Experienced EFL Teacher, Erin, Transitions from China to Oman
Bridge graduate Erin Coyle, from Michigan, continues to make headway in her ESL career abroad. After a five-year stint teaching English in China (where we initially interviewed her), she is now a college English instructor in Oman. We caught up with her again to discuss her experience teaching in the Middle East, how she’s had to adapt to online teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, and the direction she sees her career taking next.
How long have you taught abroad in total?
I have taught abroad for nearly seven years: five years teaching English in China and I have almost completed two years in Oman.
When you took your first English teaching job overseas, in China, did you ever see yourself living abroad for so long?
To be honest, I did not have a timeline for how long I would teach abroad, and it was hard to tell where I would go after my first job. But I plan to stay abroad because I really enjoy it!
After teaching English in China, what made you choose Oman as your next destination?
I was ready for a change in location and I wanted to teach in a different context. For example, in China, I taught spoken English at a university but there was no structure – just a textbook, and the only goal was to get the students to speak more. So, I wanted more of a challenge and I was interested in teaching anywhere in the Middle East because some friends who had taught here had really enjoyed it. And it would be completely different, which I also liked.
You’re teaching in a highly competitive region, the Middle East, Did your TEFL certificate and experience in China help you get the job?
The experience helped me get the job, along with my TEFL certificate, but I also took my CELTA in 2017 went back to get my master’s degree in TESOL in 2018, which is what really helped.
How did you find your job in Oman?
I was going to an International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) conference when I was working on my master’s degree and they were going to have a job fair, so they had posted agencies that would be hiring. One agency was hiring for jobs in Oman.
Since I was open to going anywhere in the Middle East, I sent my resume and other documents and the recruiter agreed to have my interview during the job fair. I interviewed with two representatives from the Ministry of Higher Education and met with the recruiter. The recruiter told me later that day that I had been hired. This happened in April. However, I did not receive a contract until June, which had stated not to quit my job until it has been approved, and I waited until September to get my visa! During this waiting period, I also had to have all my documents notarized, including degrees, passport, and any other certificates I had.
What were some of the things you had to adjust to when you relocated to Oman?
I had to adjust to the workday schedule – here the week is from Sunday to Thursday with weekends being on Friday and Saturday. I also had to adjust to my schedule in terms of time. Most shops are open in the morning, closed in the afternoon, and then open again after 4:30.
Can you tell us about your teaching job there?
I work for Sur College of Applied Sciences. I teach college students aged 18-22 in a foundation program. Students study in a foundation program to improve their English and study skills to prepare them for their postgraduate studies. The foundation program is completed in two or four semesters, based on the students’ level when they enter the college. There are four levels – A, B, C, and D; A is the intermediate course, while D is the beginner level.
Every semester is different in terms of the level I teach and what I teach. Sometimes I teach general English which focuses on all skills. This semester I taught level A, but the previous semester I taught level B.
What’s a typical workday like for you?
This semester, before the crisis, I was teaching academic writing and a listening and speaking course in the classroom.
For the writing course, the students have a research project to complete and must submit two drafts prior to the final one. My days are spent teaching all things related to writing – topic sentences, body paragraphs, giving examples, referencing, etc. This writing class meets four days a week for 100 minutes for each class.
Listening and speaking course
The listening and speaking class prepare students for a presentation they need to give that is related to their writing project. This class is also designed to help students improve their study skills, note-taking skills, speaking, and listening. This class meets two days a week for 100 minutes for each class.
Assessment and other roles
Although I did not teach many hours this semester, I also work in assessment and help write exams, so I spend the rest of my time working on exams. I am also involved with our English Club which also keeps me busy. In the spring semester, I also teach a general English community service class.
How has your job changed due to coronavirus?
Now during the crisis, my time has been spent teaching online to our students. We taught online for eight weeks. The classes were not live, so lessons involved uploading materials and assignments on a platform as well as trying to create discussion boards to communicate.
How have you adapted?
To be honest, it has been challenging teaching online, especially since we didn’t have live classes. It was also hard not to see my students face to face, and it was hard not knowing if they are understanding everything, because of how we are communicating. We used Blackboard as our platform, so it took me a while to learn how to use it, and then trying to explain to the students how to use it. However, I did take an online course on how to teach online, so I did learn some new techniques which helped. And now that I have completed the semester, I know what I could do better if we continue teaching online next semester. So, I have learned from some of these challenges.
What do you like about teaching in Oman?
I like that it is challenging for teaching students in a foundation program, and I like that there are opportunities to teach general and academic English.
How has your career advanced?
Currently, I am helping to write exams and taking on more responsibilities because of opportunities available at the college, such as English club and community service. I have also conducted some exploratory action research and will be speaking at an ELT conference in October in Oman.
What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?
In my free time, I like to read, explore, hike, and travel.
What are your future plans?
I’m really enjoying working in assessment so I would like to try to find something that could allow me to continue doing this. I am also interested in curriculum development and I like the idea of trying to teach a global issues course. I am open to many things! I do not have a specific location in mind!
How long do you think you’ll stay in Oman?
Hard to say! I just renewed my contract for the next academic year, so maybe one more year, two at the most, and then I will assess to see what other jobs are out there.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to teach in Oman?
I would say that it helps if you have a bachelor’s degree in education or even linguistics. Of course, a TEFL or CELTA helps too. My degree is not in education, but my master’s degree in TESOL helped me get the job. You should also have patience because it takes a long time to get anything done. For example, you will have to wait months before your visa gets approved.
You should also have an open mind, be tolerant, and open to a completely unique culture. Oman is a beautiful place so you can spend your weekends hiking, camping, and swimming. The people here are amazing.
Working abroad is a great way to expand your career as an English teacher, just as Erin has done. Meet another teacher in the Middle East, Jasmine in Bahrain.
June 1, 2020