ESL Teacher Interviews: Stephen Mayeux

Kaplan love it when music is used to teach English. Our research has shown that 86% of ESL teachers have used music to enhance their lessons. When we discovered that an ESL teacher had started using hip hop and rap music in their lessons, we knew that we had to interview them.

Stephen Mayeux is the founder of He teaches English as a Second Language at UC Davis Extension.

What made you become an ESL teacher?

My entry into the ESL profession was unplanned. I started teaching English to elementary and middle school students in South Korea soon after I graduated from university as a means to travel abroad and experience something exciting before I resigned myself to the day-in day-out routine of adulthood. Who knew that I would fall in love with teaching?!

I was also fortunate enough to have great CELTA trainers at the Teaching House Center in New York City as well as phenomenal TESOL professors at New York University. I have to give credit to these enthusiastic and creative individuals who made me want to become an ESL teacher.

How would you describe your teaching style?

My specific techniques and classroom practices constantly undergo changes and improvement, but at the core of it all, I always try to personalize lessons so that the content is relevant and interesting to students. I don't like using prescribed materials and textbooks too much because students should make some choices regarding how they learn. I'm also a clown because a little humor in the classroom goes a long way!

What cultural insights can you get from teaching ESL?

Table manners and etiquette, gender roles, values and principles... these are the things that divide us and make us appear really different to each other. Despite these differences, people really just want the same things in life, mainly prosperity, good health and happiness. I like to think that my teaching English will improve the standard of living in at least one of these areas for my students.

Have you ever experienced cultural difficulties for teaching ESL?

Of course I have, and I think every ESL teacher has had at least one difficult experience. That comes with the territory in the ESL industry, and I try to remind myself that my students probably have just as difficult an experience adjusting to my culture and expectations.

Which other ESL teachers do you admire and why?

I am always impressed by the work of Jamie Keddie and Kieran Donaghy. They use videos in such creative and unconventional ways, and I'd like to do the same for hip-hop and rap music. If I ever have the chance to attend one of their teacher training seminars, I will be sitting in the front row!

What would you say to someone who is considering becoming an ESL teacher?

I would be encouraging and supportive, but also remind them that like any other career, you will only receive what you put in. Hard work, professional development and dedication will in turn reward you with satisfaction and many great experiences.

What do you think is the future of ESL teaching?

The next big thing is mobile learning. These devices are getting smaller, faster and cheaper, and very soon teachers will need to be confident and skillful when integrating them into the classroom. I also imagine that MOOCs will make ESL classes more accessible to learners in developing countries, and I am hopeful that it will change the lives of thousands, if not millions, of learners.

What superhero would you be and why?

Honestly, I have never thought about this before! But if I had to be a superhero, I think I would be Superman. Flights are so expensive nowadays, but if I were Superman, I could just jump up and soar across the oceans without every worrying about airports again. That would be nice!

Big thanks to Stephen for taking part in this interview. It's great to see ESL teachers adopting unconventional but engaging methods. We're going to go brush up on our hip hop vocabulary now.

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