People often ask me how the school was started. The short answer is “I looked around Surat and saw there were lots of good language schools, but none that were really striving to provide the best for the students and the teachers.” I felt both groups deserved a school that at least tried to be the very best it could in providing a quality student education and teaching experience.
A Super Tough Start
We opened the doors of the school on September 7th, 2004. We offered three days of free trial classes. Because of the overload of students and a severe shortage of teachers (just me) classes were only 15-20 minutes in length, sometimes less. That was as much time as I had to impress the students enough to make them go downstairs and tell their parents that they wanted to come back and study fulltime at Super English.
Over the next few months the school quickly expanded. First it was just me. Then I hired two more teachers, then another, then another. We were quickly up to five teachers. Too quickly. There were problems on every front. Being a brand new school we had limited resources, which put a strain on teachers. Another problem was the constant cancelling of classes by the Thai school, which was a major dilemma because we were paying teachers a flat salary and charging the Thai schools per hour. Scheduling was tough because, at that time, we were only working with Grade 6 – Grade 9 and there was no Thai teacher in the classroom. As a result, teachers intensely disliked teaching outside of Super English. Beyond that, we had teachers who were not prepared for Thailand, nor did they like or appreciate the flexibility, autonomy or set-up of the SE system for teachers. This was before we had a website offering as much information as possible about the job, the experience, etc. To make a long story short, the very first group of teachers we had was an unmitigated disaster. But I learned a lot from the experience and started over on building the team and school.
Major Super Turning Point 1: Craig Arrives
Around March, 2005, I got an email from a college friend of mine who recommended Craig Blackburn for a position with Super English. Craig and I talked via emails and then moved on to a phone interview. Somehow, the phone interview never happened, but I offered Craig a position regardless, the only time I have done so. I trusted my instincts and they were confirmed many times over. Craig was exactly the teacher we needed. He wanted to be in Thailand, he was self-driven, relaxed, professional, friendly, out-going, flexible and understanding. He did not need supervising. He would ask for assistance with whatever he needed, but otherwise he was intelligent and competent enough that he could easily be trusted to operate on his own. This is important because this is how SE operates: we trust our teachers. We trust that they are doing an excellent job in the classroom without us looking over their shoulder. We trust their ability to make decisions regarding their students and their job without having to check with us first. We trust that if they need help they will ask for it. As a result, we don’t load teachers down with all kinds of paperwork, office hours, meetings, etc. In my opinion, all of that is put into place because a school’s administration feels teachers need constant supervising and checking. And some teachers do. But those teachers do not belong at Super English. They belong in some large corporate entity where teachers can only teach from the textbook, the students must pass the exams, blah blah blah, go to Japan.
But Craig needed none of that. He was 100% reliable in every aspect, without needing anyone to make sure he was doing what he was “supposed to be doing.” This was the right fit for SE and the time in which we started to become the school we are today. Craig set the tone for other new teachers. He was instrumental in keeping a good office atmosphere, making new people feel welcome, keeping the right attitude on the team, and supporting the school. I quickly promoted him to head teacher. During Craig’s two years at SE we had a group of truly excellent teachers and team members show up: Jamie Erman, Randy Rivers, Ira Spodek, Bonnie Vidrine and Victoria Biggs. It was these individuals who, under Craig’s leadership, built the foundation of what SE is today.
Major Super Turning Point 2: Victoria Arrives
Victoria was sent to us by Ian Davidson Recruiting Services, which means I actually paid an extra hefty charge for just one teacher, the only time I have done so. It was worth every penny millions of times over. Victoria immediately fit in with both the students and the other teachers. I think I scared her a bit at the beginning, but she quickly got past it.
Given Victoria’s obvious classroom and people skills, she was rapidly promoted to senior teacher, then head teacher, then assistant director, then director. Not coincidentally, it was also during this time that our team expanded from five teachers, to seven teachers, to nine teachers, to eleven teachers, to thirteen teachers. Victoria was able to manage things so well that not only were we able to improve our current team, we were able to add on additional teachers and continue improving. Her work with SE stands out as nothing short of amazing.
During Victoria’s 4 year reign we had a lot of really top-notch teachers and truly wonderful people work with SE: Erica Ambrose, Dylan Bird, Clair McCalla, Ryan Johnson, Dez Dyson, Meghan Mulvenna, Lizzie Robertson, Emily Nass, Codie and Caleb Kostechka, David Modini, Katy Clarke, Sarah Richardson, Tristan Rentos, Mitch Burbick, John and Janet Phelps, Brian Steinbach, Chris Ansell, Chris MacInnes, Amy McIntyre, Brittney Johnson and others. All of these individuals were guided, helped and settled by Victoria and have successfully carried on what she taught them about how to teach and how to be quality members of the SE team. Several of these individuals are with us today and continue to be the rocks upon which SE relies and thrives.
Into a Super Future
You’re asking “What? That’s it?” Well, yes and no. I consider Craig and Victoria the pillars of Super English. Craig was with us for the first two years, Victoria was with us for the next four years. She ended her four years with a bang (see Super Siam Party photos here) in October, 2010, which (at the time of this writing) was just a few months ago. Since her departure we have seen the rise of the Phelps’. Janet has stepped in as our new head teacher and performed perfectly, which is not a word I use lightly. She has done so well, in fact, that she will be promoted to Assistant Director next semester. John has done extremely well as the Thai School Manager and will be promoted to Head Teacher. Under their leadership, we will be expanding once again to 15 teachers. Yow-zaa!
You’re probably thinking “What were you doing while all these awesome people took care of the school, Peter?” Well, I like to think I played minor roles along the way, perhaps in the background. I was also teaching a great deal. The first two or three years the school was open I taught 7 days a week. I had around 38-41 teaching hours per week. I would be at work at 7:30 a. m. I would come home around 8:30 p.m., have dinner, and then get on the computer to do more work until 11 pm or 12 am. I worked pretty much non-stop. And for the first 2.5 years I received no pay. No salary. No cash. No fun. I could only afford to pay for my own basic expenses. Tough times, but a good lesson to anyone wanting to start their own business: you have to be prepared to sweat blood.
But I certainly have relied on other teachers to help build SE into what it is today. And I think that is as it should be. It is supposed to be a school for Teachers (with a capital T). That it was built by Teachers (the very best, in my opinion) only makes it more likely that we have achieved our goal.