How I’m recovering from a coronavirus career setback

When coronavirus forced Sarah Cullen back to the UK five months early, she saw a chance to take stock of her career

Sarah Cullen

How teachers can overcome career obstacles caused by the coronavirus crisis

I booked my 7pm flight out of Saigon at 7am that same day. The original plan had been to stay for another five months, so my apartment was still filled with my belongings. Among my packing frenzy, I did not include my 2020 planner.

After a last-minute decision to return to the UK to be nearer loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic, I soon realised that my two years living and teaching in Saigon would not end as I had expected it to.

Plans, along with normal life and readily available toilet roll, have gone out the window. I am currently, like the majority of the world, working from home.

Unlike the majority of the world, I’m now in my ninth week of “e-learning”, as Vietnam closed its schools after the Lunar New Year in February. Every night (as I am still teaching to the Vietnamese timezone) I connect with students on the other side of the globe.

While getting to grips with the exciting world of Microsoft Teams and being confronted with the horror of hearing my own recorded voice on a daily basis, I have also been trying to take steps towards changing my career come July. I can imagine more ideal conditions for a job hunt.

Making teaching career moves in the coronavirus lockdown

I plan to stay in education, but move on from the classroom. I know as well any other teacher that this job requires a broad skill set, and reading about the various ways teachers have responded to this crisis has only proven this further; creative thinking and practical solutions abound.

Teaching online for so long has forced me to confront what really matters in my practice and what doesn’t, and has prompted me to adapt so much that I’ve begun to look at my own skills in new ways.

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1. Use time for self-improvement

The sudden increase in technology in my working life has also helped me to bite the bullet and finally watch old recordings of lessons I’ve delivered. I’ll  admit that this has been invaluable in helping me to spot key areas for improvement in how I convey points and maintain the attention of a room.

It’s also helped me to learn more about how I present myself. It’s likely that interviews in the near future will be conducted online, as will many interactions with new and potential employers.

I’ve invested in a proper webcam, paid more attention to how I phrase things when writing explanations to my pupils, and realised just how very, very fast I speak. Improvement on the latter point is a work in progress.

2. Broaden your skillset

With the whole world now online, sharing tips and problems and ideas, I have learned about websites, communities and initiatives that I previously had no inkling of.

I’ve found myself auditioning to narrate audiobooks for children, advising on online curricula and drafting a blog. I’ve discovered there are far more ways to contribute to education than I ever imagined.

This discovery/realisation of new skills has led me to start thinking about new ways in which I can expand.

3. Connect and reflect

The universality of this crisis has, unexpectedly, removed some of the panic from my situation. Everyone is dealing with massive changes to their status quo, and confronting what really matters to them.

Adapting to this new normal and reaching out to people I’ve previously worked with, or have always wanted to, has led to some incredibly interesting discussions and still more of that self-reflection.

Increased connectivity has helped me to offer advice, develop mentoring skills and work on my editing skills when looking over CVs and applications of people in similar situations to me.

Previously, as a time-poor teacher, I’ll admit I viewed “reflection” with scepticism. I once sat through a training session entitled, without a trace of irony, “What does a visible vision look like?”.

Now that I have nothing but time, however, I’ve found there is a multitude of ways to tackle career disruption.

Sarah Cullen is an English teacher at the British Vietnamese International School in Ho Chi Minh City

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Sarah Cullen

Sarah Cullen is an English teacher at the British Vietnamese International School in Ho Chi Minh City.

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