Teaching Traveling: Tasha Hacker is an ESL teacher, CELTA Trainer and the co-owner and co-founder of Teaching House, and the English language schools, IH New York and IH Boston. She has been traveling and teaching ESL abroad for 15 years and writes about living the dream by chasing adventures at TurfToSurf.com
Tasha, tell us more about yourself!
Tasha: Originally from Upstate New York, I graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1999 with a degree in Creative Writing and an intense fear of cubicles. So, in order to avoid desk jobs of all kinds, I joined the Peace Corps and shipped off to the Russian Far East, where I taught English in Nakhodka, near Vladivostok.
I then spent the next 7 years traveling abroad and teaching English when I needed money, which took me to England (where I got my Trinity CertTESOL in Windsor, UK); Doha, Qatar (where I met my British husband, who is also an ESL teacher and CELTA teacher trainer); Barcelona, Spain (where I did my Cambridge DELTA) and Seville, Spain, where I taught for two years and got married to my husband Ryan. For those who don’t know, CELTA is a Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and is an internationally recognized credential for teaching ESL.
In 2006, Ryan and I moved to New York City so I could do my MA in English education at Columbia University and go abroad again to teach in international schools with my public school teaching certification in hand (or at least that was the plan).
Meanwhile, Ryan worked as a CELTA Trainer at Embassy CES in New York, but within a few months of our arrival, Embassy shut down their CELTA training department.
Which is when Ryan and I began to wonder if we – two experienced and qualified ESL teachers and CELTA trainers – could fill the ESL teacher training void in New York. We established a relationship with Cambridge University, built our first web site, rented conference room space from St. John’s University and – voila! – Teaching House was born.
Since our opening in June 2007 in New York City (Manhattan), Teaching House has opened CELTA centers in 12 more cities in the U.S. and will open two more this summer in Salt Lake City and Portland. Amazingly, Teaching House is now the largest CELTA training center in the world, sending thousands of teachers abroad to do exactly what Ryan and I have done – travel and teach and live a life that inspires us.
As of now, Ryan and I spend our time traveling, establishing relationships with schools seeking CELTA-qualified teachers, and doing work online marketing for Teaching House and our English language schools, IH New York and IH Boston.
Currently, we are working online from Bali, Indonesia and taking a rest from having recently raced in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race from London to Rio de Janeiro, and from Cape Town to Western Australia, after which we drove a camper van across Australia.
TT: Absolutely amazing! Tell us more about your adventures.
T: After several months of racing yachts and driving a camper across Australia, I’ve now shifted down a few gears and have landed in Bali, Indonesia, with the goal of traveling around Bali while also having a base from which to work online with Teaching House, our TEFL teacher training school.
The problem with fast-paced travel is it’s hard to do work at the same time, which was true of our trip across Australia. So now that we’re in Bali, we can sit still and get some work done, which at the moment is building a new website and getting ready to launch the Teaching House Nomads blog, a site aimed at inspiring people to get their TESOL Certification and follow their dreams to teach English wherever they want to go.
With our TH Nomads teaching English and writing blogs from all over the world, the mission behind the blog is to inspire people with these teachers’ stories so others can see what opportunities there are. Whether it be volunteering at a local community center for immigrants or teaching ESL in Japan, there are so many options out there for qualified English teachers, and there are so many schools looking for high-quality passionate teachers who can inspire students.
Right now I’m working on the Teaching House Nomads Blog from Ubud, Bali. We have rented a little Balinese house with fast internet (necessary for online work!), a cleaner and a pool overlooking the rice paddies. Life in Bali is so affordable it takes the stress away from travel so you can get some work done, see some beautiful places and even get a daily massage for under $5. How’s that for a luxurious (and affordable) life abroad?!
TT: Mmm… Sounds heavenly. How did you find this Bali opportunity?
T: While we were traveling through Australia and practically going broke (Australia is expensive!), we knew that we needed to get somewhere cheap to relax and get some work done for Teaching House. And we knew Bali would be cheap. So we turned up in Ubud with a few days booked in a cheap hotel and just hit the streets looking for a house to rent. There we met a local shop owner who introduced us to another local who rented only by word-of-mouth. At the cost of $600/month for a house with a pool, $2 for a good Indonesian meal, $40/month for a gym membership, $5 for a half-hour massage and $60/month to rent a motorbike, we could live like kings while we completed our work projects.
