New Teacher Tales – Valentina
In our New Teacher Tales series, we interview people we know who are working as English teachers, both native and non-native. They tell us how they started out in TEFL and give advice to those of you who are thinking about getting into it.
Valentina is an English language teacher from Romania who now lives in the UK and teaches English online. She has a very successful online teaching business and runs the Badass Edupreneur program, where she coaches other English language teachers to set up their own online teaching businesses.
Where do you work now?
At present I work as a Badass EDUpreneur :p I actually run 2 small businesses in the UK : VP Modern Foreign Languages, an online language school, and VP Empower, a mentoring and coaching academy for all those who want to share their wisdom (teachers, mostly language teachers, but also coaches, trainers etc)
I mainly teach or train at present. I try to keep things quite simple with my businesses, and I have a VA who helps me quite a lot. But regarding teaching, I niched down and only prepare overseas medical professionals for some language exams (such as IELTS or OET) they need to pass in order to register in the UK. I have evergreen groups and some one-to-ones, and mostly recently, a membership. I never get bored.
What’s the best thing about living in the UK?
I come from an Eastern European country, Romania. The things that I love about living in England are, on the one hand, not having to worry about tomorrow (taxes, high prices and low salaries) and on the other hand, the fact that people smile at you. In my county, people are quite sad, people working in the state system are quite rude … so, seeing people smiling back at me without even knowing me is quite nice.
We have a lot of interviews with English teachers from all over the World, so check out our other New Teacher Tales.
What did you do before you started teaching English?
My story is a bit different. I graduated from uni as a translator and interpreter for both English and French. I then moved to Bucharest, Romania’s capital, and for the first 2 years, I worked for a French multinational and the EU as a translator and proofreader. I was promoted twice, as an interim team leader and then worked a bit in the quality control department, but, at one point, I realized I was bored and didn’t really enjoy what I was doing. So, I move back to my home town and opened my first business and started teaching. So I’ve been teaching for as long as I’ve been managing businesses, more than 14 years now.
Why did you become an English teacher?
During uni, I just tutored high school pupils for their English and French exams to make some extra money. And I liked it but I never considered becoming a teacher. I wanted to be a translator for the EU. During my experience with the multinational French company, I also had no life – cause I’m a bit of a workaholic – and I became a bit depressed. I realized that something had to change so I found a second job (What can you do when you work too much? Find another job 😊) ), teaching medical French to anesthetists who wanted to emigrate. But, I had no real teacher training and, as all newbie teachers, I overwhelmed my first student with information that she actually cried.
I knew I loved teaching, but I didn’t know how to do it properly. So I enrolled in a train the trainer course, to learn more about teaching adults. It’s always been my main focus. As I was saying, after I finished the course, my dad, who owned two businesses at that time, helped me start my business, a language and arts school. I ended up teaching more English than French for obvious reasons.
Where have you taught English?
I taught in home country for the first 5 years. Then, in 2014, I did my CELTA in Dublin and that summer and the following summer, I worked for Kaplan for their summer schools. In 2016 I gave birth to my daughter and, at the end of 2017, my husband and I decided to move to the UK permanently. And I have been teaching here ever since.
What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since you became an English teacher?
I love teaching. If I hadn’t just taken a leap of faith to try and carve my own path, I could have been stuck in a job that made me depressed. The salary was great. But the pressure was even greater. Teaching has saved my mental health.
What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you since you became an English teacher?
I had to deal with people. I used to be mostly ruled by feelings. People took advantage of my kindness. It took me a lot of time to put myself first. You know the : I don’t have money because <insert reason>, can you teach me for free or offer me a discount OR I’m going to pay you next month, please … So, for a very long time I was upset with myself because I didn’t know how to stand up for myself, put myself and my family first.
Tell us a bizarre story that’s happened to you as an English teacher.
There’ve been lots. I will always remember my first adult student, as I was saying earlier, the one I made cry. I went through some grammar concepts quite fast and did not clearly explain them. I taught her the same thing 4 times during a session. At one point, she couldn’t do the tasks, so she said I had not told her the rules. I showed her the notebook and she then started crying. I called my dad, who, what do you know, before being a businessman was a school head teacher, and told him what had happened. He then said : “Adults are like kids. You should never assume they know. Take them step by step.” And here we are today.
Is there anything you would change about your time as an English teacher?
No. I think everything happened at the exact time it had to happen. I would have not had money for CELTA earlier than 2014, I could not have taught in the UK without a CELTA, I could not have evolved as a teacher if I hadn’t had my own business, which meant my only option was to learn how to teach everything (TOEFL, IELTS, Cambridge, kids 3 and up, adults, medical English, business English etc) to keep my students and get more students. And I could not have been able to make it in the UK without all my previous experience. I was a no one when I came here, 5 years ago. An Easter European teaching English in a country full of natives and now preparing for one of the most important exams, OET, as an official preparation provider.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting into English teaching?
Don’t be lazy! Yes, you need to love sharing your knowledge and have patience. The success of your classes and your students’ success depend on you and how you are, how you act. Be overprepared, never stop learning and improving. Reach out for help and advice. People who truly make it are the ones that invest in themselves.
When I see people asking about cheaper overnight TEFL courses or if they even need a qualification, or people who have some qualifications and can barely write in English, I get so annoyed. I come from one of the poorest countries in Europe and I made the effort of sleeping in my friend’s house on a mattress on the floor for a month to do that CELTA course. I almost didn’t go out and I tried to learn and be as good as all the other natives in my class. And I got a Pass A. We didn’t have bookshops with materials in 2009 when I started teaching, I had to use whatever I found.
So, if you want to make it, don’t be lazy.
That’s great advice from Valentina. If you want to know more about what TEFL courses she recommends, check out our post What TEFL Qualification should I choose?
If you are inspired by Valentina’s story and fantastic attitude and would like to learn more from her, she runs free webinars on aspects of setting up your own online business you can watch, and you can also join her Badass Edupreneur membership group where you can benefit firsthand from her experience and advice. I have personally joined her webinars and she knows what she’s talking about.