Experiences of an English Language Teacher

November Teacher Interview – Bren Brennan

It is wonderful to showcase this month’s teacher interview is with Bren Brennan.  I am hoping to develop an interview (or a day in the life of) with a teacher next month.  If there are any teachers who wish to share their experiences or contribute with an interview, please get in touch.  I am looking for less well-known teachers who have recently started their career.

Nevertheless, Bren initially trained at SGI and joined the staff in 2005. Since late 2006, he has been teaching abroad. He completed the DipTESOL with SGI in 2012. He regularly writes for students and teachers on the SGI blogs. Recently, Bren gave his first conference talk at IATEFL-Hu.

Let’s get started!

  • Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into teaching.

I got into teaching to supplement my income as a musician. I also planned to move to Spain with my girlfriend and did the Trinity Cert TESOL with SGI. I really enjoyed the course and was hired by SGI immediately on finishing and have been with them ever since in various classroom/online guises.

  • You appear to have extensive experience in ELT in various countries.  What advice would you give new EFL teachers when moving to a new country?

I taught for 3 years both in Budapest and Berlin and I’ve been in Spain for nearly a year now. 

  • Update your CV and print out several copies – email is fine for applications but it seems that walking around and appearing in a school at the right time is much more effective at securing a job.
  • Get a good map of the city – Google maps is fine, but you probably won’t have a smartphone local SIM to begin with so it will be VERY expensive to consult the internet for finding a school or in-company teaching job. Be prepared to travel around to in-company courses. However, you may be lucky and get a school where all the courses are held there.
  • Say ‘yes’ to everything to begin with: I’ve had loads of follow-on amazing things happening by taking seemingly “bad” courses (in terms of location/time/students). You also have to get your ‘foot in the door’ with schools by showing you are enthusiastic and willing!

  • You have been blogging on the SGI website.  Describe to our readers what are the benefits to blogging?

I write almost daily blogs for students www.stgeorges.co.uk/blog (an article/video/audio with some kind of vocabulary/grammar focus) which in turn results in:

You become much quicker at making lesson content.
Your lesson content becomes more varied and dynamic.
By being more internet involved/savvy, you become part of a global PLN where you can easily access myriad resources that are great for lesson resources.
You become aware of classroom technology that can spice up your lessons and motivate your students.

I also write for newbie teachers at http://www.tesoltraining.co.uk/blog/

Making lesson plans keeps me permanently searching for new ideas for classroom content, which I hope benefits my students, as I use those lesson plans for some of my classes too.  Dishing out advice on basics like error correction, grouping students etc keeps me in touch with good fundamentals.  Every article I write, be it lesson plans or whatever, is a process of reflection on teaching practices, which surely has to be a good thing in terms of self-improvement as a teacher.

  • You have been involved in writing up a blog for students.  What difficulties have you faced when developing and organising learners to read your student blog?

Making people aware of it! It’s fine getting my own students involved and they seem to genuinely enjoy the content. The problem is getting “the world” to notice!  🙂

Other teachers seem reluctant to pass on the message. I don’t know why – perhaps they just can’t be bothered to spend some extra time out of the classroom looking at my materials and maybe they think it is just something i do as a hobby. When they have used a particular blog post (e.g. How to pronounce -ed endings) after I have given them a specific recommendation due to a staffroom request, they have reported that it was great content.

I won’t lie – it’s difficult getting more viewers who don’t know me personally as a teacher.

With my own students though, they have no problem in accessing and reading blogs and then we use that knowledge in subsequent lessons. However, with commenting it’s a case of ‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” – students are quite timid with leaving comments.

  • How would you go about incorporating technology within the curriculum of an English course?

It would be very high up on the list! Unless there was a specific reason why technology must not be included (e.g. I taught several courses in Germany with pensioners that were very old-school and didn’t use email or even know what google was! Also you may be in a country where students have no access to technology) then technology should be key to your lesson content in my opinion.

I would incorporate authentic videos and audio into all parts of the syllabus/every lesson.

If in an environment of all students having access to the internet, I would also use technology heavily for homework tasks in a ‘connected classroom” manner.

Paper-based classes seem a bit old-hat to me and there are so many fantastic online tools to use and abuse, I think that a modern teacher has to be utilise new software to make lessons interesting, relevant and motivating. It’s 2013 soon – gotta be tech savvy.

  • What’s the most memorable or unexpected thing that has occurred in the classroom?

There have been many, many great moments. If I was forced to choose one, I would probably say it was the court case lesson. With a small group of 20-something Upper Int students in London, I made a lesson where all students had a role within a court case (judge, defendant, lawyers etc). They went for it like crazy! Lawyers were pacing up and down and using accusatory language (just like in the movies), defendants got agitated and defensive, the judge was pontificating. The entire class played their roles out in an incredible way and they were clearly loving it. I wish I had filmed it!

  • Please describe any future plans or aims you wish to achieve in the next twelve months.

I made my conference speaking debut at IATEFL-Hu in October. I would like to attempt more of that.  I have lots of plans to expand the learning resources on my school blogs and need to implement those – with a bit of help from some developers whose IT knowledge is greatly needed! 🙂

  • Finally, what advice would you give another teacher that has just started teaching?

Incorporate as much as you can from your initial teacher training – it’s all good stuff.
Be honest – if  a student asks a grammar question that you don’t know the answer to, say so. Say you can’t think of a good example off the top of your head and you’ll look it up and get back to them in the next lesson – and make sure you do!

Don’t overplan – tendency is to stay up all night planning lessons and worrying. Have some faith in yourself and your students. Plan a good outline but leave space within it for those magic moments in class. Don’t try to control every second of every lesson. Students need space to be able to attempt some new language – give them that time and space. You can hold a conversation, can’t you? Leave time for students to attempt normal conversation with you (however, that doesn’t mean just chat aimlessly!).

Avoid the “What did you do at the weekend?” question! As soon as you say this, the students take in dip in motivation and energy. More often than not, the students have sat in more English lessons than you have and have experienced this question from lots of “traveller teachers” who didn’t know how to teach and this was their go-to starter for aimless chatting with no relevant learner outcomes.  Put yourself in the learners’ shoes as much as possible. What is their knowledge gap that you need to help them with?

Get students to do some work! Make sure they note down all new vocab in every lesson – maybe set up monthly testing on that new vocab (if their learner style suits that). As a newbie, I started out writing down all the vocab at the end of every lesson and it took me a while to realise that I was the only one doing it! I was recycling the vocab over the next lesson/s and throughout the year, but actually it was more effective when the students wrote down the vocab themselves and started recycling it on their own. Get the students to take ownership of the language.

Enjoy it. Enjoy the cultural differences. Have a positive attitude. Millions of people sitting in offices would love to have the variety of your day, so don’t focus too much on the low pay!

Thanks so much Bren for your contribution and if any of the readers have a question towards Bren, as always please leave a comment below.

1 Comment

  1. This is great! I am definitely looking forward to reading more interviews in the future. Also, I'd be happy to be interviewed, if you'd like 🙂

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