My TEFL story: back to the beginning

One of Wroclaw's gnomes: the absurdist calling card of peaceful protest movement The Orange Alternative.

One of Wroclaw’s gnomes: the absurdist calling card of peaceful protest movement The Orange Alternative.

I have been encouraged by a friend to write #myteflstory, and I’m nothing if not obliging, so here we are.
Five years ago, give or take a few months, I had given up my media production manager job in White City and was just getting started on my CELTA course in Wroclaw (/vrɒtswɑːf/, more or less).  The last five years have been a massive learning curve, with one or two curveballs along the way, and I’ve ended up somewhere I never expected to be, back where I started in a funny kind of way.

Although my first paid TEFL job was at a summer school in Richmond, London, I really cut my teeth at IH Huelva, with some fantastic encouraging colleagues, including two who were also my flatmates and remain go-tos for teacher chat even though we’re not in the same city any more.  (They are Amy Blanchard and Gary Williams, and anyone who gets to work with them is a lucky devil.)  I discovered how much quicker and easier I found it to plan a lesson out loud with the helpful ears of a colleague. We also benefited from being able to test out ideas on each other, although we still haven’t worked out how to play Collocate This! with students.

Developing professionally at IH Huelva


At the IH Conference in Cordoba 2013

At IH Huelva (aka Academia Britanica), I complained my way through the online YL course (although I am of course grateful for having had the opportunity to do it; I’m just not an online learner), taught my first exam class (FCE), and went to my first conference (ACEIA 2011). I started reading certain teaching blogs as recommended by my boss, David Deere. In my second year there, a senior teacher, Louisa Cristo, advised me to reflect on teaching by writing a blog. I pooh-poohed the idea at first, not being into sharing and airing. However, frustration caused by having a plethora of paper led me to start cataloging my resources and, yea, the hive became live.

I wrote a post every week and the blog soon started attracting followers. It helped me connect with other teachers across the globe, like Sandy Millin, Adi Rajan, etc.  I felt part of something!  The reflective practice involved had a noticeably positive effect on my teaching (and made the PDA on the DELTA a doddle).  But it was also a lot of work, and since starting the DELTA I haven’t been able to keep the pace up.


Workshop attendees getting involved

Encouraged again by Louisa, I presented at the IH Andalucia conference in Huelva, and at ACEIA 2014, and then again at the IH Andalucia conference in Seville. The latter was on the subject of Classroom Dynamics, the social and community aspect of learning being something I’m quite interested in, and it was a brilliant experience.  Attending and presenting at conferences is a great way to meet other teachers, share ideas and feel part of a professional community – to create positive professional dynamics, if you like.  Because I put myself out there, people gave me some good advice and support and it was lovely.

I did not graf these steps in Toledo with a blue pen.

I did not graf these steps in Toledo with a blue pen.


After three years at IH Huelva, I decided I wanted to do the DELTA, and as I hate online learning, I signed up for the face-to-face intensive course at IH CLIC Seville starting in September 2015.  Boy, was it an intense bout of hoopy-hoopy-jump-jump!  I enjoyed lots about it, but can’t say I don’t have any bones to pick with Cambridge (Learning styles?? Come on!). I wrote about my experiences on this blog here.

Finding my way post-DELTA

Looking for a job starting in January was a new experience and I found one at the British Council in Madrid which was good “for the opportunities money“.  Family and a long story pulled me back to the UK in the summer and after a stint at a summer school that made me love teaching again, I worked for an intellectually exciting month as an EAP Tutor at the University of Durham.  And then it got dark.

Dark skies above Exeter, Nov 2015

Dark skies above Exeter, Nov 2015

In the UK, ELT work generally pays worse than Asda

Decent ELT jobs in the UK seem to be pretty few and far between. I was lucky in that I usually had a few hours a week at a  lovely little language school in my home city, Exeter, but a proper contract was nowhere on the horizon. I managed to get a permanent zero hours contract (whee!) at the college as an Associate Lecturer of ESOL, but that meant only 3 hours a week. I was earning about the same as I had in Spain, except with no security, no holiday pay and no sick pay, not to mention paying twice as much for rent and food, etc.  After feeling respected and decently paid in Spain, I suddenly felt unvalued and terrified for the future. This state of affairs isn’t news to many people, unfortunately, and groups like TaWSIG are making steps to help raise awareness of the precariat.

Fortune beamed at me in November, and a maternity-cover post as Head of TESOL at Blundell’s boarding school came my way. I started in February and stayed on, as (luckily for me) the new mum decided to resign.  It’s different from my previous jobs, but also similar in many ways.  I’m learning loads and even enjoying being a manager again.  I’m really grateful to have such a fulfilling job and it’s also really good to feel like a valued member of a community. The weird thing is that it’s in the town I grew up in, and of my numerous colleagues, two are my old gym and maths teachers and one is my old best friend, whom I’d lost touch with. Funny how life works out sometimes.


By Cristina



  1. paulwalsh · · Reply

    Thanks for namechecking TaWSIG Emma, and for raising the issue of pay and conditions: ‘Our working conditions are our learners’ learning conditions.’

    Also, any teacher on a zero-hours contract should seriously check out their rights – the law on zero-hours contracts changed last year. Employers are longer legally allowed to enforce ‘exclusivity’ on their workers (forcing workers to work for one company only).

    Info here:

    1. Thanks, Paul. To be clear, none of my employers enforced exclusivity, they just couldn’t offer proper contracts.

  2. Thanks for the mention Emma. It’s really great to see you active on your fab blog again. Your TEFL story is a real roller coaster with peaks and troughs. I hope the trajectory will always be up and away from here on out.

  3. What a wonderful blogpost! My sister is also currently struggling with UK pay rates being a newly-qualified ELT teacher with a background of many years in mainstream and special education. To be honest, most teachers I know are very lucky in Spain – the majority of schools offer good contracts (though some still get away with paying the basic contract and a little envelope under the table at the end of each month) and we’re fortunate that there’s a lot of work going at the moment.

  4. Thanks for the namecheck Emma, and one day I hope we can meet face-to-face! It’s great that the new job is going so well. Life never seems to go the way we expect, but I definitely believe that it’ll be OK in the end. Thanks for writing this 🙂

  5. Probably one of the best things about my job is my colleagues and I count myself a lucky teacher to be working alongside Amy Blanchard. Informal advice, mutual support, good ideas, the occasional beer and the knowledge that we are all in it together makes my job a lot more pleasurable than it might otherwise be!

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