Life after CELTA | An interview with Khadija Tambawala

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Last year, I blogged about the types of qualifications Indian ELT professionals could explore after completing the CELTA (Post-CELTA Development (PCD) | A primer for Indian ELT professionals). I wrote that post in response to the questions I got from teachers who’d just completed the CELTA. There’s also understandably a lot of anxiety about career prospects after the CELTA. Many of the conventional routes that CELTA qualified teachers take in other countries are either not available in India or are closed to teachers from India.

So here’s the first in a series of interviews I hope to do with Indian ELT professionals documenting their post-CELTA journey, with the aim of addressing some of these apprehensions and showcasing the rich range of meaningful career opportunities that are possible for someone who wants to work in this field.


I met Khadija Tamabawla a couple of years when I was doing a demo lesson at a CELTA course. We met again, recently, albeit virtually, on a MOOC. I was curious about Khadija’s post-CELTA journey. Here’s what she told me.

1. What sort of work were you doing before the CELTA? 

I did the CELTA two years after I graduated, during which I experimented with different kinds of work to see which one I liked best and considered worth pursuing. I worked as a content writer for a social media marketing company, as a PR professional, as a voice artist (something I still do in my free time), and also as a production executive and content creator for English e-learning services.

2. What motivated you to do the CELTA? 

In 2014, I got an opportunity to volunteer as an EFL teacher for a month in Yemen, and even though I had no direct experience teaching English, all the work I had done until then was based on my love for the language and proficiency at it. So, I went for it, and what an experience it was! It was absolutely exhilarating, and once I came back I decided that this was something worth exploring because I found it so challenging and enjoyable at the same time.

3. When and where did you do the CELTA? Have you completed any other formal qualifications since then? 

I did the CELTA in May 2015 in Mumbai with the British Council. Since then, I haven’t completed any other formal qualifications.

4. What kind of impact did the CELTA have on your teaching style? On your professional life? 

The CELTA shaped my teaching style because I didn’t have substantial teaching experience before it or any other teaching qualification like a B.Ed, which other CELTA participants often do. It exposed me to very effective ways of teaching English as a second language, great methodology and techniques, and things I would never have known otherwise. I felt better equipped and more confident about teaching and training in the field, post the CELTA.

5. In what contexts have you been teaching post-CELTA? 

Post CELTA, I worked with an MNC to train their employees in spoken and written communication skills in a full-time capacity, and after that, I started freelancing as a corporate trainer for different clients. I’ve mostly worked with young adults and junior level employees in organisations, focusing on grammar, conversational skills, soft skills and employability skills.

6. In your experience, how do Indian employers perceive the CELTA? 

Either they’ve never heard of it, and are just looking for someone who has relevant teaching experience, or they are aware of it and are only willing to hire people with a CELTA because they think it brings some credibility to the training and they can vouch for the trainer. Sometimes, employers just have ‘CELTA’ as a required qualification in their job profiles, but don’t really know how that should translate to the training quality and experience once the person has been hired. They believe getting a CELTA-qualified trainer will guarantee quality training and are thus also willing to pay for it, because it shows them that you’ve invested time and money towards your craft and are serious about it.

7. Did you apply for any jobs overseas? What was your experience? 

The first few months after I completed my CELTA I often contemplated looking for a job oversees and getting a year or so of experience teaching people from around the world, thus widening my repertoire. However, the opportunities are extremely bleak if you aren’t white-skinned or don’t hold a passport to prove you’re a native speaker. I did a lot of research about teaching in places like China and Vietnam, where it is believed that some schools and institutes are willing to hire “non-native” English speakers, but it honestly didn’t seem worth it to me. Most of them had crazy working hours, or were in extremely remote places, often hard to find on a map, so I gave up the idea.

8. How have you been developing yourself? 

I’ve been looking for a substantial qualification to further my career, something that doesn’t just look fancy on paper but also adds significantly to my skills and knowledge- I’m primarily considering an M.A. in ELT- but there aren’t a lot of options if you’re looking to do it in India. I’ve done a lot of research on credible digital M.A.s in ELT too, but can’t find anyone to vouch for them or share their experiences. In the meantime, I’ve been doing whatever I can to upskill myself, like taking courses through sites like Udemy and FutureLearn, participating in webinars and following blogs and websites that I find interesting.

