Life after CELTA | An interview with Kumar Sharma

Kumar Sharma ELT

I sent my application to over 100 schools and agencies and only one bothered to reply …

Here’s another interview in a series I’m doing to address concerns about post-CELTA career options for Indian teachers. Some trainees do the course to ostensibly travel and teach but a South Asian passport and a non-native speaker of English (NNEST) tag mean that most doors are firmly closed. But there are those who’ve been able to find opportunities despite these challenges and I’d like to showcase one of those stories.

Kumar was on a course I tutored on last year. He was very determined about getting a job overseas. He left for China earlier this year. I caught up with him about his experiences so far and asked him to share advice for teachers who’d like to follow in his footsteps.

What sort of work were you doing before the CELTA? 

I was working as an English teacher at a private language institute in central Mumbai.

What motivated you to do the course? 

I was an English teacher without any teaching qualifications, so I did some research and came across the CELTA. I wanted to improve as a teacher and explore the world of ESL. I discovered that CELTA could be my passport to teach abroad and that was a deciding factor to do the course.

How did you go about applying for jobs overseas after finishing the CELTA? 

Once the CELTA was over, I knew I had to start looking for a job and put my learning into action. I searched online and registered myself on international job portals. Websites like ESLcafe.com and gooverseas.com to name a few, post job openings daily. I sent my application to a lot of employers and finally got a reply from my current employers.

What challenges did you face? 

The biggest challenge I faced was finding companies who hire non-native English teachers. I was told during my pre-CELTA interview that its almost impossible to find ESL teaching jobs abroad because of visa restrictions.

Tell us about your current job and your teaching responsibilities. 

I am an ESL teacher in Changchun, China. I teach primary, elementary and middle school students. I prepare PowerPoint presentations and lesson plans for the grades I teach. My school provides me with the textbooks for these classes. I’m tasked with completing the lesson plans a week in advance and submit them to the school coordinators. I also co-ordinate with the local teachers to discuss the progress of the kids. It’s very important to be flexible and spontaneous as a teacher, so even though I have a lesson plan to follow, I sometimes adjust my teaching to suit the class.

To what extent does this job meet the expectations you had of it?

I am completely satisfied with this job. I wanted to teach abroad and get sense of the culture of teaching and learning. I came to China with no expectations at all, because I didn’t want to feel disappointed. But I wanted to do justice to the opportunity given to me and I am glad I was able to achieve that. I am working to get experience, because the time I spend in China will add value to my CV and make me a better teacher at the same time.

Tell us about the city you live in. 

I live in Changchun – it’s the capital city of Jilin province. It’s usually very cold here – winters can be as cold as -35 degrees Celsius. Changchun has been voted the happiest city in China, and I must say it deserves the title. People here are very warm and hospitable, not just because I am a foreigner but even with each other. The public transport in this city is efficient; you can reach any part of the city with ease. You can either travel by trains, buses or taxis and the fares are cheap. The cost of living in Changchun is also very low compared to other major cities in the country, you can easily save quite a lot of your salary. The cost of utilities like water, gas and electricity is also very reasonable. Parks, restaurants, temples, schools, malls, universities and tourist attractions – they have it all in this city! I can go on and on about it, because that’s how much I love it and as I write this, I’ve just been here five months!

What’s the most surprising/unusual thing about living or working in China? 

I can’t think of any unusual experiences as such but what surprised me the most is how much importance is given to a child’s overall development. In schools, kids are not just given an education in terms of subjects (like back home), but also moral and physical development. They make them responsible right from a very young age. The future of these kids is in safe hands for sure.

Have you been able to network with other expat English teachers who work in the area?

To be honest, I haven’t really got a chance to network with any teachers from other cities, but I have colleagues from Ukraine and Russia and we often exchange information about our respective countries, lessons and kids. I am sure over time, I’ll be able to network more. It’s still early days in China for me.

What do employers in China look for when recruiting teachers? 

Employers want teachers who are energetic, passionate and hard working. Teaching in China focuses on fun but teachers must also be good at discipline his/her class. If the kids in your class seem to be enjoying themselves, you’re seen as a perfect fit. There’s also a harsh reality about teaching in China – employers often discriminate between employees based on their nationality. White skin is unfortunately a qualification that can fetch you a higher salary. If you’re a white European or a native English speaker then your pay is going to be more.

What sort of perceptions do they have about English teachers from India?

There are very few Indian-English teachers in China. The general perception about Indians is that we don’t speak good English. The fact that we receive our formal education in English is unknown to them. A lot of Chinese people are surprised that I speak English fluently. However, I’ve not yet had any opportunities to speak with any other Indian teachers in China. All the schools I teach in are okay with the fact that I am from India and this doesn’t seem to have an impact in their behaviour or attitude towards me.

