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Becoming an English Teacher

By the year 2020, some two billion people in the world will be using English, or learning to use it.
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Digital English language learning products and services are worth about $2.5 billion dollars a year.

That estimate comes from the British Council, an international cultural and educational program based in Britain.

The increasing demand for English has led many people to explore careers in teaching the language. Being a native speaker is not necessary to teach English. In fact, some experts say that being a non-native speaker can be very useful when teaching English.

Today, we speak with one of those experts. Her name is Babi Kruchin. She is a certified teacher trainer for the Certificate of Language Teaching to Adults, or CELTA from the University of Cambridge/Royal Society of Arts.

Babi Kruchin holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, or TESOL from Hunter College in New York City. She has been teaching at the American Language Program at Columbia University since 1999.

VOA Learning English spoke to her by telephone recently. Our interview has been shorted for the purposes of this program.

JR: How did you get into your teaching career?

BABI KRUCHIN: So,I got into my field by accident. I was actually an art student in Brazil, and when I started college, the school where I had studied ESL as an after school program invited me to teach small kids. And, I started teaching small kids, and I enjoyed it…

JR: Where was the school?

BABI KRUCHIN: That school is called Lollipop, and it’s in Porto Alegre, Brazil – where I’m from.

JR: How did you get from teaching at that school to teaching at Columbia University?

BABI KRUCHIN: So I taught at that school, then I transferred my major from art to languages. And then, I went - I wanted to live in an English speaking country, so I lived in the UK for a year where I did my CELTA training, which is a certificate program. Then I came back to Brazil, I continued teaching at a bigger school called Britannia, and then I started training teachers. I went from being a teacher to a teacher trainer in Brazil and I was training through the CELTA program. And then I moved to the U.S. and I decided to do a master’s in TESOL. And then my career kind of took off - I taught at many different programs in New York as an adjunct professor until I got a full-time position at Columbia.

JR: What skills do you need for your profession, aside from English language skills?
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BABI KRUCHIN: So, I think first and foremost, yes, interpersonal communication skills. Because teaching is all about teaching other people. And a great awareness of who my students are at many levels, like at the personal level, at an academic level, at a critical thinking skills level… So, there is a lot of student awareness that goes hand in hand with teaching. So, in other words, there is the content and the person who is right in front of you, and you are addressing the person.

And then thinking of myself, I have to have great organizational skills, to organize materials, and the classes and the student assignments, so on and so forth. So I think if somebody wanted to go into teaching they would have to think about being organized, having interpersonal skills, to some degree, public speaking, because if you have a fear of speaking in front of other people, I wouldn’t recommend that career, because you are in front of a classroom and addressing them…

Some leadership skills because you do have to tell students what to do and how to go about doing tasks … and a great deal of creativity, I think, to create interesting lessons…

JR: How do you recommend that people develop their teaching skills? Is there a good resource for developing these skills?

BABI KRUCHIN: A resource is always feedback from colleagues… having peer observations or developmental observations. In other words, the idea that it is never ready, you are never done, you never know it all…

And also, keeping at the back of my mind that professional development is important, so attending conferences and reading in the field, and trying out new things. So, being aware of what's new. And I think a great deal of reflective thinking. I think with teaching, one needs to evaluate what happened. Sometimes at the beginning of your career, it's good to discipline one’s self and do it more rigorously – that’s write a reflective feedback of the lesson I've just taught. But then as you become more experienced, I think it's also very important to look back and say 'Was this a good class? Was this a good semester? What worked? What needs to be improved?'

JR: What recommendations do you have for those who are thinking of entering the teaching profession?

BABI KRUCHIN: I think the first question is: do you really want to be a teacher? I have somebody I know who thought they wanted to become a teacher, and when they actually went into the field, they realized the amount of work it is. It's a tremendous amount of work. So I think one needs to be aware of that – that you need to like it. Because if you don’t like it, it's not something you can just jump through the hoops.

And the other thing I think people need to be aware of is that in terms of compensation, teaching is a profession that is not very well paid, but also to think about how rewarding it is to meet people from different cultures… and to know that you learn all the time from your students.

JR: What recommendations do you have for English learners who would like to pursue a career in teaching English?

BABI KRUCHIN: Right, I would say that being a non-native speaker teacher of English as a second language is an asset. Because, like your students, you have gone through the process of learning the language. You are better equipped to understand what they are going through. Whereas if English is your first language, you may not empathize with what it is like to learn a second language. If you think not being a native speaker of English is an obstacle, you're wrong, because it is actually something that gives you another set of skills.

JR: Is there something that you would like to add with respect to becoming a teacher?

BABI KRUCHIN: No, I would say it's a very rewarding field because it is intellectually stimulating, and you are involved with other people, and you can use your creativity. I think those would be my final words.

JR: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Have a pleasant day.

BABI KRUCHIN: Ok, thanks. Nice talking to you, Bye!

JR: Yeah, good to talking to you too.

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