Real stories: What's it like teaching English?

We're delving deep into the stories of ESL teachers to find out what's it's really like teaching English as a foreign language. You might be at the point where you're thinking of becoming an English teacher or you might just want to know what it takes to teach English. If you are thinking about a career in English teaching then hopefully these stories will inspire you. First up we have Katie Malloy whose route into full-time teaching was through taking a TEFL course then teaching in Beijing.

Katie, what inspired you to start teaching English as a Foreign Language and how did you get there?

I had always loved the English language and wanted to become a writer (still do!). After I graduated from High School, I went down to Mexico for a vacation. I met some really lovely ladies who told me they taught English to school-aged kids, and asked me to come to one of their classes. They had so much fun, and I fell in love with the kids. I was really excited about the prospect of working in an environment where I could involve different aspects that I loved: teaching, English, children, writing and traveling. I thought, this is something I could do! So when I came back to Canada, I looked into it and felt more excited about the idea with every Google search. Then I took a TEFL course through the University of Toronto, and an online course through

Where have you taught and for how long?

Unknowingly, I've been teaching English as a second language for years. I had many pen-pals from around the world and would help them with their English. Officially, I worked for an ESL Tutoring company based in Beijing. This was my first “official" job after I got my TEFL certification. After about a year and a half of working there, I decided I wanted to start my own company and teach English myself. I started English Expressions and I am about to reach my two year anniversary.

What has been your favourite teaching experience and why?

I was pretty nervous when I first started teaching English, and because I was so young a lot of students didn't give me a chance. It was a requirement for the students to review a teacher after their class. So on the very first day of my tutoring career, I had one student who complained and said, "She's so young! How can she know how to teach! Too young.” However, I had class with him again the next day, and he gave me a review saying, "She's my new favourite teacher."At first he was really reserved with me, but he opened up and we always had so much fun during our lessons. By the end of our time together, he told me that I helped him tremendously. He was one of my first students, which made this whole experience with him so special. I feel so honoured I was able to be apart of the growth he made, and that I was able to prove him wrong!

What's the biggest misconception about teaching English as a Foreign Language?

I think the biggest misconception about teachers in general is that, "those who can't do, teach." But not everybody can be a teacher, and not everybody can teach English as a Foreign Language. Many people don't think teaching English is a "real job", and if you can speak English you can teach it. In order to be an effective ESL teacher though, you need to know the fundamentals of English - it goes so much deeper than just knowing how to speak it.

What's the best piece of advice you would give a new teacher?

I would say being organized and being prepared is extremely important. The best classes are the ones where you know what you're talking about, you've anticipated certain questions, and you're not anxious about what could come up. The best classes I've ever had are the ones where I prepare well.

Also, when I first started teaching, I was really anxious about a student asking me a question and not knowing the answer. Students obviously want a well-versed teacher (which is why they tend to gravitate towards more experienced teachers), but it's okay not to know! Students appreciate your humility and your determination to help them find the answers. It also demonstrates to students that English is always evolving, and you're always learning.

What's next for you in the future?

Right now I'm focused on my writing. I'm currently working on an English E-Book where I talk about the basics of English. As I mentioned before, the fundamentals of English are extremely important, and understanding that foundation will really help students with their studies. I'm also working on creating many different kinds of lesson plans for students so they can just download it from my site, and work on it at their own pace.

How do you think teaching has changed since you started working and what developments do you see for the future?

Well, I'm still new on the scene, so I haven't noticed a tremendous change since I've started teaching. Although, I love the advancements in technology - I've had the privilege of teaching students from all around the world while sitting in my living room. A lot of students are able to connect with teachers through e-mail, video chat, and other social media platforms. I also think a lot of teachers are trying to personalize their lessons to fit the students' needs. I've noticed an eagerness among new teachers to constantly be striving to improve their teaching skills, look for new inventive methods, and connect with their students. I've enjoyed connecting with so many different teachers with brilliant minds and an eager infectious spirit, it's really exciting to think about how this could impact students in the future.

We would like to thank Katie Malloy for participating in this interview and wish her all the best with her teaching career. There are many useful and interesting points that Katie has made about teaching and some good advice in there too. Stay tuned for more teachers' stories soon!

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