Before I became a teacher

Tyson Seburn recently tweet-asked followers about their degrees prior to working in ELT. After seeing such varied responses, I feel quite embarrassed to admit that I know very little about anything other than the English language ☹. Not even much about that either! You certainly wouldn’t think it given my writing style or SPaG!

My BA was in English Language and Communication. Most of my tutors were/had been involved in ELT in some way/shape/form so I guess I was bound to fall into it. The foundation year of the course had modules on SLA, psycholing and sociolinguistics. The other two years were quite TEFLy, courses on grammar, lexis, phonology, and a CELTA equivalent. There were also courses on ‘the bigger picture’ as such – things like language policy and planning, language and culture, etc. Plus, we had to pass a language to intermediate level. Mine was Spanish (you’d be surprised if you heard me speak it now, seriously). My dissertation was on language learning strategies (metacognitive strategies mainly).

It was a really good course, and it certainly set me on the path to become a TEFLer. Some of our lecturers were really inspiring. Tricia Hedge (who wrote a Harmer+1 ‘intro to teaching’ book) tutored us for the practicum. She was awesome and I learnt loads from her. Jenny Jenkins (Lingua Franca Core?) taught phonology and World English(es), Constant Leung (EAL, Bell) did the policy and planning module. Those might just be random names to some people, but I realise now that a) they really were specialists in those areas, b) they’ve all had an impact on what I’ve done since!

That said, I think I read too much too soon related to ELT, before I had any first-hand experience. I think about some of the key texts and how little I must have grasped. Urgh. I remember reading Phillipson’s Linguistic Imperialism early on in Year 1. I doubt I understood much of that as a 19-year-old, I struggled with it a few years back during my MA! Language Policy was a fairly distant topic for me at the time, and I wasn’t that worldly. I should have taken much more from that degree, but then I wasn’t ready to, so…

The topics that most interested me during my undergrad were psycholinguistics and language acquisition. I studied an MSc in Reading, Language and Cognition straight after my BA.

Again, I was lucky as I had some awesome tutors, and the topics seem more relevant to me now than they did back then. Two of the tutors were Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch who taught us quite a bit about memory, especially their proposed model of working memory (seems to come up a lot in my reading these days!). We had some combined lectures with students doing Cognitive Neuroscience, Forensic Psychology, and the PhD candidates, which was pretty cool!

I enjoyed getting down into stats and methods during the MSc. My dissertation was on an alternative to eye-tracking techniques for analysing word recognition, if you’re into that sort of stuff (pfff)…

Did my MSc benefit me in any way as a teacher? Hmmm, well it certainly prompted more of an interest in research which in turn influences practice. Plus, it encouraged me to be more critical and to scrutinise research/methods used, although I don’t always do that well! I learnt a bit about the limitations of certain studies – ecological validity and all that. It was certainly useful, but I gained more from the NILE MA that I did while teaching. Older, wiser, directly relevant, etc.

That MSc was probably my biggest tangent from ELT to date. Well, apart from my time as a bookmaker. Mind you, language learning often seems like a game of chance to me at times! You won’t learn much with me as your teacher, that’s a safe bet!

I’ve been privileged when it comes to education, and perhaps guilty of not making the most of the chances I’ve been afforded. On paper though, it seems I was quite likely to end up in ELT. Bit of a one-trick pony, hey!

Photo by Alex Motoc on Unsplash

Categories: General, reflections

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10 replies

  1. Totally different to mine! Physiology, transfer to Communication Studies, then as the course split ‘specialised’ in Film & Media Studies (scare quotes because BA). Very cool, very fun, taught me how to write and think critically.

    Taught for about ten years without reading anything of substance about teaching. Blogs were not popular and most internet content was ‘here’s a lesson idea’. Had little idea of how useful an MA TESOL would be until I did.

    Anyway, funny old world. Dead jealous of you getting those teachers. Probably Baddeley and Hitch most of all!



    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha, I’d have love to do Film and Media! And Physiology for that matter. Well jell.

      You’d have made more of the Baddeley and Hitch sitch I think. They did an excellent module in which we had to argue in favour of any construct/theory/paradigm/method etc in contemporary psychology. First an essay, then sitting down with one of them one-to-one for an hour and arguing the toss.

      I literally had that opportunity to grill Graham Hitch on anything related to that WM model. Wasn’t my bag at the time though.

      We could choose anything, so I defended the value of phenomenological method in psychology. So geeky and v niche. What a missed opportunity!


      • Ooh, that does sound brilliant. Well, I say that I studied film. I think the main thing I studied was how many pints I could drink between lecture and seminar and still be coherent. Wasted my time, but you live and learn.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Probably not worth any embarrassment as all of us may feel that way about not having ELT as scholarly background too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh how I wish I had a professional background in teaching! I’ve got an MSc in environmental engineering. I got to work in my field for some time but I felt like I’m losing my life dealing with toxic people…

    I got into ESL when I moved to Spain and fell in love with it. I got my CELTA 1.5 years later and I’m thinking of getting a master in teaching English as a second language.

    I don’t regret having my scientific background. I can read and help my students with any scientific article they need, I can share my professional experience and also show them that sometimes we really think that we want to do something and life takes us by surprise and changes everything!

    Liked by 2 people


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