An Interview with David West at Ky Nguyen English in Vietnam
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
DW: After doing a number of volunteer teaching positions as well as training in traditional martial arts while in college, I discovered that I had a talent for teaching. Not wanting to go towards a career at a standard public school, I took my study of foreign languages more seriously and sought out volunteer teach positions that gave me some hands on training.
I once read a memoir that shared the golden truth that any volunteer position can be turned into a paid position if done well. The key for me was gaining practical experience and seeking opportunities that excited me.
GS: Could you give some details about your dealings with Gold Star TEFL Recruitment?
DW: It was very smooth. Christine got me in touch with the HR person at the school rather quickly. Christine was very friendly and available for answering questions and followed up. I felt that she was always available and responsed quickly.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in Vietnam?
DW: Know what you want ﬁrst. That best way for the recruiter to help you ﬁnd what you are looking is by being speciﬁc. There are a lot of diﬀerent types of schools and situations that you can experience.
Before committng to a place, take a long look at a map. Geography matters.
During the interview, be sure to ask the interviewer quesitions about how their school operates, their goals, about class size, about other teachers who work there, etc.
Try to get the best picture of the place. Don’t be afraid to ask anything. Look for an interviewer who brightens up by your questions. But with that said, the most important quality you can bring to your new situation is your ﬂexibility and your ability to adjust to a situation that requires getting used to.
GS: You are teaching in (city) at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
DW: What do i like most? The beach. The beach is a 10 minute taxi ride from my home. Though most people tell me that Back Beach is not as good as the beaches of Nha Trang, I have never been spoiled for choice before.
To me this is paradise and I make sure to visit there at least twice a week. At night the crabs are ﬁghting for territory. Also at night, I have seen owls hovering above the rocks of Front Beach hunting. During the weekdays the beach is peaceful and mostly empty.
Having had spent 10 years in central China, where the sun hardly breaks through the overhead clouds, Vung Tau is exceptionally beautiful to me. Not joking, I found myself ﬂinching as a shadow to pass in front of me. I think it funny that I am not used to that.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
DW: I like that teaching never gets boring. I love taking students from their startng point and bringing out abilities that they didn’t have before. When students are accustomed to facing a lot of stress about having to be correct all the time, teaching them how to eliminate impossible answers shows students the value of guessing aloud.
Activites that I think are easy to teach, come to my students like a fresh breath of fresh air.
Learning doesn’t always require much teaching. An important part of the job is setting up some sort of hands on activity and stepping back a little. Teaching also requires a lot of creativity. Planning is important but good planning is never enough. You have to read situations and make changes in the moment. I love this part of the job.
GS: Can you tell us about your favourite class at the moment?
DW: I teach many classes at the moment. Some classes are with very young students while other classes are for high school students. I was given one particular class of high school students. I see them once a week.
They are pretty tired and have a lot of pressure. Students this age typically do not look forward to English class with much enthusiasm. They are quiet and many of the students do not pronounce English very well. This is tragic because they have so much experience learning English (somemes over 10 years). They know lots of words and pretty much all of the the grammar.
This often comes through in thier writing. Even with all of that schooling, I can make out only very little of what they say. I have decided to remedy this by making them sing in class. I have downloaded the songs, printed out the lyrics, and teach them to sing in a way somewhat similar to how I would teach them to read a passage.
Once they get down the rhythm of English, I see a huge improvement. They do to. Their confidence boosts. Sunday afternoons are much more pleasant for everyone involved.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in Vietnam.
DW: Weekdays are so different from weekends and so I should talk about each separately. On weekdays I teach from 5:30pm to 8:45pm. My days are are free. I use that time for creative pursuits and planning.
On the weekends, I get to the center at 7:30 am. I have two classes before lunch from 7:45 until 11:00 am. I go home to eat and have a short rest, as is the custom in Vietnam. Then from 2:00pm until 5:00pm, I have two more classes. I usually eat at the center.
From 5:30 until 7:00, I have one more class. I make sure to go out Saturday night to decompress from the day but am sure not to stay out too late because I have the same schedule on Sundays.
I am off on Fridays. I use that day to enjoy the beach. Over time I hope to explore some of the great tourist spots around town and find some more restaurants. But I have a hard time doing much but hitting the beach as it is by far my favorite thing to do in Vung Tau.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
DW: Classrooms are equipped with large monitors. Most teachers plug in their laptops to the cable and present material that way. They make use of Youtube and show cartoon videos that highlight the vocabulary or conversation portion of thier lesson. Personally, I like using my ipad and a bluetooth speaker for presenting material from the Internet.
The students all have books.
Sometimes I feel that I have to unpack the material for some classes more than other classes. Every class is diﬀerent and over the first few weeks the main goal has been just trying to get to know them as well as their strengths and weaknesses.
And this being Southern Vietnam, I am grateful that the classrooms are well air conditioned.
Also, I have purchased some of my own resources like colorful modeling clay and balloons. The nearby stationary store has lots of goodies.
GS: How many teachers are there in your school?
DW: It is hard to tell exactly how many teachers, assistants, foreign teachers, and oﬃce workers there are becasue on the weekend the whole place is abuzz with acvity. But I would guess that the number is around 30. The women wear a dark blue blouse and black skirt. The foreign teachers where slacks and a dress shirt.
The picture on the right and below was from a little after work party to celebrate
birthdays of the teachers who have August and September birthdays.
Vietnamese love to eat jellied desserts and fresh fruit at parties in addition to the birthday cake.
GS: Vietnam is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
DW: Everything here has been smooth and easy so far. I am not sure if this is because I am just focusing most of my attention on the job and not spending enough me exploring the city. There have been no misadventures or run-ins with culture shock.
Despite the hot tropical weather, many people bundle up while riding on motorbikes.
What I have found is that Vietnam is a remarkably beautiful place. As a photography enthusiast, I have come across some strikingly beautiful moments that I have enjoyed photographing.
I truly love my work and love being in Vietnam where I continue to be inspired to pursue my interests in travel and photography. Big thanks to Christine and Gold Star for getting me in contact with the right school!