Nina on Teaching without Textbooks and Being a Teacher to Remember

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The following is an incredibly uplifting interview with Nina from Nina English on why teaching without textbooks makes sense and how being an authentic teacher can make a huge impact.

What is your teaching background?  How long have you been teaching English?

Despite the fact that both of my parents were teachers I never wanted to become one. I was a straight A student but didn’t really like school much, I crammed for tests because that’s what you were supposed to do. So when I was finishing my university degree at the Faculty of Arts (my majors were English and Dutch linguistics and literature), a teaching career was the last thing on my mind, I despised the rigid school system. I had always loved languages, travelling and other cultures, and I was hoping for some cool job in an international company.

3 months after graduation I was in my first class. A friend of mine, who was expecting a baby, asked me to step in for her in several of her English courses and I said to myself: “Why not, maybe I’ll meet someone interesting who will offer me a better job!” I thought teaching English would be temporary, I saw it as a way to network with people. However it’s been 13 years now and I never looked back. I instantly fell in love with it and I quickly discovered my passion for freelancing. This was the better job!

When did you make the move online?  Were you working for a traditional school before?

I worked for several traditional language schools back in 2004-2007, before going completely independent, but already back then I had a simple website offering my teaching services and suggesting online resources to help my private students. A real big move online came with Facebook and my maternity leave in 2009. I didn’t want my clientele to forget about me so I started a blog and a Facebook page to keep in touch with them and to continue helping them even when we couldn’t have face to face lessons. The page became very popular very fast, I started blogging and making videos, and connecting with hundreds of people daily, and that’s what really did it for me. Around 2010 I started using Skype to teach my students when my daughter was asleep. I soon realized it gave my students more autonomy as they started looking for stuff online that was most relevant to them and that they enjoyed. And when I kicked off my first course without coursebooks in January 2011 online world became a big part of our study process.

You take a unique approach to learning in that you don’t use books, how did that come about and what are some advantages you see to using it when compared to textbooks?

The longer I taught from coursebooks, the more intensely I felt that the students were moving forward too slowly or not at all and my work stopped making much sense to me. I wanted to quit. Then, on maternity leave, I could create some distance and things became clear: I don´t want to teach from books anymore. In today´s world, where almost everyone has internet access, they are simply not needed. And I decided to set myself and my students free, to give the students freedom in what they want to learn.

Many people refer to coursebooks as something that gives the course a structure. But how can everyone’s life be the same, people are not interested in the same things. And life doesn’t go from 1 to 20, it’s not linear, it’s chaotic. So instead I guide students to set their language goals, I help them create a study plan and that’s their structure. And we focus on the process, the journey, much more than the results. This way the students fall in love with learning, they start understanding it’s their responsibility to acquire knowledge, they naturally start surrounding themselves with resources that fit their individual needs and the change happens right there. To me, coursebooks represent the old system, they are in the way, no need for them really.

Do you remember your first student?  How did you all find each other?

As mentioned above I “inherited” several courses from a friend. One of the groups was a very interesting couple. A man and a woman, he was a general director of the biggest insurance company in the country and she was his secretary. We had lessons 3 times a week at 7 am. She was very eager to learn and did all her homework, he was constantly on the phone and complained about my teaching methods. A very incompatible match for learning and I soon realized I was not experienced enough to deal with such dynamics, and I didn’t go back after the summer break.

Can you give us an example of an average day for you if you’re teaching?  What is your schedule like?

I wake up between 6.30 and 7am, I make breakfast and walk my daughter to school. Then I come back home, do a bit of cleaning and around 9am I start working (my office/classroom is in the same house). I usually don’t finish before 10pm. In between, there is quite a lot of role-switching, from online coach to blogger, to social media marketer, short video maker, in-class teacher, course director, event organizer, and mom – I try to spend as much time with my daughter as I can.

Do you have any advice for teachers looking to move online?

Get inspired by reading other teachers‘ stories, it’s the best way to start. But don’t copy because – as my favourite business coach Marie Forleo says – “The world needs that special gift that only you have.” Be authentic, find your own ideal way to connect with students. Trust your gut instinct with what is good for your students and it will come to you. Let them lead you, step out of that comfort zone and allow yourself to be imperfect. Magic will happen, I promise.

If you need to, mind-map your ideal outcome, or visualize your ideal student. I believe in the law of attraction, what we focus on we attract.

And use Google docs as your virtual board when teaching, it´s the easiest thing to save your notes, homework, photos, everything.

With more and more students looking online for language help, what do you think the online teaching environment will be in 10 years?

I have no idea and I am not good at predictions when it comes to the online world, who knows what will happen tomorrow, it´s so fast these days. All I know is that teachers will never disappear and shouldn’t be afraid of modern technology stealing our jobs. A role of a teacher will always be present, it’s engraved in our biology – the biggest teachers are our parents.  But instead of the dominant teacher, let’s be guides, a helping hand, who shows students what is possible. And a friend who is there in times of frustration.

Instead of being worried or frustrated by the new, why not be excited by all the tools and opportunities to connect with people across the globe, why not keep inspiring each other, online and offline, and come together with a clear message that we are here to help, not to test. We need to help the world of education individualize the learning process. We all have different talents and we can be united in our differences because that’s what makes the world beautiful. Let´s cherish each individual instead of asking the fish to climb a tree. I am hoping in 10 years our society will be much closer to that mindset.



  1. Online teaching 4 of 15: do you need a book? | Kate's Crate - […] an interesting interview I’ve found with a school owner and online teacher Nina who thinks that teaching online changes…

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