have there been any surprising similarities?
What I’ve seen everywhere is insecurity. Everyone is scared to make a mistake, scared to try. So building rapport and a safe space to experiment became my goal in any class. The main difference is the punctuality of the participants, above average in Germany!
On this note, Alabama has a reputation for being conservative… Berlin, not so much. Was there any kind of a culture shock?
Alabama conservative?! You don’t say! I had been running away from Alabama since I was 18 so the open mindedness and tolerance of Berlin has been a kind of refuge.
On that note, English for Special Purposes has a reputation for being conservative… English for General Purposes*, not so much. Was there any kind of a culture shock?
As a freelancer, how has the coronavirus affected your teaching practice? What changes have you made to keep yourself afloat?
Moved everyone that was willing online. It’s opening up opportunities with clients I would have not been able to travel too. However, I did lose a handful of clients due to the pandemic [They stopped taking lessons, that’s all!!! – Ed.] . Lots of change at the moment!
[*Or ”TENOR- the teaching of English for No Obvious Reason” – I love this name! – Ed.
Source: 4. ESP vs EGP Teacher Article after revision 13-12-14.pdf ]
Surprisingly for me not much has changed! I don’t have any groups at the moment so I’m so grateful that one-on-ones are very easily doable online. I admire all the teachers that have been adapting and juggling groups and technologies!
You’ve taught English to zoo employees – is there any interesting zoo-specific language you had to teach? Or general zoo anecdotes?
Anytime I tell someone I teach English at the zoo, there is first a perplexed look on their face as they try to figure out who I teach and the animals first come to their minds. Zoo keepers are nice people! Best moments have been when I’ve taught behind the scenes, seeing some gentle animals up close and personal. One group of students took me to feed the llamas on my birthday!
You love cinema and classic films – do you use this love of cinema in your professional world?
Yes, I do love film and classic films! One of my long term clients is a German TV film producer and there my knowledge comes in handy. I do need to use more in lessons though. I’d be happy to receive any messages with ways you other trainers use movies/scripts/plots in the classroom.
What are the top three things that you learned being the ELTABB chair that have made you a better teacher/person? [Or worse teacher/person? – Ed.’s misanthropic side]
So many leadership soft skills: communication in a team, listening, asking, following up, checking in… and mainly DELEGATING! Can’t do much completely alone in life.
And how to plan a killer party. (25th anniversary at the aquarium.
I’ve seen you wear some bright clothes and bright hairstyles. Do you ever feel the need to ‘tone it down’ for classes?
Good eye! Yes, I love bright colors and haven’t ever really felt a need to tone down. However, the pandemic did set me free with my hair and knowing I wasn’t going to walk into any meeting rooms I’ve been purple and blue on top this year.
ELTABB is entirely run by volunteers – and board members are often busy teachers as well! Why should an ELTABB member serve on the Board? Why would you recommend it?
Great question! Especially right after joining, volunteering helped me meet other teachers and not feel alone in the freelancing world. I started on the events team, was on the board and most recently was chair. Eltabb’s helped my career life in Berlin in so many ways that it felt great to give back. I’d recommend to especially new members to get involved in any way that attracts you.
[Any promised champagne and caviar is a LIE. Any help and comeraderie isn’t. – Ed.]