New Teacher Tales – Stefanie

In our New Teacher Tales series, we interview people we know who are working as English teachers. They tell us how they started out in TEFL and give advice to those of you who are thinking about getting into it.

In this post, Stefanie, who is one of our colleagues here at the British Council in Hong Kong, tells us about her English teaching career in Vietnam, Italy, Spain and the UK, and how she found that being open minded led her to meet very kind and helpful people all over.

Stefanie has her own blog where she posts lots of useful advice and activities for English language teachers. Check it out: ESL Resource Hub.

New Teacher Tales Stefanie

Where do you work now?

I am currently employed by the British Council in Hong Kong SAR, where I teach Kindergarten, primary school students and some adult classes. 

Tell me more about the job?

My typical workday starts in the afternoons, except for Saturdays and Sundays when I teach all day. While the materials are provided, teachers are encouraged to customize the lessons to fit the learners’ needs. I thoroughly enjoy working here as everyone is supportive and helpful when facing challenges.

What’s the best thing about living in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong boasts a vibrant and diverse culture, serving as a melting pot of different cultural influences. I particularly love the vast and varied food scene in Hong Kong. From traditional Chinese cuisine to Thai, Korean, or Italian dishes, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Additionally, Hong Kong provides access to nature and outdoor activities, despite being a bustling city, with a lot of green spaces, hiking trails, and beaches for everyone to appreciate.

What did you do before you started teaching English?

I previously worked as a youth worker in the UK, where I connected German au pairs with host families in and around London. My responsibilities included sourcing suitable candidates, interviewing prospective host families and candidates, arranging meetings, and coordinating various activities. I also arranged a series of lectures with guest speakers explaining the political, educational and social difference between the UK and Germany. 

Why did you become an English teacher?

While studying for my education degree in Germany I led a weekly course for first-year students. I assisted them adapting to university life and  academic work, like essay writing, giving presentations etc. This was when I noticed how much I loved teaching and creating lesson materials. However, it took me a few years to take the CELTA course and become an English teacher.

For more details on the CELTA course, see the post written by Celta trainer Jo Gakonga What is CELTA?

Where have you taught English?

I taught English in the UK, Vietnam, Spain and Italy. During my time in Italy I briefly worked as a freelance online teacher for companies in Germany and Slovakia before relocating to Hong Kong.

Stefanie with her students inn Vietnam
With a class of students in Vietnam

What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since you became an English teacher?

Witnessing  my students’  growth and increasing confidence using the language has been extremely  rewarding. Besides this, I discovered and developed my  passion for creating teaching materials, which led me to establish my blog, The ESL Resource Hub.  I aim to support and inspire other ESL teachers by sharing my lessons and activities that were successful in my own classes. 

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you since you became an English teacher?

One difficult situation I faced was working for a school that preferred native English speakers but could not hire them post-Brexit. As a German non-native English speaker, I was instructed not to disclose my nationality to the students. This experience shed light on the issue of native-speakerism in some countries and the misconception that the quality of education is better with native English-speaking teachers.

For more on this issue, and advice for non native English speakers wanting to fight this, see our blog How to find jobs about as a non native English speaking teacher

Tell us a bizarre story that’s happened to you as an English teacher.

Upon arriving in Vietnam, I  had minimal support from the school I was employed at in Hanoi. In need of assistance, some locals at a cafe offered to help me complete necessary tasks before starting my job. I found myself riding on the back of a stranger’s motorbike, accompanied by these newfound friends, as they guided me around the city to complete errands. The kindness and generosity of these strangers, who had met me only two hours before, left a  long lasting impression on me.

Exploring Hanoi with a friend

Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?

Looking back, I wish I had embarked on this journey sooner. Teaching English and traveling the world had always been a dream of mine, but fear initially hindered me. However, taking the leap and pursuing this path has allowed me to grow significantly from the experience.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting into English teaching? 

I would encourage aspiring English teachers to be courageous and open-minded. Relocating to a new country may be intimidating, but it often proves to be immensely rewarding and transformative. Embrace the opportunity for personal and professional growth that teaching in a foreign setting can offer.

For more stories of English teachers from all over the world with their advice for you, see the rest of our New Teacher Tales interviews.

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