An Interview with a St Giles English teacher
Grahame Hills is St Giles Brighton’s longest-serving English teacher, who started working at the school in 1984. He has won “Teacher of the Year” several times, an award based on students’ exit questionnaires. We asked him some questions about his many years working at St Giles…
How long have you worked at St Giles?
I never know exactly! I started in 1984, in the middle of my teaching Diploma, then I went to the Middle East and spent a year teaching English in Kuwait. I returned to St Giles, where I sat in on a teacher training course at St Giles London Highgate, after which I was asked, with another colleague, to write materials for and put together the St Giles Brighton 4-week Dip. TEFL course. In 1989, I left to study for an MA in Linguistics and returned (again!) in 1990. I have been here ever since!
So you have been involved with a number of different areas of teaching at St Giles?
Yes, I was a Teacher Trainer for four years, and then left to concentrate on just teaching. For years I ran the English for Tourism courses (which I developed as exam based courses), along with the Business English FD courses, which I was also keen to turn into exam based courses. When St Giles first got the ENAC (French Air Traffic Controllers) contract, I was responsible for overseeing the programme, which was a very interesting job and gave me the opportunity to visit several airports ‘behind the scenes’. I’ve visited the Gatwick Control Tower twice! Formidable! When the main school had moved from Marine Parade to Marlborough Place, and was operating out of Buildings No. 1 & 3, I ran the ‘outpost of empire’ at Marine Parade for about three years. There were four or five classes in the morning and about the same in the afternoons. It was a bit like going back to the early days of EFL. It was one of the happiest times in my career. The other main role I have played is running the teacher’s professional development mentoring programme, where a senior teacher works with less experienced colleagues. I trained several mentors at St Giles Brighton and at our other English language schools in the UK.
What are your current responsibilities?
I am the school’s Academic Counsellor: I work with students who wish to apply for a place at a UK university. I help them to find a suitable course, get their documents together and oversee the whole application procedure, including liaising with the universities. I set the programme up from the beginning – and I love doing it! I still teach in the mornings though – mostly exam classes. I’ve become a bit of a specialist for Cambridge CPE courses.
You’re a busy man! What changes have you seen during your time at St Giles?
I have worked under three different principals; St Giles Brighton has gone from a very small school in one building to the three buildings we occupy today; we have grown and developed enormously. In the early days, nothing was computerised, everything was done with bits of paper!
What do you like best about working at St Giles?
I like my job very much, the teaching/Academic Counsellor balance is just right. I really like the atmosphere at the school, it’s very friendly and very well run. The staff are efficient and extremely competent. I enjoy the fact that it’s a good school, professional in every part. From Reception and Registration, to Welfare and Accommodation, and Teaching and Learning it’s all extremely well run by committed people who get on well with one another. Communication flows very effectively from management to all other parts and vice versa.
Have you met any famous students?
No; however, students sometimes say: “You taught my father (or perhaps their uncle) 20 years ago”. I like to see the generations returning.
Do you have contact with the other St Giles’ Colleges?
The other Academic Counsellors and I meet together once a year.
Tell me about a typical day.
I usually rush in – but I’m well organised! I enjoy getting into the classroom early, I feel most alert then and it’s a great way to greet the day by having stimulating, challenging high-level students. I do the Academic Counselling in the afternoons and at the end of every day I always mark and prepare work for the following day. I take lesson planning very seriously: I make my own simple but effective teaching materials at home. At break times I do cryptic crosswords with other staff members – it’s good to be “plugged into” language.
What do you do when you’re not at St Giles Brighton?
I read a lot – mostly history and English literature. I listen to music – mostly classical. I like walking, either in the countryside or by the sea. I’m afraid I’m not at all sporty; I’m not interested in winning! I like painting and the arts generally, politics and current affairs.