Teacher Christelle and her Journey to Becoming an English Teacher

Find out all about teacher Christelle in this interview where she describes how her journey into teaching English as a foreign language began. She also reveals what she loves about teaching English, and what some of the real challenges are in this profession.

Teacher and MC, Christelle Van Niekerk
In June, teacher Christelle chatted to teacher Nobs about her teaching career and explored a bit about how she got into the TEFL profession.

Carrying on in this series, we interviewed teacher Christelle to find out more about her teaching career, which starts off with a TEFL course, goes in a completely different direction for a while, and comes full circle right back to Teaching English as a Foreign Language here at the UCT English Language Centre. She also tells what she thinks is so ‘awesome’ about being an English language teacher.

Where are you from?

I am South African. I was born in Port Elizabeth and after moving around for a while, I grew up in Cape Town.

What did you study?

I studied English Literature and Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch in 1995 – just after the freedom elections in 1994. Exciting times!

Has it always been your dream to become an English teacher?

Strangely, I did a basic TEFL course when I was 21 but then got distracted by office work / insurance/ men and then only came back to it when I was 35. My 21 year old self knew what she wanted to do!

How did you get into teaching English as a Foreign Language?

When I was 35 I decided I didn’t like my insurance job anymore and so I decided to retrain as a TEFL teacher. Best decision of my life!

What do you think are the main differences between teaching English as a foreign language and general teaching (like primary school, secondary school, high school, university)?

The biggest difference is that students who come to us for English WANT TO LEARN ENGLISH. They have goals of their own and English is a tool to achieve those goals. So there is usually intrinsic motivation to learn whereas I feel that sometimes if students are forced to be in a class because they have to, it’s more difficult to teach them.

What do you love most about your job as an English teacher?

  • The variety of people that I meet. People from all around the world come to me and teach me about life outside of South Africa.

  • The continual professional development that the teachers give each other.

  • The opportunity to be involved in something from the ground level and the opportunities that gives me to expand my skills.

What do you love most about your job as an English teacher at the UCT English Language Centre?

  • The Whatsapp group – it’s the first time that I’ve been a part of a group this big and far-reaching. We’ve got people from ALL over the world and currently, ALL over the world who talk together. Interesting.

  • My Intermediate class

  • Seeing students master a skill, for example, when Arab speaking students get to grips with their writing and learn to love it, and start writing freely rather than with great pain and difficulty, or Students master certain sounds that are difficult for them to pronounce

  • Seeing students have an AMAZING and mind-opening experience in Cape Town, grow and learn about themselves and others.

Is there anything specific that you personally love to teach (ESP like Business English, IELTS exam preparation, or a specific grammar aspect – such as the present perfect, vocab, a skill, etc.)?

I like teaching the Intermediate level – lots of the students have got over the FEAR of speaking that you see at the lower levels, but there is still so much to learn so progress can be fast and it’s great to see the rapid progress.

I also like teaching IELTS – I like the focus of the material, as well as the focus of the students.

I love teaching Advanced, because the language that the students are learning is so beautiful and students can really start playing with the language and using the language with precision.

There are so many particular grammar or others aspects – how to tell a joke, how to tell a story, how to show interest /incredulity with intonation, how to write a GOOD paragraph, how to write a good essay, how to write a good topic sentence, ALL the conditionals, how to build words (because it expands your vocabulary so exponentially).

Why?

Seeing the penny drop, or that Eureka moment is just AWESOME. Seeing students use precision language when they start using the language correctly.

What is the most challenging part of your job as an English teacher?

Students that are here for a longer period of time sometimes struggle to keep up their motivation – helping them do that can take a lot of energy.

Managing students who WANT to go up to the next level but are not ready to do so. I can never understand it – why would you want to go up when your foundation isn’t ready yet? Just for the certificate?

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