9. Where to next? 

As a freelancer, I’m currently working on getting more consistent work which would be ideal. I’m looking to explore different kinds of training as well as polish the kind of training I already do. Within the next few years, I not only want to get another useful qualification, but also work on different kinds of projects with varied clients.

10. What advice do you have for new CELTA qualified English teachers in India? 

One very important thing I would say is, don’t expect the CELTA to create jobs for you overnight. From what I’ve seen, in India it’s quite a niche qualification for a niche industry, which not a lot of people are even aware of; but if you look really hard and in the right places, you will find people who are interested in your qualification and willing to hire you for what you bring to the table. It’s not like an MBA that often promises high-paying jobs in big companies, but what you learn from the CELTA is something that will always be with you and can’t be replaced by any other qualification.

I would also advise newly qualified CELTA teachers to keep themselves updated with what’s relevant to their fields. It’s easy to get comfortable at a full-time job that pays the bills, but keep developing yourself professionally, or one day you may just become obsolete!

If you have questions for Khadija, please put them into the comments section and I’ll pass them on to her. 

Upcoming MOOCs for ELT Educators | Jun – Jul 2017

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The monsoon has just broken on the west coast of India and in the digital world, it’s raining MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). I can’t think of a better time to indulge in a MOOC binge. A hot cup of filter coffee. Rain pattering away at your window. And a MOOC or two or a dozen to keep you company 🙂

All of these courses are free and start between June and July and last for between four to six weeks.

English for Specific Purposes 

English for teaching 

Phonology 

Literacy

Teaching with art 

21st century skills

Technology

Managing behaviours & special needs 

Teaching: ELT

Teaching: General topics

Learning: General topics 

Exams

Other

Open Badges for CPD

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I’ve been a bit disingenuous in recommending digital badges for informal learning without properly investigating them. So I was truly surprised to discover that I’d already earned a badge for attending a webinar on speaking assessments.

What are badges? 

Think of them as alternatives to certificates. They’re proof that you’ve completed a learning activity or achieved some kind of outcome (such as a language level). Unlike a certificate which you download and which only sees the light of day when your supervisor demands evidence of CPD, the badge can be displayed in a gallery accessible by others.

I found my badge on speaking assessments at Open Badges passport which Cambridge uses.

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However, Mozilla Backpack appears to be a lot more popular.

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It’s also possible to display the badges in your LinkedIn profile.

How does it work? 

An organisation or institution designs and issues badges. They then allow participants who have completed an activity to add a particular badge. In practice, anyone can design badges using a site like Openbadges.me or Open Badge Factory. There is ostensibly some kind of quality control in place because the badge links back to the organisation or person who issued it.  Here’s a worksheet with some interesting questions for badge issuers to think through.

Badges for CPD 

Is there value in displaying the CPD activities you’ve completed or achieved? I think there might be. Beyond the obvious ‘feeling proud of yourself’, they can be useful in work contexts where performance appraisal systems require evidence of having completed a certain number of hours of professional development. I also think they provide an opportunity to members of a community of practice to check in on what other practitioners are doing and perhaps think about doing similar activities .

Badges in teacher training 

I was thinking about how badges might work for pre-service teacher training courses. Would we give badges (scout-like) for discrete skills like giving instructions or for achieving a certain number of hours of training practice or accomplishing criteria related to assignment? Or would that dilute the goals of a criterion-referenced course? It would be interesting to introduce new teachers to badges in a session like ICT where they could receive a badge on ‘Starting a class Wiki’ and encourage them to get more badges when they kick start their CPD plans.  Here’s a useful presentation on creating badges for your own course.

Badges & informal learning 

We know that a lot of learning happens informally through classroom practice, peer interactions among others. Digital badges perhaps imply that these informal learning activities don’t hold as much value because you can only earn badges for activities endorsed by someone else. I do see a link for ‘Apply for a badge’ in Open Badges Passport but I’m not sure why Cambridge or any other provider would let you have one of their badges if didn’t attend their event. And there’s always that danger of a learning provider subverting the system to serve its own interest which one major publisher has allegedly attempted.

