New Teacher Tales – Svitlana

In our New Teacher Tales series, we interview people teaching English abroad, about how, why and where they started out, about their experiences teaching abroad, and what advice they have for new teachers.

In this post, Svitlana, from Ukraine, tells us how she started teaching in Ukraine and then worked as an English teacher in Myanmar and Turkey.

Hi there! My name is Svitlana and I come from Ukraine.

First off, I’d like to thank you to Kate and Kris for offering me to share my teaching career path – I am always happy to do that. Also, if anyone wants to ask me more follow-up questions – I am absolutely willing to give more information upon request.

I write a blog myself at https://lanalikhman.wordpress.com/ where you can find out more about me.

Where do you teach at the moment?

Currently, I am working in Mandalay, Myanmar (formerly Burma) as an English Teacher. I started my job here last September in 2019 and I’ve been here for almost 10 months already. I work for an international company that I used to work for before in Ankara, Turkey.

What do you like about living in Myanmar?

Myanmar is famous for its relaxed lifestyle, friendly people, never-ending summer and religious sites (there’re lots of pagodas and temples across the country of different sizes and styles).

Teaching English in Myanmar
Temple in Myanmar

There’s no public transport here so each time I need to get to my workplace or elsewhere, I take a Tuk Tuk (rickshaw; you can see the picture below) which I like and appreciate a lot. It is very convenient and I love the breeze during the rides as it can get super-hot here (up to 42°C). We are lucky to have this transport here as Yangon (the biggest city in Myanmar) doesn’t have them, there are only conventional taxis.

Read more about our visit to Yangon.

I am staying in a European hostel and there’re always a lot of backpackers here from all over the world. I love the climate here as my life dream had always been to live in a place where summer lasts forever!

Mandalay is the second biggest city after Yangon and the 2 cities are absolutely different and they sometimes feel like different countries. Mandalay is located in the north of Myanmar and there’s a lot of Chinese influence here.

We spent four days in Mandalay a few years ago. You can read more about our trip to Mandalay here.

How did you become an English teacher?

From an early age I knew that I wanted to relate my life to English, and I’d always wanted to become an interpreter. At the age of 18 I volunteered as an interpreter for a lady that was a manager at a local school in Ukraine and she invited me to teach there. I didn’t have any experience or a degree and I had never done any courses at that time so teaching was really stressful and challenging for me!

I wasn’t able to get into university until the age of 22 (I was rejected for 5 consecutive years). I am happy that I didn’t give in, regardless of the hardships that I had to face at that age and eventually pursued my career as a teacher and got a degree at the age of 27. So, I can say I became a teacher kind of by accident.

My first job that I started at the age of 18 was teaching adults in groups. I still stay in touch with some people who I met then up to the present.

Ukrainian English teacher
When I started teaching English!

Was this the right way to start?

I don’t know if it was the right way to start but I am happy everything worked out the way it did. I am happy to be where I am now even though it’s not at all what I had planned for myself at that time.

From my experience, however clichéd it sounds, I can say that the best things that happen to us are not the ones that we aim for.

I am also grateful to all the people who I’ve met and who helped me along the way as well as those who challenged me.

Read about how other teachers, both native and non-native, started out teaching abroad in our New Teacher Tales series.

Where have you taught English?

I have taught in Ukraine, Turkey, and Myanmar. It is difficult to say where my favorite place to work is, as I there’s something special about each place where I’ve taught and they’re all such different experiences. But I can say that personally for me the most important thing is the students, their support, feedback and appreciation for what I do.

Read our post to find out more about teaching English in Ukraine

For me, my job is much more than just a regular job, it is my hobby and vocation, and knowing that my students are happy to have me as their teacher, getting feedback from them and seeing their improvement is the biggest motivation. So, I always prioritize recognition and acknowledgement over cash rewards.

What is the best thing that has happened to you as an English teacher?

The best thing that happened to me as a teacher is the PEOPLE who I met, who I could learn from and who became my friends and whose lives I was able to change – that’s the biggest reward.

