Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I have an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in the environmental science field, and now I am a university lecturer teaching English. The question I am most often asked is “Why did you decide to become an English teacher?” a question my father still continues to ask. The de facto answer is I couldn’t get a job related to my science degrees in my native Trinidad and Tobago, and when an opportunity arose to teach in Japan presented itself, I grabbed it, and never looked back. I like to think the real reason I am now teaching English is serendipitous, but more honestly, it is because I love what I do. I taught in Japan for five years, volunteered teaching English to refugees while I was in Leeds, and I have just completed my first year as a junior university lecturer in Macau.
What motivated you to apply to study your chosen course and why did you chose Leeds?
When I returned to my home country after working in Japan, I experienced severe reverse culture shock. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I missed my job as an English teacher immensely. I knew then that my professional trajectory was going to be in the ESL field, and that I wanted to study in the United Kingdom to realize that goal. I read avariciously on the TESOL field, researched universities that had high international rankings and reputable Education Departments and narrowed my choice to three universities. The decision became absolute when I received an e-mail from Leeds informing me that I had been awarded the School of Education- Master degree Study Scholarship for full-time international students.
How would you describe your experience at the University and what elements would you describe as the most enjoyable?
My experience at Leeds was nothing short of transformative. It is rather a weighty word to attach to a one-year MA programme, but truthfully, there is no other word that aptly captures my tenure at the University of Leeds. My classmates, lecturers and club activity are all intricately linked, and form the tripartite reason why I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. Imagine having a class of 25 students, of which there are 17 different nationalities that speak more than 30 different languages. Well, that was my reality for a year. Being immersed in such a diverse environment, sharing personal stories, professional experience, challenging ideas meant that my learning extended beyond the curriculum. The experience was further enhanced by having lecturers who were unequivocally passionate about their jobs, and delivered their modules by infusing practical elements, encouraging group discussions and providing insight based on their experiences in the TESOL field. Admittedly, as wonderful as the year was, at times, it was quite intense. Volunteering, almost weekly, for Student Action for Refugees (STARS), a group within the Student Union, provided me the opportunity to give back to those who had fled their countries because of war, political instability and persecution. There are many sections of STARS, but I assisted in the language exchange programme, teaching those who were keen to learn English, and hoping to have a better life in the UK.
What did you think of your course? How has this helped in your chosen career?
The course offers a holistic approach to the TESOL field. I was able to look at second language learning more critically, not only from the perspectives of the teacher and student, but from the vantage points of governments, institutions, publishers and recruiters across different cultures. Having this broader and more realistic lens into field has been tremendously helpful in my position now as a junior university lecturer in Asia. I am now able to apply the practical elements from the modules to create more layered and engaging teaching and learning materials, have a greater insight into my students’ psyche, and understand the expectations of me as an educator.
How would you describe the help and guidance given by the staff within the School?
The academic and administrative staff within the School of Education have always been, and still are, incredibly helpful. The lecturers are approachable, amicable and diverse. As a postgraduate student, you are assigned a personal tutor during your tenure at Leeds, and a supervisor for your dissertation. These assignments are particularly beneficial as your navigate your way both personally and academically through the programme. The one-on-one academic guidance, I strongly believe, was instrumental in me earning a commendations award for the 2015 British Council ELT Master’s Dissertation Award.
Please tell us about your current role/research. What are your plans for the future?
I have recently completed my first year as a university lecturer in the Department of General Education in Macau. I teach mostly English major students, and I am responsible for planning the syllabi for the oral communication and English writing courses. I also sit on the university's Committee for Students’ Academic Issues aimed at improving students’ academic integrity and affairs. At the moment, I am working towards converting my critical study into a publication, and I eventually hope to pursue a PhD. It is also my intention to work towards further eroding the prejudices that unfortunately still construct the TESOL field.
What would be your top tips in terms of careers advice for current students?
The TESOL programme is rather rigorous, and it is easy to become completely immersed in your studying. However, it is equally important to extend your portfolio beyond that of academia. Get involved in as many activities as you can- whether it is being the course representative, presenting at the TESOL Forum, volunteering to teach in after-school programmes, being the sub-warden at your dormitory, participating in meetings with external examiners, planning a class party. The opportunities are endless, and they reflect your versatility, and ability to work with a multitude of people. Knowing what your professional goal is also paramount because it will aid you in deciding what module to take. Join LinkedIn, and maintain good relationships with your classmates; they may share job opportunities and are great sources for collaborative work.