Bridge Grad, Vera, from Russia, Taking English Teaching to Social MediaBy Krzl Light Nuñes
July 10, 2020
Through social media, Bridge graduate, Vera Baranovskaya, from Russia, has given plenty of people a chance to learn English. When she returned home after years of living and teaching English in Chile, she started Speaking Club, a weekly live English-speaking event on Instagram. She shares how this initiative has engaged potential students and helped her thrive as an online ESL teacher during the current pandemic.
Hi Vera! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi there! I’m an English teacher from Russia with six years of work experience and Bridge TEFL Certification. I started teaching back in Russia while working for Pullman Hotel in Sochi, which brought me to an amazing adventure of teaching kids in Bogota along with the AIESEC Shape Colombia project. After the project was over, I went to Chile in 2016 and I was hired by Bridge as a Business English teacher, which gave me more teaching experience and an opportunity to teach in various international companies.
How was your teaching experience in Chile?
It was very interesting because I had lots of opportunities. I still think that Chile is a country of opportunity. There are lots of things to do and many cheap flights to nearby countries. I really enjoyed my stay there.
I taught a couple of courses in a different institute for a couple of months and then I started having private classes. As a result, I was hired by an insurance company as a full-time, in-company teacher. I had at least 20 students there. Actually, it’s been my best job so far.
You’re now back in Russia. Where do you live?
I live in Nalchik, a city in the south of Russia located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and between those two seas, we have the Caucasus mountain range. It’s really pretty here. It’s very small I would say we have 300,000 people. It’s very nice and cozy and the weather is pretty nice.
You shifted to teaching English online when you returned to Russia right before the pandemic hit. How did you adapt yourself and your teaching techniques to the online classroom?
I was scared at first because I hadn’t experienced teaching English online. I was very nervous about my first class but it’s just fine. It’s just like a normal class so I cannot say that I had troubles.
I found out about Zoom and researched how it works. I started learning about the buttons on the platform, and I figured out they have the same functions as the tools I use for teaching in a real classroom. I can have a whiteboard and I can share my screen and sounds from my computer, which is pretty amazing.
Where are your current online students from?
Actually, all my online private students nowadays are from Chile. These people really appreciate me as a professional and they still write to me whenever they have to improve something or if they have a speech or a very important presentation.
I also organized the Speaking Club, through Zoom, for my students in the last company I worked in because we became like a family and I don’t want them to lose their skills while they are at home and they don’t have any opportunity to practice their English. So, this is for them to have at least one hour to speak with me –for free! I just want to help.
What sorts of activities or topics do you incorporate in the Speaking Club?
I try to prepare something new all the time. I usually start with some warm-up activities, as some people don’t know me. Then they introduce themselves. I also try to make some jokes. After we start speaking with random people in the class, I ask some questions or bring up topics to discuss. Last time, it was about a healthy lifestyle and we laughed a lot!
Actually, I start with some random questions like, “If you had $10,000, would you spend it for traveling?” or, “Do you like traveling?” Then I prepare other questions and we talk about them. I try to make it personal all the time even if we talk about lifestyle or traveling. I try to understand what people like and get them talking about it passionately.
I usually end the class with a short video so they can practice listening, then we share their ideas about it.
You later opened the Speaking Club to a wider audience through live stories on Instagram. Why did you decide to take this activity to social media?
I decided to share it with people who already knew me as a teacher and most of them follow me on Instagram, so they were on my mind. When I realized that so many people are stuck in their homes with no chance of practicing what they’d learned, it made me feel frustrated! So, I started with a couple of trial Speaking Club sessions for free, considering the crisis.
How has social media has helped you in terms of marketing classes and or getting students?
I have to confess I have no idea how social media works. But in my case, I had a person who came to the Speaking Club on Instagram because she wanted to improve her English. After the class, she told me, “It was so good! I enjoyed it so much and I want to have classes with you!”
I also know a couple of people, like an acquaintance of mine who has, I think, 700 followers on Instagram, then in a couple of weeks, it grew to around 2000. He got a lot of students and he works hard on his web page, Instagram, and Facebook ads, like always posting something about English. He’s also got an amazing British accent, so people are really interested. It was a very good example of how you can use social media. If you pay a bit of attention to your social media, it could be very useful.
You took a Bridge TEFL/TESOL Certification course. How has it helped you professionally?
Before my Bridge TEFL course, my teaching was mostly intuitive reinforced by some training during my teaching experience in the AIESEC project in Bogota, Colombia. After I received my certificate in Chile I actually felt that teaching was something I would love to do for the rest of my life as that’s the way I personally impact the world – shaping it by means of communication.
How is the COVID-19 situation in your country these days?
As far as I know, we have lots of people who have tested positive but we don’t really have a lot of deaths here.
In the place where I live – maybe it sounds very scary – children even play outside. Everyone feels free to do whatever they want. However, we practice self-isolation. Everyone is trying to stay at home as much as they can – they still do everyday activities outside, but establishments like restaurants and public places are closed. If you enter anywhere like a supermarket or a pharmacy, you have to wear a mask. Otherwise, you’re not allowed to go in. If it’s public transport, you also need a mask. Some people wear it all the time.
How has the pandemic affected you as an English teacher?
I don’t feel much difference because I still have students. It’s still possible to teach because there are amazing platforms like Zoom and all the others, so you can have all the same fun as in real life.
What are your future plans?
I want to go to China because I know that they need teachers and I know that this profession is very respected there. The place would depend on what they can offer because they have lots of schools there. I already had a couple of interviews with Chinese companies and most of them ask if you want to live in a big or small still city. I want to teach in a small town, and I would also love to learn Mandarin Chinese.