Do you issue badges for your teachers or students? What has been your experience with using badges to promote CPD and learner autonomy?

Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Jun – Jul 2017

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My list is a bit spartan at the moment but I’m hoping to squirrel around and add some more. A *  means that you’ll need to register to attend.

Edtech 

Lesson planning

Materials writing

Business English 

Pronunciation

Other

Image attribution:  CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

 

Becoming a Better Teacher MOOC

Becoming a better teacher

I am one of the educators on the upcoming Becoming a Better Teacher MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Futurelearn.  Many of my colleagues have contributed to this MOOC and there are a lot of insightful perspectives from practitioners on reflection and CPD.

So, what’s the course about: 

Keeping up with professional development as a teacher can be hard to fit into a busy timetable. It doesn’t need to be. This online course, broken into simple steps, will help you develop your reflective skills and improve your practice in the classroom.

And who is it for? 

This course has been especially designed for the needs of teachers in India, particularly those teaching in English or who teach English as a subject. However, it is also relevant for teachers around the world including those from other low-resource contexts.

The MOOC is free and will run for six weeks starting April 24. Hope to see you on the course!

Upcoming MOOCs for educators | Nov 2016 to Jan 2017

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Here are some upcoming MOOCs that educators might find interesting. Although the courses have a fixed start and end date, you can join at any time before it formally concludes. All the courses are free.  I’ve got my eye on the course on filmmaking and animation in the classroom as well as Art of the MOOC: Public Art and Pedagogy which sounds intriguing.

Happy MOOCing.

Teaching (General) 

Teaching (ELT)

Materials writing & instructional design 

Teacher training 

Pedagogy 

Planning & time management 

Edtech 

Languages 

Education policy 

Literature

Learning

Writing

Miscellaneous 

Teacher training | An interview with Meena Sridharan

All the theories will start making sense only after some gruelling days out in the sticks.

Meena Sridharan is a teacher trainer who works extensively on large scale education projects in India. In this interview, we chatted about her experiences on the field and discussed some advice for developing teacher training skills.

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1. Tell us a bit about your background.

I grew up with a passion for English and history and all my degrees are in English Literature. There was a Linguistics and Phonology component in the course at University which I detested those days. It’s ironic that my work is only to do with English language teaching now.

During my post-graduate years, we had a mandatory social service requirement and I opted to teach English to bus conductors. I enjoyed that a lot, and one day, when I heard a couple of conductors speaking in English on a bus, felt really happy. To my uninformed teenage mind, this seemed to be a matter of course. It never occurred to me then that this was something I could do, and find rewarding, nor did it occur to me that I was actually listening to a demonstration of effective practice.

Many years later, I taught English language and conversation skills in Japan. There again, I just did it for fun, and to make enough money to put me through Japanese language school.

2. How did you get into teacher training? 

It was by accident. I had been teaching for over fifteen years all across the country. After I came back from Japan, I diversified into teaching Japanese concurrently with English at some very reputed management schools. I dabbled in some French language teaching very desultorily as well.

A friend was roping in large numbers of teachers and trainers for an assessment activity and I joined the crowd. That is where I interacted with a huge cross-section of ELT teachers and trainers, and was fascinated by the stories they were exchanging. This led to me thinking about revamping my technique, unlearning my previous teaching style, and taking a language teaching qualification.

The next step was a stint training a small bunch of teachers, and almost immediately after, a training program for the first in a series of large scale education projects. I got thrown in at the deep end, and learnt to swim the hard way.

3. What does teacher training involve and who do you generally train? 

Teacher training is a very broad term and doesn’t reflect the more complex parameters of the job.

If you look at it superficially, it means delivering modules or specific training materials over a specific period to a group of teachers. This could mean skilling them up in various aspects of language, or customising the course to meet their specific, pre-determined needs. The length could vary from two weeks to two years. This is just the top layer. If you peeled away the veneer, you would find that it involves many more levels of skills and empathy.

I train teachers across levels – primary, secondary, tertiary, of all ages. Though the bulk of my work is with the government sector, I am involved with other organisations and schools where I train smaller cohorts of teachers. I like to keep in touch with classroom teaching, so there are instances where I might take on an assignment to just teach children. This comes as a refreshing break from training.

