Justine Dalke is a certified English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and holds a variety of specialised teaching qualifications, including teaching grammar, business English, and test preparation.
She has worked in classrooms around the world and taught students from various backgrounds and a diverse range of countries, from Japan to Ukraine to Brazil.
Justine is passionate about spreading knowledge of the English language and spoke to the Alison Blog about her teaching inspiration, the day to day business of being a teacher, and why becoming an ESL teacher is such a rewarding career choice.
Hi Justine, did you always want to teach English as a second language? If so, what attracted you to the job?
This is an interesting question because the answer is both “yes” and “no”. When I was in high school, I wanted to be an English teacher. English was my favorite subject and I have always enjoyed the process of learning different languages, so being an English as a second language (ESL) teacher sounded like the perfect job. Then I started university and did some practice teaching and decided it wasn’t for me. I was 17 at the time and didn’t have the right temperament to be a teacher. From that moment, I decided to change my major at university and focus on other career options for a while.
What has been your path to your current job?
As you might guess, it has been a non-traditional path. Before I became an ESL teacher, I had many different jobs but none of them felt like a career. I worked in fashion, retail, customer service, home improvement, and finance, to name just a few. After many years of working in a lot of different fields, I wanted to change careers and decided to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher again. I started by doing some volunteer teaching work in my community while I completed a teaching certification online. After getting my certificate, I got my first job as an ESL teacher in Japan. That was almost five years ago. Since then, I have traveled and taught all over the world while developing my skills as a teacher. Through my work in the classroom, I have discovered that I am most passionate about materials development and so took on freelance work to get experience in that area.
What has been the most important skill you’ve had to develop teaching English as a second language?
Patience. This is, without a doubt, the single most important skill I’ve developed as an ESL teacher. There are many courses and books and videos that can prepare you to become an ESL teacher and they teach you a lot of necessary skills, like how to make a lesson plan, how to teach grammar, how to create classroom activities, and so on. But there is no class that can prepare you for a student that is having a bad day and starts crying during a lesson or a student that struggles with comprehension. Patience is a skill learned on the job.
What does a typical day look like for an English language teacher?
Generally speaking, a typical day for an English teacher starts pretty early. Teachers working at public and private schools usually start classes between 8 and 9 in the morning. Language academies may start a bit later in the morning, but the classes there often go on late into the evening. Classes often range from 35 minutes to several hours. Depending on the length of the class, a teacher may only have one or two classes per day or up to seven. Teachers usually have a lunch break in the middle of the day and a short break period between each class. During break periods or after school teachers need to prepare for upcoming lessons.
What skill do you have to use the most in a typical day?
As a teacher, you use the four major language related skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) everyday. Besides these obvious skills, teachers rely heavily on their soft skills, especially time management and creative thinking. Time management is a critical skill for teachers because you have a limited amount of time to cover all the material in a given day and the challenge is how to present, produce, and practice while managing students, questions, and challenges. This is also where creative thinking is used – what if the game or activity isn’t going as planned? Teachers need to be able to adjust their lessons immediately to cater to the needs of each class.
Why would you encourage our Learners to choose your profession?
Teaching overall is a very rewarding profession, but I think being an English teacher is doubly so because of the impact you can have on people’s lives. There are over 1.5 billion people learning English and each person has their own reason. As an ESL teacher, you can help people accomplish their personal English goals.
If you could recommend our Learners to upskill in one area in order to become a successful English language teacher, what would it be?
English! There are many skills required to be a successful English teacher, but the most important one is having a good command of the English language. It’s not enough to just speak English well, you also need to understand the various components of the language and how they work together. For another skill besides English, I would recommend public speaking. As a teacher, you are constantly presenting and talking to groups of people and public speaking skills, such as organizing material and watching for feedback, are useful in the classroom.
What’s the best part about your career?
The best part about being an ESL teacher is meeting people from all over the world. As a teacher, I have met countless people and learned about their histories, cultures, and lives. It is a very humbling and eye-opening experience that reminds you how big the world really is.