Thanks to my MSc Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from the Graduate School of Education, I am now a senior lecturer at Bangkok University and currently teach fourth year students on a course of my own devising called ‘Theories of English Teaching’. I would never have achieved this without the thorough academic grounding and qualification I received at Bristol.
I began teaching as a second career in 2000. Until then I had been a market researcher for over twenty five years. I’d also worked as an advertising account planner and, occasionally, a copywriter, so I could safely say that I’d made my living by working with the English language! As such, teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) and as a second or other language (ESOL) was a natural career step.
I started my first EFL teaching job in a coastal town in Thailand. Although being thrown into the deep end was a source of many great stories for friends back home, the pay was poor and the hours incredibly long. Fortunately, I landed a job with a very reputable corporate training company in Bangkok where I spent the next eighteen months carrying out business English training. My experience as a market researcher in some fifteen commercial and industrial sectors came in rather handy.
In 2002 my partner and I returned to the UK, where we got married and I accepted another job as a research manager. Although I love research, I really missed teaching and – after hassling a local college – managed to secure teaching work on an ESOL evening course. There were days when I would start work at my desk around seven am and finish at nine pm, wearily wiping clean a classroom whiteboard. Finding a job you enjoy might, as Confucius said, mean never working a day in your life, but this doesn’t stop it from being exhausting!
At this time I started a PGCE, but it was not long before my wife and I returned to Thailand. I was keen not to return to corporate work and had no experience teaching children, so I invested in a Masters degree to increase my chances of securing work at a university. This was when I enrolled on the MSc TESOL course at Bristol, and what a life changing experience that was! The course was a very steep learning curve in the first term, as I had been away from academia for twenty seven years. But I quickly discovered I was studying with a very special and lovely group of people, many of whom I am still in touch with today. The mixture of students of all ages, and from all over the world, made for a fantastic learning environment, especially since we also had guidance from some truly outstanding academic staff.
I finally managed to complete my dissertation after conducting research in Thailand via Skype. I conducted in-depth interviews with colleagues at a company which specialised in teaching business English to large public and private sector organisations. My dissertation explored apparent resistance to learning English among adult Thai workers, from the perspective of ‘Thai-ness’ – self-constructed national identity. My respondents consisted of thirty four Thai men and women from the age of twenty to sixty years old. A word of advice to anyone: research almost never goes according to plan and this is as true of commercial market research as it is of academic research. If there is a crucial difference it is this: in a commercial setting there is money to deal with contingencies but in an academic context your own resources as a master’s student are far more limited.
I used my MSc TESOL to secure a job at a Thai university where I remained for two years before moving on to my current position as a senior lecturer at Bangkok University. At last I’d moved from an endless round of conversation classes and ‘academic’ business writing to a more rewarding job teaching theory to a range of students, including part-time teachers and those wanting to pursue English teaching as a full-time career. Without the thorough academic grounding provided by Bristol’s Graduate School of Education, none of this might have happened.