Introducing James Heywood:
After an overland trip from South East Asia, into India, Pakistan and Iran, James landed in Turkey and fell in love with Istanbul, soon after deciding it would be his new home. To support himself, he dusted off his unused CELTA certificate and gave ESL teaching a try. Seven years later he left the private school he taught at and now teaches online to private students from Turkey. Recently, James started a project to release his own ESL lesson plans for other teachers trying to build their own independent teaching businesses.
It started with a part-time course…
Late in 2003, I enrolled in a course to complete the Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA). I had considered returning to university to undertake a Graduate Diploma in Teaching, yet the idea of studying without the income of a full-time position sacrificed for the time for school was too daunting. Instead, I completed a 12-week part-time CELTA course at a language institute in Sydney…only to then stash my certificate away along with all the others I had gained from continuing education courses over the years.
A year later, the urge to travel once more took a hold of me and after a period of travelling through Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and across Iran, I found myself in Istanbul, Turkey, in late 2005. Within three days the city had a good grip on me and I started to look for work. Lucky enough to land a job teaching English, I still remember my very first lesson, teaching in a room that overlooked a ferociously busy thoroughfare in central Istanbul, while trying my hardest to convince my Pre-Intermediate students that I was in fact, the world’s authority on indefinite pronouns.
…And then I moved from a language institute to a school
I was fortunate to have a solid background in language and linguistics, so there is to this day no doubt that I spent less time consulting grammar books than any of my colleagues, though I passed an inordinate amount of time trying to appear confident in front of my students. A few months later I had dramatically improved as a teacher and in April 2006, a friend landed me an interview with one of Istanbul’s most sought-after private schools—its English Language Department a huge selling point for the institution.
I was offered a position in the Middle School and in the following years taught a literature-based curriculum for Grades 5, 6 and 7. The Turkish school system relies heavily on standardised, multiple-choice style tests, yet the school was clear that it wanted to impart a more international-style education to its students.
The suddenly influx of lucrative private lessons
Once I had built a strong rapport with student and parents, the requests for private tutoring started to roll in. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of teaching in Turkey was to understand just how willing developing nations are to pour money into education. Where national school systems may fall down in some areas, parents are ready to spend considerable amounts of money to ensure their children develop high proficiency in subjects such as the English language.
I really and truly enjoyed giving private lessons to Turks, from 7 to 70-year-olds. I earned good money and had a great lifestyle that allowed me a lot of vacation time and which brought a lot of personal and professional reward.
Moving my teaching online
Still, the grind of moving from one lesson to another in a sizeable city eventually started to wear me down. It was time to teach online. At the beginning of 2013, I stopped face-to-face lessons, set up a simple website and began moving my current students online. It allowed me to stay in the city which I loved, and to say goodbye to endless hours of commuting.
I loved online ESL teaching because it was incredibly flexible. It allowed me to teach from wherever I was on the planet. At the end of 2012 I decided to go one step further: I co-founded a business which offers ready-to-use lesson content for English as a Second Language teachers, called Off2Class.
As a teacher, my biggest pain had always been the amount of time required to prepare lessons. The reality is, as much as I would always review my lessons before teaching them and adapt them to the students where possible, the present continuous tense remains the present continuous tense forever, and I was tired of planning the same lessons five times a year.
Helping other teachers with their lesson plans
Today I’m quite proud of the feedback we’ve been receiving about Off2Class. We have teachers in more than 100 countries using our lesson content, from native English-speaking teachers in ex-pat havens like Cairo and Buenos Aires, to volunteer workers with NGOs in Central and North America. We have a father in China who uses our website to teach English to his new wife and daughter, and other untrained teachers who are using the lesson content in ways we had not initially envisaged. It’s exciting for me to see that my experience and love of teaching has created a tool that benefits other ESL teachers, perhaps even allowing them to remain where they want to be, teach online, or to continue educating in a new environment.
If there is a single piece of advice to offer teachers who are abroad or intend to be, it is this: save each and every contact detail you have about your current students, and if you teach young learners, establish a relationship with their parents too. If one day you want to pick up and move on from your new found home, you can take your students with you through online teaching. The greatest challenge to all new private teachers (especially online teachers) is to find students, yet the task becomes so much easier when you have a bank of contacts to begin with. Save every detail—you will not regret it!
I still teach now, though I have since moved from Istanbul to focus primarily on Off2Class. At times I am surprised to be teaching almost ten years after I entered that first classroom in Istanbul, however, the internet and the growth of easy-to-use videoconferencing technology has allowed me to grow professionally, while remaining financially independent of a wage. Teaching has never been so rewarding and the opportunities that the internet has brought is only increasing the opportunities for those who are ready and willing.
James Heywood has lived and worked in Sydney, Paris, Auckland, Dubai, and has a background in language and linguistics. He is the co-founder of TurksLearnEnglish and Off2Class—an organisation launched to provide lesson content resources targeted to teachers running their own private tutorials. James can be contacted at email@example.com and happily offers advice or assistance to the online teaching community.