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An interview with an English language teacher


An interview with Kamila Bateman, English Language Teacher at the University of Brighton International College.

 Kamila Bateman is an English Language Teacher at the University of Brighton International College in the south of England.  She is Polish and has been educated both in Poland and the UK.  She talks about what it’s like not just to study in the UK but also to teach here.

How old were you when you started studying English?

I was eleven, which was quite late actually.  At the age of 12 I started private lessons as my parents decided that the method of teaching wasn’t really great – it was mainly using the translation method.

Can your parents speak English?

My mum does to a communicative level.  She’s intermediate, my father doesn’t speak any English at all. 

Did you think then that you would end up being an English teacher?

No I specifically didn’t want to be a teacher.  I really didn’t want to, I thought I would do something else. I wanted to go into translation and wanted to translate books and at the time I was really into Jane Austen and I thought I could translate all Jane Austen’s books.  After seeing the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice I had this vision of Britain and the English that is obviously nothing really like the actual truth. 

Then I came here as a Social Programme Organiser when I was 19 and they didn’t have any teachers.  It was a small school in Worthing and it was a very busy summer period.  They just ran out of teachers, they needed someone to teach a small pre-intermediate class for two weeks and they asked me.   I had been a student at that school before, when I was 15, and I kept in touch with the staff.  I was at university in Poland at the time and I thought it would be a nice idea to earn a bit of money and a good way to brush up on my English.  I had no idea they would ask me to teach but I really enjoyed it.  I had a great class with students from European countries so I could relate to their languages and it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  I had had bad experiences at school and I didn’t like most of my teachers in High School and that gave me the idea that there was no way I could be a teacher.

What did you study in Poland?

I studied an English Studies Degree at Adam Mickieincz University in Poznan, Poland. The course included methodology, history of the English language and literature. That was the first year and then in the second and third year we could split and I chose English literature, translation and methodology.

When and why did you decide to come to the UK to study?

I finished my degree in Poland and started my Masters in English and Canadian literature in Poland.  It was a part-time course and after a year I decided to come back to the UK because I really liked it here and to do the same job, either as a Social Programme Organiser or an English teacher; it was then that I met my partner so everything changed.



What were your first impressions of living and studying in the UK?

Well I was expecting all English men to be like Fitzwilliam Darcy, which of course wasn’t the case.  It was a year before I actually studied at Sussex University as I did my CELTA, and I worked as a cleaner, in a furniture shop and in a Care Home.  I really wanted to work as an English teacher but it was seasonal work.  I was teaching in the summer and for a couple of weeks here and there and with financial help from my parents and my partner’s parents I was able to continue with my studies.

You went on to study a Masters in English Language Teaching at Sussex University.  What prompted that decision?

It was a really interesting course, which had an advanced practical teaching element and was very useful.  I loved it.

What were the differences between studying a Masters in Poland or in England?

It was very similar but there was a very big difference from doing a Bachelors degree.  Studying for a Masters was very open and taught me the ability to ask questions rather than finding the answers.  That was the best thing about it. 

Were you taught in English in Poland?

Yes totally, both the Bachelors and the Masters. We were taught both by Polish teachers and native English teachers.  It’s always so for English subjects but there are universities in Poland now that teach entirely in English regardless of the subject.

How long have you been working as an English language teacher?

Seven years on and off – four fulltime. 

What would you say are the advantages of being a non-native English teacher?

The empathy factor; I think is the biggest.   I can definitely identify with the needs of the students and the stress that they go through, the silent period when they’re too scared to say anything.  I went through exactly the same process and I think that anybody who wants to become a language teacher should sign up for another foreign language course because it really teaches you a lot. 



What do you consider to be the most challenging aspects of your work?

That’s a difficult one.  As a non-native teacher I always feel that I have to be on top of what I am doing and that more is expected of me. I’m not sure whether that’s my expectations or those of my employers.  I feel that I have to prove that I can do it and that I can do it well.

Have you ever come across any negativity?

No but I know people who have.  I have a feeling that if my accent was stronger I might have done. I’m always very conscious and self evaluate constantly. The assumption of many employers is that the accent has to be standard English but that’s not necessarily true.  My Dissertation was about Students’ perception of non native teachers teaching here and when I was doing my interviews with the students it was clear that it’s just the assumptions of the employers not the students.   It’s about good teachers and bad teachers in my opinion, not about native and non-native teachers.   It’s an unjust divide.

What advice would you give someone following a similar career path to you?

Don’t be afraid because I know that it can be done.  I find that quite a lot of us get very defensive and it’s better to use self-assessment and reflection.  They shouldn’t make any assumptions or look at stereotypes just look at it as a blank slate.  It’s a very international career path and what’s really great about it is the cultures and people that we get to meet.  I think that seeing them all communicating and interacting is fascinating.  Part of the world comes to me instead of me going abroad. 

What do you like best about living in the UK?

Brighton!  I love Brighton and I don’t mind the weather that much.  I really like people’s sense of humour; it’s quite dry and similar to the Polish sense of humour.  It’s just the right amount of distance and affection. 

What do you do to relax?

I watch films, swim, I like travelling a lot and I go to Poland to see my friends and family.

Questions by Gill Balfour, Editor of i-studentglobal