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Meeting students where they’re at: Kevin’s EF journey

Kevin, Teacher and IT Coordinator in EF Education First’s Santa Barbara, California language school, didn’t expect he’d find his calling in education. He certainly didn’t expect to be chosen as a top 10 teacher in the nation with EF’s International Language Campuses, but here he is with the title, two years in a row.

“To be honest, my friends always said I had a knack for teaching,” Kevin recalls. “I don’t know how to explain it, but when I had family gatherings, my cousins would ask me a question about history or math, and I would just start going into detail and start writing things out. But I was fighting it for the longest time.”

Kevin says he didn’t believe he had the patience for teaching, and had doubts that he’d be able to master a subject well enough to teach. “I was psyching myself out,” he says. But after a stint working in government, Kevin felt something was still missing.

It was then that Kevin found an English-language teaching position for EF on Craigslist. He had some tutoring experience, and translated for Spanish speakers in high school, but didn’t have much formal teacher training. He decided to go for it—and got the job.

“I was a little nervous,” he recalls of his first day, “but when I started teaching my first class, it just felt natural.”

Four years later, Kevin is still teaching English with EF. He teaches all levels of English and across a range of ages. “I had this student once, Wolfgang,” Kevin says, describing one of his older students. “He was about 71 or 72. He had fun! His wife was always coming into my class to ask me if he was learning.”

Kevin’s typical class structure starts with a five to eight-minute warmup, focused on getting students to engage with each other while going over the weekend’s homework and practicing their conversational English skills. He assigns students to “houses”—much like Harry Potter—and every two weeks students win prizes for earning team points. “They become naturally competitive,” Kevin says.

The rest of class is spent reviewing homework, vocabulary, and grammar, with opportunities for students to really dig in and find out why their answers are correct (or not). “I tell them I don’t care if it’s the right answer,” Kevin explains, “they have to tell me why they think that. They come up and explain why that’s the answer.”

It’s the collaboration and growth of his students that brings Kevin such joy in his work. “I love the light you see in them, once they connect to the actual subject,” he explains. “Once they understand what’s going on, it’s so cool to just see their brains go, ‘blink!’”

Kevin says he used to teach by more traditional methods, but over time learned that his most successful lessons are those that engage students in a more interactive way. “I’ve learned that no children are unteachable, there are just different methods of teaching them,” Kevin says.

He describes one student from Saudi Arabia who was a little scared and shy at first, but Kevin learned he liked rap music—specifically that of Kanye West. “I started to use Kanye’s music in lessons, to build a connection and help extend his English,” Kevin explains. “It’s about teaching students the way you’d want to be taught.”

It’s Kevin’s ability to connect with students that’s earned him the student-nominated honor as one of EF’s top 10 teachers, for the second year in a row. However, he remains incredibly humble about the distinction—focused more on the benefit to his students than the compliment it pays him. “I think there are so many great teachers out there,” Kevin says. “These kids are here to learn English, I have to make sure the quality is what they expect.”

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