Running a language school is such a fantastic job that people often don’t want to stop.
At 83, Suzanne Sparrow is still running the Plymouth school she founded 31 years ago. And less than an hour away, fellow English UK member Catherine Borgen is also celebrating 31 years as director of her own school.
“I love my job, and I feel very privileged,” says Mrs Sparrow (pictured left). “I’ve done everything here except teach, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a wonderful, wonderful job.”
“It’s very stimulating. You never know who is going to come in next. A man came recently from Spain, and asked if I remembered him. I did – but I hadn’t seen him for 20 years,” she says.
By the time she founded the Suzanne Sparrow Plymouth Language School, she had already led a busy life. Mrs Sparrow had joined the Navy at the age of 17 during the war, worked as a secretary and brought up two children.
It was after her children had gone to university that she started looking for something else to do. “I am not the coffee mornings type. People from all over the world would visit my husband’s research lab and many of them didn’t have very fluent English language. There wasn’t a professional language school in Plymouth, so I started one.
“I am not a teacher but I love the English language,” she says. She adds: “We get students from the age of 12 to people in their 80s… of course, I can talk to them.”
She has noticed few changes over the years, except that students seem more demanding.
Catherine Borgen, 57, who was a French-born language teacher, started the Globe English Centre in Exeter in a different way. She was teaching locally when she saw an advertisement for host families for Icelandic students.
“I took one in, and the course was a complete shambles. There was no social programme, and the families didn’t get paid. I ended up running a social programme for them.
“That’s what started me off. I thought I could do so much better.”
Mrs Borgen’s first group was sent from Iceland by the family of the boy she had hosted. “I knew if it went wrong our name would be muck in Iceland.” 30 years later, Icelandic groups still come – including the children of the original boy, and students who return as teachers.
Since then the school has grown in response to demand. If there was enough demand for a course, Mrs Borgen would organise it. And, like Mrs Sparrow, she does not market the school but relies on word of mouth.
Both principals enjoy meeting students and working with host families. “I’ve found the host families,” says Mrs Sparrow. “I ask myself if I would have wanted my children to stay with that family, and I always trusted that. If I broke that unwritten rule I found myself in deep water.”
Although both principals are delegating more work, neither want to give up running their schools. Catherine Borgen is now working with her son, but says the school remains a commitment. “I have people who have been coming for 30 years, year after year,” says Mrs Borgen. “You make really good friends. It’s addictive.”
Mrs Sparrow still deals with emergencies and much of the day to day running of the school, but says: “I don’t rush around as much as I used to. And I don’t miss the 5am starts.”