Life after CELTA | An interview with Resham George

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I remember getting interviewed for a language school in India, where the interviewer first asked me what the CELTA was, and then promptly asked me why I bothered getting it.

Here’s the next interview from my Life after CELTA series. I started this blog series to capture the range of career options that are available to CELTA-qualified teachers in India and the challenges they face in a job market where Cert-TESOL courses aren’t seen as having much value from an employer perspective.

Resham did the CELTA in Bombay a little over a year ago. I wanted to catch up with her because she’d been a drama teacher for a couple of years and I thought it would be interesting to see what sort of expectations she had of the course, whether these needs were met, and if she’d been able to find a job in ELT.  I think her honest and thoughtful responses are going to be very useful for people who are thinking about doing the CELTA and those who’ve just come off the course and are worried about what to do next.


What sort of work were you doing before the CELTA?

Before the CELTA, I edited academic material for a company in Bangalore. I also worked as a drama teacher for 2 years, working with kids between the ages of 4 and 18.

What motivated you to do the course?

When I started off as a teacher, I was pretty much learning how to teach on the job. This was extremely stressful and it made me question my teaching abilities. It can be really difficult overcoming the normal obstacles of being a teacher and it becomes discouraging when you are not trained. I remember feeling like an impostor. When I switched to editing, I soon became bored with my job. I missed interacting with students and the connections I formed with them  as I helped them overcome their individual problems. I knew that I didn’t want to return to teaching theatre. Then I remembered how on my first day at school, my ESL teacher placed a book in my hand and helped me understand the words. That’s how I realized that I wanted to become an ESL teacher. Having learnt from my past mistake, I began researching qualifications to meet this goal. The CELTA was the most recommended out of all the qualifications, so I immediately applied for the course.

What did you expect from the course and did it live up to your expectations?

After getting through, my first step was to Google the things that I could expect on the course. Most accounts included stories of sleepless nights and sudden bursts of tears. Somewhat arrogantly, I didn’t think that I would be that person. After all, I had some teaching experience. I knew where to use my articles and what tenses to use. How hard could it be? The reality was completely different. To manage the course, you have to be super organized, completely committed and ready to sacrifice any semblance of a life for that month. I came in expecting a challenging and stimulating course. What I got was a course that demanded that you sink or swim based on your efforts and ability to adapt to a steep learning curve. Was that a good or a bad thing? I’m not entirely sure. The speed of the course made you use each day of the course as effectively as possible – something that wouldn’t happen in a longer course. But it also meant that most of the pedagogy was absorbed only towards the end of the course. So I was only able to really try out the techniques taught in the CELTA towards the end of the course (and in the months that followed it). If you’re a quick learner, you’ll be fine. If like me, you’re not, then don’t beat yourself up. Because while the course is going on, it might feel like you’re not succeeding. But I guarantee that after the course, once you start teaching regularly, that’s when you realize how much you actually absorbed from the course.

You’re completely immersed in the programme. It becomes a part of every aspect of your life – whether it’s your ride to the centre (I usually used that time to go over my lesson plans) or your dreams (and yes, I did literally start doing my lesson plans in my sleep). The course effectively puts you into the shoes of your learners – instead of being given a list of dos and don’ts, you’re given models to follow. That takes some getting used to, but it makes it easier for you to choose the techniques that you want to try out.

What was your experience with looking for a job after you completed the course? Did you try for any overseas jobs? What challenges did you face?

After the CELTA, the job hunt began almost immediately. Our trainers had prepped us for an uphill struggle, but it was more difficult that I thought it would be. I had expected the CELTA to instantly open doors all around the world. That’s not the case. If you apply for jobs abroad, you’re usually competing with “native” English speakers – qualified and unqualified. It’s tough not to be discouraged or bitter when you realize that the work you put into getting this qualification doesn’t stop international organizations from choosing people based on their own biased (and sometimes racist) criteria.

I have found jobs in the EU for “non-native” speakers, but they almost always apply to people who have a work permit for the region. In my experience, it’s a good idea to check out forums and blogs to find out about which countries accept “non-native” speakers who aren’t from the EU. This includes several countries in South and Central America (Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Chile to name a few). Some Asian countries will accept you if you have some relevant teaching experience in addition to the CELTA (one of my CELTA batch mates had taught for a few years before the course, and he got a job in China). Japan is pretty stringent, but if you have relevant experience (they usually ask for between 1 to 2 years or more), you could get a job there. Thailand is another possibility. If you’re applying abroad, it’s a good idea to get some teaching experience in India before applying. Include a teaching video/introduction video with your applications – this usually garners more positive responses.

In India, while the CELTA is rapidly becoming more recognized, it is still relatively unknown (compared to the more traditional teaching qualifications like the BEd). I remember getting interviewed for a language school in India, where the interviewer first asked me what the CELTA was, and then promptly asked me why I bothered getting it. So if you’re applying in India, be ready for experiences like this. Also, join as many relevant social media groups as possible – I got my current job by responding to a post on the CELTA India Facebook group.

