Interview with IB teachers from different nationalities
In this interview we take a fun and fascinating look at what’s brought some of our International School teachers to where they are today. We talk to Christopher Segun Anifowoshe, José María Rico Mateos, Matthew Michael Altamura and Rodrigo Preciado Azcunaga.
How did you end up in Estonia and at Audentes?
Christopher: Having lived overseas for over a decade, I wanted to further my education with a master’s degree in the social sciences, having studied economics, as a major, for my bachelor’s. Fortunately, I applied for and was admitted into a programme at the University of Tartu in 2020, from which I graduated last year before I joined Audentes.
José: I came to Estonia because of personal reasons. I was working in another school in which conditions for both teachers and students were way worse than in Audentes. When I saw the job position on LinkedIn, I felt that this could be a good opportunity for me, and I was not mistaken.
Matthew: I was living in Washington, DC, and met an Estonian diplomat posted at the Estonian Embassy. We liked each other, and I came with her when Estonia wanted her back in the country.
Rodrigo: Once upon a time, probably in spring 2014, a friend of mine asked me to substitute his economics lessons at Arte Gümnaasium. My first response was negative since I had never taught before. But my friend insisted, saying not to worry, just say whatever about Mexico and business, you will be fine. So, I accepted, and a few minutes after that, my email address was included by “cc” in a message saying something like: “on this date, I will not be able to be in the lesson, but Mr Preciado will substitute me, giving the five lessons about international commercial relations between Mexico and North America.”
This is not what we had agreed on. But thanks to that, I got my first teaching experience. It was on the same day, five lessons, one after the other. After the second lesson, I was already confused, I didn’t know if I had asked the question to the previous group or to the group I just had in front of me.
That same day, my friend came to pick me up by car after he had visited the director of the school saying that he wouldn’t continue next year, but suggesting that the director contact me… No, I didn’t know about that before. I got to know that later when the director called me to have a meeting.
In September 2015 I started teaching economics and entrepreneurship once a week at Arte Gümnaasium and also at Lagedi kool. Yes, similar story. In summer 2016 I attended the Junior Achievement seminar for teachers to become supervisors of student companies. On 1 September 2016, Heidi Eskor, who then was the IB Coordinator at Audentes, called me asking if I could give two hours per week for entrepreneurship lessons. She had explicitly asked for the student company programme saying that Epp Võdja said I could do it.
I thought that two hours per week was not so much; I could reorganize my jobs and do it. By February 2017 I was giving 8 hours. In September 2017 14 hours. And in September 2018 more hours and a class teacher.
Please tell us about your previous work experience.
Christopher: I have previously worked as a Cambridge IGCSE English and English Literature at Ankara University Foundational High School in Ankara, Turkey, for three years. Upon my arrival in Estonia, I taught briefly at Tartu Annelinna Gümnaasium, where I helped prepare the senior students (grade 12) for the Estonian English State exam.
José: I have worked in Madrid and in another school in Tallinn teaching English, in addition to teaching Spanish online.
Matthew: I have taught in various positions, from lecturer to assistant professor, to programme director at the University/College level. I am teaching mainly in the humanities and media arts positions.
Rodrigo: During my studies in Finland (2004-2008) I was board member of a youth centre, then I moved to Tallinn in winter 2009. During 2009 and 2010 I did various jobs and was also studying Estonian language. Then from 2010 until 2014, I was purchasing and logistics manager, until I moved progressively to work in school(s).
What does your typical day look like?
Christopher: My typical workday is unique, as my personal belief is that a teacher needs to bring something new to their classes every week. Of course, the teacher would perhaps need to teach a new topic/subject in the classroom, but the approach or methodology used this time around would be tailored to the needs of their learners. Bearing all these in mind, my day starts with planning the ‘what and how’ of my teaching that day, along with the other administrative stuff I should be aware of at school (schedule, emails, etc.) for each day.
José: It depends on the day. Sometimes I only have online lessons, so I stay home, then I study languages or read and go out to exercise. Other days I go to teach at Audentes instead of staying home, but overall, my weekdays are like that.
