Reliability and Flexibility: Two Traits Every Teacher Must Have [An Interview with Gill Murray]

The idea that teachers should be role-models for their students is a complex one to grasp at times. What are the key teacher-behaviors that need to be adopted for modelling to be effective? Today, I’ve invited Gill Murray (Founder of Alba English Class Online and Homestay) to share her thoughts and tips for educators. Gill shares her perspectives on teaching from the viewpoint of a language school owner – a unique take that I’m sure my readers will find interesting.

Accompanying video:

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born and raised in Scotland, UK.

I don’t have a degree, which is the most asked question I get asked from potential TEFL students and teachers. I did a Higher National Diploma in Hotel Management (this is my second obsession: all things hospitality). 

I owned my own catering business, worked in recruitment and, I can happily say, I am the owner/teacher at Alba English Class Online and Homestay.

I started teaching as a Trainer in the hotels I worked in and was a Lecturer at Glasgow College of Food Technology for 3 years. While I was there, I was asked to deliver a 3 week course on Sales and Marketing in Moscow for new business start-ups.

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I have been teaching English for nearly 10 years:  face to face in classrooms, online via Skype and as part of my Homestay courses.  I spent nearly 3 years living and teaching English in a language academy in Spain and now live in beautiful Scotland. Focusing on conversational English, I concentrate on vocabulary and pronunciation. My lessons are relaxed and flexible, making students feel comfortable and confident about learning English. 

Why did you choose to become a teacher in the first place?

I had 2 career paths I wanted to follow whilst at school: teaching and hotel management. I chose hotel management and specialized in training people in the hotels I worked in. The process of delivering information to people to improve their skills, efficiency and value was our objective. Then, a chance meeting 11 years ago with a colleague in the work’s tea room opened the world of TEFL to me and I have been addicted to it ever since. I teach my own students online and face to face during my homestay courses, I do visiting classes online in other language schools across the world and I teach new TEFL Teachers how to teach online and I mentor them.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to teaching?

Welcome to the best job in the world!

– Do a recognised qualification. Employers want to see you have the skills they need and that you have invested in their environment.

– Keep it easy to begin with until you become familiar with your working environment. We are so lucky to have so many resources available to us but it can be very confusing if you are new to it.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

– Have several income sources (e.g. regular hours from an online school, some face to face students, some from other platforms such as Preply or Italki). This allows you to have a steady income and avoid dips in student numbers.

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– Keep a database of contacts and students for future reference. I guarantee you will use them in your future teaching life.

– Try everything once and you will learn from that. The simplest of ideas can be your best ideas.

– Get a “character” to work with: e.g. an animal, a doll… I have a Harry Potter I use for everyone and it is a real icebreaker and lifesaver.

– Laugh and keep it fun!

What is your personal teaching philosophy?

Reliability and flexibility! This has been the way I have worked my whole life and it is fundamental to a good, strong teaching business. Lesson cancellations happen and you must be prepared to be flexible, regularly using your free time to do classes. Time differences mean early starts or late finishes but it all goes towards your reputation and business development. 

Q & A

Keep it simple and have fun! I have the privilege to teach other people how to speak my native language. They work hard earning money to pay for my classes so I give them the best class I can for the fairest price. 

With these 2 philosophies in place, you will never have an empty schedule. 

What changes do you see happening in the future with regards to the teaching profession?

I think we have just lived through the biggest change in teaching over the last few months with the Covid 19 situation. Classroom teachers and parents have been thrown into online teaching and they have all done the most amazing job. 

I think parents realise just how hard a job it is and have a new respect for teachers.

I think student teachers/qualified teachers will have online teaching training added to their skills base as this method will continue in the future.

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Online teaching of any subjects will continue to increase as people have now realised how convenient it is in their lives. 

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in your journey as a teacher?

To respect every student, their nationality and cultural differences. It all goes to build the relationship between teacher and student and improve their learning journey and yours.

To embrace the profession I am in and to experience as many parts of this profession as possible.

To listen to the student: for an idea about their mood during the class; to the information they share with you; for their response to your teaching and they understand what you are teaching.

What’s next for you and your career?

I am so lucky to be working in the profession I am in. I love marketing so I am always thinking up new ways to diversify my business.

Last year I started Homestay courses from my countryside home in Scotland. Students came to stay with us and immersed themselves in English with daily classes and excursions. I was truly surprised at how much the students improved in such a short time. After Covid, this will continue.      

I will continue to deliver online classes to current and new students.  Details can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Alba-English-Class-Online-and-Homestay-436805727098408/

I created my 2020 Challenge allowing me to give a free hour of my time to deliver a conversation class to students to allow them to speak with a native speaker. This has been a great success so far and continues until December. This had led to many new teaching contacts and new working relationships developing for the future.

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I am now offering coaching sessions to potential or new TEFL teachers where we discuss their career possibilities and goals. These sessions include real-life online classes with my students to alleviate any nerves  for the new teacher. I am there to support them and help with any questions.

Thoughts and reflections from Richard James Rogers

Thank you, Gill, for taking the time to share these really useful, unique and insightful tips and experiences with us. Some key takeaways for me personally were:

  • Treating your job as a teacher as if it were your own personal ‘business’ (for those of us who don’t actually own our own schools) is a great mindset to take-on. It ensures personal accountability so that high-standards of ‘customer’ service (i.e. service to our students and their parents) remains high. 
  • I really like the two foundational ‘pillars’ of flexibility and reliability as key philosophies to guide teachers in their practice. In my personal experience, it took me a long time to realise what profound, life-changing effects I was having on my students – effects that lasted well into adulthood. The creation of this blog and my first book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, involved me ‘chasing-up some of my old students who I taught at high-school and who were now in their mid-to-late twenties. After numerous discussions and interviews, it became clear to me that teacher reliability (in particular) was one high-effect characteristic that literally had the power to change people’s lives. I use the word ‘people’s’ instead of ‘students’ because I realized the ultimate truth that what we do as teachers affects our students well into their professional lives as adults. When we fail to be reliable, we can generate resentment that lasts for decades (literally). When we choose to be reliable, we can set students on a path to success. It really is that simple. 

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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