Founder and Teacher at Openness
I met Marie for the first time In 2012 when I joined the teaching team at EF Cambridge. Thanks to her charismatic enthusiasm, Marie effortlessly built an unofficial support network among the teachers in the staffroom, and I was blessed to be a part of it. That’s how Marie became my source of inspiration, with her creative lesson ideas and exciting classroom activities. Passionate about teaching, inquisitive and witty, Marie started her own language tutoring service in 2015.
What do you like the most about the English language?
I’ve always been fascinated by the English language. After all, it is the language of all my favourite songs growing up. However, what fascinates me the most about the language is the influence the pragmatic use of it has on how we communicate, and how the language changes according to how it is used. It is amazing to study such a language, especially when Romance languages (my first language and most of the languages I’ve learnt) are so stuck in their ways and unwilling to be changed even when some of the grammar, like past subjunctive, is hardly ever used in spoken or written form. I feel the English language is more focused on communication rather than archaic grammar rules. Plus, there is something amazing about being able to communicate with people from all over the world and having this shared language regardless of our mother tongue.
What inspired you to become an ELT teacher?
Well, that’s quite a story. I’ve always loved the English language but felt no inclination towards teaching it. When I went back to university as a mature student, my aim was to get a degree in a discipline I enjoyed (English linguistics) and then train as a French teacher. One of my teachers advised me to take the Celta module as part of my degree to get a bit of formal teaching experience. I instantly fell in love with all aspects of ELT and I never looked back. I changed my plans, took the Celta, graduated from uni and became a teacher!
How do you keep yourself motivated as a teacher?
That’s a hard question because it is not always easy. I focus on the small victories and there is something satisfying about seeing the progress a student can make. I always remind myself where they started and where they are at, to see the progress they have made. I read a lot and keep up-to-date with the industry.
What motivated you to ‘fly solo’ and become self-employed?
I’ve always known that at some point I would work for myself. I worked in language schools for many years and even though I worked with amazing people, I realised that this was not the environment where I would blossom professionally. So I resigned from a teaching position I’d had for about 4 years and went on this journey. I guess my initial motivation was being able to teach the way I wanted to with the material I wanted to use, as well as being able to focus on the student, hence why my business is mainly for one-to-one or small groups. I didn’t want to be a clog in a big machine, I guess, I wanted to be the machine, if that makes sense. However, I also knew that it was not going to be easy, that it was going to take some time to establish myself in the industry.
What are the biggest challenges of being self-employed?
There are many, but I would say that the biggest challenge is the financial side of things. Some months are great, some months are not so great, at least at the beginning. After 4 years being self-employed, I had a pretty regular stream of income. But the first couple of years it was tough. Also every September, it’s like starting from scratch again, recruiting new students, but I found that this side of things got dealt with more quickly with experience. Also, something I find difficult at times is being on my own. I miss the staff room environment where you can bounce ideas off each other and where you have support when needed. Being self-employed, you do everything on your own, the ‘well-done’ after a good lesson or the ‘come on, it’ll be better next time’ after a not so good one!
What are the biggest rewards of being self-employed?
I think it’s being able to see how your business is growing and being able to say: ’wow I’ve done that! That’s my hard work paying off’. That’s an incredible feeling. The relationships built with the students and their parents, in some cases, is amazing too. I have a few adult students who are now people I consider as friends. I guess you become more than a teacher, especially for the ones who have just arrived in the UK. It is comforting for them to know there is someone they can trust and turn to. Also because 20-odd years ago I was in their shoes, I guess it is even more comforting for them.
What advice can you give to a teacher who wants to break free and be their own boss?
Be patient. Don’t run before you can walk. Set yourself realistic goals every year with realistic timelines. But also have an idea of the big picture, what you are working towards and keep a firm eye on that goal. Be prepared to make sacrifices, but stay true to who you are. If you are not from a business background, educate yourself, read books, do online courses etc…
Do you think that being a non-native speaker of English has had an impact on your teaching career?
Not really. I was told it’d be difficult to find work but here in England, I haven’t had any problems. I can only think of a couple of instances when being a non-native speaker had been an issue, but nothing too important. I use my story as a way to motivate my students: if I can do it, surely they can too!