TT: Zowie! How do you find the money to fund your travels?
T: I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to work and travel, and to have built a career from traveling, teaching and helping other students and teachers go abroad. And because I own my own companies – two English language schools and over a dozen teacher training centers – and because I have staff on the ground running the day-to-day operations for me, I can travel, meet with schools who want to hire my CELTA graduates and focus on the online marketing from any remote location. There are many ways to make a living as a nomad, but English language teaching is what opened the doors for me to build my nomadic lifestyle.
TT: Brilliant. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly funny.
T: When I was trying to learn Russian, I had a difficult time keeping my grammatical cases straight – genitive, nominative… I won’t bore you with terminology – not to mention vocabulary and grammar combined. And I often found myself inadvertently saying the weirdest things by inserting the wrong vowel or consonant here or there. For example, every day for 3 months, I apparently asked the security guard at my school, “Can I eat the key?” instead of “Can I have the key?” He was too polite to correct me, so I just kept saying it.
And on another occasion, before I went away for the weekend to a “Winter Base” with my Russian friends to go hiking in the woods and do some cross-country skiing, I bought myself a lovely, warm pair of mohair mittens from a babushka in the market.
When my Russian friends saw my fuzzy mittens, they all fawned over them, saying how lovely and soft they were, asking, “What are they made of?” in Russian. My Russian being a little shaky, and not knowing the word for “mohair,” I tried a little circumlocution and explained, “They’re made from the hair of a…um…zanyitsa?”
To which my friends responded by dropping to the floor in hysterical laughter. It turns out the word for rabbit in the genitive case is “zayitsa.” So, what I said was, “They’re made from the hair of my ass.”
TT: Hah!!! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher or in your current career?
T: With every country I visit, I learn a little more about the many languages, cultures, religions, customs and idiosyncrasies that make up this vast world we live in. It not only helps me keep an open mind towards cultures that are different from my own, but it also helps me connect with students because, chances are, I studied their language once, or I’ve eaten food from their country, or I know something about their religion or culture. And it helps me build rapport quickly, which helps me learn more about my students and cater my teaching to things I know they’ll respond well to, or hit on a topic that I know they’ll be interested in. This helps to motivate students and get them excited about language learning. When they’re having fun, they don’t notice how hard they’re working!
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
T: Without travel, I wouldn’t be who I am today. It has been my life for so long now that I don’t even remember who I was before. But I know that with every new country I travel through, I grow a little more curious; with every new person I meet, I become a little more tolerant; with every hardship I witness, I become a little more sympathetic; with every new lifestyle I experience, I rethink what is “normal”; and with every new challenge I take on, I redefine my limits.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
T: Get your CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL certification. You won’t regret it. And here’s why:
As a qualified traveling teacher, I have never had trouble finding a job in any country immediately. And I always got the best jobs at the best schools because my qualifications beat out the many teachers who either didn’t have a teaching certificate or had done an online course that didn’t include real teaching practice.
Now, as a language school owner, I only hire teachers who have, at minimum, the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL, and I pay for my teachers to get their Cambridge DELTA. I do this because I believe in the training teachers get from the Cambridge CELTA and DELTA and I’ve seen the positive impact it has on the quality of education. Also, my students have invested a lot of time and money into getting the best English language instruction and I owe it to them to provide teachers who have the qualifications and expertise to meet their needs.
Just as you would not tolerate handing over a fortune in college tuition to take a class with an English Literature professor whose only qualifications are “can read books,” your students do not want to give their hard-earned savings to an English teacher whose only qualifications are “can speak English.”
Not to mention, you don’t want to walk into a classroom of eager students feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing. You want to walk into class every day feeling confident in your skills and your ability to help your students reach their goals. Your job is a big part of your life abroad – make it as rewarding and enjoyable as possible by preparing yourself as best as possible.
TT: Thanks so much, Tasha! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?