Q: What does it mean when you say that your approach to language learning is teacher-driven rather than program-driven?
A: What we mean when we say that we don't utilize a program-driven approach is that we believe that great teachers are the deciding factor in the creation of great learning experiences for students. When we think back on the incredibly small number of teachers in our lives that we recall fondly for having created memorable learning experiences, we don't remember them for their course syllabus or what textbook they used. Rather, we remember them for their presence, their ability to inspire us, and to cultivate a sustainable desire to want to learn whatever material they were teaching us.
Q: That's nice but isn't identifying a qualified teacher a patently obvious standard practice among all language learning providers?
A: Quite the contrary. Although great teachers do end up at various language learning providers, it's not really a function of them making a concerted effort to recruit these types of teachers. It's more of a practice of casting a wide net. Most that are hired are loosely qualified on paper in that they may have taught something (maybe not even language but some other loosely related discipline like English or English Literature which is incredibly different) or they have a state public school language teaching certificate (in our view, taking and passing a standardized test does not qualify one to be a language teacher). Our standards are really high. The reality is that language instruction is a niche area of teaching and we specifically recruit and retain excellent teachers who are specifically skilled in the area of language instruction, and as important, have taught or lived abroad as an expat for a significant period of time (not as a tourist on vacation). Moreover, among this very small niche group of teaching professionals, we work hard to screen for the best of the best--those special, rarified individuals who we feel were born to teach and inspire.
Q: So when you say that you don't follow a program, does that imply that your approach to language learning is unstructured and directionless?
A: Not at all. Our programs (especially the adult ones) have a loose structure because the reality is that the adult mind more readily looks for some type of organization or structure when learning a second language. However, we believe that the structure should be loose, functioning more like the role of a skeleton of a building so as to allow the teacher to determine how to add the other features and details necessary to complete the building. In the same way that it would be unwise to limit great chefs by demanding that they strictly follow a recipe, we want to allow our great teachers the freedom to create their magic in the kitchen of the classroom.
Q: Well, this all sounds great but your assertions of retaining superior teachers is all predicated on the premise that you actually know how to differentiate between a highly qualified language teacher and one who is not. On what basis can people trust that you have such a discerning eye for teaching talent?
I personally get involved in the teacher selection process and either directly meet with or talk to every teacher that has been hired. I have been teaching ESL since 1995 and I've taught thousands of students how to speak English with great success in every demographic category from children to senior citizens. My work and talents were recognized as exceptional in Korea from early on as I was hired to be the program director at a large language school (400 to 500 students) in only my second year teaching ESL and was then recruited and hired to teach English for one of the top three universities in Korea, the prestigious Yonsei University. I've also taught at one of the top university-based ESL programs in Houston where I received outstanding reviews from both the administration and the students I taught. When you are someone who knows how to teach, it is quite easy to discern between someone who is a true teacher and someone who is perhaps a charlatan. Being someone who had lived abroad for almost five years in addition to having traveled extensively, I can also easily discern whether or not a teaching candidate has had bonafide teaching experience abroad or has exagerrated or falsely made that claim altogether. Perhaps equally importantly, however, is that I really deeply and sincerely care about the quality of the learning experience that our students and clients receive. Each teacher that I "get right" is one more teacher that can represent the highest ideals and standards of Premiere English and what I stand for so there is an incredible amount of motivation within me to get it right. This is why I approach teacher selection with an incredible amount of mindfulness and gravity because my reputation and success hinges upon my ability to select the best teachers.