Your Oxford Story: Zarina Subhan

5 May 2022
3 min read

Zarina Subhan

Becoming a freelance English language materials writer, teacher trainer, and events presenter felt a little scary at first, but OUP’s Professional Development programme, and English language resources along the way, have helped it become my ‘norm’. But how did I get here?

Having decided the pharmaceutical industry wasn’t for me, I found myself working for an English language school on the island of Evia, Greece. One day my colleague and I went to Athens bookfair to choose textbooks for the school and discovered we both chose OUP’s Headway. Little did I know 27 years later I’d be delivering a presentation on content and language integrated learning (CLIL) in Headway, and it was a course that would go onto have a 5th edition!

A couple of years after Greece, I was teaching at a different language school in Japan, the catch being the teachers were the cassette player (before CDRoms, digital files, or existed!). You hardly ever saw the same students twice. As a result, I lasted a month and happily exchanged the language factory for a junior high school, but the ‘human cassette recorder experience’ came in handy when I realised Japanese state textbooks had no listening practice. I joined five other teachers to create a set of listening activities (everything was done with paper and pen via our school’s internal postal service), and we were to be the recording artists. Being trilingual by the age of four, I grew up copying accents and was able to apply this skill to the listening materials.

As the centuries changed, I was working for British Council in Saudi Arabia, returning to Headway, before working for Voluntary Service Overseas in Nepal. I saw how the state textbook did not relate to the rural areas in which I worked, that had no running water, roads, electricity, or phones. I discovered it wasn’t the subject but the context that mattered, and instead taught the dangers of open wood stoves in Health and Population Studies; the passive voice for instructions to make a smokeless stove in English; how to build a model stove using materials that students had collected, while learning about proportions in maths.

Zarina at Oxford University Press

By the time ‘An introduction to OUP’ landed in my inbox, I was busy being an academic leader on teacher training courses at the University of Chichester. When I was first invited to Oxford I must have gaped open-mouthed at the map of their global offices and that they provided training to teachers for free. I presented a textbook activity I worked with – one from English File I liked to use for sociocultural training (yet another OUP course!).

My first OUP teacher training deployment was delivering training to universities in Saudi as a freelancer – and then followed many firsts with OUP. Perú was the first place I delivered an Oxford Teachers’ Academy and felt the buzz as teachers loved the opportunity to dedicate three days to intensive professional development training and discussions. Another first was presenting ideas on CLIL at a global OUP webinar, and ELTOC and ELT Together have since become renowned events attracting thousands of professionals – one of which provided my biggest ever live audience of 3,000, and more who watched the recording later.

A first Facebook Live experience gave me and Patrick Jackson, founder of Picker Pals, even more reach, with engagement on Eco in the Classroom. My first cross-curricular panel discussion was during the inaugural Forum for Educators, sharing two very stimulating hours discussing Bridging the Digital Divide and I can’t forget OUP’s CEO, Nigel Portwood, mentioning me in his article!

OUP has provided me the luxury of continuing my passion of combining CLIL, climate change, sustainable education, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) with ELT. In fact, they even have a term and an expert paper on it – Global Skills. So, I was thrilled to be involved in the writing of an Oxford Teacher’s Academy course on this topic and the think-tank to refresh them in general.

Thank you to OUP for having such an innovative professional development department – I’m so glad I answered that email from them!