Teaching english in Turkey
With former colleagues in Turkey

Being a teacher, makes you also a learner, and I have learned so much from my students, I could overcome my fear of public speaking, build confidence, have a deeper understanding of personal and professional development, develop a sense of selflessness, become more empathetic and compassionate having met different people from various backgrounds and seeing their life conditions. I believe that being a teacher, is not only about teaching, but also about caring, sacrificing, and changing the lives and the world.

Read fellow Ukrainian Anna’s story of how she became an English teacher.

What problems have you had?

As I have mentioned before, I believe that teaching is not only about the money, but, firstly, a service job that demands a lot of commitment and devotion that oftentimes goes beyond the actual responsibilities written on paper. So, personally, I find it extremely difficult when I don’t get any feedback from the students or, especially, from the management. It’s not about positive feedback only, but the constructive feedback that can help me develop and grow.

Having lived abroad has immensely helped me develop a clearer sense of self, and when I reflect on the things I’ve learned about myself, feedback is absolutely one of the most important things for me with regards to any job, not only teaching.

What is the most bizarre thing that has happened to you since you became an English teacher?

Well there have been some but I’m not sure I can share them!

Nevertheless, I would like to share 2 stories, not quite bizarre though, rather just interesting.

At my first job, in Ukraine, I declined a job offer for 3 times and the fourth time when I accepted it, I was planning to work there only during the summer, however, I ended up working there for 6 years

Teaching at an event in Ukraine
At an event during my job in Ukraine

A similar situation happened when I got a job offer from Turkey and declined it first, but then got reoffered it and accepted it finally.

Having been in such situations, made me clearly realize that whatever is meant to be in our lives, will always be there, no matter how we try to decline or escape

What advice do you have to people who want to become English teachers?

I’ve thought about it myself many times. Not just as a teacher I’d say, but teaching wise. I wish I had obtained all the qualifications at a younger age as with time it’s getting more and more difficult to do it.

Not sure of the best TEFL course for you? Read more about what TEFL qualifications to do.

Another thing I regret is that I wasn’t a very diligent student myself and didn’t study too hard at a proper age. I wish I had done that and would achieve more than I have by now.

Based on my 13 years of experience, I would like to give 3 pieces of advice to those who want to become an English teacher:

Be honest.

If you don’t know something – admit it. If the students ask you something related to grammar, vocabulary etc – don’t invent something on the spot, be honest and say that you don’t know it, however, you’ll figure it out and get back to them with the answer – that’s important.

People can always sense if you really know the answer or if you’re trying to make something up to show that you know everything. Not knowing everything is absolutely OK and you’ll be more respected for being honest and humble, moreover, it’ll give more confidence to students that their teacher is someone who they can relate to, trust, and someone who understands them.

Teaching English in Myanmar
Teaching my students in Myanmar

Don’t chase.

Know your values and make sure that the employer who you choose to work for, shares those values with you, otherwise it won’t work out and won’t last. It is important to always do your part, but not to lose yourself, trying to overly impress someone – who in most cases won’t appreciate it – in pursuit of a highly paid job, for example, or a high status.

Not sure of the right job for you? Read our guide to different types of TEFL jobs.

Aspire greatness in everything. As educators, our role is not only to teach, but to set an example, an example of strong moral values, principles and integrity – cultivate and build these up every day. Constantly work on yourself, educate yourself personally and professionally in order to be successful in what you’re doing and competitive. I strongly believe that knowledge is a power, a strong power. And, most importantly, love what you’re doing – as I said before, teaching is more than just a regular job and students don’t learn from those who they don’t like.

Get yourself out of the comfort zone once in a while.

This will help you reevaluate, rediscover and rebalance many things in life, especially if you feel that you got stuck and need a change. Look for challenge, this will make you stronger and help you grow. You’ll certainly face many challenges that will make you want to quit, but if you love what you’re doing, this will help you not to give up. Stay strong, believe in yourself and in what you’re doing and I promise you, you will be rewarded for this.

Thank you

Thank you for Svitlana for this interesting interview. If you’d like to be interviewed for our New Teacher Tales series, please get in touch with us on Facebook.

If you want more advice and information about how to become an English teacher abroad, see all of our blog posts on teaching English.

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