My TEFL Story: Val Weston

Val Weston, the Director of Studies at IH Terrassa, where she has been a DoS for more than 20 years, reflects on her career in TEFL as she approaches retirement. Her career has spanned 40 years on and off, and in that time she has taught in Paris, Madrid and Terrassa. In this article, she talks about her career path in teaching, gives valuable advice to CELTA graduates, and speaks more on why she believes International House "fosters a sense of caring and sharing".

My TEFL Story 

I can hardly believe that after forty years on and off in TEFL I am on the brink of retirement. I left Manchester University in 1975 with a degree in Education but I didn’t want to teach. A friend suggested that instead of children and teens teaching English as Foreign language to adults might appeal more. I managed to get an interview for a job with the Berlitz School of Languages in London. I got the job but instead of moving to London I found myself on the way to Paris. After a two day training course I was on a train with limited French, even more limited finances and a couple of new friends. I loved Paris and didn’t mind teaching but after two years I grew tired of drilling and rote learning. It wasn’t a creative way to learn a language.

I returned to London and stayed for three years working in the record industry but the world still called out to me. This time I decided that I needed some professional training. In November 1981 I took the RSA Certificate course in the iconic 106 Piccadilly; I hardly thought at the time I would be back there twenty five years later at DoS Conferences.

I moved to Madrid and for seven years worked in a reputable language school but I still hankered after working for one of the best language schools and applied to International House Terrassa. I made the move to Terrassa in 1989 and am still there today.

A career in TEFL has allowed me to live and work in two different countries, I could have moved more; occasionally I thought of moving to Argentina, Southeast Asia or back to France, but life took over and frankly I didn’t want to leave my ’IH Terrassa family’. The reasons I have stayed in the industry and the reason I love TEFL are both bound up by the atmosphere that the Director and Director of Studies had created in a small industrial town outside Barcelona. It was here that I really started to think of teaching as a career. We were encouraged to continuously develop; I eagerly attended workshops in my own time, did lots of observation, peer- teaching and experimenting with new ideas. I was sponsored to do the RSA Diploma course in IH Barcelona. I had the immense privilege to have no less than Scott Thornbury and Neil Forrest as my Diploma tutors. Doing the Diploma with such tutors challenged my ideas of teaching, pushed boundaries and made me the teacher I am today.

After five years teaching I was ready to take a step forward in my TEFL career. The school had a change of Director and I applied for the post of Director of Studies. I have been the Director of Studies for over twenty years in IH Terrassa. During that time I have seen the profession change. We have all reinvented ourselves several times in terms of styles of teaching, adaptation to new technology and a changing client base, but the essence of quality teaching has not been lost.

We have moved from Streamline Departures through Headway to English File and IELTS Trainers; from cassette players to Interactive Whiteboards but all of these ‘tools’  just enhance the classroom experience.  What I like most about teaching in an International House school is that within certain parameters, teachers have the freedom to choose from a variety of teaching styles and that classroom management and rapport are built much more by the teacher than by imposed  material.

These are some of the things I love about TEFL. Relating this to International House, besides the quality teaching, the organisation fosters a sense of caring and sharing, socialising and networking. At an individual school level we have always encouraged all the staff and students to be part of the learning community. In our school we have a variety of social events to make everyone feel that learning a language is much more than the time spent in the classroom. There are many teachers and students who have kept in touch; not only on social media but actually coming back to visit us; some even after more than ten years away.

On a wider level as DOS I have been able to attend Director of Studies and YL Conferences; which apart from being wonderful learning experiences allow us to network, pick up new ideas, make new friends and thoroughly enjoy ourselves I still want a chance to be on the winning team at IHWO quiz night!

What would I recommend to a newly qualified CELTA graduate? A difficult question but I think I would look for a school that embodies all the above values. A teacher taking the first sensitive steps towards a career in TEFL needs guidance, reassurance and the opportunity to make mistakes. For this it’s important to look for a school that will provide this support. I think that most of all I would look for a school where when you walk through the door the reception staff are welcoming, the management builds a good team spirit and the teaching staff are all willing to learn from each other and share ideas. Look out for a school that ‘smiles’ and you may view teaching English as a Foreign Language much more than an opportunity for a year abroad.

Thank you to Val for sharing her TEFL story with us.