ESL Teacher Interviews: A.J. Hoge

In Kaplan's latest addition to the “Interview with the Experts” series, we get the opportunity to speak to A.J. Hoge.

A.J has a Masters degree in Teaching English (TESOL) and over 10 years experience teaching students at universities in the United States, Thailand, and Japan. He is also the Founder and Director of Effortless English as well as the Co-Founder of Learn Real English.

What made you become an ESL teacher?

I originally started as an ESL teacher to travel and work abroad. Over time I enjoyed the teaching more and more. So I went back to school and got serious about improving my teaching. I found the “traditional” methods to be ineffective, so I tried every new and different technique I could find and gradually created my own approach.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Results focused. I’m still constantly trying new things. The goal for me is always to help my students get the quickest and most powerful results. I have found that motivation and leadership are hugely important. Unmotivated students simply don’t achieve success.

I focus a lot of energy on motivating and inspiring my students for this reason. I also spend a lot of time undoing the boredom and stress caused by “traditional” classes they have attended in the past.

In fact, I rarely call myself a “teacher” because that word seems so old. I usually call myself an “English coach” because that’s how I see my role-- to teach strategies, to train students, and to motivate and inspire-- all with a focus on getting the result that the student wants.

What cultural insights can you get from teaching ESL?

Whether you teach immigrants at home or go abroad you are naturally in contact with people from a variety of cultures. That’s one of the best things about teaching ESL and it’s why I originally started. I still love it. Your worldview broadens naturally in this field.

Have you experienced cultural difficulties from teaching ESL?

Not really. I’ve certainly been through plenty of “culture shock” when living abroad, but that’s part of the adventure. For me the hardest part was coming home. When living abroad everything is interesting and new. Then I’d come home and quickly be bored. The important thing is to look at it all as an adventure and enjoy the differences.

Which other ESL teachers do you admire and why?

I absolutely love Blaine Ray. He is actually a Spanish teacher and I learned so much from him and his storytelling method. He’s a true master and a great person too.

What would you say to someone who was considering being an ESL teacher?

I would say “do it!” because it can be so interesting and rewarding, especially when you teach abroad. With that said, there are some truly dreadful ESL jobs out there (and I speak from experience). 

To survive any job, it’s important to learn to lead a classroom of children or adults. I highly recommend Fred Jones’ book “Tools for Teaching” as a primer on classroom “discipline” (ie. leadership). Without this skill, teaching can be hell.

Second, research potential jobs very carefully. Talk to several teachers who work at the company and be sure it’s a good environment. Be sure the teaching and work hours are reasonable.

What do you think is the future of ESL teaching?

I think greater choice and variety is the future. Driven by online options, students now have greater and greater choice. I think this opens the door for innovation and is good news for dedicated and creative teachers. It’s not such good news for the standard bureaucracies.

Which superhero would you be and why?

Ha! I’ll say Loki from the Jim Carrey movie The Mask. I’m a very expressive and energetic teacher (some say crazy). I also enjoy breaking the established teaching ‘rules’ whenever possible.

Many thanks to A.J. for some typically energetic answers. What do you think to A.J's views on English education? What strategies do you think work best for teachers and students alike? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

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