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Teaching English after lockdown, exploring our options in a changing world

29th June 2020

By Sarah Taylor

A big hello to my fellow teachers across the world wherever you may be. The TEFL.com forum has certainly been a godsend to me while we have all been in lockdown and your inspiring comments and messages have kept me going in this strange and unprecedented period, as many of us were abroad and facing the strangest situation some of us may have ever encountered. I don't think any of us could have predicted the speed and intensity of what happened, and I for one was one of many who had to embrace fast and almost catastrophic changes to my life very quickly.

The Virus brought many feelings alongside the fear of the virus itself. Uncertainty; financial stress, and for many us of who are extroverts who thrive off human contact; the immensely challenging task of spending three months in our own company, sometimes in a foreign country. But, despite the absolute weirdness of the situation, as with all these things, life always goes on. It has to, such is the river of life itself, always flowing. As coffee bars start to blink open around me in my home city of York, it feels all at once strange and exciting to hear the buzz of human activity, the laughs, the shouts, the parties and conflicts musically playing out in the street. It seems almost unbelievable that one minute it was March and I had lost my TEFL job in Italy, and now it is June, and I am planning a whole new future, but a TEFL filled future none the less.

I have noticed that from many of the TEFL comments that some people have been so impacted, some even traumatised, by what has happened with the reactions to the virus, that I felt compelled to write an article to inspire others about my own journey, and hope it gives you some ideas and a sense of looking forward with your TEFL career.

For those teaching in China, the virus was very much part of life by January. Whereas for people in Europe, it was always in the background, simmering away I guess as just another news story until the immediacy boiled over the pot in March and life changed almost overnight. Some teachers, including myself, found they had immediately lost their jobs and were plunged into uncertainty. Whereas others found themselves making a full-time transition to online teaching, embracing the technology and taking to it like a duck to water, others were afraid and stressed by the technological challenges this new online classroom system brought.

Cue a very stressful 36 hour journey on one of the last Alitalia flights to the UK, I made it back to York and was lucky to find an empty air b n b for three months. Case down, door locked, and I was safe. But suddenly I had all this spare time with nothing to do, and being a 'doer' it was very intimidating, and also disorientating as my feet and senses were used to Italian streets, sounds and smells, and after six months I felt wrenched away from the place I had worked hard to settle into. Being abroad alone, though, makes you resilient, and given that one of my students owned a lemon plantation, I decided to make these corona-lemons into my own version of Tefl lemonade. Here's how.

I had a few private students who I was teaching, and they were keen to continue with their lessons, so we quickly adapted to Skype, with a pre-emailed lesson plan and my worksheets that I put together myself and really enjoyed doing so. I have always loved teaching business English, and suddenly, with all this time to spare, I found myself putting together my own syllabus, comprised of TED talks, worksheets, news articles and grammar worksheets which seemed to organically  come together, and before I knew it I had whole course plans. I decided to start my own group course, a volunteer class initially, and it proved to be popular and introduced me to Zoom which I found good for small groups. Before I knew it I had two afternoons of work, and the rest of the time, I poured into my writing which was the whole purpose of my gap year TEFLing in Italy. 

I'm 40 years old and I often get grilled, criticised, scorned - you name it - for taking these years away abroad. I guess some people are so bound to convention that they cannot understand the nature of a true free spirit. Nor see that often one year abroad can be such an education for the soul that it gives you ten years of experience in just one year - far more than ten years sat doing the same thing in an office. This time away from a hectic teaching schedule gave me time to consider why I went abroad, alongside several mental health podcasts, and it gave me time to realise that it really was the right decision for me, my personality type and my enjoyment of life. Even with the dramatic end of my job and the Covid situation, all it did was reinforce my view that life is indeed short, and we should do what we love, while we can. I missed my classes; my students and my teaching schedule; and the feeling that I was helping people, and it reinforced that all I want to do for the rest of my career is TEFL. There are so many opportunities with this career. For me the next step is the DELTA and polishing my grammar skills to perfection. Another friend in China said the same and that she had booked her second year out there, finding her 'shape 'and her destiny. Whereas another was tired of the short contracts and instability of some TEFL jobs and she hot footed back to the UK and her little cottage to continue with her PGCE. That's another great positive of this Covid situation, that it has given us the time to find the clarity of what we really want. There are just so many literal destinations, and career paths you can reach and take with TEFL.

The weeks seemed to fly by, as I imagine they did for everyone in this seeming eternal silence, but somehow I managed to turn all this into self-discipline. Reading and listening to podcasts in the morning; doing some mental health meditations; and then the teaching which was such a lifeline to the outside world, and a connection to my treasured life in Italy. My love for teaching has not diminished, but I have loved the time to connect with my core and learn to love myself in this solitude and silence, which can only be a good thing for when life brings up further problems and challenges. And finally, the light switched on one day - the freedom from having a DOS and the restrictions of working for one school was what I wanted. I have been teaching for 7 years now in various countries and environments, and have enough experience to be my own DOS, plus the humility to ask for help should I need it. I love teaching Business English, so now would be the perfect time to start my own school, online at first, given that my own lessons had been so successful on skype.  It would be a lot of hard work, for sure, but teaching online has given me a freedom that I never experienced with work before. To be able to go where I wanted, doing what I loved and making a difference. Perfect! I was ready!

Knowing what you want is your first step, then comes the next exciting stage of making it happen, which is what is happening now. Thank you Covid, for your bitter, bitter lemon has now become a beautiful lemon tree that is only going to bear fruit in the future.

Sarah Taylor

Sarah is a freelance writer and teacher. She also has a huge passion for the ocean and runs her own plastic free charity which she started in her home city of York, England. She is currently working on her first book.

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