Maggie Nel

“The road goes ever on and on”, as Bilbo Baggins says (or sings). Even as I finished my Masters degree in Ancient Cultural History in 2014, I was convinced I wouldn't be a practicing academic in my home country South Africa and instead I starting looking for opportunities to start seeing more of the world. With home behind and the world ahead, I got a full-time job at SHOTC (Shanghai Online Center) as an English trainer, after I applied with EF China online.

I worked as an online trainer from 2015 to 2018. Four years is a long time to teach online and it can be emotionally draining. Managers expect a lot and the students especially expect you to not only be a proficient teacher but also a counselor, career advisor, a tour agent and a philosopher. I suspect this has to do with the nature of online teaching. The one-to-one lessons and custom lessons especially give students an opportunity to not only be taught, but also ask questions to the teacher. It is not just an English classroom, but an ongoing dialogue. Online, Chinese students also use everyday topics to improve their English and immerse themselves in an English environment to broaden their horizons by asking teachers about their home countries.

After two years at SHOTC, I had however, convinced myself that the in-center bonuses were good, the colleagues were great and that meeting students from all over China online were thought-provoking and enriching. The skill of using and managing an online teaching platform is currently also a necessary skill to have, considering the speed at which language education is evolving.

However, admittedly I was becoming too comfortable (but also restless) in my hobbit-hole. The familiar paths seemed too well-trod and I was being drawn to the empty, unexplored spaces beyond the map. I was either going to look for a teaching job in Japan (I initially wanted to teach through the JET program before landing my job at EF in China) or request an internal transfer to one of EF's offline adult centers (EFEC).

So, after visiting New Zealand twice in two years (and discovering, in the process, where I might land up after my Chinese adventure!), as well as enrolling for my CERTesol in 2017, I decided it was time to request a transfer. My team manager and I sat down for a chat about my next steps and I asked for the option to be transferred to an EFEC center in Shanghai, to teach English to adults. The process was put into motion when I was asked to send an e-mail to Next Steps. After being told it might take up to three months to wait for an opening to become available at another center, I got notified within two weeks that I would be able to transfer once my contract ended.

The next big step was to plan a short twenty-minute lesson at a face-to-face adult center during which I got observed. When a decision was made, I was notified that I would get a position as an expert teacher (one of the bands at EFEC). I was overjoyed but also nervous. There were online skills, like grading your language and managing TTT that are transferrable to face-to-face classes, but some skills (that I learned during CERT training), that needed to be developed or put into practice in a physical classroom.

The day finally came that I cleared out my desk at SHOTC and returned my key card and headset to my manager. It was a bittersweet moment, but Tolkien also reminds us that not all tears are an evil. I made the last final walk west on Pudong Avenue to the station, looking at the Luijiazui skyline, as I always had for four years.

After almost two months at DNR, my new center, I am settled in and teaching up to five face-to-face lessons a day. Adjusting to the new pace is still taking some time, but my new manager Echo, has been very helpful. Initially she let me observe many other teachers' lessons, before letting me teach my own lessons. This gave me an opportunity to reflect about how I could incorporate different theories, styles and techniques into my own classes. Now I teach F2F, Workshops and CA classes, which are all part of EFEC's products.

I've had a very positive experience transferring through Next Steps. My advice is to trust the process and know that you will end up exactly where you need to be.

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