Teacher Spotlight
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TESL London would like to showcase the diverse careers of English Language professionals in the London area throughout the year.   We are calling this initiative “Teacher Spotlight”.   

The purpose of this initiative is multifaceted:

  • To develop a sense of community
  • To highlight the different roles, areas, and opportunities in the TESL Community, creating awareness of what various members of our TESL Community are doing.
  • To encourage and motivate other TESL professionals to advance in their careers.
  • To recognize and honour contribution in the TESL profession.

If you would like to nomintate/or interview a teacher to spotlight, please contact tesllondon@teslondon.org and we will send you what you will need (introduction letter, consent form, question bank).  We are looking forward to learning about what our members are doing.


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Teacher Spotlight: Interview with Susan Meehan
April 4, 2013
Susan Meehan has been working in the field of English language instruction for more than 15 years. For the last 10 years,  she has worked in English for Specific purposes, with a specialization in Medical Communications.   Find out how this entrepreneurial woman with a passion for teaching, got to where she is today.

Interviewed March 19, 2013 by Anne Van Gilst

Susan, can you tell us what you are currently teaching?

Well that’s a difficult question, because it always changes.   For the last ten years I’ve been operating my own business and I do a lot of work with international professionals, from different walks of life. For example, I developed a specialty in Medical communications for international professionals, working with the university’s Internal Medicine program which has international residents coming in each year.  I do contract work with Fanshawe’s Continuing Ed for Occupational Specific Language Training and teach Health Sciences, so I have doctors and nurses, and dentists in the class.  I teach Occupational Specific Language training for Technology as well.  A variety of things.  I work with a variety of international professionals, helping them to build their communication skills, privately and in programs.  I’m kind of known in London for the medical end of things, especially.

How did you find this niche?

Years ago, I was teaching English for Academic Purposes at a school in London.  And, many people were coming through the door who would say that they were professionals and they were looking for English help, but this program wouldn’t work because it was a full time program. I kept seeing professionals with a need and there was nowhere for them to go.   I finally decided I was going to start my own business and try to service those professionals.

It’s been a slow growth. Like any business, it was hard.  Nobody knew about me, but I did a variety of work – I designed a course  for London Hydro, worked with  The Roman Catholic Dioceses, helping international priests.   I also did a lot of private work initially. For example an engineer would come to me to improve their English skills.  Then, I met a couple of doctors and got talking to one of their wives.   The wife told me she knows a doctor at the university who is really into medical education: “You should meet with him. “  So I did.  It all happened very quickly.  This was in 2005. This doctor explained that his department  got  international resident’s each year, and he  thought they really could use some help. They had trouble with the cultural end of things and also the communication and language.  He had me meet with a committee of people from the hospital, and they asked me to design a medical communications program. I ended up taking that challenge. I went home and designed the curriculum for this course.   And it’s been a great success.  I’m actually going into my tenth run this year.   So the fact that I had done that program, got me some exposure to family medicine, and over the years different medicine departments have been referred to me.   It just keeps building.   I think there are still more international professionals out there with needs to be filled and I’d like to be the person to do that.

I’m going to guess that up to this point there haven't been many resources in this field.  How do you approach creating your sessions, your lesson plans?

Yeah, you’re right.  It’s difficult.  If you look for medical communications resources, they are often British.  Britain was the forerunner for English for academic purposes or English for Specific Purposes. The language in Britian is different.  The culture is different.  So, it’s difficult to use those resources here. That medical communications course for the internal medical department I created from scratch. It involved figuring out the needs of these internationally sponsored residents.  I was able to work with a couple of doctors and the coordinator of their program to find out what they thought was lacking. And then it was research into other programs in the States that are doing English for Medical purposes.  I found out how they were doing it. But basically I created everything from scratch, but with the assistance of Medical professionals.  And still to this day, the doctors that I started out with 10 years ago also participate.  They come into class. For example, one of the doctors comes in to share his knowledge about medical documentation— I would hate to teach students the wrong way to document.  We also brought in standardized patients for role plays, which was an important practical part of the program. 

And my classes are not by any means didactic presentations with myself lecturing on communication, it’s very much role plays and discussions of case studies.  For example, for culture, we would look at a medical case study where culture was a component and discuss this.  Doctors are analytical people.  They don’t want to be told something; they want to discover it themselves.  I’ve found that works best with a lot of the professionals.

But whatever the project, medical or engineering, it’s starting from scratch.  I create my own program. So it’s a lot of work.  But that’s what I like.  I like creating programs.


What is the greatest challenge?

The greatest challenge is making sure you are meeting student needs.  With a diverse population, all with different needs, it’s very hard to meet everyone’s needs.  If I’m working with a doctor or an engineer— I’m not a doctor or an engineer— so how do I make sure I understand their needs? Every experience I have, teaches me more about what they face.  I’m constantly tweaking as I go along and learning.

Also, marketing is a challenge. The hard part is how to reach them.  How will they know I exist?  When you’re part of a university or college, you’ve got that behind you, but when you are an individual, it is very hard.  You can find that niche, but you need them to find you.  You don’t have a large marketing budget behind you.


What has been your greatest joy?

I think when teaching English, it’s your students.   I find the thing I love about teaching international students and professionals is that you are learning as much as they are learning. They’re teachers themselves, because they teach me so much about themselves and their countries, their cultures, and their professions. It’s a joke with my doctors that I could be a doctor or a nurse now.  Every professional I work with I learn from. Every group is different, so they all bring something new to the table.   I’m a person who values lifelong learning.  I may not have the opportunity to go and do graduate work, the way life is, but I’m always learning.   I love that!


What advice would you give to those getting into the profession, trying to find a niche?

I guess it’s, ‘keep your ears open’.  I wouldn’t have thought of doing what I do, if I had not started to listen to people.  It’s trying to figure out what’s not being offered.   I think you also have to do a lot of research. 

It’s important to get involved in the TESL field in any way you can because  when you are in there, you know what’s being offered, and until you get talking to people and hearing about their struggles, how do you know what’s lacking?  It’s really a matter of listening to every student you meet.