“Ain’t no mountain high enough” by Ratna Ragunathan

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Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/fCGPcr Changes mine

The Beginnings

Let me introduce myself. My name’s Ratna and I’m currently working as a teacher at the British Council, Malaysia. I’ve been teaching English for the past 9 years and it’s been a great journey this far. I’m truly grateful for the many people who’ve been a part of my teaching journey, shaping me into the teacher I am today.

ratnavathy 2Have I always been a teacher? No and I’m sure it does not come as a surprise to you. After 5 years of working in the IT industry (and trying really hard to be good at it), there came a day when I decided to call it quits. I told my dad that I could NOT do it any longer. Logic, systems and numerical coding just wasn’t my forte! My father’s words still rings in my ears until this day – “Start new if you need to and if it makes you happy!” I took up night classes to obtain my certificate in TESOL and was fortunate enough to be offered a job in International House, Malaysia. Of course, there was a considerable plunge in salary which I was more than willing to take.

Starting out as a teacher was certainly not a piece of cake. It was intimidating and overwhelming. Let’s just say that I’m not exactly proud of my lesson plans then. My biggest breakthrough came when I got a chance to observe my colleague, Vahid Javadi, in action. Vahid was such a creative teacher! It was the best English class I’ve observed and he opened up my mind many folds. I was also deeply inspired by another colleague, Lindsay, who was so creative in her classes which added on to my development as a teacher. I asked for more observations and receiving lots of feedback that helped me along my path. My former boss, Grant Duncan, was exceptional at what he did – he inspired and motivated me a lot, encouraging me to conducts in-house workshops for teachers based on lessons that worked for me which then, led to me conducting 2 sessions of online workshops for IH World.

The defining moment

And then there came the day when my husband got a posting to South Korea. Little did I know that this was going to change my life forever, shattering the little bubble I was living in. I started working on my resume (thanks to my friend Lindsay) and was quite pleased with the end results. I also got my Korean students to write me up a recommendation in Korean language (which they willingly did) on how they enjoyed my classes. Equipped with my postgraduate degree in TEFL, TESOL certificate and a 5 year experience of teaching multilingual adults learners, I quit my job in IH Malaysia, packed my bags and left to Korea with my husband. I was so confident that I’d land a job easily in Korea.

ratnavathy 1How wrong I was! In my 1st 3 months in Korea, I religiously applied for every single job I laid my eyes on and every reply I got, basically, summed up as ‘You’ve got really good credentials, but I’m afraid you won’t get a job – your passport is Malaysian’. It was so frustrating and upsetting I felt myself gradually losing hope. I remember a time when I was so upset with the unfairness of the ELT world when my husband asked me “Are you teaching for the money or the passion? Start a blog. Update it because of your passion for teaching. Diversify yourself. Do not expect immediate returns but it will eventually all fall into place!” How right he was!

As one door closed, lots more opened. Somehow through my searches on the internet, I stumbled upon blogs of teachers settled in Korea. I made friends with Mike Griffin who then introduced me to Josette Le Blanc. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was writing for the International Teacher Development Institute (http://itdi.pro) and starting up my own blog (which sadly needs to be updated). I also managed expand my network among the lovely Korean people (one of them being a teacher), who went on to introduce me to people who wanted to learn English. Of course, I didn’t have a legal teaching permit but people were, generally, more than willing to have me teaching at their homes, providing the best possible support they could. I started teaching young learners, teenagers and adults at the district’s cultural centre. During my free time, I continued developing myself – updating my teaching blog, being involved with ITDI, doing lots of reading, conducting and moderating online ELT workshops. It was truly wonderful how my mind opened up on many levels. Of course, everything went down on my resume.

When I returned home a year later, I’d say it was quite easy finding for a job – my profile was not that of a regular ELT teacher in Malaysia. Being a freelancer, I successfully landed into teaching jobs in almost all places I applied to. I further expanded my experience into teaching Business English, Academic Writing and English for Health Sciences. I then got my CELTA done ( minimum BC requirement) applied to the British Council and successfully landed myself a teaching job there.

And now

I’d say that BC provides great teacher support and opportunities for professional development, eg. building up my skills with young learners (I gladly accepted a YL mentor who I’ve been working with for the past year). I continued presenting several local and international conferences (funding myself), sharing my ideas whenever I could.

ratnavathy 3In one way, I appreciate being a NNEST because it helps me value myself better as a teacher.  Wouldn’t you, if you had to work really hard to get where you are now vs. to having the right passport and landing any ELT job with much ease? The hard work makes it even more precious, at least to me and this value (among others) makes me feel whole as a person.

My advice to all NNEST teachers – it’s crucial for us to diversify our skills as much as we can, working towards being globally skilful as a language teacher and expanding our network in the ELT world. Keep learning, keep reading, keep sharing. Pro-bono. Remember, it’s also about being at the right place at the right time. Yes, the truth does remain that the ELT world is rather unfair. But, I can assure you that ripples of change have already started to emerge. It may not come as soon as we want it to. But it will. Remember, the world is opening up and so should we.

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4 thoughts on ““Ain’t no mountain high enough” by Ratna Ragunathan

  1. T. Veigga says:

    When a door closes, another opens, I think you are the living proof, Ratna. It’s a shame you had so much difficulty to find a job in Korea. My friends who work there tell me it’s hard to find a teaching position if you don’t have the ‘right’ passport or the looks (=if you’re not white).

    • ratnavathy says:

      Hello Veigga,

      I’m glad you understand how frustrating it must’ve been during my initial days in Korea. But, I’d still say that I’m glad it happened, because that free time (which I never had in Malaysia, especially with full on classes, lesson planning, assessing exams and student homework) led me into a whole new online ELT world which I’m so grateful about.

      Yes, what your friend said is true – it’s the passport first, then the looks.:) I hope it changes someday!

      All the best in your future undertakings.

      Ratna

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