A week in the life of a newly qualified ELT teacher.

Saturday evening. I’m wrapped in my fluffy blanket, not because it’s that cold, it’s still 20 degrees in Reggio but because I’m just getting over a cold for the second time in 5 weeks.

I just finished working on my portfolio tasks for my Young Learners IH online course, since I had zero free time on any weekdays this week. Not a single day. At least today I had time to catch up with some of my friends and family. (Apologies to all my friends who I haven’t messaged for a while, or didn’t reply to your messages, I honestly, genuinely didn’t have the time. Keep reading and hopefully you’ll understand).

I was going to go out after this, have a drink with my lovely fellow teachers but I’m exhausted, I’m finding it impossible to leave my sofa.

Surely that’s not how a typical ELT teacher abroad lives you might think.

I’m not sure what I expected teaching English would be like. Most of the stories I’ve read or heard are of partying, travelling, exploring, tasting the local cuisine, living like a local. The actual teaching was rarely mentioned in detail, I always assumed it won’t be that time consuming, though when I made the decision to join my current school I was well aware that was not going to be the case.

‘We work hard here, but we love it’ Lucie had said at the interview. That was one of the reasons I accepted this job. I needed a challenge after years in a mundane job and I could feel just from talking to Lucie how much they all cared about teaching.

Since it’s my first year, I’d rather work hard, learn as much as possible as fast as possible, so the following years are easier.” I told myself.

I didn’t quit expect it to be as crazy busy though.

So let me give you a taste of how a week of a newly qualified teacher at a busy IH school in Reggio Calabria is like.

First of all there’s no ‘typical’ week. Every day or week something would come up that will change your schedule. ‘Typical’ doesn’t exist in this job, I’ll therefore describe you last week as an example.

(Also, this is NOT my full-time schedule as not all my courses have started yet, this is about two-thirds of the way (God help me when it all kicks off)).


11 am. I made it to school early (considering I don’t finish until 7pm today). My first lesson starts at 1:30pm and I have to leave the school at 1pm to get to the public school I’m teaching at. I thankfully prepared a draft lesson and I only had to print copies of everything and gather all the material I needed.

But first, coffee! I can’t survive without it. OK let’s do everything quickly (everything takes longer than you’d expect). Oh shhhugar (not a good idea to swear at school), I need to have some lunch before I go. Do I have time?? Nop. OK it will have to wait.

3pm. I’m back at the school. I’m starving, a quick bite (thankfully I brought lunch with me today) whilst I show a colleague how to use my camera for some filming for a promotional video and then off to finish planning my lesson for my one to one later today, re-design my poster for the conference on Friday (ah, why did I do it in Word?) and if time allows plan my new one to one with a doctor starting tomorrow. Lisa already gave me a few ideas for that (I love Lisa’s ideas) so that will save me some time.

About 4pm. A message comes in. Tomorrow’s external lessons are cancelled, public schools will remain closed due to the weather warnings. Southern Italy is not built for rain.

5:50pm. I lost track of time. I have 10 minutes to print off an activity to do for my one to one, the rest of the lesson is ready. The weather is getting worse, we can hear the gusting winds hitting the windows. Apparently the port closed. I wouldn’t like to be in a ferry in this weather!

6pm. One of the receptionists comes in. ‘We are closing the school’. Hooray you might think, you now have some free time. No. I make it home around 7pm, feeling a bit shivery and with a sore throat. Just what I needed!

I filled in my register (we need to submit a form after each lesson we do), had a shower, dinner, I helped my bestie with a presentation she was working on and then I re-designed my poster, from scratch. I finished about 11pm. Absolutely knackered. And it’s only Monday. At least my poster looks cool, I can’t wait to see it in A3 on Friday! (Thank you Suzanne for reminding me how awesome Canva is).


12pm. I don’t need to be in until 3pm now that my external lesson was cancelled but there’s a lot to do and no time to do it in.

OK, let’s start by planning today’s lessons, pop in to lesson planning with James (life and time saving!) and then make time to start preparing for my first formal observation on Friday.

3pm. Time to film one of the lessons. I’m glad I managed to do that. I love filming. The little ones are adorable and Mariah, their teacher is awesome, it gave me a couple of ideas for my lessons!

4:20pm. I just finished filming and I need to hand over the camera to Suzanne and rush to my next assignment, help out an Italian couple with their presentation for a pitch event.

4:30pm. The lady arrives but she is not happy, her first session was with someone else, she didn’t know she would get me today. It was hard not to take it personally though she kept repeating it wasn’t my fault (the conversation was in Italian but I could pick up a few words). Anyway by the end of the session both herself and her husband left smiling and thanking me profusely. Job done.

5:30pm. I have 45 minutes to finish preparing for my adults lesson later tonight and start working on my lesson plan for the new classes starting tomorrow. OK, I need another coffee!

