John Taplin, Adventures in the Language Business

Published 20/04/2022

John Taplin is a veteran of the language industry and has recently published a memoir of his experiences, Easier Said Than Done: Adventures in the Language Business. He began his teaching career in his native Australia before moving to Canada to become a teacher, teacher trainer, manager and language school owner/director. He headed Global Village Calgary for many years. Sadly, both GV Calgary and GV Vancouver closed during the pandemic. John is now chair of the board of GV Victoria.

The PIE: John, tell us what your book is about and why you wrote it?

John Taplin: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about it. Over the years, at conferences like Languages Canada or provincial meetings, people would say this is such an interesting business that someone should write a book about it. Essentially, during the early days of covid I said to myself that I wasn’t sleeping anyway so I started using the mornings to write.

“Some of the stories that will resonate with people include being in a start-up phase or relocating a school or being in a crisis”

I put together a personal memoir, starting with being a high school teacher in Australia and then working in the public sector in Canada and then also at Global Village. I reflect on a number of themes in the book, such as homestay, marketing, team-building and resilience. I talk about tough times – there’s a chapter called Buckle Up. And of course, I look at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and what we were all faced with then. We tried to come up with some purposeful chapters that people could consider, whether they were instructors or working in administrative roles or in management. We put tips at the end of each chapter.

The PIE: Tell us a story that illustrates what the book is about.

JT: Some of the stories that will resonate with people include being in a start-up phase or relocating a school or being in a crisis. One of the stories is about the Calgary flood in 2013. Within 24 hours, it was a biblical inundation of water. The river was flooding over and the school was locked down and all the infrastructure was under water. Here I was outside the school on a Friday morning with 200 students and all the staff. So, the city has told us basically don’t come downtown – but being in Canada they didn’t really enforce it.

“I’ve learned a lot of lessons about my staff being resilient in a crisis”

We had to scramble and I’ve learned a lot of lessons about my staff being resilient in a crisis. Our registrar and director of studies, who were married, set up a control centre at home. You can imagine that we had agents saying that they had students ready to come. This was at the end of June and we’re about to go into the busiest time of year. The student population was about to swell from 200 students to 280 and no one at the city can tell us if and when the power is going to be back on. Our teachers essentially taught in parks or in coffee shops. We just kept going and had a few field trips. For about a week it seemed like the whole business hung in the balance. It was really a crisis. We were shut down for eight days and then the power came back on just in time for our busiest intake of the year. It was a huge relief but it was almost a harbinger of what happened with the shut down with covid. It really impressed me how our staff rose to the occasion – it was actually quite moving.

The PIE: What lesson did that teach about the importance of emergency preparedness in the language sector?

JT: It taught me to never rest on your laurels. In fact, in the book I say that it was a rare time, before the flood, I was thinking that things were going really well. Student numbers were good and we had a great staff. It was almost like someone has tapped you on the shoulder and said: ‘Now we’re going to test you again.’ It was very humbling in many ways. People have to prepare for the unexpected. Many of us in the language industry, who have been working in this field for 20 or 30 years, we’ve been through 9/11 and SARS. We’ve always had challenges. Covid is something that still impacts the sector but as an industry we’re very resilient. It is essential that we look after our students. After the flood, the biggest lesson for our staff was – what’s happening to our students.

“Many of us in the language industry, who have been working in this field for 20 or 30 years, we’ve been through 9/11 and SARS”

One of the tragedies of Covid, and I include Global Village Calgary in this, is that people working in the sector lost their professional lives, their social lives, when the school shut down.

The PIE: In the book you talk about the importance of homestay as part of an overall successful student experience. Tell us about that.

JT: Homestay families are not an add-on. They’re in the community. In Calgary, we had some homestay families that were with us for the entire 24-year history of the school. I think the homestay piece is a very important piece for all programs. One of the reasons we started a GV school in Calgary was that we thought that the western Canadian hospitality would lend itself well to hosting international students. And that actually became the case.

The PIE: Homestay can be so important to student satisfaction

JT: Absolutely. The people we had managing that had very important roles in duty of care and legal responsibilities. But the person in charge has to navigate those relationships very carefully and deal with counselling and conflict resolution. Especially when you are hosting youths, I used to say that the homestay is at least half of the program.

The PIE: When does the book come out?

JT: It just came out in March and people can access it through my LinkedIn site, John M Taplin.

The PIE: Are the stories and lessons learned applicable outside of Canada, to international education programs in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand?

JT: I believe so. I have my background and I talk about my early work as a high school teacher in Australia. I actually got into adult ESL because they wouldn’t allow me to teach in high schools in Calgary without an Alberta certificate. So, it was a common immigrant experience. I have had reviewers from as far away as Ireland look at some of the chapters and they’ve had a good laugh and identified with some of the issues I have raised.

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