My first henna tattoo… and other TEFL tales

It’s probably because I’m studying again, desperately trying to get the final module of the Delta completed and off my plate in order to put it behind me and use all my new Super Teacher skills on different challenges, but I’ve noticed that the long-neglected ‘Working’ aspect of this blog’s tagline is creeping back in.

Last autumn, when I set sail for Thailand and the first, intensive part of this Delta journey, I was definitely burnt out. All the joy had disappeared from my classroom. My inventiveness had diminished. I was seriously questioning whether sinking a few thousand dollars into a further qualification and a definite period of unemployment was the best of ideas, or whether I should turn my mind to another career change.

The intensive Delta turned out to be just the thing I needed to keep me in the game. It was absolutely not the same inspirational, dizzying ride of the CELTA, which for me was pure positivity and thrills despite the hard work. Instead, I went through troughs of low depression after each assessed lesson; I found my self-confidence undermined and my teaching abilities challenged. I said in the immediate, exhausted aftermath that it hadn’t been what I expected (by a long shot) but it was 100% what I needed to reinvigorate me, challenge my teaching practice, and bring the fun back into teaching.

There followed months of unemployment, and when I finally got back into the classroom there was the usual period of re-adjusting all the skills of teaching in a new context and country. Fortunately, I’ve passed the six month barrier that seems to be my ‘settling in’ period in any new job. Now, a bunch of things are happening that make me increasingly appreciative of the job I chose and the lifestyle that accompanies it.

My first henna tattoo

My first henna tattoo

Most recently, this came in the form of one of the most fabulous end-of-course celebrations I’ve ever experienced. Surprisingly, this was from a corporate class. There were speeches, tears, a disturbing cake with my face on it (as well as a t’shirt with my face on it) and my first henna tattoo from a woman on the course who has been unfailingly dedicated to her studies and also a galvanising force in the classroom, going gung-ho for very non-corporate communicative activities.

Reflecting on the pros and cons of English language teaching I realised the reach of the job beyond the school or centre where you teach is one of the greatest assets of the job. I’ve long been in two minds about henna tattoos. Like dreadlocks, henna tattoos are attractive, culturally relevant to particular cultures (not my own), and tend to be acquired on things like a six month trip through India, a Thai full-moon party, or a municipal family fun-day for International Women’s Day. Being able to answer  the question, “So where did you get your first henna tattoo?” by saying, “In the conference room of a logistical support service company for oil and gas at the conclusion of an eight week business English course” has a ring to it that is so contrary to the norm that I feel it was my destiny to wait 20 years longer than most backpackers to get one, just so it could occur under just these circumstances.

Arriving home with my batch of peculiar gifts and My First Henna Tattoo, I reflected on all the wonderful things that I have experienced as a direct result of my TEFL career, beyond the obvious continued wonder of being able to live in amazing places around the globe. One of the most memorable is still the day 25 grade 10 students surprised me on the last day in my high-school job in Peru with a harmonised rendition of George Orwell’s ‘Beasts of England,’ the tune for which they had gone to the effort of researching and practising.

Me at a pottery wheel

Pottering about

There was also the fantastic group of students in Korea who developed lasting friendships with each other and took me out around the university district on a day which included a pottery class. The tea-cup, soju cup, and small bowls that resulted are among the only kitchen-ware I boxed up to ship with me for my next move. Fond mementos of a great term and a great group of people.

Wonderboy had similar tales when pressed to share some of his best ‘beyond the classroom’ TEFL memories, such as the invitation to The Ambassador’s Reception when he was the private English tutor for the ambassador’s wife. And the multitude of invitations to events, to homes, to just hang out with people. All these little wonders are what make it a truly fantastic career choice which go beyond ‘just a job’ and into a valuable part of a life lived in short hops and colourful experiences.

And tat's that

And tat’s that


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