What advice would you give to CELTA-qualified teachers from India who’d like to teach overseas? 

The road ahead isn’t easy. But if you believe in your skills and abilities then you can overcome any obstacles. I’d advise teachers to be patient when searching for teaching jobs overseas. If you’re a non-native English teacher, then be prepared for a lot of rejections because the visa rules in most countries are getting stricter by the day. Don’t take the risk of working illegally in any country as that could jeopardise your career. I sent my application to over 100 schools and agencies and only one bothered to reply, and I grabbed the opportunity. It’s also very important to get teaching experience post CELTA. Don’t always look for money. Every teaching opportunity post CELTA, even if it’s seemingly insignificant is valuable. Back your CELTA with self-belief, hard work and dedication. All the best!

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Upcoming MOOCs for ELT educators | Jun – Jul 2018

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Here are some Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to keep you occupied over the next couple of months. All of these courses are free but you also have the option of  upgrading and buying a certificate from the course provider. Some of the courses have already started but it’s not too late to join.  A good way of keeping track of upcoming courses is using Class-Central‘s alert function. They’ll send you an email when courses you’re interested in become available.

Adult learners

Assessment

Behaviour management 

CLIL

Language teaching

Linguistics

Special needs and inclusion

Teacher education 

Technology

Young learners

Other topics

 

Image attribution: Photo by Ciprian Boiciuc on Unsplash

Developing as a CLIL practitioner | Resources

CLIL resources

When exploring career options with CELTA trainees here in India,  I find that there’s understandably some apprehension in response to the question ‘what next?’ The range of options available is considerably more limited than other countries. It’s technically illegal to employ a teacher who doesn’t have a Bachelor of Education, which essentially locks trainees out of the formal K12 education sector.

However with the rise of English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) across South Asia and the exponential growth in private EMI schools who often have questionable standards, there’s immense untapped opportunity here for CLIL.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) “is a dual focused educational approach in which an additional language is used for the learning and teaching of both content and language. For example, CLIL has involved Malaysian children learning maths and science in English. CLIL has been used for Norwegian students to do drama in German, Italian students to learn science in French, Japanese students to learn geography in English and Australians to learn maths in Chinese. The combinations of languages and subjects are almost limitless.”

Uncovering CLIL, p.9

As a CLIL practitioner, you could consult with school networks and tertiary institutions (EMI is as much a reality in colleges as it is in schools) on a project basis. Your work might include writing materials, planning curriculum, teacher training, monitoring and evaluation activities and co-teaching.

Here are some ways of developing as a CLIL practitioner. While courses can be useful, I think we are sometimes too quick to discount the role books can play in our professional development and I’d recommend creating a professional development plan that includes resources from all of the following categories.

Books

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  • Putting CLIL into Practice by John Clegg, Keith Kelly, and Phil Ball (OUP). You can preview this book here.
  • CLIL Activities by Liz Dale and Rose Tanner (CUP)
  • Content and Language Integrated Learning by Do Coyle, Philip Hood, and David Marsh (CUP)
  • The CLIL Resource Pack by Margaret Grieveson and Wendy Superfine (Delta)
  • Teaching Other Subjects through English by Sheelagh Deller and Christine Prince (OUP)
  • Uncovering CLIL by Peeter Mehisto and Maria Jesus Frigols, and David Marsh (Macmillan)
  • The Roles of Language in CLIL by Ana Llinares, Tom Morton, and Rachel Whittaker (CUP)
  • The TKT Course CLIL Module by Kay Bentley (CUP)

Note that only Teaching Other Subjects through English and The TKT Course CLIL Module are available as low priced South Asia editions.

Assessments

The Cambridge Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT) has a specialist module on the CLIL. Here’s a free handbook from Cambridge for candidates who are preparing for the TKT – CLIL. While it’s information light, it outlines syllabus areas for the CLIL and could be useful in designing your own development plan. The TKT Course CLIL Module book describes these syllabus ares in greater detail.

Courses

  • Exploring content and language integrated learning (CLIL) is a 15 hour course spread over 5 weeks from the British Council. This is an online moderated course and is run periodically. I think it’s reasonably priced at £100 and covers a range of relevant topics and includes virtual sessions in a webinar format.