Where are you currently working now and what sort of work does it involve?

I work at Kings Learning, one of the leading English language schools in Bangalore. I teach General and Business English courses, IELTS and online classes. In addition to training, I also create and edit content for enguru, a language learning app that helps users become familiar with General and/or corporate English. There are several steps involved in this – we start by choosing topics, then building relevant word lists at the appropriate level. After that, we create different sentence structures or activities that help users learn this vocabulary and become familiar with using the words in their own contexts.

The use of apps in English language learning is a relatively new development, but given the positive response that many apps have had, this could be a promising alternative to teaching after doing the CELTA. Some skills that are important in this line of work are grammatical accuracy and knowledge, the ability to grade your language and careful attention to detail.

Have you been able to use what you learnt on the CELTA?

Yes, definitely. While I could speak and write accurately before the course, the ability to explain language (that I developed during the CELTA) was particularly useful for content development and my classes. Similarly, the ability to grade language was useful – both in terms of writing content and teaching classes. Techniques such as ICQs (Instruction Checking Questions) and CCQs (Concept Checking Questions) made it easier and more efficient to check students’ comprehension. On that note, even learning that the teacher’s role in the classroom should be minimal was valuable input for me – one that I constantly try to follow in my classes. The lesson plan format we used in the course was also extremely useful – while I rarely get time to make my plans as detailed as they were during the CELTA, I use the general structure and template to create most of my plans, giving them a cohesive structure.

What sort of impact has the course had on you professionally and/or personally?

Professionally, the course has opened many doors. I had applied for ESL teaching jobs before taking the course, and the number of responses that I received (positive and otherwise) has risen drastically after adding the course to my list of qualifications. Many of my colleagues have a CELTA, and I work with a supervisor who has a CELTA and a DELTA. This course has allowed me to be on an equal footing with my colleagues, also making it easier to work with them since we have common points of reference.

Personally, the CELTA was a big boost to my confidence. I went from questioning my role as an educator to being able to conduct classes and corporate training sessions with relative ease and comfort. It helped me become more efficient, especially with students with little to no familiarity with English – which was something I had viewed as nearly impossible before the course. It helped me become more organized, giving my lessons (which had previously been improvised and, frankly, at times chaotic) some much needed structure and direction. Rather than throwing in random activities, I was clear about the types of activities and their use in the development of language. The CELTA allowed me to direct my creativity to make my activities both communicative and meaningful.

Where to next?

At the moment, I’m quite happy teaching in Bangalore, since my job exposes me to a variety of teaching contexts and challenges. I hope to eventually use my teaching certification to travel to different countries. There might be a bias for “native” English speakers – but with the CELTA and some relevant teaching experience, I do think that I’ll get more opportunities. So hopefully, in a few years, I’ll be posting pictures with my class in the Andes or Mexico City! 🙂

What advice would you give to teachers in India who’ve just completed the CELTA?

I’ll start with some useful advice I got from my CELTA trainers – start teaching as soon as possible. Regardless of salary, it’s necessary to use your skills in the real world immediately. This might be a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you’ve worked before and you’re accustomed to a fairly high salary. Chances are that when you’re done with the course, finding a well-paying job will be difficult. In my case, I spent 2 months at home, teaching English for free to a young boy. This allowed me to employ some of the CELTA methods and internalize them as part of my teaching approach.

Try to work with people who have done the CELTA – it helps if you’re working within the same framework. It also means that you don’t fall back into old teaching habits or forget the new skills and pedagogical framework you’ve acquired.

Use social media as much as possible, whether it’s to find out more about the ELT field or jobs. It helps to have a community of people who have a similar approach to teaching. On that note, keep in touch with the people who did the CELTA with you. I’ve gotten some great advice and support from my batch mates, whether it was celebrating when someone got a job or comparing approaches to working with learners.

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Effective decision making | Business English materials

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Here are some more materials I developed on the ITDI course – Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. The assignment brief was to design wrap-around materials with short authentic texts. I chose four tweets by an American facilitator and performance consultant, Thiagi on decision making. Thiagi often tweets pithy messages on a variety of management and leadership issues. The original materials had screenshots of his tweets but I wanted to get permission before I circulated them more widely. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard back so I’ve replaced the screenshots with QR codes and links.

The context of this 60 minute Business English lesson is effective decision making and it explores language for giving advice using imperatives along with some vocabulary related to decision making. Learners will gets lots of opportunities to speak in pairs and groups and will also write an email and a tweet.

For some odd reason, Scribd isn’t allowing me to embed a preview of the document but you should be able to download the handout from this link.

