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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)).

Monday

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).

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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!

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

Namaste

Eleni

4 comments

  1. “I just finished working on my portfolio tasks for my IH online course”??? What’s this? As you know I also completed the CELTA with IH. Sorry to hear you’ve been sick again. Why is TEFL so chaotic? I thought by following the gold standard ‘lesson plan’, chaos would be avoided!! Of course that’s only during the CELTA course, needless to say the weather is out of our control 🙂

    Majella Cahill

    ________________________________

    Like

    1. I’m doing a course specifically for Young Learners as the CELTA doesn’t prepare you much for that. Some IH schools offer it as a full-time 2 week course (mine did but I wasn’t here. It’s like a two week CELTA apparently in terms of intensity!) or you can do it online (two months) and you do the Teaching Practice for that at your local school.
      When you work full-time there’s limited free time, so lesson planning has to be quick and effective, nothing like the CELTA, where we spent hours on just one lesson plan!
      Also, when teaching YLs especially, a lesson plan is definitely not enough. You can easily run out of time as children are unpredictable and you need more than a plan. You need material, props, games.

      With adults you face different challenges. Adapting material, keeping it interesting and engaging on a higher level. And one to one are a completely different story!

      Like

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