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4. What do you enjoy most about working with government school teachers? 

Their enthusiasm and passion, and their humility. They are not jaded. When you see the conditions in which some of them work, they are truly heroes. They are strong on theories about learner centred teaching and can spout Chomsky and Vygotsky at you, but when they find that some techniques can actually be made to work in the classroom, and succeed, there is a child-like wonder and transparency in their response.

There is no gainsaying the fact that some, I would say about 40% of them, are cynical and are in the job just for the financial security it offers. It can get very discouraging while observing such teachers. Nevertheless, the majority are enthusiastic, and handle their students with passion, and sensitivity. Their reactions and responses can be startlingly acute and quite liberal.

The challenges these people face in their classroom environments may seem almost insurmountable when viewed through the lens of an urban educationist. There is no consistent electricity supply in most states, and not very good Internet connectivity. Sometimes, when introducing digital tools and resources, I can feel the resignation emanating from them as I speak. Their technical skills vary from being very competent to not having even an e-mail ID or access to a computer.

I remember some years ago, before smart phones came to rule our lives, how a group of teachers from the far reaches of a rural district formed a motorbike pool and would take turns every weekend travelling about seventy-five kilometres to the nearest town and a cyber parlour to access the internet. They informed me through their very first e-mail sent from that location!

I have a great regard for the Head Teachers I meet. They are really outstanding but embattled men and mostly women, who are beset with problems of every nature and yet manage to sail through the day with ease. They deftly manage teachers, students, irate parents, authorities, and the constant flow of visitors and observers and keep smiling.

I have learnt a lot from just watching them at work.

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5. What are the challenges of working in this context? 

The challenges are numerous, and as I have said earlier, are outweighed largely by the motivation demonstrated by a majority of the teachers.

The lack of motivation and cynicism displayed by the nay-sayers is a major challenge. One has to keep the energy level up, and get them all involved. There are inherent challenges of mindset and societal norms. We have to work around these with some discernment and not hurt their sensibilities. (Grouping, for example, can be a big hurdle).

Sometimes it takes a couple of days of training to make them even start to rethink their attitudes, beginning with just having to get up off their chairs and stand in a circle for a simple ice-breaking activity. Resistance to change is the greatest roadblock. Convincing them to implement change is the consequent roadblock.

Lack of infrastructure and facilities are a given almost everywhere, but each new situation just adds to the experience and learning. It ceases to be a challenge once you know how to innovate.

6. How would you rate training vis-à-vis teaching?

This could be a topic for a thesis. Anyway, just to talk through the bare bones of the comparison:

  • Well, they both require the same basic qualities of energy, passion, motivation and stamina, and of course intensive preparation. However, many trainers tend to blur the lines between training and teaching. They tend to deviate into teaching, while trying to exemplify concepts.
  • I think we need to remember, as trainers, that we are teaching adults who come with a set of fossilised practices which you are going to be enhancing, changing or challenging. Their schemata will have to be consolidated by practice in the training room.
  • A teacher clarifies content and concepts to the student. She doesn’t need to explain the principles behind her technique, as they are implicit.
  • A trainer has to deal with teachers who come with a bank of knowledge and experience. Hence the trainer needs to respect that knowledge, but at the same time consciously articulate the principles of the technique or concepts. The trainer’s task is therefore far more demanding. You become an agent of change and that sets you at a disadvantage to begin with.

7. What professional development advice would you offer to Indian education professionals who aspire to facilitate teacher training in state or institutional contexts? 

  • Read up on national and state level education policies and the curricula of various states.
  • Be familiar with their academic patterns.
  • Be prepared to feel frustrated and helpless.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be prepared to relearn your so-painstakingly acquired academic knowledge and adapt to totally different contexts.
  • All the theories will start making sense only after some gruelling days out in the sticks.

Be excited about what you do always and never lose sight of the ultimate outcome. Motivation is contagious. If you have it, you infect your learners.

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One of the little perks of doing teacher training on government projects is that you get to see unexplored parts of the country like these 2500 year old Jain Caves in the Samanar Hills, a stone’s throw from a venue that I trained at.

If you have questions for Meena, please put them into the comments section and I’ll pass them on to her.