Scholarship 2016 – Martin Cooke

This year’s scholarship winner is Martin Cooke, from Yorkshire in England. Here he is in his own words.

I’m originally from Yorkshire, England. I teach English, mostly to adults, at a buxiban (‘cram school’) in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.Martin-Cooke

In high school, I struggled with many subjects and didn’t get very good grades in my GCSE exams. I did go on to study for A-levels, but found those to be difficult as well, and I ended up being turned off by the prospect of academic study. I didn’t feel it was suited to me, but I had no real idea of what I ought to do with my life.

I worked for a few years in a supermarket before deciding I did want to go to university after all, and took an Access to HE course designed for mature students. I discovered a new love of learning, enjoying and participating in the classes, making friends, and achieving excellent grades for the first time (which was a wonderful boost for my self-confidence).

I went to Aberystwyth University, and graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in International Politics. After a short stint as a volunteer in South Africa and India, I spent a few more years in call centre and office work. Eventually, the prospect of spending the rest of my adult life sitting at a desk became too much to bear. I applied to become an English teacher in South Korea.

I arrived in Anyang, near Seoul, in the summer of 2010 and I immediately knew I had made the right choice. I loved teaching, and wanted to make a career from it. So I signed up to take the CELTA, getting up before 7am to take a bus across Seoul for the CELTA input and teaching practice sessions, and then catching another bus back to work from 2pm until 10pm. It sounds arduous, and it was, but I couldn’t complain – many of the twelve year olds in my classes were getting up at around the same time, if not earlier, and thought themselves lucky if they got to bed before midnight.

I loved Korea, but after a year I felt it was time to move on, and arrived in Taiwan in 2011. I’ve been here ever since.

A few months after I began teaching in Taiwan, I met Jenny, and after falling in love, we got engaged, married, and moved to her hometown of Kaohsiung. We now have a beautiful two year old daughter whose Chinese is already better than mine. It’s just a matter of time before I can say the same thing about her English!

Nowadays, when I meet teenagers and young adults who are experiencing the same types of problems as I had at school, I always try to consider whether it’s the education system that’s holding them back, rather than any lack of ability. I try to use different teaching methods and approaches whenever I feel the students would benefit from them, and I think that’s partly due to my own past struggles with inflexible and outdated classroom teaching methods and education systems.

I also have to wonder: if those methods and systems were out of date when I was a teenager, why are teachers and schools still relying on them now?

I always feel that I can improve as a teacher, that I should try to find and utilise new ideas (or new ways of thinking about old ideas), and I’m always looking for opportunities to do so. However, in southern Taiwan there aren’t any providers of the types of ‘face-to-face’ courses I feel I would benefit most from – and jetting off to another country to a few weeks to take a training course isn’t an option with a little girl to look after. So I’ve wholeheartedly gone in for the online option.

I have already completed several MOOCs (in fact, I’m working on one right now) and have taken a few paid-for courses as well. I do feel these courses have improved my teaching, and I would strongly recommend MOOCs to any teacher who hasn’t yet given them a try, especially those who work in the ‘backwaters’ of EFL where options for face-to-face training are limited.

I’m really looking forward to going back to England for the first time in six years (!) and meeting some of the authors and scholars whose works I’ve relied on since I became an EFL teacher. I’m sure I will learn plenty of new ideas at the IATEFL conference which can be brought back and passed on to my fellow English teachers here in Taiwan. It will be great to meet you all there.