My TEFL Story - Daniela Berntzen

Inspired by the “encouraging and creative” teaching at IH Newcastle while she was doing an intensive English course, Daniela Berntzen knew right then that she had to learn to teach that way. After getting her CELTA qualification, her TEFL story is one of needing a flexible career surrounding a busy family life and wanting the freedom of being self-employed. Here, she tells us more.

While teaching has always been a major part of my life, my real TEFL story starts in Newcastle. In summer 1995 I found myself attending an intensive English course at IH Newcastle while my husband was taking part in an international conference. I was so surprised and inspired by the encouraging and creative teaching methods used at International House that I instantly knew that I just had to learn to teach that way. I had never encountered such an empowering way of teaching before.

The CELTA course I took at IH Hastings* one year later was truly life-changing for me. I am really proud to be an IH Alumni and what I learned in the CELTA course is the foundation on which all of my teaching calmly rests. The confidence you get from such a course is huge! Plus having the CELTA plus IH certificate has opened doors for me with such ease that it has been amazing.

I haven't pursued the "big career" in TEFL as there were family choices to make and I needed a lot of flexibility. I also haven't travelled the world as many native speakers do. My story is the story of a non-native speaker crafting a part-time career for herself in her own home town. Although I also taught at the local adult education centre, my real passion is working on a self-employed basis, which gives me the freedom to create exactly the courses and lessons my students need (adults, Young Learns and Very Young Learners).

What makes the CELTA experience so valuable for me personally is that it has given me a sound foundation (no pun intended J ) for teaching ... and also this special atmosphere created at IH Hastings has influenced my teaching and my life. An article about IH Hastings ( reflects beautifully what it was like and which values it conveyed to everyone who studied with them. I learned invaluable lessons from my three main course tutors as well as Adrian Underhill (the then Director of the school), and Jim Scrivener, of course, whose book was the "Bible" for us.

This course has given me the confidence

  • to teach in whatever circumstance I choose to;
  • to create my own way of teaching;
  • to feel really confident (VERY useful as a self-employed teacher).

It is a really strong foundation for teaching and whenever I go back to my notes from my CELTA, I find that it is a timeless treasure chest of teaching jewels and ideas. It always encourages me.

I am of course aware that there are many more things to learn about TEFL, and while I have been focussing on my continuous professional development through reflecting my own teaching, reading a lot and doing a lot of seminars and webinars, life hasn't given me a chance to do my Delta yet. However, I still rely on my CELTA experience and especially the values I learned there to guide me on my teaching journey.

My main aim in teaching has always been to inspire my students, to make their inner light shine and to give them the courage they need to express themselves freely and with confidence.

The really rewarding moments happen when:

  • The little seven-year-old boy (after only some months of English tuition) is suddenly sitting quietly on the floor in the middle of the lesson, rubbing his tummy and is sweetly starting to murmur to himself, making rhymes with some of the words we just studied, completely absorbed in his own world  ~ and me, sitting there in awe, realising he is in fact rhyming!
  • The shy woman, who was so afraid of speaking and knows little English, finds the courage to stand up and join the class in gathering a word-field on the whiteboard, and just invents a word for something she wants to add … and everybody claps and understands … plus everyone loves her word.
  • The 11-year-old boy, who is on a class-trip to a foreign country where he and his classmates have to make do with the little English they have learned at school so far if they want to talk to the locals. And then he is the only one who has the courage to go into that shop and ask for what he wants ~ even though he doesn’t know the exact English word for it ~  and he manages to get what he wants.

Those are some of the magical moments when I realise that I have succeeded in taking away the fear (that bad learning experiences may have left) and have given my students a new freedom to express themselves.

I just LOVE it when people become creative with language. It not only shows that they have lost their fear but it often also shows an understanding of the English language and the way it works. Communicating and getting the meaning across ~ this is what I learned at IH Hastings ~ is in fact the most important thing, much more important than speaking flawlessly.

I am truly grateful for my own learning experience during my CELTA course because this way I had the chance to feel first-hand what it means to be a learner in a really encouraging learning atmosphere and how this brings out the best in you. This is what I am striving to pay forward in every lesson I teach.

I would encourage everyone who is thinking about getting an initial TEFL qualification to do a CELTA course with IH. They are simply the best!

As a postscript, while writing this I’ve been happy to reflect on my CELTA course at IH, which always conjures a smile in my heart.

*IH Hastings closed when its owner retired, but it was a very well respected school with a wonderful reputation for many years. Its philosophy and approach to teacher training and the whole communicative approach to language learning has helped to shape the approach now shared by IH schools around the world.