I joined the course looking for a way to learn something new, but I came out having found my passion … my calling.
I am interested in the professional experiences of former CELTA trainees for lots of different reasons. It might be because of their academic backgrounds, their prior teaching experiences or the sorts of jobs they end up in. With Vaidehi, it was her single-mindedness about going to the UK to do an MA. As she mentions in her interview, she’s a bit of a workshop junkie and that’s how we met 🙂 I remember her asking me about Master’s programmes on a workshop for YL teachers that we’d both participated in. A couple of months later, I found her on a CELTA course I was tutoring on. On the course, Vaidehi decided to do a degree in TESOL instead of literature which is what she’d been gunning for initially.
Although I’d made a mental note to check in with her, I never got around to it. So you can imagine my surprise when I found her working the registration desk at the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool. Clearly, Vaidehi had been busy in the year and a half since she’d done the CELTA. She’s about to finish an MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL and it sounds like she wants to do another one!
What motivated you to do the CELTA?
While I was in degree college, I attended many learning and teaching workshops. The first course I ever attended was about teaching through the art of storytelling. Learning about this amazing pedagogy made me realise how such a simple shift in the traditional chalk and talk method can create a huge difference and make the process more interesting for learners. Soon, I took every opportunity that came my way and attended various workshops that taught different methodologies for effective teaching. I was introduced to CELTA through one of my mom’s colleague. I did some research to find out more about this course and was soon blown away by all that the course entailed. By now I was getting quite serious about my passion and when I realised that this internationally recognized qualification would be my gateway for getting into the world of ELT, I grabbed the opportunity and got enrolled at the earliest.
You did the CELTA at the British Council in Bombay. What were your expectations and did your experience on the course meet these expectations?
Going in, I had this idea that I would be trained by these incredibly talented mentors/tutors to apply different strategies and approaches while teaching. I was in it for the fun. I was in it for learning. And most importantly, I was in it for the experience. I was warned about the demanding nature of the course and that I wouldn’t be really getting much time for anything else while on it. I guess I really underestimated this advice!
During the first week, I got a gist of how packed the next three weeks were going to be. I had never been on any kind of formal pre-service teacher training course before, nor did I have any teaching experience before doing the CELTA. Everything I learnt on this course was new to me. We were pushed hard. It was demanding. But the fruits we reaped were sweet!
Today when I look back, all I can think of is that the power-packed structure of the course helped me more than anything. It just made all of us do the work and fight deadlines. The CELTA polished us to some extent and prepared us to do things like lesson planning or evaluating/adapting materials which we as teachers will be required to always do on the job. I would say that the CELTA beat us all into shape. What running 5 miles daily for a month will do to your physique, the CELTA will do for your mind.
The course encouraged us all to reflect on all that we did, a concept I had never really done back in school or even in degree college. As a student doing the CELTA and as a teacher now, reflection has helped me analyse and monitor my own activities. It is a never-ending process and only gets better with time.
To sum up, I would say I joined the course looking for a way to learn something new, but I came out having found my passion … my calling.
Why did you decide to do an MA in TESOL so soon after your CELTA?
English isn’t my L1. At home, we spoke in our L1 and I learnt English at school. However, at school English was always taught to us as a subject and never as a language. Though I am able to communicate well in English, I believe I can do better, read more and adopt various ways of improving my language. With globalization English has become the lingua franca and therefore, its importance has increased exponentially.
I have seen students who’ve been in English-as-a-medium of instruction (EMI) schools for over 10 years, struggling to speak in English. I wanted to know what the difference was between studying English as a subject with a set syllabus and learning it as a language. I thought this Master’s programme would help me fill this gap in my understanding.
Teaching and making a career out of it immediately wasn’t on my list.
To what extent has the CELTA helped you with your Master’s? What sort of backgrounds do your peers on the course have? Have they also done an initial certificate course?
The teaching approaches that we were introduced to on the CELTA are key literature on the MA. So I already had something to contribute when we talked about the text-based or task-based approach or other such things. We have a core module called Advanced teaching practice- a reflective practitioner. On this module, we’ve had to teach students (Erasmus and residents of Durham) and we were required to make lesson plans and were asked to keep a reflective diary. The little things like TTT vs STT or accuracy vs fluency which I first looked at on the CELTA were a topic for detailed discussion here. For me, planning lessons (keeping in mind the students’ needs) was easier when compared to my peers. I was quite comfortable using different approaches while planning my lessons. We are a bunch of 12 students on the Applied Linguistics Programme of whom only three have CELTAs. Eight of them are from China (of course!) with around 2-3 years of teaching experience. Three of them are from England with around 7-8 years of teaching experience.
