My TEFL Story - Vonny Hartanto

From teaching at a new English language school in Indonesia after doing a degree in ELT, Vonny Hartanto travelled 7,300 miles to London to take her CELTA with International House. Over the next 30 years, she got her Delta diploma, taught English in the Philippines, then moved to Canterbury to teach permanently while her children grew up. Read her TEFL story below!

My TEFL story started when I was teaching at a newly opened language school in Surabaya, Indonesia. It was the first school in town managed and staffed by a British Director of Studies (DOS) and teachers. There were also a few Indonesian teachers and I was one of them. Although I have a degree in ELT from an Indonesian university and had been teaching English at secondary school for a couple of years, TEFL as we know it today was new to me. It was on my DOS’s recommendation that I applied for the RSA Certificate in TEFL course, as the CELTA was called in the 1980s, at International House in London. I had to attend an interview, 7,300 miles/13,000km away! Fortunately I was accepted and started the course.

I was bowled over by the course, still the best I’ve ever done. Really full on but a definite thumbs up!

My first teaching post was at English Fast, a school in Istanbul. It was everything I could hope for, very supportive staff and excellent resources. Istanbul as a place to live was amazing. At the end of that year I applied for a Diploma (Delta) course at IH London, but I was told to go and get more experience. Ouch! It hurt at the time, but my interviewer was absolutely right.

In my second year, I moved to live closer to the centre and historic part of the city and I worked for another school. After my third year, they offered to pay for the part time Delta (as it was then the RSA Diploma in TEFL). Looking back, even then I should have waited longer to gain more experience teaching a wider variety of courses, different nationalities of learners and in different set-ups before doing the Diploma course. So my advice to teachers is gain as much experience in as many different setups as possible, for at least three years but better longer, before embarking on a Diploma course. But when you do decide the time is right, IH is ‘the’ place to do it!

Post-Diploma, my life took me to the Philippines where English is a second language. I taught ‘literacy’ at an international school, academic English for university post-graduate international students, survival English for spouses of the university foreign staff, became an oral examiner for the Cambridge First Certificate and ran short teacher training workshops for Filipino English teacher trainees. EFL resources were non-existent where I lived and this was pre-internet era so I learnt to be as resourceful as possible.

In 1998, I moved back to the UK married with two very young children. We decided to live in Canterbury. It was tricky juggling between looking after them, doing school runs and teaching part time at a language school. Language schools do not follow half term holidays or bank holidays either. However, teaching is still a profession that is child-friendly.

I stayed at the same school in Canterbury for 19 years as a permanent teacher while our two children were growing up. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be jetting off around the world all the time with a EFL career!

Teaching mixed nationalities in UK schools is very different from the mono-lingual and mono-cultural classes abroad. I find mixed classes more exciting as students are also learning about each other’s culture, so classroom interactions in English are genuine communication.

What I enjoy most about TEFL is the interaction with people from many different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. They have enriched my life.

My advice for new teachers? Follow your heart, go, see and learn the world, leave the comfort of the culture and lifestyle that you’re familiar with. As for who to work for, go for reputable establishments, schools with British Council and English UK affiliations, where the academic management and staff offer a lot of support and excellent resources are in place, salaries are paid on time, work permit or visa is arranged by the school and assistance in finding accommodation is provided.