Matthew: My mornings and midday are spent teaching Audentes IB students. My afternoons include prepping dinner, going to the gym and various other tasks. My evenings consist of preparing for classes, grading and watching basketball.
Rodrigo: I do have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routines. I wake up and go to sleep early. However, I do consider myself to be flexible with my schedule. What I am trying to say is that to a good extent my timetable depends on the school timetable. And like every teacher, if I am not giving a lesson, I have to prepare lessons and check homework.
What fascinates you most about teaching at Audentes?
Christopher: To be honest, I cherish the togetherness of the international school staff a lot. This has immensely helped to build a tight knight team where everyone is willing (emphasis on willing) to contribute their best to further the growth of Audentes. Another thing that fascinates me is the organizational culture here, notably the respect, authenticity, empathy and trust among the staff and management, with these traits being shared by the students as well.
José: The conditions for teachers are extremely good and way better than in my previous school. The team is really supportive for both teachers and students and I feel that we can create real bonds, even with students, who can turn to us for guidance, and with questions or problems.
Matthew: The diversity of the students. The depth of the students’ interests. The process of helping the students reach their goals.
Rodrigo: The people at Audentes.
What is your most memorable moment while teaching at Audentes?
Christopher: To be candid, I’d say mine are ‘moments’ and they’ve all been within the walls of the classroom. I teach economics and academic skills at the moment. The Pre-IB classes could sometimes be challenging as you might not necessarily be able to anticipate what they know already while preparing your lesson plans. Eventually, you’d have to find out at the beginning of your classes to activate the ‘schemata’ of the students (i.e. to tap into what the students know already). Now, I have been absolutely amazed and intrigued when eliciting answers from students at the beginning of classes, with some of the answers way above their level. So, here I am, standing in front of the class experiencing my ‘eureka’ moments—and trust me, teachers live for those kinds of incredible moments where the ‘highflyers’ of the classroom are truly in their element and soaring.
José: My very first day at this school was amazing. We had the welcoming ceremony with every student, and I could feel that the environment was much friendlier and more supportive than in my previous school. The first class I had is graduating this year; it is bittersweet. I have built some irreplaceable memories here.
Matthew: I taught one particular class where we did an in-depth analysis of a Hunter S. Thompson letter. After the class period, several students approached me and said, “Great class!” I knew I had approached the topic well and was proud of the class. It was very nice to have my feelings confirmed by the students.
Rodrigo: Hmm… I have learned a lot from students and from teachers and from staff members. Some moments have been especially difficult. Some moments have been especially joyful.
But to satisfy what I guess is expected as an answer to this question. Once upon a covid-time, during an online lesson, we were playing mafia. The TEAMs meeting was the ‘village’, one of the students was leading the game, there was an ‘evil’ mafia player whose aim is to ‘kill’ everyone in the village, the police are supposed to identify the ‘killer’, and the doctor who can sometimes manage to ‘save’ the life of an innocent ‘victim’… Well, let’s say that it didn’t end up so well for me. At some point, I got forwarded a message from the leader of the game with a clear command from the ‘evil’ mafia. The message said: “kill our beloved teacher”.
Is there anything you haven’t been able to get used to while living in Estonia?
José: Most people would say that the absence of light during winter or the cold, but that’s not a problem for me as I despise hot weather. I can’t cope with ice though – you can’t even walk!
Matthew: The grey soviet era buildings. Paint them!
Christopher: Well, the language has been quite challenging. From my perspective, gaining some level of mastery in Estonian requires a lot of hard work alongside oral practice. Studies show that people retain only 7-10% of what they read after reading it, so I generally believe that ‘active learning’ (as an approach to instruction) is the way to go for learning Estonian. And it simply is:
- Tell me and I’ll listen (and forget)
- Show me and I may remember
- Involve me and I’ll understand (and learn)
I’m at the moment taking the A1/A2 Estonian class and hope this will be a springboard for getting me to read and speak Estonian someday.
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