6:15pm. Time for my one to one with the doctor. Not sure what to expect, I can’t even concentrate.

7:15pm. It all went well. You never know with one to ones, they are so personal and intimate, if your student doesn’t like you, it can make your life and theirs impossible. But all good.

7:45pm. OK, thank God I last minute printed all my material for this lesson. And thank God I teach adults too, keeps me sane!

9:30pm. I made it home. My throat hurts even more, I’m tired and I need to finish some work but I can’t. I do the register, have dinner and straight to bed.


11am. I drag myself to school. My throat definitely got worse overnight and I didn’t sleep much because of my now blocked nose. I have my Italian lesson in half an hour and I still need to print all the material for my classes today. I just hope and pray to make it through today.

12:30pm. Italian lesson done. I have about an hour to prepare everything and then have some lunch. It’s gonna be very close.

2:30pm. I’m here with the rest of the crew, two classes back to back at this new school. The language assistant is lovely, but she doesn’t speak much English, I hope it all works out OK.

5:50pm. Alessia picked me up to take me back to the school but we are stuck in traffic. I have to be at the school for my 6pm appointment.

5:55pm. Oh my lord. OK. Pheew. I drop everything on my desk and run upstairs (My desk is in such a mess I can’t even look at it).

6:20pm. The lady who I had the one to one with (another person to help with their pitch) didn’t show up. I might get some time to work on my observation lesson after all.

6:30pm. The lady showed up, half an hour late. Running back upstairs!

7pm. She was so lovely, I wanted to give her a hug and her business idea was great. I hope she wins!

7:30pm. I need to get my hair dyed and I need to buy food but all I want to do is lie down and wake up when this cold goes away.

8:30pm. After a quick stop at the supermarket, I made it back home, had dinner and put the hair dye on (finally I’ll get rid of white hair, it’s been giving me nightmares)! My cold got worse, I can’t breathe properly.

9:30pm. OK, I need to comment on the forum, a requirement for my online course, otherwise workload will pile up. What day is it again??

11pm. I’m heading to bed early. Oh please universe help me sleep.

3am. This is the fifth time I woke up. Stupid cold!


11am. I don’t need to be in until 1:20pm but I have a crucial, time-constraining to-do list. I head to the pharmacy to get some Nurofen Cold and Flu (14 EUROS!!!) and straight to school.

1pm. I finished preparing for my poster presentation, I finished reading the scientific article the doctor sent me for tonight’s lesson and I can have lunch very quickly.

1:20pm. INSETT time. Vince is presenting today. I love Vince, his British humour in his Italian accent. Brilliant. And what a great time to sit down and have a little break from all the things I have to do and learn something new.

2:50pm. I’m running to get to a local school I’m invigilating an exam for. Thank God Anna showed up to give me a lift. I wouldn’t have made it on time.

3:10pm. I’m at the school. Not sure where to go, I vaguely remember the way from last time. I asked the caretaker, she doesn’t speak English bless her.

3:14pm. I found the room. It was locked. Back to the caretaker. We somehow managed to communicate using gestures and Google translate. She came back, let me in and the person with her turned the lights on for me (no it wasn’t a simple switch on the wall, in case you are wondering, it was a panel with labels in Italian!).

3:22pm. I quickly arranged the chairs and let the students in. We start the exam.

4:45pm. I’m finally back at the school. I need to finish a vocab exercise I prepared for the doctor, finish my lesson plan for the adult class straight afterwards and finish preparing the material for my observation lesson tomorrow. PANIC!!!

6:15pm. OK, only thing left to do is finish cutting the material for tomorrow. But time for my one to one.

7:15pm. What an amazing lesson. I taught him English and he taught me medicine. We talked about different cancer treatments, types of cancer, haematological diseases. Fascinating. I should have paid him for teaching me.

7:45pm. OK I just need to get through this lesson then I can finish all the cutting and head home to finish off my documents for the observation.

9:45pm. All the material ready for tomorrow, I can head home now.

11pm. After a quick dinner and shower, I spent the last two hours preparing my paperwork for tomorrow. All done now. OK I need to go to bed. I have to get up at 7:30am.


7:45am. Thank God for Nurofen I feel a bit better. I only have 45 minutes to get ready. OK, remember it’s Friday, this week is almost over!

8:40pm. After a very tiny, small breakfast I got ready as quickly as I physically could and ran outside. The School’s annual ELT conference starts in 20 minutes!

8:50pm. I thankfully made it at a reasonable time, only 10 minutes late and it hasn’t started yet. Pheew.

11am. The first two sessions were great, especially Simon Ward’s talk on using positive psychology in the classroom. I forgot how awesome and engaging psychology practitioners can be. I guess that’s what experience with helping other humans make sense of the world does for you. Now for my poster presentation and then I can leave early (thank you Lucie!) and go back to school to print off the paperwork for my observation and have some lunch.

