Friday, March 21, 2014

Interview with Jaime Miller - TOEFL teacher

Hi everyone,

In my former blog posts, I was writing about Jaime Miller. First, when I summarized my TOEFL experience. Second, when I introduced her excellent right notes course. And now I'm very happy because Jaime gave me the possibility to conduct an interview with her. I hope you'll like it and maybe some of you feel like visiting Jaime's website, youtube  channel or even working with her.

Update - please visit my other interviews as well: Gardeniafly and Kate. Both of them from Georgia, USA.

So, let's meet Jaime.

 -     Hi, Jaime. Thank you very much for this interview. Let’s begin with your studies. When and where did you graduate from university? 
-       I graduated from a school called Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. It was in May, 2008. It was five years ago.
-       What kind of faculty did you attend?
-       I studied History mostly.

-      So not teaching language?
-      No, I did a teaching certificate later.
-      When did you begin to teach English in person or online?
-       I started working for a school when I graduated and then I moved abroad and I began to work at a local school in Turkey. I taught general English there. It was like elementary level, intermediate, advanced students for about a year. And after that I stopped working for that school and I started working online in 2010, but I did it part time. I started getting enough students and I thought I could make the  transition and I could just work online. I guess in 2012 I stopped working for any schools and I worked completely online. So I’ve been working for two years only online. In March 2013, I started my masters in teaching English as a Second Language. 

-     You mentioned at first you taught not only TOEFL, but general English. Then you changed to teach only TOEFL. Why did you do it?
  - That’s a good question. You know when I began to teach at school it was a really well organized school. There were a lot of teachers, there were tests, and there were standards. I really liked that school and I learned a lot about teaching while I was there. But they had a rule at that school: you weren’t allowed to teach TOEFL unless you have one year or a year and half of general teaching experience. I like challenges. When I was told not to teach TOEFL that made me especially want to learn how to do it. In the beginning I didn’t think that I was going to develop a total focus on TOEFL. I just started to teach one private student and another one. Then I realized that it was something that I enjoyed and I wanted to get better at it. So I think the big reason that I still teach TOEFL is because of the students. I really, really like TOEFL students. I can compare students who I taught just normal, general English classes; they’re a kind of bored, not so excited about learning English, and they don’t really have a goal. But TOEFL students always have a goal; they’re so motivated. I like working with people who are hard working and want to make a difference in their lives. The real reason wasn’t the exam, because TOEFL is horrible. Who likes TOEFL? Nobody likes TOEFL. It’s about the students.
-      Yes, I agree with you because nobody takes the TOEFL just because of the TOEL itself. People want to work in the United States, or study there, and so they have reason to learn. I did it two years ago. I needed a TOEFL score of 80. I studied and I achieved an 86.
-      It’s great to work with somebody who is motivated. Students can be motivated at any level, high levels, medium levels, lower levels. It’s  your enthusiasm and motivation. Yeah, that’s the reason why it's interesting to work with TOEFL students.

-      Yes, I really wanted to go the United States and I needed the TOEFL exam to fulfill my dream. Let’s speak about what's important for taking the TOEFL. When I am asked about the TOEFL exam, such as what is important to pass it successfully, I generally mention 3 things:
-       of course you need a solid basis of English knowledge
-       you should be familiar with the exercises and the conditions of the exam - which is almost as important as the first one point
-       you should have the self confidence in the fact that you can do it, especially the horrible speaking section.
      Do you agree with these statements?
-      Yeah, I do. I mean when people have a lot of progress with TOEFL, it’s because their English is already really strong. They’re just learning strategies. When people have a real strong foundation in grammar and have enough vocabulary, it’s easier to approach the exam for them. And I’ve also worked with some students who are trying to study strategies, something that they’ve found in books. There’re a lot of books that teach only strategies such as “just read the first sentence and the last sentence of the paragraph”.  If you just use the strategy without knowing English, it doesn’t work and you can’t answer the question. People really need a strong level of English. And at that point then you can add strategies. And when you’re familiar with the exam it makes a big difference. So I agree, that’s definitely accurate. Knowing what to expect and knowing the organization of the exam are also really important. Because I’ve worked with other people who had a lot of English knowledge and  took a diagnostic test on which they got an 80 or so the first time they took it. And, after taking lessons and learning about the exam, they were able to increase there score maybe by 15 – 20 points just because of knowing what to do. Your identification, knowing English, knowing the test and then being confident – that’s a really important combination of things.
-      And there is a fourth thing that I forgot to mention. It is time management which is known from American professional sports organizations such as the NFL. A game can be decided on good time management, and it’s true for the TOEFL exam as well I think. That is part of knowing the exam. In the reading section, you have to read 3-4 passages and answer a lot of questions. You have 20 minutes for one passage. If you read a passage word by word, you don’t have enough time to answer the questions. I guess there are tips and strategies that students can learn from you. 

