I arrived at International House Newcastle in July 2011, just in time for the school’s busiest week of the year, closely followed, in my second week there, by it’s busiest week of the year again! 10 days before I’d still been in Brno, where I had been working for three years, so it was a bit of shock to the system. Right from the start, however, I loved the variety and freedom I had in the classes, and I liked the concept and potential of the school’s Personal Study Programme (PSP).
Because it is in the UK, IH Newcastle works on a principle of continuous enrolment, with new students arriving every Monday, and some students leaving every Friday. This took me a while to get used to, and I did sometimes get frustrated with the demands it placed on me to try and keep all of the students happy, especially in the beginner and elementary classes I taught. For example, you might have five beginners who are just about confident enough to start looking at past simple, and a new student will join with no English at all. It was much easier to manage the constant turnover of students with higher-level classes, especially as you can discuss the problem with them.
Each teacher normally has the same group for 20 hours a week, divided into two 2-hour classes a day. Generally, you stay with the same level for a few weeks, and often as much as three months. This means you get to know the students really well, especially those who are at the school long-term – some stay for over a year.
During my time at the school I taught three advanced groups, and one each of beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate, as well as an FCE/upper-intermediate group and (briefly) a business class. All this was over two years, so you can get a sense of how long you stay with the same group. There are a maximum of 12 students in the group in any one lesson, with some morning-/afternoon-only students, so I had relatively few students at any one time. However, I had 40 or more students in total over the three months I taught my final C1 class for example. I used Edmodo to help me keep track of all of them, and to share extra resources and set homework. This really helped me create rapport with the students too.
I taught students from a huge range of countries (over 40!). Hopefully I’ve got them all here – you can click to make the image larger (apologies if I missed any!):
One of the best things about the school is seeing how the students all (seem to) get on, regardless of the countries they were from and the history/politics between them. I believe this is one way to achieve peace in the world – to take people out of their natural habitats and throw them in together with others from all over the world. When you realise that people are people like you, wherever you’re from, it’s harder to want to fight them.
I particularly learnt a lot about the Middle East from my students. Before I went to IH Newcastle, I had met very few people from the area and had had almost no in-depth conversations about it. While at the school I taught students from almost all of the countries in the area, and learnt a lot about how diverse it is. Before that, I had had the typical ‘They’re all the same’ idea about it, and while I knew that wasn’t true, it was difficult to find out more. Through talking to the students, and listening to them explain the similarities and differences between their cultures, I found out so much. I also have first-hand experience of teaching women with covered faces, which some people may consider difficult. While it was a little strange to begin with, I soon got used to it, and I learnt that, far from being oppressed by their male relatives (who we often taught too), these women were some of the toughest and most outspoken I had ever met. It was also very good for other students, particularly those from countries like France, where there are restrictions on clothing, to work with these women. If I didn’t know it before, I certainly know now that the clothes do not make the (wo)man.
Overall, my time in Newcastle has taught me a lot, and I will miss being at the school. There are a few more blog posts to come about some of the things I did but haven’t yet had time to write about. So on to pastures new: I’m now preparing for a new adventure in Sevastopol in Ukraine, where I will be working as a teacher and Director of Studies at International House. Watch this space…