11:30am. The poster presentation went better than I thought. I was worried no one would be interested in my poster but I actually got to talk to 6-7 different people who genuinely seemed to enjoy it!

12:20pm. All ready for my observation lesson. I have no food with me so off to the nearest shop.

1:20pm. We made it to the school early. That means I can check whether the smartboard works! Of course it doesn’t. Let’s hope the mini-projector I brought with me does the trick.

2:30pm. I feel defeated. I don’t have any strength even to cry. Whatever it could have gone wrong in that lesson, it did. Technology failed me several times, my regular language assistant was not there and the children wouldn’t listen to me but I refused to shout at them. I tried my best. On the positive side that’s why I asked to be observed and be given feedback on this class, is my most challenging by far and I desperately need help.

3pm. I have some admin to do and then I need to tidy up my desk. I can bear this mess any longer.

6pm. OK admin done and handed in, I deserve a coffee and a snack. Lucie just came in and gave me a chocolate bear for presenting a poster at the conference. She is the sweetest!

7:30pm. Desk all clean, everything packed. I can go home and not do any more work for today!!

10pm. I’m so tired I’m actually heading to bed early on a Friday. Thank you universe. I can’t believe I made it through this week.

That’s it, that’s how not just my week but everyone else’s I work with has been.

The first year of teaching is NOT easy. If you work full-time, if you care about your students and what you teach them, if you care about your teaching and your performance, if you work for a school that cares, prepare to work hard. It’s exhausting but at the same time incredibly rewarding.

I miss having time for myself, I miss doing other things I enjoy, I miss not having free time to just chill.

You know what though? I love every minute. And also that means it will only get easier. For now, I’m ready for another crazy week.




Teaching English abroad- Step 2: Full time CELTA

‘You won’t have any other life for a month.’

Jonny did warn me at the interview, as I assume all CELTA tutors do with their potential students (full details of the interview process here), but no amount of explaining and warning can prepare you for doing a full-time, intensive, month long CELTA course. A level 5 qualification (equivalent to HNC/HND) which normally takes between 6 months/ 1 year full time and 2 years part time squeezed in one month!

Lead in, TPs, Gist Task, Detailed task, Guided Discovery, Monitoring, you pick up the CELTA language from week 1, that’s how intensive it is.

I’ll talk about my experience at Cambridge Regional College but I’m certain the format and the content are similar across the world, as they all follow the Cambridge English syllabus, though not everyone might have been lucky enough to have had such great tutors, classmates and students.

A. format

We started the course on a Friday, to give us time to get to know each other and our surroundings and on the following Monday we taught for the first time, just an introductory, non-assessed class. The following day we had to teach our first assessed Teaching Practice (TP), extremely stressful for someone who struggles with anxiety like me, but it helped we got to know the students the day before first. With most education providers you are required to teach your first assessed lesson on day two. Yes, it’s pretty intense from the start.

-Input sessions

Every morning we had input sessions, where Jonny and Fiona in turns covered the main topics of EFL teaching: learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context, language analysis and awareness, language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing, planning and resources for different teaching contexts and developing teaching skills and professionalism. For more details you can check the Cambridge English CELTA syllabus here.

Input sessions with those two were never dull, they were always fun, engaging and creative, even with typically boring, dreadful subjects like teaching grammar. Jonny’s colour- coordinated flashcards and phonetics jokes were superb and Fiona’s energy, honesty and saying things as they were were refreshing. I won’t go into much detail, I wouldn’t like others to steal Jonny and Fiona’s hard work but I’m not sure many CELTA students got to mime, dance and laugh as much as we did whilst learning.


In the afternoons we were split into two groups. Half of us taught the pre-intermediate group and the other half the upper intermediate (and we switched half way, every teacher has to teach two levels). When we were not teaching we observed and gave feedback to each other. Jonny or Fiona (in turns) were always there assessing and providing us with feedback after each session. We taught six 40 min and two 1hr long sessions (8 sessions and 6 hours in total).

Don’t worry if you’ve never taught before, I hadn’t before this. We were provided with lesson frameworks to use from day one and every morning the day before we were to teach we met with our tutor to help us with the lesson planning, except for the last two sessions where assistance with planning was also assessed and varied depending on what grade you were aiming for (more on that on a separate post).


You are also required 6 hours of observing experienced teachers. We observed summer school teachers in the classroom, a video-taped session and our tutors who both were AMAZING at their teaching and way better than the rest we observed. Engaging, building rapport almost instantly, monitoring effectively and making the class fun and interesting. That’s how I aspire to teach.