-       Yeah, I work a lot with my students on strategies and time management. But keep in mind what works for me in reading and other sections, maybe it’s not good for everybody else. There is not one perfect strategy that fits everybody. People are unique. Usually what I recommend, not just for the reading but for the other things as well, is to be flexible about the strategies. Sometimes people find information on the internet and think, “Ok, I read it, I did that. It’s my strategy and I’m going to follow it.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I would generally advise people that, if they’re reading or listening to this later, they should not feel bad if a strategy doesn’t work, because it might not be the right strategy. It doesn’t mean that the strategy is bad, or the student is bad. He or she needs something different or to try something else.
-       I think we could speak for hours about strategies.
-       Yeah, that’s what I do in lessons.
-      Let me jump to the success stories that I read on your website. Do you have a miracle or some secret technique? I'll tell you why I ask this question. Sometimes I see ads which state that you can learn languages easily by relaxing and just listening to such-and-such a CD. Do you have such miracle methods? 

-       No-no? Did you ever watch the movie “The Matrix”? They plugged people into a machine to learn everything. Yeah, I know. Sometimes my students wish I had that, but I DON’T HAVE THAT.  I don’t have a miracle. I put up the success stories and that’s all true. I know it’s good to be skeptical. The reason that I have those stories is because I worked with really motivated students. They worked really hard, they studied a lot, they did their homework, they kept going tough. I think that’s really the SECRET behind it. People who are successful don’t give up even if they have a bad day; they take a deep breath, they do something fun. Then they come back and they try again. So those who are on the success page worked really hard and they did the things that I recommended for them to do. I don't think it’s my secret.
-      So the miracle can’t be found in your methods, it is in students’ motivation.
-      Yeah, it definitely makes the difference. It’s not a miracle, just experience. I’ve been teaching TOEFL for a couple of years or so and I have literally watched many people who took exam. I can say that in the beginning I didn’t have all the answers, I didn’t know the patterns or what ETS wants for a score of 26 in the speaking section. I have had so many students that finally I understood the situation, because there aren’t books written about  these things and there aren’t training courses for TOEFL teachers. If teachers know how to teach TOEFL, it’s only because they’ve worked with a lot of students and they’ve made a path of their own.
-      Searching the internet, you can come across a lot of teachers who are preparing students for the TOEFL. Would you recommend just yourself?
  -   That's a tricky question. I guess I would say first that I don’t always recommend myself. Everybody is a little bit different. A personal connection between the student and teacher can make a really big difference in how a student learns. From my own personal experience as a student, I know that there are teachers who are liked and there are teachers who aren’t so liked. If I look back on who I worked most successfully with, I would say that I was more successful with teachers whom I liked and teachers who made me feel good; teachers whom I trusted. There are other teachers whom I didn’t personally connect with, but other students connected with that teacher. There is no perfect person who can work with everyone. You know, life is dynamic and everything’s changing. So I would recommend myself to a student who has connection with me, but if somebody thinks while looking at my videos 'oh she’s weird, I don’t want to talk to her' then they shouldn’t contact me. Finding a teacher is kind of like finding someone whom you connect with. Especially if a student takes private lessons and invests time and a lot of money and energy in private work, you should choose someone whom you really trust. I guess I’d say that first. I think I create some pretty  unique combinations of programs, things that like I do things with my students that I never saw happening in any of the schools where I worked. I like experimenting with my students. I really believe everybody is different and so I try to make an English program that fits that student. If somebody is looking for a really  unique, customized experience with English to reach a specific goal, I think that I’m pretty creative about coming up with a plan that will help that person.
-      When I was a private teacher, I didn’t like the question of whether or not the student would pass an exam. But now I'm going to ask you something similar. When I took the TOEFL, I got a score of 86 even though I only needed an 80. So just suppose that we have 6 months and I need a TOEFL score of over 105 to reach my new dreams. In your opinion, could we do it?
-      So you had an 86 and want a 105 in 6 months. I’ve seen people who got 20 points in 6 months. So it is possible definitely. Have I seen such people who have done it? YES! But I’ve seen people who didn’t do it. I am not the kind of person who just gives you a guarantee. I feel pretty confident in making a program that could help you, but it depends on a lot of factors such as personal problems. There could be many factors that can impact a program.
-      And, as you mentioned, it depends on the motivation of the student. And the TOEFL is an exam that somebody takes when he or she has some purpose in mind.  I really hope that one day I will have such a purpose and I will need to take the TOEFL exam again.
-      (laugh) I have never heard that anybody say,”I hope I get to take it again!”. You’re pretty motivated, but that’s really good though.
-      Yeah, I’d want to take the TOEFL exam if I got the possibility to learn or work in the United States and that's a pretty good motivation. Of course the TOEFL exam itself would not be good motivation.
-      Yes, the TOEFL usually opens the door to something new and exciting. I mean the TOEFL exam is not exciting, but the opportunity for which you do it can be exciting and that’s why it’s a good thing.
-      Yes, TOEFL is one step on your road to somewhere. In my case, two years ago I needed the TOEFL to spend some time in the United States. It was one of the nicest periods of my life and I hope something similar can happen again.
-      Yeah, that's a good way of thinking. Anyway, would you like to ask about my TOEFL scores?
-      Ok, I didn’t think of this question, but it’s a great idea. So, Jaime how many points did you get when you tried the TOEFL exam?
-      I did the TOEFL 4 and a half months ago. I got a 27 on the reading (of 30), 30 on listening, 30 on speaking, and 29 on writing. I think I know why I lost those couple of points. The reading points were because I haven't read academic texts since five years ago at my university. My low reading score is a good indication of what happens when you don’t practice something. If you don’t practice reading, your score will be automatically lower. I was tired and they gave me 4 passages. The last one was about trees and I was so bored. “Why are they doing this to me? I hate it.” If you don’t practice, it’s tricky.
-      I also got a boring article during an exam that was about French fine arts. I have to tell you that I’m not really interested in French impressionism. Maybe that’s why I got a lower score. My listening score was only 17, however during practice I made over a 25/26. On the day of the exam I was sick and I felt the worst during the listening part. I almost gave up, but fortunately I continued and I could compensate in the speaking and writing sections.
-      Honestly, you would  be shocked at how many people are sick during the TOEFL or immediately before the TOEFL. Your situation is not strange. So many people are violently sick because of the TOEFL affecting their score. If you feel physically horrible, you can’t concentrate. You were great you because you could stay there and you could focus on your exam. Not everybody is able to do that. So there are so many factors that could impact your score.
-      And last but not least, I would like to compare the Thomson book and your learning materials on effective taking notes. In the Thomson book, the integrated task is excellently built up step by step on how you can write a good essay. You did the same in your taking notes course that is useful not only for taking the exam, but for everyday life at the office as well (even in my native language). I guess your other materials are similar.
-      Yes, you know my materials are different from each other. Taking notes was the first I developed. Speaking confidence is a really different style of program and there is also the 24+ writing tutorial. They are not all the same, but I do agree. Going slowly and putting the pieces together generally produces confidence. It sounds like it really worked well for you.
-      Thank you very much for giving me this possibility to speak with you.
-      You’re welcome.

