How to Make a Difference as a New Teacher: Kay Bennett`s Story

One of the reasons that I like social media so much is because of the connections I have made with thousands of English language teachers all over the world. This includes you!  I believe that we all share the same desire which is to help our students learn (no matter where we live or where our students live if you are an online teacher).

Over the holidays, I caught up on some reading which included an article by Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters and Jennifer Aaker, Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.  

Their piece entitled "In 2017, Pursue Meaning instead of Happiness"  includes data from a survey of over 2 million people in more than 500 jobs. According to the survey, teachers (as well as clergy and surgeons)  find the most meaning in their careers.

Smith and Aaker suggest that "meaning involves investing in something bigger, and the meaningful life is often characterized by stress, effort, and struggle".  Even though teaching can be a difficult job which doesn’t always cultivate happiness in the moment, teachers feel that they are contributing to society and this contributes to high job satisfaction.

When I think of stress, effort, and struggle, I think about the life of a new ESL teacher.  Several months ago, Kay Bennett joined my Facebook Group called Survive and Thrive as a New Teacher. As a new teacher, Kay has had many questions. I have enjoyed messaging with Kay while I drink my morning coffee in Canada and she reflects and prepares for the next teaching day in Nepal at night!

Because I so inspired by Kay' volunteer work there, I decided to interview her. I think that all teachers have the ability to make a difference and find meaning in their careers.  If you have a story to tell about a teacher who is making a difference (maybe it is you), please email me.  I would love to interview you.

Kay - tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm 31 years old and originally from Southampton UK.  I graduated as a Social Worker in 2007. Fast forward eight years, I began seeking a new challenge so I quit my job and bought a one way ticket to New Delhi. I traveled across Northern India by train, crossed the border into Nepal and made my way by bus to Kathmandu.

Where did you do your TESL/TEFL training?

I must admit that my TEFL training was an online course including one weekend of training with an experienced teacher!  I chose this route as I was very busy trying to complete another course at work, as well as working ridiculous hours to save money. I had no idea whether teaching was for me so I did not invest in a CELTA straightaway.
How did you find your volunteer position in Nepal?
I spent several months scouring the Internet for ethical volunteering positions. Attempting to cut out the profit-making middle man turned into no easy feat! I eventually received responses from a couple of NGOs in Kathmandu, Nepal. One was with Rural Women's Network Nepal (RUWON), an NGO promoting the rights and education of rural women and girls and the second was teaching trekking guides and porters for Kathmandu Educational Environmental Project (KEEP). I spent two months living and volunteering with RUWON in Kapan, a local residential area in Kathmandu before teaching at KEEP.
Tell us about the classes that you are teaching.
I decided to take the opportunity to put what I learned during TEFL training into practice. I taught up to seven false beginners/ elementary level women, six days a week for two hours who were linked to the NGO. Whilst teaching at RUWON and learning the nuts and bolts of teaching, I was developing ideas and lesson plans for the one month course being undertaken by the trekking guides. During my initial meeting with KEEP, I was asked to teach the intermediate class of up to twenty students for 2.25 hours a day, five days a week. I was told that there were no lesson plans! I remember sitting in a coffee shop afterwards wondering where to start, although I also thought it was an interesting opportunity and something which would certainly offer personal and professional development. 
What is the biggest challenge for you as a new teacher?
There have been so many! I suppose my biggest challenge is learning how to give clear and concise instructions. I have learned what I consider to be clear and simply obvious, EFL students do not.  For example, I remember one funny example with a role play. Student A was the trekking guide and Student B the client. Half way through I needed to swap pairs and asked all the trekking guides to stand up. I didn't anticipate nearly every student to be standing! I meant in relation to the role play, whereas they interpreted this in general because they were all trekking guides.

There are also challenges in general such as electricity cuts, poorly maintained IT equipment,  lack of resources for printing, various viruses corrupting my files and the classic writing on the white board in permanent marker. Despite the challenges, the experience has been incredible and has offered me an opportunity to develop in many areas. 
What is your best and worst memory as a new teacher in Nepal?
I have several funny memories so it is hard to pick just one!  There was a female student who simply could not pronounce 'I've' as this sound does not exist in the Nepalese language. She repeatedly said 'I'b' which became amusing among students in class. After several classes, one student said something to her in their native language and suddenly she pronounced it effortlessly and correctly. I got down on my knees, looked up to the sky and thanked god. The whole class, including the student in question, were laughing and rejoicing at this achievement. 
My worst memory is how I was completely unprepared for cultural differences in relation to 'small talk'. As most native speakers would agree, understanding the importance of small talk and knowing how to make it are an integral part of communication in Western culture. A couple of the Nepalese students could not understand why we were talking about music and movie stars and not teaching them about topics associated with trekking.  I was surprised that some students considered talking about the correct political party and asking how much people earn as appropriate, whereas talking about gardening and movies were inappropriate.  I learned the importance of flexibility and cultural differences. 
What are your future plans?
I plan to continue travelling around SE Asia until August/September 2017. I will return to the UK and to my career, although I hope to set up my own business and become an independent Social Worker. Given my specialist status within mental health it is important I practice to maintain my professional registration - I am not ready (or qualified!) to make the transition to being a full time teacher at the moment. I hope to save some more money again before jetting off on my next big adventure. South America is a part of the world which remains unexplored by me and it certainly appears to have some exciting teaching opportunities.

Thank you Kay.  Enjoy the rest of your time in Nepal and safe travels.


Online Resources

Resource #1 - Listening Resources

Lots of great links for

Resource #2 - Teacher to Teacherpreneuer

If you would like to learn more about how to transition from teacher to teacherpreneur, I will be teaching a 4 week online course in partnership with The course starts on January 8th and there are scholarships available with  Please forward this email or the link to teachers who may be interested.  

Happy teaching! Patrice


About Me

My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL and I reside in Canada. I have 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada including 7 amazing years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada.  I now work as a teacherpreneur (check out my other website at doing the things that I love such as writing courses, blogging, sharing teaching materials, and instructional coaching for new teachers. Having a flexible schedule allows me to conduct short-term training around the world at any time of the year.  Download lots of free teaching resources at
Copyright © 2016 Patrice Palmer, Global Training, Coaching and Development for Educators. All rights reserved.


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.