Exaggeration? Of course, but it has certainly provided the framework for a rewarding and meaningful new life.
I had an active, varied career in public service, theatre directing, running theatre training courses and theatre management, international arts touring, with periods of running my own arts companies.
Then 14 years ago, I started to find it hard to move my legs if I walked more than a few steps. I shrugged it off for quite a long time because it didn’t become too debilitating. Until it did. One day I couldn’t use my right leg at all. It recovered after a few days, and the doc thought I might have had a stroke.
To cut a long story short, after a year of every kind of test you can think of, I was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis. The hospital consultant wrote that I would not be fit for work again. Ever.
Being a trusting soul, I believed him, left my theatre management job in the UK, and ran away to live out my days in the Philippines (it’s warm and cheap there!)
I loved it for a while. It was a tropical paradise far removed from what I was used to in the UK. But after a year, I was bored. Every day was the same length and same temperature. The people I loved were just disembodied voices on a screen. I wanted to come home, and despite quite restricted movement, felt energised enough to find work for finance, meaning and fulfilment.
I threw myself into self-improvement, whilst taking a call centre job to pay the bills. I got qualified to offer bookkeeping services professionally. I got a foundation qualification in counselling. Bookkeeping and counselling seemed like things I could do from home. It didn’t take me long to find out that finance was not really my vocation, though!
I needed to be able to get to outside classes and practical sessions to qualify in counselling. Sadly, by this time, I was barely able to drive my adapted car or move around outside. So, I had to give the counselling idea up.
Knowing I would soon be stuck at home, I searched online for options I could train for and pursue entirely at home. Of course, I ‘bumped into’ online teaching during the research. I had obtained Part One PGCE to teach adults back in 2000 to teach on a vocational theatre training programme I had set up. I saw that that, plus my existing degree plus an online TEFL qualification, would be more than enough for most platforms. If it worked out, I could live and work in one room for as long as I could! I decided to give it a go.
I was absolutely terrified when I was waiting for my first student to come online. The student had responded to online listings. I fumbled my way through the first lesson but felt a great sense of achievement when I completed the learning objectives, and the student was grateful. So, I edged slowly, hour by hour, into the industry.
After a while, I found that the online teaching platforms offering students and materials made economic sense and, frankly, were easier. They quickly dominated my working hours – I restricted my teaching to working with adults, which suited my style better, and soon found I had a number of regular, grateful students attending, and a decent income. I’ve now taught around 8200 hours to adults online. China, Taiwan, and Japan have been the biggest markets, but I have also taught business and professional people in Spain, France, Finland, Italy, and Russia.
The most wonderful thing about this new life is that it provides a similar sense of fulfilment, joy, and reward that I had experienced in my work before disability. The gratitude and the development of the students, the effect of my influence and support on them, reminded me of the effects of some of my theatre directing and acting in my former life.
Now, I can sit in front of a camera, with head and shoulders giving no hint that everything below is pretty useless and contribute as usefully as I hope I did all those years before.
So, perhaps online teaching really did save my life!