This page is about my teaching story; how I became a teacher, how I became a better teacher, and how what I’ve learned can help you be a better English speaker.
If you already know me or want to skip right to the tips, I recommend you start here.
If you want the short version, you can go to About Me.
Back in 2004 I was working as a writer in Los Angeles.
It was a good job, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Yes, I wanted to be a writer, but the creative kind. And the manuals I was writing had exciting titles like, “How To Expedite Your Job Search.”
Then one day it ended. I handed in the final manual, shook the boss’ hand, walked out to the sunny L.A. parking lot and thought, “Now what?”
I had moved to Los Angeles shortly after graduating from university because I wanted my twenties to be an adventure. And they were. I didn’t get rich or famous, but I wrote short films for my friends and explored the life in Hollywood.
Now that I was thirty I was ready for another big change.
If your life ever starts to feel boring and predictable, tell your landlord he can rent your apartment to someone else next month and then buy a plane ticket to a foreign country where you don’t know anyone.
That’s an adventure!
This is always the question Czechs want to know about me.
I wish I had a better answer. Something like, “I met an amazing girl while exploring the Aztec ruins in the Yucatan and when she asked me to come live with her in the Czech Republic I said ‘Yes’.”
But I don’t.
At first, I came just for a month to do my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) program. If I liked it after the end of the month I would stay and look for a job. And if I didn’t, I could always go somewhere else.
(If you’re a native English speaker, like to travel, and don’t need a ton of money to be happy, then teaching English is an amazing opportunity! You can live in practically any country in the world and pay the bills by teaching.)
I think you can guess what happened during that month.
Of course, I loved Prague! Who doesn’t? It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And that first month in July was amazing.
It’s hard to appreciate for a European, but for someone coming from a country where everything is new, (and if it’s not new it’s torn down and replaced with something that is new), a simple experience like walking down a cobblestone street can be thrilling.
It was just a happy accident that I also loved teaching.
What’s Wrong With My Students?
Something interesting happened toward the end of that first year.
While a lot of my teacher friends started to leave, either they moved on to teach in other countries or they just went back home, I stayed. And because I stayed I got to see something a lot of English teachers never do – their results.
Or rather, the lack of results
I taught exactly according to how we were told to teach during that first month. There’s grammar exercises, text books, games… I was just following the instructions.
But like a farmer who planted seeds in May and doesn’t see any wheat in October, something was wrong.
A lot of my students weren’t improving.
Or if they were, it wasn’t fast enough for them.
This was an unpleasant mystery for me.
And like so many other teachers, I believed the “bad at languages” explanation.
But in reality, the problem was me; I had no idea how people learn languages.
I thought I knew – you sit in a class room and the teacher teaches you the language.
And I’m embarrassed to say it now, but I never thought to explore if there was another way.
And there was.
A Discovery In Istanbul
In November of 2013 I went to Turkey for a week-long vacation.
While I was there, I decided to find some other teachers to hear about their lives in that exotic city.
One guy I met was an American named Ian.
There was definitely something different about Ian.
I didn’t know if I believed him, but he told me all his students got great results.
None of them were bad at languages and none of them were lazy.
And, he didn’t teach grammar!
Now I wanted to know his secret.
Well, it turned out that in addition to being a good teacher, he was also a good businessman, because he convinced me to buy his program from him for $2,000.
That was a lot for me. But when information can change your life, it’s worth it.
He introduced me to ideas like “comprehensible input” from Stephen Krashen and theories like “the language acquisition device” from Noam Chomsky.
Basically, his philosophy of teaching English began with the premise that humans learn languages naturally (you don’t need a teacher), and studying how to do something usually doesn’t make you better at doing it, and sometimes can even make you worse (translation=don’t teach advanced grammar!).
And now, years later, if a teacher from another country ever wants to buy me a coffee and hear about life in Prague, he’ll also be surprised to hear that all my students get great results.
And That's It
That’s my teaching story.
If you want to learn more about the theories of Stephen Krashen, I can recommend starting with this video.
If you want to learn more about my methods, I recommend you start with this article, and then select whatever looks interesting to you.
I also recommend you subscribe. You’ll get a lot of valuable lessons by email that are not available on the blog, plus you’ll get a notification every time I write a new article.
-Ryan (also known as Mr Vig)