The ‘disillusionment’ stage (of first year of teaching)

It’s Saturday, just after 12pm, my body aches, I’m still sleepy and exhausted but I’m slowly getting ready for my mini break. My body is struggling, it could do with a few days of rest but my mind desperately needs this break.

I thought long and hard, I’ve been trying for a while now to accurately describe how I feel. I’m normally pretty damn good at it, but not lately. When asked I just say I’m tired but it’s much more than that.

I’m exhausted, I struggle to keep up with the energy levels required to teach, especially children and on some days I lack the motivation, particularly when teaching 4 lessons back to back, running around from school to school.

It’s not an easy job to say the least, let alone when you teach 8 large groups of 16- 25 children (plus two large classes of 16 yr olds, three one-to-ones and a group of adults which also have their own challenges) and after the 100th time that you repeatedly told a student or a class that you don’t speak Italian or waited for them to stop talking so they can listen or gave the same instructions but they just don’t seem to get it or they shout ‘Non capisco!’ even before you finish your sentence, well it becomes frustrating.

It makes me wonder whether this job is for me. Do I still enjoy it? I’m not even sure if I’m good at it. Will it get better? Will it get easier? If I decide to pursue this career does that mean I’ll never have free time again??

Then I remembered a little chart I came across last month, my friend and fellow teacher sent me a kind, encouraging open letter for first year teachers and in that letter it had the following graph (by Wisconsin Education Association) which is so far bang on the money.

To begin with it was exciting, the anticipation of applying everything I learned was off the charts and the first couple of months of teaching was all about survival, keep going, trying to plan amazing lessons in less time and improve whilst also having to do a million other things, but lately I feel sad and disappointed at times.

Disillusionment: a feeling of being disappointed and unhappy because of discovering the truth about something or someone that you liked or respected.

I’m not sure this is what I signed up for and I can’t but wonder whether this is for me, not just mentally but also physically. I guess the fact this is not my first job, I’ve lived and worked and led a different life plays a part. Perhaps this is just a phase. Some lessons are absolutely incredible, the students happily take part in most of the activities, they enjoy learning, I enjoy teaching them and time flies by, others there are so disappointing, disheartening, I don’t even want to be there.

It doesn’t help that I have very little free time to do other things not just work related e.g. lesson planning, if only I had more time to plan more engaging lessons, or time to read resources to help with my teaching and expand my knowledge but also just for myself: write, read, play my guitar, go for a walk, explore.

I’ll give it some time before I make a decision, maybe I’ll soon enter the ‘rejuvenation’ stage, but for now I just need to find the mental and physical strength to keep me going.

Who knows, maybe spending a few days in Barcelona, a city I’ve always wanted to visit, with my bestie who I haven’t seen for months, might do the trick and help me see things clearer.



Survival guide for new EFL teachers

When we were asked by one of the DoS (Director of Studies) whether we’d like to present at the IH South Italy conference, although I was overwhelmed with all the additional work I took up on top of teaching (putting together promo videos and planning events, which I absolutely love but God it takes time) and barely had time to do anything else, I really wanted to.

I’ve never presented at a conference before. Sure I gave presentations at work and uni, but never at a conference.

‘But what can I talk about? I’ve only been teaching for two months, what can others learn from my experience?’

Most of the days I’ve been over stressed, overworked, overwhelmed, wondering whether I’m doing this well, if my students are really learning and whether all this it’s worth the anxiety, the lack of me-time, of any time to do anything else other than work. If you are a newly qualified teacher you probably nodding your head reading this.

And that’s when I had a light bulb moment. What if I put together a ‘survival guide’ for newly qualified English teachers using the wisdom of existing teachers? I’ve already learned a lot from my manager, our DoS and fellow teachers in the couple of months I’ve been working as an EFL teacher, so imagine gathering all these little nuggets of advice and summarising them into a couple of pages?

I asked James (one of our DoS and the kindest man on earth) if he thought that would be a good idea and he seemed to like it. It’s hard to tell if he really liked it or he was just being polite as he always is but I thought ‘Let’s do it’, I might not get the chance again, who knows where I’d be and what I’d be doing next.

