How to write a great personal statement

This month’s ‘How to…’ on completing a great application for your next job in TEFL.

TEFLism

Part 1 – the Personal Statement

It’s easy to find a lot of information on employers and interview techniques for most ELT jobs, from disgruntled rants on Dave’s ESL cafe to informative reviews on Glassdoor. However, information in one of the market’s best-known employers seems thin on the ground.

The good news about their application process is that it’s uniform and transparent and aims to be as objective as such a procedure of selection can be, so there is a process you can follow.

I’ve experienced three BC interviews and a number of applications so far in my ELT career, two of which have been successful. Each time I’ve refined my process using help from others and what minimal internet resources I’ve found. Here’s my guide to making the best impression you can.

Photo credit: Flazingo.com via Flickr

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How to move to a new country #1: before the leap

On the brink of another international move, I sat down to think about all the things I do to settle in to a new job, in a new city, in a new country.

This will be the third move in just over five years, not including briefer sojourns such as short contracts and a recent study break in Thailand. The basics – packing up the house, planning the move etc. – are common to any moving experience. The removals might be handled by international shipping rather than Uncle John, and if you’re moving pets internationally there’s a whole raft of paperwork, depending on where you’re going, but it’s manageable and your new job will probably have a lot of experience supporting people through the practicalities.

This is the extra stuff for when you really are boldly exploring a strange new land and have no previous point of reference on What To Expect. What are the dos and don’ts in your new home-to-be? What’s the local language? How will you find like-minded people? How do the buses work?

You will notice as this post progresses that a lot of what I do post-interview but pre-actual-moving involves the Internet as the key line of information from the greatest number and variety of sources. Nothing in this post is revolutionary; everything is common sense, but here’s my one-stop guide to how I go about answering those questions.

Kimchi jiggae at the Hanok HouseNew sights, new friends, new food, new culture

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It’s Life, Jim, but not as we know it

Recent conversations:

Me (M): “Ummm, there’s this job going in Burma that looks quite interesting. Lots of training, and it’s in that bizarre new city that they’ve built as the capital but no one lives there yet. Whaddya reckon?”

Wonderboy (W): “Hmm, could be good. Let’s keep an eye on it. What about this university job in Ho Chi Minh City? We liked Vietnam when we visited. All that fresh fruit and veg.”

M: Yeah, that’s definitely one to keep in mind. There’s a half decent job going in Hanoi, too.

W: I don’t think we’d like the weather in Hanoi.

M: There’s a brilliant job going in Cali, starts January. It’s perfect for us and I’ve always wanted to go back to Colombia!

W: No, even with the Delta, it’ll be a bit too soon to go back to South America. Let’s keep looking in Asia.

M: Yes, and I can keep my fingers crossed for the Pyongyang job to come up again.

W: You and Pyongyang. I just don’t get it.

M: Anyway, let’s see what’s going…

M&W: … after the Delta!

Yes. These are extracts from what constitute real conversations in my household. Five years after I jetted out from Heathrow to Mexico with a vague intention of travelling, doing a bit of light teaching here and there if I wanted to stay somewhere a while, and doing my best to make it twelve good months out of the country in the wake of the election that got my job abolished, teaching has become my career and travelling is the name of the game.

September 25th has rolled around again and prompted me to take stock this time not only of the past year, but of the five years since I left home and set my sails for the horizon. More

“No tengo lapiz.” Linguistic acquisition and the ESL teacher

언필이없서요 (yonpil-ee obsoyo). A recent addition to my catalogue of chunks of Korean, of which I now know a range, none of which are related to each other enough to form sentences let alone serve any useful, communicative purpose. Meaning, “I don’t have a pencil,” this, like the Spanish phrase for the same dilemma in this post’s title, is the extent of my on-the-job language learning.

