Experiences of an English Language Teacher

My Year In Review: 2020

What a year this has been for us all! So much has happened this year and I thought would write one last blog post for 2020 and share what happened with me.

January to December 2020

The start of the year was as normal as possible. I recently returned from a family holiday to South Korea after a very busy 2019 with a new job. I started the term teaching my class of general English intermediate learners at work. I was also invited to teach a course (new for me), Intercultural Communication in the Workplace, one Friday evening a week.

This course was to last one term (January-April) and the majority of students were from South East Asia and it also reminded me of my undergraduate degree with the module Cross Cultural Communication. Nevertheless, one student was stuck in Wuhan – he had gone to visit family for Christmas but the province went into lockdown and he was unable to fly back to the UK. I kept him updated with course content and emailed him with materials and worksheets to complete on his own.

Some students from Mainland China were fortunate to return to the UK. I had one student who recently returned and within a few days she attended her class. I asked her where she returned from and she said China. I told her that she should be quarantining for two weeks as advised by the University and she said that she was not from Wuhan. After this, I decided to wear a face mask in class – I got some odd looks from students, especially those that I saw most days during the week with the general English course.

I remember finishing a class in early March and feeling very unwell: lethargic, dizzy and having a temperature. I was stuck in bed over the weekend and had never felt so unwell. By Sunday evening, I felt much better and went to work as normal on Monday morning. I will let you make your minds up whether or not this was due to the pandemic. Anyhow, I continued teaching my courses for the term.

One day in late March, the University sent out a general email to all staff to say that teaching face-to-face was to be suspended and all teaching was to be conducted remotely. It left little time for me to prepare and I was still learning the main fundamentals and experimenting with what could be replicated within an online class. I felt sorry for the students as the quality of the lesson was not as good as I wanted it to be but they were very patient.

In the new term (around April), I was expecting to teach a general English course remotely but the decision to remove this course for students was made. However, due to many English tutors having no courses to teach through no fault of their own, teachers were remunerated based on average earnings from the previous year which helped. This made me appreciate the taking the decision to move on from the precarious industry of English teaching in the UK and working for a University.

By May, there was a plan to organise an eight week online pre-sessional course over the summer months (July-August) and potential tutors were approached to see if they were comfortable teaching a course remotely. Needless to say, I was keen and quite enthusiastic. Last year, I was able to teach my first ever face-to-face pre-sessional course and I was keen to teach this intense and highly rewarding course. I was also keen to undertake some form of action research related to pre-sessional teaching and the challenges teachers faced but I had to unfortunately suspend this research.

After a few weeks reviewing this, I became aware that BALEAP TEL SIG were organising a conference in relation to remote teaching and the challenges faced by pre-sessional tutors. I realised that I could refine my action research and also have a platform to share the results of my research. I created teacher surveys/diaries for them to document their remote teaching as well as being able to reflect on their online classes. I submitted a proposal for the online conference and waited. After a few weeks hearing nothing, TEL SIG sent me an email to say my proposal was accepted.

I sought support and feedback from my course leader – he was incredibly supportive and helpful. He took time out to provide some feedback regarding my surveys. Nevertheless, out of twenty teachers being approached to volunteer their time, only four teachers responded. I obviously was a bit gutted and was hoping to have more volunteers but I reminded myself that quality rather quantity is possibly better.

I started the summer eight week online pre-sessional course and all tutors had an induction which outlined the entirety of the course, assessments, and any other information which was important. This sense of teaching was relatively new for all involved and much freedom and support was offered. Every Friday, tutors had a virtual meeting with course leaders. It was also a reminder that all tutors were part of the pre-sessional team. Before I knew it, the course ended and I was left at the end of August without knowing if I had any teaching for the start of the academic term in September.

General English courses were cancelled from September onwards and I was offered two EAP-related modules to teach. Each module was to offer two hours of teaching per week, so a possible total of four hours. Unfortunately, not many students signed up for the English for Academic Contexts module so I ended up teaching one module remotely, rather than two. This kept me busy.

In October, I had my TEL SIG Conference to deliver and I spent a few weeks looking at the results of my research. I created a PowerPoint and put things together. This was going to be the first time that I was going to give a talk for an international conference remotely with Zoom. I was scheduled to give a 30-minute talk sharing the results of my action research but the speaker who was to talk before me did not turn up. Luckily, I was able to step in and extend my talk for 60 minutes – crisis averted! A few weeks later I was asked to repeat the same talk for KOTESOL which I did.

By November, I returned to teaching online with a Chinese-based organisation which felt like demoralising as their remuneration is terrible. I also focused on developing my YouTube Channel and by November I was able to upload quite a bit of content. I also volunteered at work to help out with COVID testing so students could go back home for Christmas.

December arrived rather suddenly and the English for Academic Contexts that I was teaching finished. I finished tutorials with the only four students from the course last week and it was great to see the progress that they had been able to achieve despite the course being completely online.

After the course, I decided to get a Christmas tree with my good wife and decorate it. I also created my final YouTube video for 2020 (see below) and have decided to commit to 2 videos a week with my Channel – please Subscribe if you haven’t. The plan is to release a video on Wednesday and Saturday at 1pm (UK time) and videos will be teaching related.

And that is it. That is 2020 for me. It has been a year unlike any other and I look to the future hoping that it is going to improve but we still have a long way to go before things return to some sense of normalcy.

The New Year

For the most part of 2020, I have spent my time in my home, attempting to work in an environment that is usually the place where I switch off, spend time with my wife and son. Teaching online has created a sense of intrusion within my home environment. Therefore, I am hoping that I can return to the classroom as I miss teaching face-to-face. I am also unsure how student numbers will be in 2021 but I will think positive thoughts as I am sure things will improve.

It would be great to hear from other teachers about what they have achieved this year and where they hope to be in 2021.


  1. A busy year for you too, Martin! It sounds like you’ve been involved in some amazing courses too. Fingers crossed 2021 is calmer but with just as many opportunities. My own yearly review will be up just after Christmas but for me I think the highlight has been having the guts to branch out on my own. Being my own boss has been AWESOME!!

    • Martin Sketchley

      I look forward to reading more about becoming your own boss. One thing that I didn’t mention in my post was having one private student. It would be great to get some more and I’ve recently started preparing a Colombian student for IELTS and she approached me on Instagram of all places.

      How do you go about approaching and interesting potential students? Do you offer a trial lesson and then talk about the course? It would be interesting and invaluable to hear your process.

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