Tell us about your Master’s programme. What have been the highs and lows so far?
When I compare it to the programmes my friends are on (like law, creative writing or business studies), my course is really very busy. The idea of having lectures just twice/thrice a week is not true for my course. There were days during the first and the second term where I had lectures and seminars for 6 hours back to back. The ongoing pressure of doing one thing after another is a constant. We had to make lesson plans, teach, attend long hours and read intensively. I thought I might skip reading but since we are a small class, our teachers always asked us questions to understand our knowledge after reading. So, it was quite busy.
I had never done academic writing before and the way we are assessed in India is very very very different from the way we are assessed here. Initially, I had issues with citations and referencing. Each department has a different guideline for referencing at Durham University, but with the support of my department, I got it right. Also, I would suggest (which I did to the University too) that we should have formatives for the core modules. Feedback from the formatives would be of tremendous help before we submit our final assignments.
A lot of ELT professionals are reluctant to invest time, money and effort in an MA programme because they’re apprehensive about what they might get out of it. What are the benefits of doing an MA in TESOL? Has it changed your beliefs about teaching? Has there been an impact on your teaching practice?
Well, there were times I thought “what are we learning?” Or are we learning enough? But having talked to my Indian friends about how we feel about our respective programmes, I understood that each of us believed that we were not taught enough. Having reflected on it, I feel we are so used to spoon feeding and rote learning that when we actually understand things by reading or discussing it, we feel nothing/not enough is done. But now if I have to talk about something, I have so much to share and talk about.
As I mentioned earlier, my aim was to learn and understand how the same language is taught and learnt across different countries. The literature that I read here is based on teaching and learning in various contexts. The context where I have taught is quite different due to obvious reasons, but much of the knowledge I’ve acquired can be applied in my context. I might have to adapt it or modify it but the different methods, approaches and teaching patterns I learnt about will help me teach the English language in a more fun way where I could also measure the results using the tools I read about.
What are the advantages of doing a face-to-face programme? Are there any drawbacks?
Though the online programme is easier to access and one can do it at his/her own pace, I would say go for a face-to-programme for sure. The face-to-face programme enables you to learn from your peers and I strongly believe that peer-teaching is really helpful. There can be times when your tutors are not available, you can always reach out to your peers who might be as confused as you are and the entire class can come up with some sort of a solution. Also, studying as a full-time student in any University helps you grow in many ways and not to forget the access to the library! I am not sure, but I don’t think students taking online programme have access to a massive university library.
I can’t think of any real drawbacks but it can ‘sometimes’ be challenging to attend a 9 am lecture back to back for three consecutive days. Either reach late or go hungry.
How have you found the experience of living in the UK as a student? How’s life in Durham?
My friend Jason who I met on the CELTA told me about Durham University (he graduated in 1998 from Durham) and I can’t thank him enough for actually pushing me to choose Durham University over the University of Birmingham. I was afraid that I might feel lonely as Durham is such a small county and I am from the city that actually never sleeps, But I was wrong. After coming to Durham I realised how much value this University holds in the UK and is in the league of Cambridge and Oxford. In fact, it is the third oldest university in England. Life in Durham is beyond beautiful and I can’t really put what I feel into words. I feel so emotional every time I talk about this place. We don’t have a campus here. Durham is a collegiate town and is extremely safe for students. As a student, life is quite good. We have many college events and different societies that keep hosting events through the year. Transportation, food, and shopping is quite economical and affordable. It’s a place you can never get tired of.
Besides the reading and coursework for the MA, how have you been developing yourself professionally?
I attend various workshops/talks organised by other departments if I find the topic interesting and or of relevance to me. I also attended the 53rd IATEFL Conference in Liverpool this year which was a key milestone for me. I was a steward there and after my working hours, I was allowed to attend the talks and sessions. This experience helped me immensely. I feel grateful for having gotten a chance to meet authors whose books I’ve been reading. This experience cannot be put into words and I look forward to attending the next IATEFL conference in Manchester.
Where are you headed to next (after graduating)?
I am in two minds, to be honest. I have been selected for an English teaching job in the UAE. So I might go ahead with it or do another degree in Education just to understand teaching and learning in a broader sense, something that’s not limited to English language teaching. Working and getting international work experience is on my list for sure but I am unsure about whether I should work after completing this Masters or study further and then work.