Jodi Ellen Stolzenbach, a 31 year old native of St. Louis, Missouri may have ended up in Germany through marriage, but she has had the idea to teach English abroad since 2007. After earning both a Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree, her career progressed for a number of years in the field of education back in the United States, but after meeting and marrying her German husband, a native of Hamburg, and moving to Germany in 2010, she began testing and exploring the various job opportunities available to expats. Only recently has Jodi started on the path that many expats take—teaching English as a freelancer in a foreign country.
“Germany has always been attractive to me, culturally and historically, and I got along well with the German people I met in the United States. Once I eventually arrived in Germany, however, I wanted to try something other than becoming an English teacher. I started a small copy-editing business with a friend in 2011 and then worked for a development-oriented educational organization in early 2012. I had spent the first six years of my career working for educational organizations but hadn't focused on teaching, so in 2012 I decided it was time to become a teacher,” Jodi explained in an interview with Young Germany.
Last year Jodi took an intensive four-week CELTA course at the Hamburg School of English, which she described as, “intense and incredibly challenging—and totally worth it!” She felt that her CELTA course really helped her to learn what it takes to put a lesson plan together, manage a classroom, and develop student-centered lessons. She, like many other teachers, found the process and freedom to put together these lessons both a challenge and a highlight of teaching. “I'd say the hardest part is also the best part if you look at it differently: You alone are responsible for your own professional development and teaching practice—therefore you can develop it in many exciting ways.”
“During the CELTA program,” Jodi continued, “I started to develop more confidence and authority as a teacher. …while in the process of earning the certificate, I learned how to structure lessons more effectively and how to write my own materials. I still have a lot to learn, but the course gave me a great start! During training, teachers go through a constructive process of observation and feedback that they don't typically get when working for a private language school. So, I also started to develop an awareness of my own teaching practice and a confidence to try new things in the classroom.”
Though a CELTA certificate is not a requirement to teach English as a foreign language in Germany, it is one of the options that can provide a foundation. But, as Jodi explained during our interview, many of the other participants in her CELTA course had already been teaching for a year. A combination of training, experience, and personality can give a teacher an edge when competing for jobs and negotiating salaries.
Jodi found her first teaching job through an acquaintance, and recommends that those interested in getting into the field start with personal connections. But most important, she says, is to think about what you want as a teacher.
“To me, it's actually much more important to ask yourself, as a teacher, what you are looking for in a company. As a freelancer, I have learned a lot about setting my own terms and voicing my needs more clearly. For instance, I was looking for an organization where I would find professional development support and a sense of community. I had heard stories from other freelance language teachers about being hired by a language school, getting placed into a few courses, and never really developing any kind of relationship or trust with the people they're working for. The language school I work for hosts trainings every so often where I can meet other teachers, and I always feel like I can approach the director and coordinators for advice on lessons or challenging students.”
Many language schools leave teachers to their work and never give feedback or offer any training, but both can keep teaching skills fresh and effective. A training course with colleagues offers teachers the chance to voice frustrations, concerns, and challenges and to get constructive feedback from their peers. Though teachers work with people every day, you may feel isolated without regular contact with fellow teachers—a situation that occurs often among freelancers who bounce between language schools and course locations throughout the day. Jodi’s advise?
“Network! If you're in a city, there's usually an international (English-language) meet-up happening regularly. Meet other freelancers, especially other English teachers. Their advice and experience will be so valuable to you as you're trying to make your way. Make it known that you want to be a teacher, and ask if anybody knows a reputable school that is hiring. Create a professional profile on Xing, which is like Linked-in for the German-speaking world, even if your profile is in English. Several individuals and language schools have approached me through that site.”
Keep up to date with on- and offline networks, and you will leave the door open to employment opportunities—even when you least expect them. Another teacher I spoke with received an interview offer in a public bathroom. You never know where you might meet a great new connection.
Jodi is constantly striving to progress as a teacher, and as she told YG, “in June I went to Barcelona to attend a conference hosted by the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona Language Center and the IATEFL Learning Technologies interest group, where I met many interesting people and learned a lot.” It is important to keep yourself inspired and continually learning as a teacher, with your students at the forefront of your thoughts. “I just enjoy trying to figure out what makes my students tick so that I can be a better teacher.”
Author Kristi Fuoco is a social media buff, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music afficianado. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling Europe. Current city: Hamburg. Twitter @kristifuoco Email: firstname.lastname@example.org