I asked around the room if anyone wanted to present with me, not that I was shy presenting on my own, but there are a lot of NQTs in our school and it would be a good opportunity for someone if they’d like to present. One of my fellow teachers wanted to present with me and to cut a long story short I set up a survey, sent it to teachers we knew and posted it on FB groups and got around 40 responses in just two weeks. Time management is a huge issue for new EFL teachers!

We gave the presentation at the IH South Italy conference yesterday, summarising and demonstrating some of the most common advice on topics we, newly qualified EFL teachers struggle with the most, and I thought I’d share it here too, to hopefully help other newly qualified teachers who may be struggling.

The CELTA can’t prepare you for what’s about to happen when you start teaching children or large classes or full time (also forget CELTA lesson planning time when you start teaching 4-5 hours a day!) so if you need any ideas on how to reduce your lesson planning time and manage your time better in general, or what you can do to help you with teaching young learners, or how to look after your mental health and wellbeing, have a read below.

What I’ve learned so far and I’d advise others (which most teachers recommended in the survey):

-Always have pre-prepared, low resource activities in hand (see ideas below) or lesson plans you have already prepared (start building your own archive), so if you hadn’t had time to plan in detail or ran out of material you can still have a great lesson.

– Plan less, don’t spend hours on it. Most of the time you can’t afford to spend hours. Not every lesson has to be amazing with heavy resource and planning activities. Use the coursebook and extend/adapt some of the exercises, students will still enjoy it (though it is more fun not using the book, especially if the material is not engaging for the students).

-Ask for help. We all regardless of experience give each other ideas and we all help each other with little and not so little things. And if you are struggling, talk to someone!

-Make time for yourself, your hobbies, your passions. Teaching shouldn’t take over your whole life. There is is much more in life than work.

-Making a mistake is not the end of the world. In fact that’s how you learn!

-Look after yourself. Rest, have breaks, sleep. At the end of the day teaching is just a job. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing/ you are too tired/ drained it not only affects your teaching but it’s not worth doing if it compromises your mental and physical health.

(the session started with a 5 minute mindfulness activity I’ll share on another post and also included demonstrations of a classroom routine, giving clear graded instructions, planning an activity for a lesson in a few minutes-yes, it’s definitely do-able- and finished with the audience getting to know each other outside their teacher remit and catching up with friends they haven’t messaged in a while).

Feel free to share and spread the wisdom. The survey is still open if you’d like to share yours. I thought instead of closing it, try to get as many teachers filling it in with their own ideas and advice instead (

Thank you to everyone who filled in the survey, my co-presenter Nour, my lovely colleagues Maria and Mariah for their super useful feedback and ideas and a very special thank you to James who not only advised and helped me with the survey and PPT from the beginning, even during the Christmas holidays but also for his encouragement and mental support. He even saw the session twice. What a man.


Thankmas Day Eighteen: Thank you Sophie

Today’s Thankmas is dedicated to my cousin Sophie (though technically she is my aunt, but she is way too young to call her aunt!) not only because she is fun, awesome and one of the few people in Cyprus I can talk in English with, but I wouldn’t have coped that well (or at all) on my CELTA and more importantly, I wouldn’t have been where I am today, as in teaching full time in another country, without her advice, help and encouragement.

A day after my grandpa died I had to teach my second assessed lesson, on Mongolian horse racing (of all things!). I woke up that morning with bright red eyes, I’d cried my eyes out the night before trying to come in terms with the cruel reality that I wasn’t going to see my beloved pappou Costa alive again (I’m tearing up now just thinking about it). Every time I thought of him I couldn’t stop sobbing (more on that here).

How was I going to actually stand in front of people and manage not to cry, let alone teach them?? Sophie’s advice was what got me through not only that lesson but the rest of the month.

‘Remember, teachers are really actors’.

To be able to control my emotions and not burst into tears every time I thought of my grandpa or someone asked me if I was OK I convinced myself I was a great actress. That’s exactly what I did each and every single time until the very end. I still do this today when I’m about to walk into a classroom and I’m exhausted or sad but I don’t want my students to be affected by my mood.

