From TEFL to school teacher

If you are reading this and you are a teacher, chances are you either work in the TEFL industry (i.e., the network of mainly private institutions which offer language courses) or for a “regular” school, where pupils and students go every day to learn all sorts of subjects, including languages.

I have recently transitioned from the first to the second type of environment, and therefore I find myself facing challenges that are very different from the ones I used to tackle before. In addition to having to adjust to the new type of job, I have realised that all the teacher training I have gone through in the TEFL industry (mainly Cambridge CELTA and DELTA, but also a long series of individual workshops and conferences) has not equipped me for some of these challenges. In this post I am going to briefly summarise what these are.

Lack of motivation

The first and foremost difference with the environment I used to work in is the learners’ lack of motivation. In private language institutions, most if not all leaners have strong motivating factors to be learning a language, and therefore only need to be kept motivated by the teacher. Whereas in the public education system, learners are there because they have to, and a disheartening amount of them would rather be anywhere else.

This means that, before even thinking about teaching the language, the teacher’s job is to make the learners feel at ease, and to try to find ways to tap into the students’ interests and lives in order to find what could motivate them. As anyone can imagine, this is extremely difficult, especially if the teacher sees a class of 20 students twice or three times a week at most.

I am personally finding this the most frustrating and most demanding part of my new role as class teacher.

Mixed abilities

Compulsory education is generally structured by age rather than by ability level. This means that classes can include a huge variety of levels. I find myself teaching classes of learners who range from A0 to B2, and who have a variety of learning needs and difficulties. This makes the job of differentiating the tasks and texts I present to the learners much, much harder than I was used to.

There is a lot of literature on this, as this is one of the most discussed points of formal education. However, I still find it difficult to tailor my lessons to the needs of all the learners in class, hence my lessons sometimes end up being frustratingly difficult for some and unbelievably boring for others.

Educational responsibility

Of course being a class teacher means the responsibility for the education of the learners in my class lies almost entirely on me. It is my job to motivate them and to make them responsible for their own learning. It is also my job to find ways to make sure that all learners develop their language skills at the best of their ability.

This is something I had only partially felt while working in private language education, as I would often see learners only for a limited amount of time, and therefore it was easy for me to blame their lack of language skills or practice on their class teacher. Now that I am the class teacher, I understand how wrong I was.

Of course, this also has a positive twist: I feel like I am making a difference much more than before. I teach learners for a whole year or longer, I can see their progress and help them develop not only as language learners, but as responsible citizens. This amply repays for all the difficulties and hard work the job of class teacher entails.


In conclusion, I have come to accept that I will not be able to help some of the learners in my classes. Some of them are way past help, or have many other problems in their lives and therefore I can completely understand why English is at the bottom of their list. However, I feel like my job is to not give up on them, to do my best day in day out to make them feel that I care, and to help them foster skills and abilities that will make their future life better — or at least easier.

4 thoughts on “From TEFL to school teacher”

  1. Hi Giulia,

    I don’t check WP very often anymore – mostly because of this – but I noticed recently that you’ve started blogging again and just wanted to say I was very glad to see this! Actually, when I go back through your more recent posts, it seems you’ve been blogging throughout the past year but I think I remember you were absent for a while? Anyway, good to have you back!

    And I can imagine it’s quite a change being a school teacher – elementary or high school btw? The problems you describe definitely sound challenging. What size classes do you normally teach?

    1. Hi Vedrana!
      Thank you so much for coming back and for your comment. I have actually opened a new blog about two years ago, but for some reason I did not include it in my WordPress profile, so that’s probably why you hadn’t noticed it. Now I have migrated here my old blog posts as archive because I realised I had written a lot in my previous blog. 🙂 I see that your blog is still active, that’s great! I’ll catch up on your latest posts.

      As to your questions, I teach high school kids, the classes are between 18 and 24 students and it’s a sort of vocational school, so the kids who decide to go there are those who didn’t do so well in the previous schools (elementary and secondary). It’s quite challenging, and I have realised that all the training I have done had not prepared me for this and most of the principles that were informing my teaching do not work here.

      Has this ever happened to you?

      1. The classes don’t sound *too* large although with problems of the type you’ve described I’m sure each additional student presents a bigger challenge than they might do in a different setting. I haven’t taught at a vocational school but in Croatia they also have a reputation for attracting the most challenging students. I remember my one attempt at teaching high school kids – this was when I’d been at a language school for maybe a year, so quite early on in my teaching career. I was definitely unprepared. One thing that has stayed with me is how much faster they went through everything I’d planned, even though I’d planned for what would normally take two sessions to cover at a language school. That and a fight that broke out in the class they had after English (which I luckily didn’t witness) – apparently the principal had to be called in to break it up.

        This wasn’t a vocational school as I said but it was a private school and often private schools students are seen as lacking motivation because supposedly they pass simply on account of having paid the tuition fees. I don’t know if this is similar in Italy?

        1. Yes, this is exactly the situation here too. In this case as teachers we are pushed to pass everyone, and this does not encourage students to take us seriously.

          Generally, I like teaching high school age, and sometimes these students are receptive and engaged, but unfortunately most of the times this is not the case, they just can’t wait to finish school. It’s really saddening. It feels like a huge failure of our society to be honest. Everyone has forgotten about these kids, so if you try to show that you care, they are so used to adults not caring that they don’t believe you, and keep acting out.

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