I started with Oxford Seminars in March 2015. On the first day of my first course, I was nervous. Teaching a new course is nerve-racking. Still, I had found a vocation in teaching ESL, and I was excited to share my experiences and knowledge with others. Fortunately, the course was a success, and I have now been an Oxford Seminars Instructor for six years. Looking back, I realize that there were a number of reasons that I really enjoyed – and still enjoy – teaching the Oxford Seminars course.
Reason 1: The People
The most important ingredient in any Oxford Seminars course is the students. North America has a wonderful mixture of cultures, perspectives, and personalities, but it is not often that so many of them come together in a single place. An Oxford Seminars class mixes people together in a way that I have not witnessed anywhere else. I have had students as young as 17, and as old as 75. They have been from all backgrounds, races, and religions. In other words, I have to expect the unexpected. The result is always unpredictable, and never dull.
Reason 2: Motivation Is High
Most teachers dream of having a class like the average Oxford Seminars group. The students are attentive, engaged, and motivated. They have clear goals, and they are determined to achieve them. Obviously, this is not what you find in the majority of classrooms. Most days, I expend a lot of energy getting students into the classroom on time, locating lost textbooks, and listening to excuses about missing homework. When I work with an Oxford Seminars group, that is not the case. I can focus completely on giving the students the skills and knowledge that they need in the world of ESL. With high levels of motivation, teaching with an Oxford Seminars group does not sap my energy; it boosts it.
Reason 3: A Fresh Challenge Every Time
Every Oxford Seminars course is headed in the same direction, and yet every group of students is unique. It is not enough simply to provide the necessary information about teaching ESL, and then end the course. Each person needs guidance in becoming an effective teacher, and each person begins at a different starting point. As a result, every group is a puzzle with a different solution. To meet that challenge, it is necessary to adapt my approach each time. I like to say that teaching is a blend of art and science; theory has its place, but it falls flat without flexibility, agile thinking, and creativity. Drawing on both of those approaches helps me to leave every course satisfied, and with my own teaching skills refreshed.
Reason 4: Watching People Grow
When I became an ESL teacher in 2010, I lacked confidence. My first job at a Spanish summer camp involved a lot of coloring activities and dictation. Teaching ESL was simply a means to an end for me. I never thought that I would be a competent teacher, but slowly I improved to the point where I truly enjoyed being in the classroom. The most rewarding part of teaching the Oxford Seminars course is guiding students through the same process. Every course starts with a group of strangers, many of whom have little knowledge of teaching. Little-by-little, the students open up, bond, and start to implement basic teaching skills. Suddenly, they realize that they are becoming teachers. By the end of the course, they are a tight-knit group ready to face their first ESL class head-on. Watching someone’s confidence and self-belief grow during the course is one of the things that keeps me coming back.
Reason 5: Personal Interest
As mentioned, I enjoy the people and the flow of every course, but the content of the course is also important. I believe in the value of teaching and learning languages. I grew up in a mono-cultural, mono-lingual world, where other cultures made appearances for mere amusement. Living abroad and learning a foreign language have opened both literal and metaphorical doors. Constant contact with people from dozens of different countries has given me new perspectives on relationships, family, politics, history, and society, amongst other things. With Oxford Seminars, I truly believe in the goals of the course, and I enjoy sharing my views on them, as well as hearing the views of others.
Reason 6: Helping People Achieve Their Dreams
I enjoy teaching ESL on a day-to-day basis, but it can be difficult to make progress with students that have low motivation, poor attendance, and never do their homework. We still have fun in the classroom, but progress is often slow and incremental. In contrast to that, getting a TESOL certificate and moving abroad to teach ESL can completely change someone’s life in a relatively short period of time. Being a part of that is exciting and energizing. I have recently reconnected with an Oxford Seminars student who attended a course with me in 2016. At that time, he was sick of working in a corporate environment, and wanted something that offered more flexibility. I was happy to hear that he is now well established in Busan, South Korea, and has plans to stay there for the next few years. Being a part of changing someone’s life for the better gives me a reason to show up and give my all. People often talk about wanting to find meaning and fulfilment in their work; I have found it teaching with Oxford Seminars.
I have had plenty of positions in and out of the ESL industry since I was a teenager. I have stuck with Oxford Seminars because I enjoy it, and because it offers more than just a paycheck. After six years with Oxford Seminars, I still like stepping into the classroom on the first day, greeting a new group of students, and sharing my passion with them. It is more than a job, and I hope to continue for many years to come.
Robin Garnham originally planned to spend a year teaching in Spain to improve his Spanish, but he has now been teaching for 10 years. He currently works in the training and development department at a non-profit in San Francisco, California. He is an Oxford Seminars instructor in the Bay Area, California.