When I moved back to Cyprus (for what it was going to be for a few months but I got itchy feet so I only stayed a month) Sophie recommended me to a great local language school, who offered me a part-time job almost straight away. Working there was what made me realise I wanted to give it a proper go and try my luck somewhere I could get a varied experience, away from ‘home’, whatever that is. I’m so confused now that I moved away from the UK, I don’t know where home’s anymore but that’s another story!

So thank you dear, thank you for everything. Without realising, you probably played the most pivotal role in what is turning to be one of my life’s greatest adventures!

See you next week!


Thankmas Day Seventeen: Thank you Fiona and Jonny

Doing and actually getting an A on my CELTA (relevant post here) was undoubtedly one of my most memorable and probably the biggest highlight of the year and I wouldn’t have managed to finish it, let alone achieve the highest grade without my classmates”, I wrote yesterday.

But there are two so very important people I would certainly not have done the CELTA (let alone get an A) without, my CELTA tutors, Jonny and Fiona.

I posted about it before and from conversations I had with fellow teachers, I feel I was lucky to have such great tutors.

They were not just incredible teachers themselves (I observed them both delivering interesting, interactive, informative lessons so naturally they made it look easy, but trust me, it is not!) but amazing teacher trainers too. Our input sessions with them were always fun and varied, they managed to grab our attention every single time and we learned a lot from them (with some exceptions towards the end of the course when we were all exhausted and our attention span shrank significantly). Two superb professionals, who though quite different in their teaching methods and personalities, they are a match made in heaven.

What made a huge difference for me was their understanding, kindness and above all, empathy, a rare trait nowadays.

I cried in front of both of them on week one after I informed them my grandpa had died and they not only offered me a break if I had felt I needed it, but they checked up on me making sure I was OK.

They also helped me manage my anxiety which reached ridiculous levels during my CELTA- I haven’t felt that stressed teaching as a professional and I’ve been working with a large number of students, nothing beats CELTA-induced stress I guess-, especially Fiona. She had a way of bringing me back to the moment and somehow making me forget about stress even for a while.

I shared a special moment with each I won’t share, they are both quite personal , but I’ll never forget.

I’ll never forget as well that they believed in me enough to push me for that A grade. They didn’t have to do it, they took a risk and I’m over the moon I didn’t disappoint them.

So thank you Jonny and Fiona. Thank you for your advice and nurturing, your empathy and kindness, your love for that you do, your honesty (God I miss a no bull***t Fiona chat!), for believing in me and for all your hard work.

I wish I’d have spent more time with you, there’s so much more I could have learned!


Thankmas Day Sixteen: Thank you CELTA classmates

Doing and actually getting an A on my CELTA (you can check out relevant post here) was undoubtedly one of my most memorable and probably the biggest highlight of the year and I wouldn’t have managed to finish it, let alone achieve the highest grade without my classmates.

The (full time) CELTA experience is so unique and intense, it brings people very close very fast, at least that’s what happened with us. It’s hard not to when you spend most of the day, every day for a month together and you see each other at their worst, stressed, tired and emotional.

We looked after another, comforted each other, read each other’s assignments, lesson plans, helped with cutting, glueing, offered food, got coffee, had a laugh, a cry, long chats, we did it all.

I still remember the hug Carolina gave me when I told her my grandpa had died, the sandwich Darren offered me just before my last TP, since I was so stressed I hadn’t eaten all day, the coffee I desperately needed and Elliot got me when I was running late for my lesson planning session and I had barely slept the night before, laughs to the point I almost peed myself with Sonia, deep conversations on life with Monalisa, Shalala’s look, she could always read my emotions, (I’ll never forget on our last day when we just looked at each other and we both started crying) Fatima’s spicy dates I snacked on for days, Ralph’s bright red face the first time he made a sarcastic joke and Anoushka’s brilliantly still unspoilt enthusiasm (ah to be 21 again!).

So thank you everyone, I would have quit on week one if it weren’t for you.

I hope you are all doing well in your new and not new jobs and lives. Maybe one day we’ll meet again but even if we don’t, we will always have that strong, special bond of August 2019 in Cambridge.


