October Teacher Interview: Kieran Baker

Enjoying a well-deserved beer.
Enjoying a well-deserved beer.

Kieran Baker has a BA Hons in Primary Teaching from the University of the West England, Bristol, and an A in his CELTA. He spends much of his time wandering around Cantabria looking lost and dreaming about vintage motorcycles. His mother would say he has far too many tattoos. He is currently starting his second year of teaching (both adults and children) at Hello Cantabria in Solares, Spain.

1.    Could you please let our readers know how you got into teaching?

Jings! I became interested in teaching after considering careers as a florist, a fireman, an actor, a video editor – all sorts of ideas came out of the brainstorm. I’d worked with young people before – mainly in drama activities – and enrolled at UWE Bristol to study a BA Honours in Primary Teaching. Before heading off to University, I went to a children’s summer camp in Perm, Russia (being slightly fascinated by Russian culture, at the time) and enjoyed a truly life changing experience.

Towards the end of my 3-year degree I was truly spent –with the changing face of primary education, forefronted by Mr Michael Gove in all his infinite wisdom, and having had a miserable final placement, I decided not to head into my NQT year and take a different route.

Having worked as an activity leader at LTC Eastbourne during my summers home from Bristol, I enrolled in a CELTA course. A hell of a month, and due to hard work, buckets of coffee and deciding that sleep isn’t REALLY necessary, I ended up with an A, and the next thing I knew, I was walking off the ferry in Santander, ready for my first year of teaching.

2.    What advice would you give those that are wishing to go teaching in Spain?

Firstly, learn Spanish – at least the basics. I very quickly realised that whilst the language business is booming in Spain, your day-to-day life will be far easier if you have a working knowledge of Castilian. Expanding your vocabulary is easy enough out here, but knowing how to ask, request, enquire, respond and comment will make you a far more popular man than I – who moved out here naively with only a few words.

Secondly, get a job in a good school or academy. You hear terrible stories about companies here mistreating their employees. Apply to multiple places, make sure you really like them, and speak to your future employers. If you’re after job security and it’s your first teaching job, go with a big company, IH or similar. My personality doesn’t necessarily suit that so much (at the moment) so I went small and am still happy to be here.

3.    What ELT-related opportunities are available in Spain?

Oh, there are loads. Apart from the private academies (of which there must be thousands), there are multiple other needs – translation, examiners. I ended up teaching a course on CVs in English in Castro-Urdiales last year. Poke your head around and you can find different opportunities. Last year, I ended up getting some concert tickets in exchange for a telephone class – all sorts of surprises can turn up.

4.    Could you tell us of a memorable lesson?

I’ve had many memorable experiences in my brief time teaching. I’ve taught in a gym, using a sports massage table as a desk. I’ve helped Turkish students learn how to play pool, indulged many a class in an idiom or two, eaten raw potato during a taste testing competition in a student pub night, had a one-to-one lesson where we spoke for an hour and a half about motorbikes, and I’ve experienced countless moments where I smile to myself as a three year old repeats a piece of vocabulary correctly or an adult student uses a tense correctly. Things get lost in the hustle and bustle of the weeks and months but I have to say that two of the perks of the job are the good times and the bugger ups.

5.    I can’t believe it is almost the end of another year.  Looking back over the year, what ELT-related things have stood out and why?

I’m afraid I’m not the most up to date on the goings on in education, or in ELT. One of the things that is perhaps becoming more and more important is the need for teachers to be aware of the uses technology in the classroom. The days of textbooks and blackboards are quite possibly numbered and tech will slowly but surely begin to become incorporated into lessons by teachers.

6.    How would you describe your ideal teacher?

Interested and interesting. A listener and a speaker. Understanding of mistakes and understanding of student’s lives and what’s going on with them. Willing to change things if they aren’t going well – staying flexible and realising when a lesson isn’t going to plan, and then swapping things round to see what will work. A results maker and an inspiration instigator.

7.    What do you believe is important when learning a foreign language?

Real life situations. Using texts that are realistic, audio recordings that contain a range of accents and speakers. Not teaching unnecessary topics or ideas. Relating classes to the learner and responding to what they want. And time. Take your time – both as a teacher and a learner. Learning a language cannot happen overnight.

8.    What is your opinion of the use of technology in the classroom?

Haha, I should have read all the questions first! Let me expand upon my earlier points. I like technology – I believe it has a really important place in the classroom. IWBs, projectors, tablets, online courses, interactive software – I think these can all be great tools for a teacher, and that is how they should be seen: as tools, not as essentials. If a lesson benefits from the use of technology, great. If not, don’t use it! It’s far simpler to write on a normal whiteboard than have to configure your IWB every time you wish to add a new piece of vocabulary. And that is where I believe the flaws lie – technology makes simple things complex, and when things go wrong, you always have to have a backup. With technology you need a Plan A and B every time – in a non-tech lesson, you need an idea of the second one but it’s not necessary.

9.    What advice would you give to new teachers that have just completed an undergraduate degree and want to get into English Language Teaching?

Work out what you want from it – are you using TEFL to travel for a few years, or is it something you possibly want as a career? I know I go back and forth all the time – teaching is damn hard work, if you want things to go well. But let’s say this question is for someone in the same position as me just over a year ago: Learn your grammar beforehand. Remember that planning is for your own benefit, as well as for those who wish to observe or assess you. Get to know your students. Use common sense. If something isn’t going well, stop, and take a step back. Modify your practice to suit your learners. Say yes to opportunities – you might enjoy teaching young learners. Don’t expect to ever make a fortune. Go abroad. Live a little. Mess up, and make up for it.

10.  Finally, 2014 is approaching fast – what sort of plans do you have for next year?

I wrote 2014 instead of 2013 on the board whilst writing the date during one of my first lessons back in Spain – it does seem to be on my mind. First, I want to get my Spanish up to a level I’m happy with. Next, I want to consider doing some extra training in TEFL – I don’t know what yet but I’d quite like to go somewhere different and complete a course.  I want to travel next summer, and steward some festivals – I think if I do a summer school, I’ll get too burnt out – I’m feeling the results of non-stop work for 12 months. That may change – I did enjoy my summer experiences. Generally speaking, I want some travel, some learning, some professional development and lots of fun (which mainly involves saving up for a motorbike and racing around the Picos on it!)

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