Kay Flannery from Living Learning English talks about her working life, from Geography teacher to postie to immersive English teacher.
Kay Flannery has come full circle in her working life. She started out as a teacher, but the second time around she is definitely enjoying teaching more, particularly since she teaches in a completely different way now. She’s no longer in the classroom, but has English students staying at her house where she teaches them through games, cooking and conversation through the Living Learning English programme.
Kay started off in the classroom, however, but without much enthusiasm. After graduating from university she taught Geography at a secondary school. She says she just fell into the job and spent five years on and off in it because her husband’s job involved multiple moves. Kay had two children and realised she liked being at home and that teaching in a school was not the life for her.
She then applied to become a post woman and loved the outdoors life. Her patch was a small town where people were generally at home so she could have a chat. The job meant she got lots of exercise.
One day one of her colleagues from Poland asked a colleague what the difference was between ‘I ran three marathons’ and ‘I’ve run three marathons’. She was told to ‘ask Kay’ because she spoke standard English and was seen as a bit of a grammar expert. Indeed, as a child Kay was fascinated by languages and recalls listening to foreign radio stations and being intensely curious about the German and Italians who worked in her family’s nursery after the war.
Off the back of that exchange at work, Kay decided to explore teaching English. She found an agency, left her job as a postie and started training. Her first job, which she got through one of her teachers, involved teaching Japanese students in Oxford, which is not far from where she lives. She taught in a classroom in one of Oxford University’s colleges and loved it.
She then discovered Living Learning English [LLE], an English language homestay organisation specialising in individual language teaching. Homestay means students stay with their teacher in their homes and learn English through a total immersion approach.
Kay decided to give it a go and hasn’t looked back since, apart from an enforced pause during Covid. Her first student was a lady from Japan who she still keeps in touch with. In the first years, Kay’s students come mainly from Japan and Western Europe. In the past she used to have a few from Russia and Ukraine. Many are looking to pass English exams as a stepping stone to progression in their studies or work. Many are still at school and one was just seven and came with her mum. Some stay for a few days or a week; others for longer. Kay usually teaches – often through interactive activities like cooking – for three or four hours a day. The students come either directly through LLE or local agents dealing with homestay courses.
Kay speaks to them in English all the time. “If they want the slightest thing, they have to find a way to communicate that,” she says. She tailors how she teaches according to individual students’ interests. For instance, she might play word games or do cooking sessions or talk about music lyrics. She might also talk through things to look out for on an excursion they have planned, using guide books, or she might get them to create a graph of things they liked or didn’t like. Kay accompanies her students on two afternoon excursions and if their stay covers a weekend, then there is a full day excursion, often to London.
Kay tends to be busiest in the summer, but she likes to have breaks during the rest of the year. Last year she worked for 19 weeks. She says she has had very few difficult students over the years. Usually she has one student at a time, but sometimes she has more and that can involve trying to break the ice between them through joint activities.
Kay, who is 67, has no plans to give up yet and really enjoys her work. She says that she learns a lot from her interactions with younger people. “As long as I am still enjoying it and am able to do it, I don’t intend to give up,” she says.