From the MA TESOL to elementary school teaching, via Hong Kong by Naomi Davies

I completed my BA in English Language and English Literature at Swansea University and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, so continuing my studies here was an obvious choice. I was a grateful recipient of Swansea University’s Centenary Scholarships, and I had started to develop a passion for teaching through the TEFL modules in my undergraduate degree, so I chose the MA TESOL. I knew I wanted to follow the teaching route, as opposed to the research-based route, so I chose the MA Portfolio Track, which allowed me to gain some practical experience in teaching.

The modules of the MA TESOL were useful, interesting, and provided lots of theoretical background to current pedagogy. The ‘Grammatical Analysis’ module was particularly useful in consolidating my grammatical knowledge. It was a difficult module that requires hard work and determination, but it is definitely worth it when you realise how crucial it was to improving my grammatical knowledge, and this is something I can now carry with me through life (although my corrections of grammatical accuracy are not always appreciated by my family and friends).

Another useful module was ‘Classroom Teaching Practice’. This provided me with my first real experience of teaching. This may seem daunting, but we were put into a small teaching team consisting of three teachers. This made the lessons more manageable, and also required communication skills which are, of course, invaluable. Each week, my team and I taught a group of adult students who needed to learn English for their everyday lives and to find a job in Swansea. Every other week we would switch between two classes: a Lower Intermediate class and an Upper Intermediate class. Our tutors would sit at the back of the classroom, observing our lessons in order to provide assistance where needed and to take notes on what went well and what could be improved in future lessons.  This, along with the support of my classmates and my teaching team, aided in developing my confidence. 

All lecturers on the MA TESOL were friendly and approachable, and always willing to provide advice and guidance. Dr Barbieri was particularly helpful, and she encouraged me to start thinking about my next step in life early on in the course. At first, this filled me with worry and anxiety, but I followed her advice and started to consider my options immediately. I believe this advice helped me to secure my first teaching job. I started applying for teaching positions in language schools in Hong Kong while completing my degree. With a job offer in hand, I moved to Hong Kong and I embarked on my journey as an ESL Teacher. I taught English in a language school focusing on children. Most children already spoke Cantonese and Mandarin and were learning English as their third language. The first few days in my new role were nerve-racking. Would I be a good teacher? Would the children like me? I needn’t have worried. With the help of the managers, and with my background knowledge from the MA TESOL course, it was manageable. I quickly found who I was as a teacher and I adopted a fun and engaging learning environment which my students enjoyed.

I instantly realized that I had chosen the right career for me. I started with some training from the managers combined with observations of a variety of experienced teachers. I then spent a few days teaching with a manager in the classroom with me, ready to provide me with assistance. My students ranged in age from three to twelve years old, and all of these ages were a delight to teach. The classes consisted of only four students, grouped according to their English level. This made teaching for the first time very enjoyable and easy to manage. I fell in love with teaching and was eager to learn more. I attended staff workshops and meetings to enhance my knowledge of particular areas, such as phonics and reading activities. I quickly got to know my students and I used this to tailor the activities, where possible, to suit their needs. I also used this to decorate my classroom with engaging and personalized displays for the children. We were required to plan our lessons in 12-week blocks. The curriculum was not particularly rigid, so we had to plan in a three or four week project, phonics lessons, grammar lessons, a cooking lesson and an outing. The MA TESOL had provided me with sound knowledge of English grammar through the Grammatical Analysis module, so I had no problems with tackling the breakdown of grammatical structures for the children. 

During my time in Hong Kong, I also designed my own teaching materials. The MA TESOL portfolio and the ‘Young Language Learners’ module had already provided me with great insights into the adaptation and development of teaching materials. The ‘Young Language Learners’ module required me to evaluate EFL coursebooks and the ‘Materials’ section of the portfolio required me to understand the evaluation, adaptation, and supplementation of materials, as well as delving into the relevance of authentic materials. Thanks to my pre-existing knowledge, my manager at the school was happy with my creation of new materials and asked me to design Easter-themed lessons for two levels, as well as a summer course. The school offers a variety of summer courses on different themes or skills, for example, speaking, grammar, cooking. My instructions were to design a seven-week, Olympics-themed cooking course, whilst also targeting English skills. I completed the course before the end of my contract and the managers were grateful for my work on this course. During the course of the MA, I had already learnt about lesson planning, materials design and approaches to teaching, but my first teaching job really consolidated all of this for me with more of a practical experience. 

Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the company required an immediate shift to online lessons. This transition was difficult as I suddenly found myself without materials or lesson plans. However, the teachers at the school set up a Facebook group for us to share ideas and useful resources, which helped ease the transition into this new teaching environment. I did however miss the interactive aspect of being in the classroom. The online lessons were taught one-to-one, which made personalisation of the content easier, but also more difficult to engage the students. Additionally, I was also teaching students from another language centre. This resulted in very long days, as I would often teach eight to ten lessons per day. Despite some challenges in the transition, within a few short weeks, I found my feet and the lessons improved at a steady pace. After completing over 200 online lessons, I am now confident in my online teaching ability and I can appreciate that this has just provided me with a wider experience of different teaching modes. 

Overall, the MA TESOL prepared me well for my journey as an English teacher. I would highly recommend this course, as well as Swansea University: throughout my four years at Swansea, I have felt supported and inspired. Thanks to supportive lecturers and the thought-provoking modules, I feel I couldn’t have chosen a better pathway into my career as a teacher. Now that I am back from Hong Kong, I have been accepted on a PGCE course at Sheffield Hallam University. The MA TESOL and my teaching experience in Hong Kong have prepared me for this next chapter of my life, which will hopefully lead me to my dream job as a primary school teacher.