Name: Dan Casey
Degree and University: German, Sheffield University, 2003
Occupation: English Language Teacher
What do you actually do? I travel around Prague, going to various companies to teach business people English. Most people here need to improve their language skills to improve their career prospects, so in-company language classes are a common job incentive. Most of my students are graduates in their late-20s, though I have a few older students too. Most classes are one-to-one, with a few group classes – my biggest group is five. I have a regular weekly schedule, starting at 7:30am or 8am and finishing as early as 3:30pm or as late as 5:30pm (with breaks during the day).
Were you always interested in teaching as a career? A little – I remember looking into it at university. I don’t think I’d want to teach at a British school though – it’d be very different to what I currently do! It came back to me as an idea when I was looking for something I could do while travelling – if you have qualifications as an English teacher, you really can go anywhere in the world and find work, so it makes you very employable.
When did your interest in languages start? I guess I enjoyed French and German GCSEs, and then I never found anything else I particularly wanted to study, and German never stopped being interesting, both as a language and a culture. I studied it at university, and still try to keep it to a decent standard now, although it should be better!
As an advocate for languages though, I believe the world is getting smaller these days, and people are moving around more, so we need language to communicate with each other. The locals here need to learn foreign languages – if they go on holiday somewhere, there won’t be any locals who can speak a bit of Czech. English-speakers are lucky, we don’t have that same motivation to learn, but I still think learning languages and finding out about other cultures broadens your horizons. I think it’s a bit rude to live in another country and not speak their language. Although after 10 months of trying to learn Czech, I can see that it might take a while.
How did you find out about this particular job? I think firstly through a friend who taught in Austria during her degree. Then I signed up to a newsletter and eventually it occurred to me as a good idea. I went to an Open Day and I wanted out of the nine-to-five office lifestyle and I wanted to travel, so I found a training course and made plans to move.
What do you most like about what you do and are there any downsides? Meeting people, finding about their interests and their culture, and helping them. You see these students once a week for an hour, at least, so you build up good relationships.
Unfortunately it’s certainly a hard career in which to get rich – I have enough money to have a fun lifestyle, and that’s good enough for me! I have to travel around Prague quite a lot, and there are some early starts, but neither of these things bothers me really – I’ve listened to lots of new music and read lots of new books on my metro journeys.
What are the most important skills you need to make a success out of teaching? The ability to listen, and the ability to get along with people. Also, you need to know the subject – the English language is actually incredibly complex, so you need to be sympathetic while guiding students through the minefield of phrasal verbs and idioms, while also being strict enough to tell them to do their homework.
Do you have any advice for graduates wanting to come into this sector? Do lots of research about your destination – I read a few websites (http://www.eslcafe.com ), a few TEFL books (Teaching English as a Foreign Language by David Riddell) and a few guidebooks, trying to choose my destination. I had a shortlist of about eight countries, and the Czech Republic won because I have a good friend here who could help me in the first months – a big bonus.
I would also recommend taking every opportunity to make friends with locals, be that students or whoever else – whether teaching short-term or thinking of a longer stay, you will effectively be a long-term tourist, and the locals know the best places to go. There are so many beautiful places and so many nice people around, so you have to go and find them.