I would like to give you some closing comments. I did enjoy speaking with Jamie. She mentioned that a good connection is important between the teacher and the student. Well, I tried it from both sides (I didn’t teach English or languages, I taught another subject in person). A good, friendly relationship can be a helpful and wonderful motivation to the students. As I mentioned, it’d be great to have the need for a new TOEFL score (it expires in 2 years). If I needed a TOEFL score, it would mean a new possibility to go to the States where I spent a wonderful period of my life. On the other hand, I would definitely work with Jamie who is a great TOEFL teacher. I’m sure we would work together with happiness and I would be very hardworking and motivated.

So Gardeniafly, after you I had a new interviewee. What could you add to this conversation?
I haven't really had much experience with the TOEFL exam myself since most of my former students just wanted to practice conversational English, but I really admire those teachers who do teach TOEFL because, as Jaime said, there isn't much material out there for the teachers. As far as taking language exams, I have taken a Japanese language exam that is similar to the TOEFL (it's called the JLPT) and I know how stressful those things are. You just have to plan out your study time and make sure you don't get sidetracked with personal events. Personally, I know I've made excuses as to why I can't study this day or that day. That's a bad thing to do. You have to really be self-disciplined for these things!

Bye bye


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  2. woow ! she's really an amazing teacher !
    i like the interview !

  3. Hi
    Can any body give me suggestion for TOEFL READING SECTION. otherwise teach me. This is my mail id