The situation is reciprocal. I learn phrases like, “I haven’t got a pencil,” “I’ve finished”, and bathroom,” in the language of the country I’m living in. The under-10s I encounter in those countries in turn learn the words, “TEEEEEacherrrrrr” (with bored / outraged / despairing inflection depending on the situation) “No homework pleeeeeeeaaazzzzz,” and, astonishingly, all the words to the latest Disney / One Direction song (depending on grade level). Neither I nor they seem to get much beyond this point. More

The Undiscovered Country

It is a time of change and confusions, and so I chose a title to indicate both. The first confusion lies in the providence of the quote, which I’m sure some of you will have mistakenly identified as Shakespeare, W. from his work Hamlet. However, I am in fact quoting Roddenberry, G. and his creation Star Trek. The second confusion is that I am not, in fact, about to discuss either the post-life human condition commonly known as death, or a country that hasn’t been discovered, but South Korea. The third confusion, for those of you so presumptuous to have thought ahead, is the expected continuation of the metaphor… “from whose bourn no traveller returns….” No one can speak for certain of the future, and at this point there are still big question marks over whether I’ll make it to Korea or not, but if I do, I have every intention of returning in a very much alive condition.

There, I’m glad we got all that settled. More

Pants performance by prattling prannies – the pestilential ‘P’ prevails

The problems pertaining to plagiarism persist in my place of employment in the most pernicious manner. It really is beyond the pale. Plagued by precocious pubescent Peruvians, my pedantry proceeds to proliferate as my patience proportionately depreciates.

Is it possible to promote perspicacity as the pathway to sagacity? Or in each precious plenary must we penalise relentlessly – probe pupils’ principles; plumb the depths of their duplicity?

Perchance praise and plaudits for pristine practice may give pause to the deplorable pretenders who pilfer, plunder and purloin the precious, prized phrenic prowess of their peers.

O! What penalty can provide practical prevention against such academic perversion? I postulate that the pervasiveness of this perturbing predicament cannot be pacified by punishment nor pushed aside: we must emphatically petition for a prevalence of probity!

postscript: this ‘profe’ is proper pee’d off.

Aside

The Wire: a guide to modern teaching

I made it to the end of term one. This meant no sleeping, not enough eating, and a lot of marking and grading for the final couple of weeks. And, in the same way that I encourage the students to reflect on the gains in their work and find the areas they need to improve in, I am trying to work out the same things in my teaching.

Of course (although they haven’t worked it out) when I ask them to reflect, I’ve already written out for them in no uncertain terms what they are doing well and what they need to improve.

Who does that for me?

Ex-officer Pryzbylewski of the Baltimore Major Crimes unit, that’s who. More

Sharing the love

An exciting accolade I have been unable to acknowledge properly in the last few weeks is that – I am very proud to say – I have been awarded a reader appreciation award! I am even more proud because I was nominated for this by the superb blogger, April, writer of Aventuras de Abril. More

with the ‘P’ that stands for Plagiarised

An open letter to Grade X – you little buggers know who you are.

This is your English teacher. Yes, the gringa one, with the glasses and the bad hair. The new one. The British one who dresses badly. Yep, got it? That one.

It’s been a difficult year for us, and I feel it’s time to talk about our relationship. I don’t want to break any more plates or glassware so I’m going to make an effort to make this a civilised conversation. Please grunt to acknowledge that you’ve understood. Good, thanks.

I was pleased to see you’d done your homework. Well done. There’s a first time for everything, and I’d like to encourage your blossoming steps in the right direction. Let me get that out there right away. This is cause for hope and celebration.

I was also very impressed with some of the varied and interesting vocabulary you used to complete this work. I was particularly glad to see that some of the vocabulary items you usually copy down, look up and then assiduously forget had resurfaced. Well done.

But let us come to the ‘however’ part of this conversation. More

The power of play

Remember that story about Einstein forgetting how to tie his shoelaces so he could remember to work out how the universe works? Remember when you left school at 16 and could do quadratic equations, remember the Periodic Table and quote Dickens? It’s amazing how knowledge that seems to take forever going in falls out remarkably quickly.

It’s only been a little over 18 months since I finished my CELTA and started teaching, and other than a spell of a couple of months between countries, I’ve been working constantly since. And yet… today I recalled Basic Lesson No. 1 from that glorious training ground, the Kamala tiki hut classroom in Ecuador paradise.

Make learning fun.

So simple, so effective, so elusive, so easily forgotten. More

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