Duncan Jamieson is the Academic Manager for Young Learners aged 7-17 years at OISE Language Coaching. He kindly answered some questions about his role and the experience he strives to offer students.
Could you tell us about your professional background?
I originally studied physics but then worked briefly offshore in the oil industry in Aberdeen. I realised it wasn’t for me and I thought what I did want to do was to travel and I always liked English, so EFL seemed a way of combining the two.
I did the CELTA in Edinburgh when I was about 23. I really enjoyed the classroom as a participant in that course in a way that I had not experienced at school, which could be quite tiresome at times. I realised that it didn't have to be that way and that I was able to combine English teaching with travel.
First of all I went to Turkey and Greece. Then I got into the British Council and went to Egypt. It was great being in a big organisation with a good structure and they helped me a lot with my development so I improved a lot as a teacher there.
Then I went to International House in Budapest with great tutors such as Jim Scrivener who has written several well known EFL books. Over that time I taught general English, business English and English for young learners. I also helped tutor the Hungarian military to learn English before they joined NATO.
Then I went to Portugal with the British Council and worked there as a teacher and briefly as acting manager. My teaching then took me to Milan where I worked for a number of years, it was really good for my development, it was a good centre, great colleagues and good teaching; I think if you have that around you it improves your own skills.
I became a CELTA and DELTA trainer as well while I was there. I taught all levels and all ages and then I became certified in teaching young learners. So a did wide variety in terms of teacher training positions. Then I moved back to the UK, to settle and to start a family.
The opportunity with OISE came up and it seemed a good role as it offered management experience which I had had before but not on the same scale as OISE, with teacher training in the classroom. This summer will be my fourth at OISE.
What do you think is the classic profile of an OISE young learner?
The nationalities we have most of are the Russian and French students. Our students are predominantly European although they come from around the world. Parents are motivated for their children to do well and they tend to come from a background where opportunities are presented to them. We want to make sure that the opportunity they have from us is one for them to develop and grow. The children we have work well in class, there are rarely disciplinary problems besides normal cases of teenagers pushing boundaries, which is part of that stage of life. In the classroom they do work hard. As I was at that age, they do not want to have their time wasted, they want to make the best use of their time and to see the relevance of their tuition in their own life. So, as long as they see how what we do in class relates to them, they work hard and do a good job.
What is the most important thing before doing a study trip abroad with OISE?
To know that it is intensive, it’s a lot of work and that you will be tired at times. The other students are in the same boat as you, they don't know each other and they are as apprehensive about that as you are. But in a couple of days you will make new friends and forge bonds. People keep in touch through Facebook and it might only be a two week stay in the UK but it will stay with you forever, and you will always remember your time at OISE Dawlish or OISE Newbury!
What distinguishes the OISE method from other experiences abroad?
I think a lot of other schools have a ‘stack them high’ policy with big class numbers.
They have project work and teachers create their own courses - I’m all for project work if it is done well - but I think that because of the nature of summer school and sometimes having inexperienced teachers, they are not always ready to be thrown in and create a full project class for a number of weeks, for high numbers and a lack of experience and resources. The teachers can flounder a bit and obviously the courses that the students get is not up to scratch.
I think we differ on that as we have smaller class sizes, the teachers can give the students more attention, we rarely have to discipline students because of classroom management, we provide students with lesson plan packs which provide the framework and aims for lessons, procedures mean that even teachers with less experience can deliver good lessons consistently and offer their students a range of topics, language points and grammar points in a well-rounded course.
But it doesn't mean that we don't allow teachers within that framework to personalise lessons or if they have an activity they think is better than the one suggested we really encourage them to do them. We certainly have no problem improving upon what we have, and one of the nice things about being a teacher is being creative. We don’t want to stop teachers being creative but we provide this framework which ensures students when they come to us that they will receive a course of great value.
What is special about the background of OISE teachers and how does this help to give the students a unique learning experience?
We are quite strict in our recruitment policy, we have a double interview process, myself and then Jozef Windsor, the Young Learners Manager. We are looking for candidates who are keen, who want to be in the classroom and who want to teach, and that sometimes means that we will take teachers with less experience if we feel that the more experienced teacher is perhaps a bit jaded. We want people who want to inspire the kids, and people who we think have the potential to do that. We do not always get it right but we do our best. If a child is in a classroom we want this person teaching them to share the same values that we have for OISE courses. We want the kids to be involved in communicative classes where the student is empowered so the student will leave being more confident in English than when they came. If the teacher thinks this is important then they are the teacher for us.
How do you organise recreational activities and how do they affect learning the language?
The activities are all in English, we mix up nationalities and we foster a spirit of team bonding and team building during those activities. The emphasis in our courses is on what we do in the classroom, but the activities are a chance for kids to let off some steam, but in English. Sometimes with sports activities we group nationalities together to form teams as this can be a fun way of organising an activity. We give them a variety of activities that are fun and engaging for them. Compared to other centres we do not do so many activities as the focus is on learning but it is still there. Some teachers throw themselves into the activities side of things as much as the teaching because of their profile.
What is the difference between coaching and teaching, and how can the difference be seen in OISE courses?
I think that teaching means to cement knowledge from the person who knows to the person who does not. Coaching is more about helping the student bring out their potential and you are there as perhaps a second set of eyes and ears and with experience in the language, to help them to go in the right direction and give them choices and to get them to think about where they want to go. The aim is to find out what the student themselves want, what the reality is at the moment, what their options are for moving towards that, and how much willpower and effort they will put towards that goal. You weigh those things up and then the transition begins. At OISE schools, it does say coaching, but for Young Learners we talk about being tutors and talk less about being teachers for that role; we are helping individuals to develop. The word tutor comes from Oxford University and their system, and that is a system we want to do. It's about student themselves, not the material they study.
Written by Laurence Clayton-Trotman, Community Manager.