The Burning Questionnaire: Tara Benwell

Take a peek at Tara....  Captions, please.

Take a peek at Tara…. Captions, please.

Way way back in 2011 – remember those days? Before whatsapp and instagram? – the third guest poster to contribute to the eltpics ideas blog Take a photo and… was Canadian teacher, writer and generally nice person, Tara Benwell, who provided the eltpics blogmeisterperson with the opportunity to post a photo of a frog on a toilet seat 🙂 This was a first for me. In return for this favour 😉 I sent her the Burning Questionnaire and asked her to choose a handful of eltpics that say something about her. Here are her replies – and feel free to add captions to the photos she chose (and just for the record, she choose more than four, so there’s a bonus eltpics at the end of the interview) ….


What is your full name, and where did it all start?
My full name is Tara Lynn Benwell.  I always dreamed of having an extravagant middle name like “Clarissa” because it seemed most of my girlfriends had the middle name Ann or Lynn. Since that wasn’t possible, I gave my own kids fun middle names: Beckett and Sawyer. After all, they are stuck with their dad’s last name (Peacock)! Poor things. As a kid, I had the nickname “Tink” because I did a speech on my budgie “Tinkerbell”.  My online English learners recently organized a video challenge called “The Story of My Name”. My own dad shared the story of Tara Kirkpatrick, a girl from grade school who my parents both knew in Vancouver, BC (my hometown).  I love bringing real life stories into my teaching. It helps the language stick!

What music do you listen to while driving/cooking/contemplating your navel?
I enjoy Brit Pop (like “James”) for dancing and driving, Alternative Rock (like “The Airborne Toxic Event”) for concerts and hanging out, and Salsa (Polo Montana) for exercising and cleaning.

What’s the most satisfying – or frustrating – aspect of your job?

Image by @mrsdkrebs for #eltpics

Image by @mrsdkrebs for #eltpics

The most satisfying aspect of my job is using my creative juices to inspire and motivate English learners on the other side of the world (often while in the comfort of my pyjamas). I’m never bored because I’m always working on a million different projects at a time. The most frustrating part is not having enough hours in the day to get everything done.

Writing or teaching? Why?
Writing as teaching. The aspect of teaching that I was always drawn to when working in a traditional classroom was writing. I organized the school newspapers, initiated and designed a writing course, and picked up extra writing work as a materials writer. Blogging with English learners and teachers, and developing fun materials that you may not find in textbooks is how I combine these two passions these days.   

A teacher from your schooldays:
Mrs. G, my grade 3 teacher in Montreal, Canada. Grade 3 was my favourite year of all time, and it was my last grade in Montreal before my family moved to Ontario. In the acknowledgments of my novel I thanked Mrs. G for inspiring me to become a writer. I still have the journal that I wrote in her class that year – a “cahier” that was covered in silver wedding wrapping paper. Mrs. G was able to see beyond my horrible handwriting and spelling, and somehow seemed to know that I would one day turn my love of writing into a career. Her comments meant everything to me. I keep that in mind when working with my online learners.

What was the first thing you learnt as a TEFL teacher?

Image by @sandymillin at #eltpics

Image by @sandymillin at #eltpics

I worked as a waitress/bartender for years while I was in high school and university, and I learned quickly that teaching was going to be a huge pay cut. This was frustrating at first, but I soon discovered material writing, tutoring, and semi-private night classes. The TEFL industry helped me discover my talents and interests. Eventually, I was able to do away with the aspects of my job that I didn’t enjoy.

What motivates/inspires you most?
Reading a good book at the right time is the most inspiring thing. I truly believe that certain books come into our lives at the right time if we let them. Sometimes it’s fiction. Other times it’s a writing book, an autobiography, or a children’s picture book (most recently, Barbara Reid’s “Picture a Tree”).   

Do you ever cry in the cinema?
If we ever have a babysitter, we go to the pub.

Beans on toast and a cuppa, or langoustine salad, steak au poivre and a 1995 Rioja? Where?
More like PB* on a bagel with an Americano, or Guinness and a basket of honey garlic wings.

A dream?
To get my novel, “The Proper Order of Things” into the hands of at least one

Image by @mrsdkrebs at #eltpics

Image by @mrsdkrebs at #eltpics

reader in every country of the world. The Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics inspired me.  There were some countries I hadn’t even heard of! If you know someone living in or traveling to an obscure country, please get in touch to arrange a book giveaway in exchange for a photo op.

Favourite book?
These days, my answer is The Night Circus. I was tweeting with Erin Morgenstern while I read it.  My book club (13 crazy women who were up to absolutely no good last night following a meeting about “The Necklace”) will be reading it soon (my selection).  

Beach, mountains or city?
I used to think mountains, but now that I’ve moved away from BC, I know that it’s the water I miss the most. I’m a jogger, and I hate feeling landlocked. It’s wonderful to be living close to family in Ontario, but my true home is on the Pacific near the giant trees.

Image by @sandymillin at #eltpics

Image by @sandymillin at #eltpics

Tablet or pen & notebook?
Pen and notebook at all times. I bring a notebook with me everywhere I go, and I’m always hunting for a new one that meets my strict requirements. The cover on my current notebook says “This could have been a novel.”  I do love my tablet, though!  My first iPad series (a children’s storybook series) is in it’s last stage of production. It has been amazing to see all of the different talents (writing, drawing, voice acting, programming) come together. I do believe tablets will take over the world. They are already beginning to take over my house.

Day or night?


Image by @mamalarut at #eltpics

Image by @mamalarut at #eltpics  – bonus image 😉

Night. After 11 o’clock, when everyone else is snoring. I can finally turn the TV off and hear my own thoughts. There’s always at least one book in my lap.


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