Tatjana Petkovic: Pioneering Early English Education in Serbia
From the moment that Tatjana (Tanja) Petkovic heard about the Helen Doron method for teaching English to young children from veteran teacher trainer Rita Falter, she knew she had found her dream career. Fuelled by a lifetime passion for English, music and dancing, and armed with excellent English and a degree in business management, Tanja travelled to Dusseldorf, Germany from Belgrade, Serbia to attend the next available Helen Doron Early English Teacher Training. In 1998, Tanja became the very first Helen Doron Early English teacher in Serbia, trained by Founder and CEO Helen Doron herself. Since then, she has never doubted that her decision to become a Helen Doron English Master Franchisor would lead her on the road to success—despite some difficult obstacles along the way.
“My first class opened with only 7 students and had to close after only 5 lessons, as the bombing began during the war (The Kosovo War of 1999).” Tanja explained matter-of-factly. “We remained closed for 6 months and had to start all over again, but Belgrade wasn’t hit as badly as other Serbian cities, and luckily our classroom was untouched. ALL of the students came back. The next year we had 14 students and the following year I expected to double student enrolment, but we only had 16 students. For 5 years I worked 2 additional part-time jobs so that I could keep the Learning Centre open. I was determined to succeed and I knew it would take off!”
Shortly after this, a colleague joined forces with Tanja and they were given a free spot on a national TV show that promotes positive activities for children. Tanja enthused, “The phone was ringing off the hook after being endorsed by this TV programme, and the following year we were up to 68 students. We were so proud! We thought ‘WOW! Our little school is so full!’ Ever since then, we have been steadily progressing, as we have more and more happy, engaged kids whose parents recommend Helen Doron to others and we just grow and grow. Word-of-mouth has always brought us at least 85% of our new students. That seems to be true of Helen Doron English everywhere.”
When the learning centre franchise model was introduced, the Head Office offered her the opportunity to progress to the next step, and take responsibility for developing her own learning centre and assisting the second learning centre Belgrade area, opened by her colleague two years after she joined the HD system. Tanja didn’t stop there though. “I was reaching for National Franchisor for all of Serbia from the beginning; that was my goal. When the pieces of the puzzle came together, I signed the agreement to become a Helen Doron National Franchisor.”
After only 14 years, Serbia boasts 19 Helen Doron learning centres with a total of 2,500 students.
Tanja’s obvious love for her profession and strong belief in the Helen Doron method touches everyone around her. “I love being a Helen Doron Master Franchisor, as I have a great team and I love working with such friendly, supportive and positive people, both locally and around the world. For me running my business is not work, it is fun and relaxing. I recommend creating and maintaining a family atmosphere in your learning centre, and then everything works much better. It’s not just a business. We feel very connected, as we have formed our own community, and the parents feel that—they feel a team spirit amongst people who are devoted to teaching their children. I feel that all of the Helen Doron global community is an important part of my world, and just as I have created this type of environment in Serbia, I also receive a lot of ongoing support from the Head Office team and other Master Franchisors around the world.”
A story Tanja enjoys telling about her Helen Doron experience is about a citywide New Year’s celebration for parents and students held in a large auditorium. In Serbia, big companies buy New Year gifts for the children of their employees and organize a show at which they give the gifts. There were 4,000 seats and 600 of them were filled with her students and their parents. The Helen Doron students were the only ones honoured by receiving their gifts on stage from Santa in front of everyone. Tanja then vowed to herself, “One day this entire auditorium will be filled with Helen Doron English students and their parents. I predict it will happen by the 15th anniversary of Helen Doron in Serbia, which will be in 2014, as we already have 2500 students!”
With Tatjana Petkovic managing the Helen Doron English franchise in Serbia, there is no doubt that she will continue expanding, growing and filling many auditoriums throughout the country for years to come.