Image attribution: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Teaching with interactive stories | Teacher training materials

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Attribution:  Pratham Books | Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan | CC BY 4.0

Here’s the next set of materials I wrote on an ITDI course called Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. For this assignment, we were asked to create activities around an authentic text. I decided to use an open-access children’s book from Pratham Book’s Storyweaver (what a brilliant resource!). I ended up designing loop input-ish materials for teachers that integrate interactive storytelling techniques with raising their awareness of the third conditional (if you take a look at the book, you’ll see why).

I had a bit of a think about whether a children’s book from an organisation that promotes literacy is authentic. I think it is for the target audience – lower primary teachers. I’ve included a rationale for this on the last page.

Here’s how the handout is organised:

  • Participant handout (pp. 1-2)
  • Trainer notes (p. 3)
  • Overview (p. 4-5) – this was something Katherine asked us to put in and includes background information on the text and the tasks.

The book – It’s All the Cat’s Fault – is available in more than 58 languages ranging from Telugu and Punjabi to Serbian and Khmer. So you could easily make the materials work within your own context if the teachers you’re training would benefit from reading the book in their L1.

I’ve got a multilingual activity using a book from Storyweaver in the pipeline incorporating at least five or more Indian languages (English, Marathi, Konkani, Kannada and Hindi) so do watch out for that.

Life in the 21st century | An image-based lesson

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Here’s the third assignment from the ITDI course I did a couple of months ago on Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. We were asked to design materials around an image or images. I created some activities around three public domain images from the late 19th century. At the turn of the century, several French artists imagined what life in the 21st century would be like and they came up with some pretty fanciful images. The materials I designed focus on grammar – and a somewhat obscure but useful grammar point –  ‘future in the past’ structures with some speaking activities. My  favourite is image 1!

Have you ever used public domain images to develop materials?

 

Spin to win | A verbing game with ‘body parts’

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In July, I did an ITDI course with Katherine Bilsborough on Creating ELT Materials. I plan to write a longer post about the experience at some point. In the meanwhile, you can have a look at this summary by Geraldine who was also on the course. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to share the materials I designed for the course’s assignments.

Here’s my first one … well it’s actually the fourth and last assignment. Interestingly, it was the simplest (at least from my perspective) and the one that I spent the least time on.

Katherine asked us to create a game or a puzzle for this assignment.  Spin to win – the game I designed introduces Business English learners to idioms that use parts of the body as verbs in a process that’s called verbing. But I reckon you could could tweak it a bit and use it for other contexts because not all the idioms are necessarily businessy. You’ll find teacher notes on page 4. Let me know what you think!

 

Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Sep & Oct 2018

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Here are some webinars to keep you busy over the next two months! I’m especially curious about this new ‘What about …’ series from MAWSIG. There are also a couple of interesting ones from Oxford and National Geographic. I’ll keep updating the list if I come across any others. Do let me know if I’ve missed any.

An asterisk (*) means that you’ll need to register to attend.

Business English & ESP

CLIL

Materials writing

Large classes

Learner autonomy

For Teacher educators

Technology

Testing

Young learner

Webinars for Teacher’s Day

The British Council is doing a series of five webinars to mark International Teacher’s Day on Oct 5. You can register here.

  • Connecting with Teacher Educators | Kirsteen Donaghy, Ellen Darling and Sirin Soyoz | Oct 5, 0800 UK
  • Using your brain: what neuroscience can teach us about learning | Rachael Roberts  | Oct 5, 1000 UK
  • ‘Native speakerism’, identity and ELT | Neenaz Ichaporia and Manisha Dak. Hosted by Chia Suan Chong | Oct 5, 1200 UK
  • Ideas and strategies for low-resource classrooms | Deborah Bullock, Amol Padwad and Richard Smith | Oct 5, 1400 UK
  • Constructing the multilingual mindset | Maria Norton | Oct 5, 1600 UK

Other topics

Image attribution: Photo by Dillon Shook on Unsplash

An allegorical map of teaching | A reflection activity

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In the 18th and 19th centuries, allegorical maps of love, courtship and marriage were very popular. Here’s a map of matrimony.

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You’ll find some more examples here. In this reflection activity, participants create their own allegorical map of teaching.

Objective

  • To encourage teachers to reflect on how they see teaching as a practice and a profession.

Materials

  • An example of a historical allegorical map (they’re all in the public domain) or perhaps one that you’ve drawn.

Procedure

  • Show an example of an allegorical map such as the one above.
  • Ask participants to draw and label their own allegorical maps of teaching.
  • Encourage participants to share their maps with each other and compare similarities and difference.
  • Get them to reflect on why their maps look the way they do and if they would want their maps to look different.

Extended reflection 

  • Ask participants to take pictures of their maps and revisit them after 3 months or 6 months. Are there any new islands or terrain they’d like to add to their maps? What do these represent? How did these changes come about?

NB: This activity hasn’t been road tested yet. I did create my own allegorical map – I’m not sure I’m ready to share it yet. It’s turned out a bit dark – something for me to reflect on?!