Philip has had no less than five careers in his short 39 years on earth, but the latest hat he is wearing is that of a TEFL teacher in Italy. He’s ridden racehorses, mastered the splits, and has even picked up a little of the local language where he is now working abroad. Read on to hear Philip’s fabulous, helpful advice for future TEFLers!

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Tell us about Philip! What’s your background?

Well, I have had a varied background. I left school at 16 after passing my exams and was so passionate about my horses at the time that I went and trained race-horses for a living for 5yrs under Nicky Henderson for clients such as Andrew Lloyd Webber and The Royal Family. I then left to see what else was out there in the world.

I found myself hairdressing for 3 years in Southampton and then moved to London, where I spent 2 years working in hospitality before entering the world of real estate and becoming a sales manager for the next 8yrs. Then I met my now-husband, who is Italian, and we decided to move to Lake Como to be mortgage-free and have a slightly calmer pace of life (Feb 2016). So, as you can see, I am a jack of all trades. 

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You’re currently teaching abroad. Awesome! Tell us about your unique journey to working abroad as a teacher—including your TEFL course experience. 

When I arrived in Italy, I didn’t speak a word of Italian and was unsure what the future would hold for me at that point. But shortly after arriving here, our neighbour (Mara from Spain) said that they were desperately looking for a mother tongue teacher at the British Institute and so they took me on board, threw me in at the deep end and the rest is history. They were also kind enough to offer me a free 120hr TEFL course, which at the time was invaluable because I really was winging it in those early days. 

What are some challenges that you have faced and how have you overcome them? What have you learned for future similar situations?

So, there have been various challenges and these have shaped me as a teacher. When I started teaching, as I have stated previously, I didn’t have the comprehension of the Italian language that I now have and so I was reliant on being able to get my message across through alternative methods, whether that be, miming something, presenting an image or finding a specific word through an online application. This was very frustrating in those days, but in some respects, I think I was a better teacher then because I had no choice other than to find another way to get my point across, whereas now, I can give a direct translation if necessary. 

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Realising the needs of various types of students was also a very big eye-opener, from young children (I no longer teach kids), to industry professionals, to people who simply were interested to learn. Something that may seem less of a challenge, but actually, has been a major thing for me, was choosing the right materials…..there is so much out there, but you have to really dig through a lot of stuff before you find the best ones for you and your students. Fortunately, I now have a vast array of quality professional materials which are my go to’s but I still am and will continue to find more as the language and technology evolves. 

What advice do you have for individuals considering using their TEFL certificate to focus on teaching business English?

For me, I am doing the level 5 certification for 2 reasons:

  1. I want to put my services on iTalkie and want to command a higher price, lol!
  2. I think there is always something to be learned from these courses, and for me, it is really motivating and gratifying to know that I am doing my job properly and giving my students the best by being formally educated by specialists.

In terms of teaching business English, having the TEFL certificate first and foremost assists you in getting through the interview process for these jobs but more importantly, it gives you a great basis to work upwards from because fundamentally the basic principles are the same. You just need to adapt these to the needs of the professional you agree to deal with by teaching them the necessary phrases and vocabulary relevant to their jobs. 

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If I could give one piece of advice here, it would be, be well prepared and be strict with these people. They have high expectations and are short of time, so the lessons must be as effective as possible. On the flip side of this though, don’t be intimidated. You are the teacher and the person with the skill set that they need. 

Can you share with us a favorite story or two from your time teaching English in Italy?

Despite no longer teaching children because I specialize in exam training now (primarily for university students), one of my favourite and proudest moments was during the end of year exams in a school close to Como, where I had been teaching a group of 7-9 year olds. 

It was coming toward the end of the 6 months we’d had together in class and one of my (I won’t lie) favourite pupils, Viola, was being rather quiet after having been exceptional over the previous two years and so I was a little concerned she wasn’t going to perform well that year. 

However, on the day of the exam, it was quite the contrary and when asked, “Do you have any pets Viola?, she looked at me with a slight doubt, and so I repeated the question in a different way to help her a little and asked, “Do you have any animals at home? To which her eyes lit up as she realised she knew the answer and promptly replied, “Yes Prof. I have two cats” I then asked her, “And what are their names Viola?” and she came back with…”Super Girl and Wonder Woman” which had me and my colleagues in stitches, only then to have added to the situation by her classmate, Mohammad, “I love cats…Lions are my favourite Prof because they’re the king of the jungle.” A really funny and if I am honest, quite emotional day. I don’t have children myself, but realised the pride a parent must feel after seeing how my efforts with them had paid off. 

Philip with a group of TEFL teachers - TEFL in Italy - Meet Philip Quinnell

What words of encouragement do you have for individuals considering getting a TEFL certificate?

Get your pens, pencils, and brains out because the TEFL course will not only give you a grounding in the job, but also an insight into the industry if you haven’t taught before and even more than that, the confidence to walk into a classroom and think, “I’ve got this!”

What are two interesting things about Italy that the average person wouldn’t know?

They are not happy about people having bare feet – don’t be surprised if you are offered a pair of slippers when you enter someone’s home.

Be careful when you order pepperoni on your pizza here because it is real peppers in Italian, not salami…many of my friends have made this error. 

Thank you for taking the time to share your magnificent story with the Premier TEFL community. Happy travels!