This Is My Life: Looking Back with John O’Dwyer

in ELTABB/History
John (right) in 1986

A flashback with member of the first hour John O’Dwyer about his story with ELTABB, teaching and the often peculiar ways things turned out for him.

Early Years and Travels

I was born in a small town in West Yorkshire. At 16 I went to Leeds Technical College, then found a job at 18, bought a car, saved some money, left for Nottingham and lived near the football stadium. Then, I moved to Leicester where I bought a house, got married and worked for a trade union.

Part of the work brought me into contact with workers from India and Pakistan. I made many friends and learnt Hindi for two years. From 1976, I was allowed to move to north India to support local unions in expanding social projects, particularly for children and women, financed by the UK union movement. This work also took me into Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I returned to the UK in 1988, because my institute was closed and I became unemployed. I sold my house, got divorced and was told by two doctors that I only had two years to live and should do something new. So I registered for a course to teach English and worked for two schools in Brighton. I contacted old friends from the German union movement and was offered a two year contract to work in the library at Bremen University. After that I was surprised to still be alive and was offered a teaching position by the British Council in Madrid.

Moving to Berlin and Founding ELTABB

A university friend was the correspondent for The Independent in Berlin and invited me to visit and meet his baby daughter. I did that and he told me that the British Council was looking for teachers for a new school in Treptower Park, and he also had a friend with an empty flat in Marzahn. Two weeks later I moved into the flat and started teaching at the British Council school.

I later moved to a flat in Judith Auer Straße near to Landsberger Allee in Lichtenberg. Before that I had got to know Kristi Decke. She had moved to Berlin from Frankfurt am Main where she had been a member of the local teachers’ association. She looked for the equivalent in Berlin, but there wasn’t one. We decided to invite teachers to my flat to discuss setting up a teachers’ association based on the Frankfurter model.

Two meetings later we had registered ELTABB and that was how we started. The rest is history! I was and still am surprised at the talented people who join ELTABB and make positive contributions. It has also helped many people to expand their skills and careers. In those early days we produced a magazine and for the first edition we needed a slogan. I came up with ‘ELTABB: Teachers helping Teachers’. Simple, but it says a lot and is still true.

Current Projects

After becoming a pensioner in 2008, I was still asked to teach in mainly pensioner groups who wanted to improve English for holidays. I met some interesting people and was able to help them. I was very pleased to be contacted by the ELTABB Board to offer me Honorary Membership. Being the first member to be offered this honour, I immediately accepted. It also means I don’t have to pay annual membership!

I am a member of the SPD, Berlin Labour Party and AWO. Supporting their activities now takes up most of my time. I have also ‘adopted’ a refugee family from Afghanistan and organize support for them, such as warm clothes in winter, books for school and help with homework by using my internet connection and computer.

Looking back on my life, we can note a series of social activities to help socio-economically disadvantaged people in different countries. It is a pity that after so many years there is still so much work to be done.


Liked this story? Find out more about John here.





  1. John. Feel absolutely free not to reply (I would love it if you did) but this is Glen from your days at Oriental Place in Brighton. Who you were and what you did for me back then changed the course of my life and for that I will be forever grateful. Without the confidence you gave me, without the belief in myself that you instilled in me I don’t think I would have had the strength to a accomplish what I have. I have many stories to tell you if you have the time or inclination.

    All the very best, Glen

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