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Teaching Around the World : Interviews - Teaching in Canada

Following on from our Reflections on Teaching Abroad series of articles, the Teaching Around the World interviews aim to provide you with some insight into the great travel and teaching opportunities that are available to TESOL graduates. In each interview, we will be speaking to an English Language Teaching professional about their experience of living and working as an English teacher in a specific country. The interviews will be available in two formats: an audio link for you to listen to or a summarised transcript of the audio.

We hope that you will find these interviews interesting and informative and that they will help to inspire your own English language teaching adventures.

Teaching English in Vancouver, Canada

Bill Farquharson interviews Rebecca Fulbeck

To listen to the audio recording of the interview, click here. Or read the summarized transcript of the audio below.

How did you get into teaching?
It was actually by accident, I had finished varsity and I needed a job, so I started looking online and there was an advert looking for an English teacher, so I applied for the job. I got the job, I taught at the school for 1 month exactly and realized I didn’t know anything about what I was doing! As you know English teaching is very different to what we learn at school…

And where was that first job that you landed?
At ABC international in Braamfontein (Johannesburg). They took me on with no teaching experience and no English degree. I actually have a degree in Psychology.

Right, same here!
I lasted one month there, so I decided to learn more about English teaching, and looked into Wits.  One of my colleagues told me that Wits offers English teaching courses ,so I looked into Wits and now I’m a teacher!

So you’re actually a graduate of the Wits TESOL program?
I am…

Fantastic, well you’re actually the first person I’ve interviewed that’s gone through the program. On that point then, how useful was your initial TESOL qualification in preparing you for teaching abroad?
It was very useful, like I said, I had taught before I knew anything. I didn’t know about warmers, about presentation, production and any of that. So I would go into a classroom and work directly from a book, like I knew how to from school. So the TESOL course taught me how to present a lesson successfully and how to incorporate different ideas into a lesson, and just make it more interesting. That was the most important thing; they showed me how to make a lesson more interesting, not just straight from the book.

That’s right and it’s very useful in giving you a structure to create a lesson out of whatever materials you have at hand and you become very independent.

How long have you been teaching for then?
In total probably two and a half years, I didn’t teach for very long in Canada.

How long did you live and work in Canada?
I moved to Canada in 2008 and I did start working, but it wasn’t as a teacher. I did numerous odd-jobs, it wasn’t very fun and then I eventually found this fantastic school that was willing to take me on.

And why did you choose to go to Canada in the first place?

Well, it was… love! I was with my ex-boyfriend and we both wanted to leave South Africa for a while because you know sometimes you just get tired of the politics and everything. I’d never travelled really, the only place I’d been out of the country was around Africa. He was very keen to go there and start a life specifically in Vancouver, so we went there and gave it a go.

Ok, but from your experience on the whole it’s quite difficult to find teaching jobs in Canada as a foreigner?
Yes, it is.

What was it like to live in Canada?
As time goes by you forget the bad bits. I found it quite tough as far as weather goes, because it’s six months of dark and rain and it’s overcast and raining for six months over winter. So the days are really short. But as far as general lifestyle goes, it’s a really fantastic city.There’s a lot to do and see and I learnt how to snowboard which was fantastic, they’ve got great places. The sushi there is amazing! I can’t say that for the rest of the food, but whenever I was eating out it was quite cheap – that was probably my problem.

Well that was my next question, what was the cost of living like?
Well, to give you an idea, I was earning $2000 every month. And that was for working from 9-3 every day and they gave us an extra $200 a month for all the marking and admin and things, which was fantastic. And then rent… The first place I stayed in was just an attachment to a house, like our garden cottages here, except they’re called basements cause they’re beneath the house. It was $600 for that. And then food, food’s pretty pricey; it’s probably about $50 a week but I didn’t really save when I was there because of my situation with my ex boyfriend, He didn’t have work when I had work so I was supporting both of us. I think as far as, if it’s just yourself, or if you have 2 people earning an income, you can probably save money. But I didn’t manage to save money when I was there.

Do you think that’s what the average EFL teacher would expect to earn there, around $2000 a month plus?
Having spoken to colleagues, they said that the school I worked at pays quite well, and that that seems to be the general salary.

What was the name of that school you worked at?
King George international college – KGIC.

And what sort of students did you have to teach?
Vancouver consists mostly of Chinese and Russians, so I’d say it was pretty much those kinds of students. I had a few Brazilians, a few Japanese but it was pretty much limited to Asia and the Eastern European countries.

And these would tend to be immigrants as opposed to people coming for short courses?
Well yes and no, the Chinese were mostly immigrants because they get into a school and their family comes on their student visa. With the Russians, it depends, a lot of students come just to study and then move on to somewhere else.

 Would you recommend Canada to other EFL teachers assuming you could get in with the right paperwork and everything?
With the right paperwork, absolutely. I can’t say ‘Canada’, I’d have to say Vancouver because I didn’t really get to travel much in Canada. The visa I went on was a working holiday visa and I also had multiple entries to The States, but I never got to go to The States unfortunately. Basically my travelling around Canada was to places called Apex and to Whistler. But absolutely, Vancouver, despite the crazy people and despite the weather – their summer’s beautiful. And they’re really nice people, sometimes over-the-top friendly when you walk into shops for example. I would go back to Vancouver in a second if I could.

And what advice do you have for EFL teachers in general, not to Canada specifically, in terms of what to take with you and what to leave behind. Or what’s important to keep in mind?

Well, specifically looking at my situation, to know how easy it is to find a job. I mean my first job in Canada was as a maid. That was a good learning experience, but it wasn’t much fun. Definitely try to find out what the job situation’s going to be like, what the job hunting’s going to be like and also try to find out about rent, equivalent to what you’re going to be earning, is like. I don’t think you need to know too much more than that. Obviously if you’re going to somewhere like Saudi Arabia, you need to know how you have to behave. If you’re a girl, knowing what you have to wear, or if you’re a guy, don’t look at the women or whatever. But I would say it’s really important to find out about jobs. Try to speak to some people who are there, maybe join some sort of forum and get chatting to people.

There are more and more of them around.
And people are really nice. You know, in the English teaching field specifically people are really willing to help, and say, “well, go here, don’t try that school it’s terrible, don’t bother coming here, you’re not going to earn the money you’re hoping for…”

And I wouldn’t recommend Canada to save money, but I would recommend Canada for the experience, just to go there because it’s beautiful. My goodness Vancouver is an incredible city, right on the sea with the mountains behind it. It’s so beautiful.

Yeah, it’s like a colder Cape Town, a little bit.
Yeah you could actually compare it… But find out about jobs and accommodation, I would say once you’ve got that sorted, it’s fine.

Great, well Rebecca thanks for taking the time to share you experience of teaching in Canada, particularly Vancouver. I’m sure it’ll be of interest to a number of people who come across this interview. And I hope you continue to enjoy teaching at Wits Language School!