As if lesson planning, input sessions, teaching and observing are not enough you also have to prepare and hand in 4 assignments, around 1000 words each covering the main topics mentioned above. It’s hard work this course!


Possible outcomes are:

-Pass A (about 5% of successful candidates).

-Pass B (about 25% of successful candidates)

-Pass (about 70% of successful candidates)


Fiona told us from day one she won’t let anyone fail and nobody did.

B. Day to day work

You may assume you go home around 5pm and you only need an hour or two preparing for the next day but that’s not the case. Lesson planning takes, especially to begin with, at least 4-5 hours- ‘Double the time you think it will take’ Fiona used to say and she was right- and the more you progress through the course the more exhausted, sleep deprived and stressed you become, which slows everything down significantly.

C. How to make it

  • Classmates

All ten of us used to go in as early as possible so we can finish our lesson plans, print our handouts and/or help each other with assignments. Honestly we wouldn’t have made it without each other. I certainly wouldn’t.

We all reached our limit and were about to quit, particularly towards the end of week two. We were warned that would happen, though nobody told us it would happen more than once. If you really want this qualification, persevere. You will feel like quitting at least once, but the sense of achievement will more than make up for it in the end.

Most of us were not from Cambridge, we had no family or friends around, we lived and breathed CELTA for a month and that takes its toll. We kept each other going, read and corrected each other’s assignments, lesson plans, hand outs. We cried together, we laughed together. We bonded a lot, very fast. It’s inevitable when you spend every day with the same people, trying your best for the same thing.

Having a WhatsApp group helped a lot not just with homework but also mentally. Sharing our frustrations and worries was therapeutic.

This may not be the case with everyone who does the CELTA. I think I was lucky I had such sweet, caring, brilliant, funny, all round awesome classmates I now call friends. I miss you all!

  • Tutors

I’ve touched a bit on this already but I feel we were lucky we had such great tutors. It’s obvious they love what they do and they are incredibly amazing at it. They passed on their enthusiasm, skills and knowledge to us, so when we get out there and teach we care and we do it right.

They were there before us in the morning and left after us most days. Whilst they had to train us, they also had to deal with the rest of their day to day job in between as well as read and mark our assignments.

Both Fiona and Jonny supported us as much as they possibly could, me personally, when I was going through my grief having lost my grandpa on week one. I cried in front of them on my first week and they were both understanding, they offered me a break and checked up on me.

Also I wouldn’t have been able to manage my stress and teach so effectively if it wasn’t for Fiona. She helped me more than she realised. She is awesome.

  • Students

I got to teach two lovely groups of students. Before my first teaching session I was terrified of what I was about to face but by the end of the course I loved everyone in both classes. People from all over the world, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Colombia, Lithuania, you name it, who happened to now live in Cambridge and just wanted to improve their English all came together and I was blessed with teaching them. I got to know and chat to every single one of them outside the class, have a laugh with them and hopefully taught them a thing or two.

  • Accommodation

Most of my classmates were not from Cambridge or the UK, so we all lived in a brand new environment dealing with all sorts of situations whilst studying hard every day.

I lived with a host ‘family’, it was only the landlady, Mary in my case, who also provided breakfast and dinner every day and did my laundry every week. It was challenging at times, especially when all the rooms were occupied, noise, queue for the bathroom (though they were three!) but all in all it was brilliant. Mary looked after me and I made great friends, not just Mary but also my Russian flatmates! If you have the option I definitely recommend it, you won’t have time to cook or do anything else for a month, it helps to have dinner prepared for you and a clean room to your disposal.

Overall thoughts

The 4 week CELTA course was one of the most mentally and physically challenging things I ever had to do, it tested my sanity, my health, my limits in more than one way and my anxiety flared up bad, I didn’t sleep more than three/four hours a day, I didn’t get to see much of Cambridge but it was also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, at least for me. I learnt a lot, I fell in love with teaching and I made friends in Cambridge and all over the world, from Peru to Italy and Azerbaijan. Once in a lifetime experience I’ll never forget.

If I had to do it again I’d may opt for the part-time option, though that has its challenges too if you work full-time, and it may take longer to learn as you don’t apply what you learn immediately, but I don’t regret a single moment.

If you decide to do it full time, I’d with no second thought recommend Cambridge Regional College.

If you do it in Cambridge, go a few days early or stay a few days after to enjoy what this gorgeous city has to offer. I’d love to go back some time and go punting, visit the Wren Library, have afternoon tea at Grantchester and do yoga in the park by the river. Who knows, maybe I will one day.

After thoughts

Despite no previous teaching experience I managed to get the highest grade (Grade A), so it is possible, but I will write about that on a separate post.

I just started a part-time job teaching A1 Movers and A2 Key young learners, the CELTA can’t prepare you for that I’m afraid. I’ll write about that soon too but any advice would be greatly appreciated.