  • Content Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) offered by Oxford TEFL, is a 30 hour online course.  It seems to have good reviews but the syllabus outline included on their site gives you the sense that they cover less on this 30 hour course than the British Council’s 15 hour course. However, they state that participants “will read articles, blogs and watch videos and then discuss the content with your tutor via forum discussions and live tutorials. For each module you have to complete an assignment.” An assignment for each module might be the clincher.  However, at €350, it’s a bit dear.
  • English for Teaching Purposes is a free MOOC from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona on Coursera. It’s offered quite frequently and there’s one starting on June 18, 2018. It focuses on CLIL in a tertiary context and its intended audience is university lecturers who are required to deliver their sessions in English. You can purchase a certificate for under ₹2000 (NB: Coursera has differentiated pricing based on location you may see a different price in your own currency)
  • CLIL Teaching Method is a face to face course from Kaplan International which is offered as a 15 hour, 20 session course at language schools in the UK and Ireland. I don’t know much about this course and it would be sensible to connect on social media with people who’ve done it.
  • Postgraduaat CLIL is a year long diploma (?) course offered by UC Leuven Limben in Belgium. It’s taught in French and English and looks interesting but it seems to be aimed at teachers in Wallonia, Flanders and Netherlands.
  • CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) Methodology in Higher Education from the Summer School at Utrecht University is a week long course priced at €750 – the institution also organises accommodation.
  • Techno-CLIL: Over the last two years, Italian CLIL practitioners have offered a free moderated course as part of Electronic Village Online. If it’s offered again in 2019, you’ll be able to enroll in the first week of January.
  • Free CLIL Video Course: This is a video series rather than a course but why look a gift horse in the mouth. After subscribing to the course, you’ll receive four emails with links to videos that introduce you to CLIL. It might be a good idea to follow the course author Patrick de Boer on Twitter.

Websites

  • TeachingEnglish: articles and blogs on the British Council’s site for teachers.
  • OnestopCLIL: lots of resources but mostly for paid subscribers.
  • LexiCLIL: this site offers ideas for blending the lexical approach with CLIL.
  • CLIL@India: a project funded by the EU’s Erasmus+ programme to introduce CLIL methodology to India. You can follow the project on Twitter (@CLILatIndia ).

Blogs 

  • CLIL Seminar in Getxo: An up-to-date blog with lots of CLIL lesson resources from Loli Iglesias.
  • CLIL for success: interesting stuff and some of the posts are bilingual.
  • A CLIL to climb: hasn’t been updated in yonks but I’ve included it because I encountered CLIL for the first time on Chiew Pang’s blog many years ago.
  • CLIL Media blog: this is a successor of the CLIL Magazine which was full of useful articles and resources.
  • Reflections on CLIL: Not been updated in a while but worth a dekko.
  • Nina Spain: has a lot of resources including training materials.

Gaining experience

  • Volunteering with an initiative such as Teach for India which places its ‘fellows’ within low resource, disadvantaged classrooms could be a good way of getting teaching experience.
  • Find out if any affordable private schools in your suburb/town offer EMI classes or are making the transition to full EMI status – offer your services to them. You could co-teach with subject teachers, dealing with English needs while they can focus on maths, science, social science etc.

Are there any other resources you think I should include in this list? Share links in the comments below.

If you’re working with CLIL, your experiences of developing skills in this area might be useful to teachers who are interested in a career in a CLIL. Give me a shout if you’d be interested in being interviewed.

Image by Tra Nguyen on Unsplash

Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Jun & Jul 2018

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Here are some upcoming webinars that might interest ELT professionals. I have only been able to track down one in July but 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.

Approaches

Business English & ESP

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

Technology

Testing 

Young learners 

Other topics

Image attribution: Photo by Jeroen den Otter on Unsplash

What is SLA research good for, anyway? | IATEFL 2018 summary

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A couple of months ago I met someone who was completely dismissive of research. She questioned the validity of research on that grounds that researchers change what they say all the time! If only she’d watched Lourdes Ortega’s plenary talk which has a lot of  practical suggestions for teachers for interacting with research more meaningfully. I particularly liked when she said “we must recognise that all knowledge is contradictory, partial, potentially generally true while individually not always.”

I got a bit bored of writing summaries so I created this idea map which hasn’t really turned out the way I thought it would. Anyway, here it is:

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Exploring ELT as emancipatory practice | IATEFL 2018 summary

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I’ve been following Steve Brown on Twitter for sometime now and possibly not paying attention to the content of his tweets because I’d have never anticipated the direction this talk took – unexpected and thought-provoking. This is  going to be a short summary because there was lots of food for thought and I’d like to revisit and reflect on some of these ideas. Also, the audio on the live-stream wasn’t very good and I didn’t really catch it all.

Steve declared ELT a neo-liberal profession and he asked the audience to consider the purpose of the field. He suggested that there are four purposes which can plotted on a continuum, each of which has a specific impact on teaching behaviours and learners.

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He explained that education as empowerment is deceptively attractive because it ostensibly helps learners function more effectively in the real world, with skills to apply for a job. However, this happens within the existing systems of power and doesn’t involve any kind of transformation. Instead, it’s a means of developing the economic potential of learners, “allowing learners to become complicit in their own exploitation.” And the key  according to him, is to focus emancipation, which he says involves giving students the skills to effect change themselves.

