Hello everyone! My name is Olessya Akimenko, and I would like to welcome you to the blog series. In this series, I will be interviewing EAL professionals, including teachers, administrators, and program coordinators, or those who are working in English as an additional language (EAL) education in Canada. Through this series, we learn more about the professional experiences of EAL educators working in the EAL sphere in British Columbia.
Olga is an EAL teacher of more than 20 years. She is also an incredibly hardworking and active individual. In this interview, Olga shared her professional journey as an EAL teacher, her teaching philosophy, and the important lessons she has learned throughout her career.
Olessya: Thank you, Olga, for opening this blog series with me! So, first of all, can you tell us a little bit about you? Whatever you would like to share with the readers.
Olga: I am an EAL/EAP professional, passionate about my lessons, my students, my workplaces, whatever I am doing. Currently, I teach University and Academic Preparation Program at University Canada West and English for Academic Purposes at Acsenda School of Management. I also teach English at Capilano University EAP Department and English Language and Culture Centre at Simon Fraser University and a sessional instructor. I very much appreciate this opportunity to share some of my life with my professional community. Thank you for this, Olessya.
Olessya: Great! Thank you for sharing. My next question is, why did you choose this profession, an EAL teacher?
Olga: I started teaching English in 1998 when I was a graduate student of Linguistics and TESOL in the Far East of Russia. I chose this profession because back there and then, it opened some opportunities. There was a high demand for this profession; besides, being able to speak English fluently in late 1990s in Russia made it possible not just to make a living, but also to enter the global community, a new world of ideas, contacts, cultures, technologies. It was exciting. At that point, I also discovered teaching as my passion, and it still is.
Olessya: And how long have you been teaching in Canada? Could you tell us a bit about how your professional journey as an EAL teacher in Canada began?
Olga: I’ve been teaching in BC, Canada since 2016, although in my first year here I was mostly volunteering in places like Mosaic, and the other immigrant societies. The first school I volunteered in, for just several weeks, was New Directions in Langley. I started there only two weeks as my family and I landed in Canada. I am a person who needs to be involved in professional activity. At that moment, I was not sure yet what I was going to do in Canada; however, the director Yvonne and the instructors at the school were so welcoming and encouraging; I loved the students and how the teaching process was organized; plus, everyone was so friendly and supportive, that the short experience played such a big role in what I did next, which was taking the TESOL Diploma Program at VCC. This is how the journey began.
In 2017, I started my first instructor job in BC at Thompson Rivers University, in its English for Academic Purposes Program (now the ELLT Department). The Department will always hold a special place in my heart. I am so grateful to Dian Henderson who was leading the department in 2017 and to other colleagues; I wish I could name and thank everyone here personally, for giving me the chance to be a part of their team and providing incredible support every step of the way.
Olessya: How would you describe your teaching philosophy and/or pedagogical approach?
Olga: We live in the age when finding information, generally, is not hard. With just a click, people can find answers to most questions they might have. The key is, and the role of an instructor, in my opinion, is to encourage students to ask questions and actively look for the knowledge, to inspire curiosity and love for learning, to guide them in how to choose the right values, to increase self-awareness and to explore the world around them because the world is fantastic! My teaching philosophy would also include genuine care for the needs of the students, their physical and mental health and individual learning needs.
Olessya: And how do you care for students’ mental and physical health?
Olga: I believe in some kind of a “perfect EAL world”, which can be embedded in curricula, along with, say, speaking and writing learning outcomes, where the students can learn the importance of such things as physical activity, rest,
journaling and meditation, gratitude, etc. As EAL educators, we often have the opportunity to choose the themes and sources for creating teaching materials; this way we can implement these things in our lessons. We can also discuss them in class. We have the time and place for it.
Olessya: What have been the biggest challenges for you in your work as an EAL teacher?
Olga: I believe many ESL instructors would agree with me that the biggest challenge is the precarious nature of the position. The work can be very unstable, because it depends on the political and financial situations in Canada and other countries. Most ESL teaching positions are contract-based and don’t include any benefits. I usually don’t know at which institution and what courses I am going to teach next term. It can be quite stressful at times.
Olessya: What do you like about being an EAL teacher?
Olga: I genuinely enjoy working with people. I enjoy interacting with the students in class; their needs and their success are my first priorities. I love working in a team, having the pleasure of co-working and sharing. Besides, at absolute most of places I have worked or volunteered at, both the leadership and coworkers have been so supportive and inspiring. I’ve had (and still enjoying!) a privilege of learning from (my personal opinion!) – best in the world educators and leaders. Really, I wish I could list everyone’s name here to express my heartfelt gratitude.
Olessya: What has been the biggest lesson (or lessons) that you have learned during your work as an EAL teacher?
Olga: The biggest lesson… Communication is essential. Your expectations, your ideas, your feelings, what you want, what you need must be communicated clearly and in such a way that people can understand you. How many greatest ideas have been ruined by poor communication? Then, listening is a mega-important skill. To sum up, in all situations, from simple everyday tasks to bringing a mega-important idea to life, we need to be able to speak clearly and listen carefully. Communication is a skill we are constantly learning. Oh, and kindness is also essential. Communication and kindness, combined.
Olessya: Great, very interesting! And my final question is why did you join BC TEAL, and what do you think BC TEAL membership gives you?
Olga: For me, BC TEAL embodies two essential components in a career of an ESL educator: professional development and networking. Since 2016, I have had the honor and pleasure of attending numerous workshops and conferences. It is also a wonderful opportunity to connect and share with a diversity of experienced EAL colleagues. It is a benefit, a treasure of having a professional organization of this level of professionalism and commitment. It is incredibly valuable.
Thank you very much, Olga, for sharing your experiences as an EAL educator, as well as some really great ideas and tips that I think will be useful for all EAL teachers, both beginner and experienced. I especially liked the idea about the importance of communication and that communication is not only about sharing ideas, but also being able to listen to the other party to understand their needs better.
Stay tuned for my next blog where I share my interview with Karin, who is going to share her experiences as an EAL teacher and researcher!
Olessya Akimenko is a PhD Candidate in the Languages, Cultures and Literacies program at SFU. She is currently conducting research for her thesis related to the professional identity negotiations of teachers of English as an additional language (EAL), for which she has received SSHRC CGS Doctoral Scholarship. Her other research and educational interests include dialogic pedagogy and the pedagogy of multiliteracies. Prior to starting her PhD program Olessya worked as an EAL teacher in Kazakhstan for more than 10 years.