How I got Grade A on my CELTA

Now in terms of possible outcomes, most students get a Pass, some get Grade B and very few (usually experienced teachers) get an A. I think you’ll do very well”, I remember Jonny telling me at my CELTA interview.

I had zero previous experience, I didn’t have much time to do any pre-reading and I hadn’t studied for anything for years, so I definitely did not expect or aimed for an A, but I somehow managed to do it.

Does it matter? You may ask.

Not really, I don’t think. It looks good on your CV and it seems to impress recruiters (at least the ones I’ve had interviews with so far), so it might give you a slight advantage, especially if you are newly qualified as I am, but as long as you have the CELTA, the grade doesn’t really matter. It’s tough enough getting the qualification and everyone who has done it knows that!

How did you do it? One might wonder.

Surprise, surprise, there is no recipe. Even if I were to describe you in every single detail what I did, I bet you it wouldn’t work for everyone. So unfortunately I can’t do that. What I can give you is some guidelines and advice to help you achieve an A (no guarantees) based on my experience.

  1. Avoid distractions. Do the full-time variant and away from home if you can. It helps if all you concentrate on is the CELTA. It’s exhausting, physically and mentally but I functioned significantly better focusing only on my course. For me the course actually helped as a distraction from dealing with the sudden death of my grandpa and other life situations.
  2. Listen to your tutors. It’s a no-brainer really. But listen carefully, take in as much as physically possible and actively take part during input sessions. I was craving for a challenge after years in a repetitive, dull job and my brain worked like a sponge and I followed their instructions and guidance religiously.
  3. Work on the feedback your tutors and classmates give you on your teaching. Probably the most important one. Every single time I took their suggestions and feedback on board and I improved after every Teaching Practice (TP).
  4. Help each other. OK, this you can’t control. Your classmates might not be that friendly or helpful but our group was pretty amazing. We helped each other with everything, checking each other’s handouts, reading each other’s assignments, even little things like getting coffee for each other. I wouldn’t have done it without them. Honestly.
  5. Trust yourself. This is a tough one, but in order to get Grade A you need to demonstrate you can work independently, plan and deliver a lesson with minimal guidance (for the last two TPs the only ‘guidance’ I got was nodding). When Fiona, during our second tutoring session, asked me why I was being ‘modest’ when scoring myself as ‘to standard’ for most and a couple of ‘below standard’ of a long list of competences (the ones you are being assessed on your CELTA), I wasn’t really being modest. I thought I was doing OK but I didn’t really believe I was ‘above standard’. I didn’t know what the standard was so I had no idea how I was doing. After that session I did my best, not because I was desperate to get Grade A, but not to let Fiona and Jonny down, who believed in me and gave me the chance to go for a higher grade. I didn’t care about the grade, I cared about them, so I had to believe in and trust myself, particularly for those last two TPs.
  6. Pay attention to detail. Don’t rush into doing your assignments or planning a lesson. Do it carefully and take everything you learn into account. Otherwise you won’t produce quality work and I promise you, you will have to resubmit at least one or two assignments. The reason I didn’t have to resubmit any was due to my overthinking and excruciatingly painful need to keep working and working on something (and probably all the years of studying at uni). Thank God for deadlines.
  7. Be creative. With your lesson plans, your handouts, your PPTs. If you just follow the book to every single detail and not improvise, use other resources, design your own exercises, not only you won’t get an A, you won’t make a great teacher either.
  8. Get to know your students, keep them engaged and interested. You can design the best, most fun, amazing lessons in the world but it means nothing unless you deliver them well. How? Learn your students’ names and personalities, use their first names, ‘read’ the situation, if they look bored or disinterested or baffled, change your lesson plan. For me it was easy, I love chatting to people, getting to know them and I’m good at observing and noticing others reactions. If you don’t care about your students you won’t last long in this job!

So these are my top 8 tips, based on my experience. Some of it may not be easy to follow, not everyone finds it easy to be creative, perceptive (that’s down to personality) or write an assignment (that’s down to experience and I had plenty in academia) and you may not get Grade A even if you follow my advice, but I promise you, you will at least get the most out of this uniquely painful, rewarding and at points surreal experience.