What made you decide to become a teacher?
My journey in to teaching was not exactly a direct route. When I went to university to do a law degree it was probably the furthest career from my mind. However, during my first year I became involved with the university skydive club, ended up as club president, and suddenly my weekends were consumed with skydiving and training other people.
It was during this time that I found a real passion for helping people to grow and develop, and it gave me enough doubt over my original career plans that I put them on hold and decided to apply for school-based jobs. In 2005, I became an assistant boarding school house parent at an International school in Somerset and this is where my passion was truly ignited. Soon after arriving I was desperate to teach and so completed the Trinity CertTESOL month-long course which began my career into teaching.
I taught English to international students aged from 7 – 18 and I thrived on watching their English improve and their confidence grow. Most of the international students we taught took their GCSEs in just one year, so their progress was rapid and very easy to track.
Is that why you decided to specialise in EAL?
By 2007 I was ready to embark on a PGCE and although my love of working with EAL students remained, the option to qualify as an EAL specialist was not available, which I thought was strange. I decided that once qualified I would do everything possible to specialise within the area of EAL, doing additional training as required.
I undertook a school centred primary PGCE in Cumbria and applied for inner city teaching jobs in Manchester, where I knew there would be many opportunities to work with EAL pupils and develop my experience.
I secured a position in an academy in Moss Side and undertook my NQT year as a PPA cover teacher, which had both positive and negative attributes. As soon as it was completed I began the process of pushing to set up a whole school EAL department across the 3 – 18 academy.No stopping you! How did that work out?
I was never one to hold back and before long I had secured large amounts of funding and I became Head of EAL in 2009. I set up the EAL department, recruited staff, implemented functional skills, undertook staff training and took the department through Ofsted successfully. By 2010 the department was fully functional and running well in conjunction with the English department.
In 2011 I was offered a funded MA by Manchester Met University and jumped at the chance to do a PgDip in Teaching Bilingual Learners and an MA in Language Education. I was amazed by many of the discussions from other students on my course, such as how little CPD there was within the area of EAL.
So many teachers said they were teaching EAL learners but that teacher training barely touches on it and many felt ill prepared to know what to do, day to day, in the classroom. It was around that time I decided I wanted to move in to consultancy and training at some point during my career.
Tell HWRK about the summer school you used to run?
In 2007, my husband and I set up, marketed and ran an international summer school for children from around the world to come to the UK during the summer to learn English. It was the hardest thing I had done in my career to that point, such a tough market to break in to and to become established in. However, we did become established and we ran in the end for five years on two sites (Bristol and York) with a massive team of staff and 100s of students each week.Why did you discontinue that?
In the end, it really took over family life. We still needed to be at one of the sites most of the summer, we were expecting our third child – we had three children aged 3 and below at one point!! – and so we decided to pass it on at a time when it was thriving and we walked away with a huge sense of achievement and a wealth of experience in so many different areas.
So, you did eventually move in to Consultancy?
I set up consultancy and training privately and also worked for a local council as a Lead Teacher of EAL. I visited lots of schools and saw loads of interesting teaching but my overriding sense was that there was still a real lack of training and understanding of how best to support students, particularly new arrivals.
Many teachers asked me to recommend EAL teaching resources or websites that they could visit for teaching support and ideas and I was often unable to offer very much.
I decided at the start of this year that I would take the leap of faith and move full-time in to setting up EAL HUB. I just had a huge desire to better support teachers globally, but also to give EAL pupils the best support to remain in lessons as much as possible and thrive at learning English.
What are the short-term goals for EAL HUB?
To build the resources as much as possible whilst keeping them at a high standard. We are still developing new ideas and concepts but the PIVOT Packs and Reading Hero Packs are proving really popular and we are getting regular book requests, as are the standalone resource sheets, videos and activities.
The free resources are doing so well, to date we have had around 13,000 downloads in under six months – there is clearly a real need! We have also found that lots of schools are also using many of the resources for children that aren’t EAL but that have specific literacy needs, so we are looking at this side of things too, to ensure we are meeting that need.
I am currently working on pushing my CPD and training. I am keen to get out in to schools to offer training within areas such as welcoming and providing for new arrivals, how to boost reading and writing in Advanced Bilinguals, EAL Coordinator training, TA training and Assessment. I am also excited to visit some international school overseas.
And the long-term goals?
The long-term goal is simple – to offer an amazingly versatile and holistic EAL support hub that is the go-to place for teachers in need of support, resources and training for students learning English. We are also marketing across the globe at the minute, with some exciting collaborations in the pipeline, so our long-term goal is to get EAL HUB in to as many schools as possible! www.ealhub.co.uk @Bethan_Southern