An interview with eltforum.sk presenter: Laura Hudson
An Interview by Martina Bednáriková
It is said that the purpose of life is to grow and share. Laura Hudson, a presenter at ELTForum.sk 2013, knows that the direction in which education starts a person will determine his or her future life. As a regional manager for a major ELT publisher, she believes that teachers are not supposed to create students in their own image, but to allow learners to create their own. Because it is diversity that enhances mutual understanding.
SCET: Laura, tell us more about your beginnings as an English teacher. Have you always wanted to teach? What was the most difficult obstacle for you to overcome at that time?
Laura: I studied German & Russian at University and was actually aiming to teach German in the UK, as I had contemplated teaching on and off since the age of about 8. However, when I was offered a place at Manchester University to do a PGCE course, I panicked at the thought that I would get ‘stuck’ in the UK! I turned it down, signed up for a TEFL course instead and moved out to Linz in Austria for the first of 7 years teaching English. That year in Linz was difficult because I had very few resources at my disposal and had to create all my own lesson content. Not easy for a beginner, but it certainly made me resourceful as a teacher.
SCET: You’ve taught all kinds of language learners as well as teachers and teacher trainers in Germany, Austria, the UK and Denmark. Do you personally have any preferences as far as the age and level of your learners is concerned? Which groups do you like teaching most and why?
Laura: I liked teaching adults, especially business English. As a freelance business English teacher you gain an insight into so many companies and businesses that you normally only gain if you are employed there. For example, in Denmark I had an all access pass for Copenhagen Airport because I had so many classes there. I went into the control room, was taken up into the control tower, was given a tour of the airfield and parked next to the runway as a huge jet was taking off. That’s not something you get to do every day!
SCET: You’re presenting on “Going beyond the coursebook”, dealing with the (often forgotten) digital content of coursebooks. From your own experience, what do you consider to be most positive thing about “going digital” during lessons? Do you see any drawbacks?
Laura: The most positive thing is clearly the variety it offers, both to teachers whilst creating lessons and also to students with regards to how they can optimise their learning. One drawback is that the amount of digital content available can be overwhelming, so what do you use? How much is too much? Additionally, not all classrooms have good facilities for using digital yet, so how can you encourage the use of digital materials for self-study without being able to demonstrate it first? It’s an interesting, but not impossible dilemma!
SCET: You’ve been Macmillan’s Regional Manager for Germany, Austria & Switzerland for several years. Can you tell us a bit more about that? How did you get where you are and what does your job involve?
Laura: I joined Macmillan in 2004 as their sales representative for Germany and did that job until January 2013. The rep role not only involved extensive travel across Germany, visiting customers, presenting our materials and giving workshops, but also the Macmillan reps are very much involved with the editorial teams in the UK. We give essential market feedback to help with the development of our products. On top of that of course the reps deal with all the enquiries and orders that come in.
I am still fairly new to the management role. The difference with this job is that I am now responsible for a team of 4 reps, so I still do all the travelling, just in different directions to before! I oversee everything that goes on the 3 markets and assist and advise where necessary. I am now also a ‘number cruncher’! I control our budget, deal with local distributors and do all the forecasting, i.e. predict our sales to make sure our print runs of materials are sufficient for demand.
SCET: What do you like most about your work? And are there any things that you do not like at all (but have learned to accept)?
Laura: I like the diversity, our jobs are not easy to define in one sentence, and there are so many different tasks involved. I don’t really look forward to November-December because every year I end up working 6 weekends in a row. I do however love the BESIG conference which is in November each year. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Excel spread sheets either.
SCET: You do many presentations at various conferences. What is the most positive aspect of it? How does this commercial side influence and change your attitude towards teaching… Or does it?
Laura: Presenting is a great way for me to get to know our product in completely new ways each time. Every presentation is slightly different because I am always getting new ideas about how to use the materials or how to explain features more clearly and so on. When I first started working for Macmillan, I found it very difficult to balance being commercial, yet providing support to teachers. I soon realised though that all our sales teams have some kind of teaching experience and in order to relate to our customers and their needs and provide them with suitable answers and solutions, it is absolutely essential to draw on this experience.
[Editor’s note: Laura will also be doing a workshop on ‘Every teacher needs a box of tricks!’ – saving preparation time, supporting less experienced teachers and sharing new ideas to bring more variety into lessons.]
Laura Hudson is Macmillan’s Regional Manager for Germany, Austria & Switzerland and has worked for them for 8 years. Before joining Macmillan in 2004, she taught English for 7 years in Germany, Austria, the UK and Denmark. She’s taught all ages and levels, but most of her experience was in teaching business English and ESP. Previous to joining Macmillan, Laura was as a teacher trainer for primary teachers in Stuttgart.