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Steve suggested some ways of pushing ELT along the emancipation continuum but cautioned teachers about not falling into the trap of comfort radicalism which is doing something that you think is progressive but operates within existing structures and involves no change. Banking methodologies here refers to Paulo Friere’s notion of traditional education which sees students as containers into which knowledge needs to be deposited. I was curious to see the oft-abused term 21st century skills in this list but Steve called this out and said that critical thinking had been co-opted by vested interests but that it’s the responsibility of teachers to challenge this for example by getting learners to engage more critically with a typical coursebook text celebrating the achievements of billionaires like Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg by considering whether we need people like them.

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He then challenged the typical questions we use to evaluate our practice, criticising them for being shallow and for focusing on practice instead of praxis.

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He shared some alternatives for reflecting more deeply. The first question is really quite simple but profoundly provocative.

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Steve concluded by saying that ELT was being used to “stifle freedoms and reinforce hegemony” and that the emancipation continuum could be used to recognise whether we are complicit in promoting this inequality and injustice and take steps to transform our practice.

Do some words matter more or the frequency fallacy? | IATEFL 2018 summary

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In this talk, Leo Selivan challenged the conventional approach of choosing what vocabulary to teach using frequency lists. He suggested that frequency has become so ubiquitous that it’s now included in dictionary entries and that we use these frequency lists for a number of reasons:

  • To grade and select vocabulary
  • 80% of English text consists of high frequency words
  • Frequency lists are used for defining vocabularies in learner dictionaries (core)
  • To counter the teacher’s intuition which may be wrong. For example, we overestimate the frequency of ‘blond’ and underestimate ‘arise’

The most frequently used words tend to be function or grammar words and it’s commonly believed that we can “learn 2000 words and then it’s all plain sailing.”

Leo argues that frequency is not the same as usefulness and analyses this through several areas of lexis.


Polysemy is a word with multiple meanings such as ‘aid’ (come to my aid, foreign aid, hearing aid). Words that have polysemous relationships can be close or distant in meaning. In the following examples, rough is closer relative to run which is more distant.

(1a) He runs 10 miles every day

(1b) She runs a restaurant

(2a) His hands were rough from hard work

(2b) I’ve had a rough day today

Leo asked the attendees to translate several words into another language that they are familiar with:  accident, (to) join, condition, to gain, business (I realised that I don’t know how to say condition in Hindi and I had to look it up in a dictionary). The actual learning from this activity is that the translation depends on the meaning we want: have an accident vs. by accident, join the club vs. join the army etc. This might in fact be an interesting activity for the multilingual classroom.

He then contrasted two schools of thought – Charles Rhul’s On Monosemy establishes the first one where there is a core primary meaning and all other words are seen as derived. The other school of thought which he subscribes to is embodied by John Sinclair’s Corpus Concordance Collocation which holds the view that meaning is established by collocation and that to truly understand what a word means, you have to look at co-text (e.g., by accident). Therefore he argues that advice focusing on meaning before looking at collocation is ‘dubious’.


Word families 

With some words, it’s easy to find other members of the word family because they follow specific patterns for example the suffix -ment in development and improvement signal nouns. However, this is not as obvious in other words such as the following:

name – namely

price – priceless

fish – fishy

parent – parenthood

It’s entirely possible that learners encounter the derivative form before the base form for instance, suddenly before sudden, crazy before craze, reveal before revelation, computer before compute and conventional before convene.


Relevance

Some words which are low frequency have a greater likelihood of being taught because of the context in which they may be used.

  • Classroom language: verb, vocabulary
  • Cultural terms: candle, mosque
  • Conceptual difficulty: admit, issue
  • Ease of learning: guitar, basketball
  • Elementary school needs: porridge, knight, wand
  • Personal use: brunch, sociable

I’m not sure what he said with respect to conceptual difficulty – perhaps he was contrasting it with ease of learning – that we are more likely to teach words with a lower frequency if they are easier to learn. Apropos personal use, these two examples are from Leo’s own personal repertoire. He was trying to suggest that learners might find low frequency words useful because of their personalities and preferences.


Phraseological argument 

With multi-part verbs such as ‘the plane took off’ and ‘stand by your friend’ and non-compositional chunks such as ‘take place’, meaning can’t be understood from individual elements. Some items need to be learnt as chunks for example ‘at your disposal’ and ‘to some extent’. The PHRASE and PHaVE lists are apparently two new lists designed to address this.


Lexical availability 

Called disponibilité in French, this refers to words that easily spring to mind when presented with a prompt. So if you’re asked to come up with words related to travelling, many of the words that you may generate are lexically available but probably low frequency such as luggage.


The bottom line is that frequency doesn’t translate to usefulness and vocabulary acquisition is incremental and non-linear. You can download his handout with the meta-language he uses from this link.