What is life like after a CELTA course?
What is life like after a CELTA course? What can a CELTA graduate do? Where do they go? What opportunities are available to them? What is the next step for a CELTA graduate in terms of career development?
I spoke to Chris Redmond, a CELTA graduate from 2012 to find out.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First off, tell me when was it you did the CELTA here with us at UCC?
My pleasure! I did the CELTA at UCC from January-March 2012. Can’t believe it was so long ago!
What are your memories of that? Was it really as intensive as they say?
My memories of doing the CELTA are extremely positive. In fact, I would say, without doubt or hesitation, that my decision to do the CELTA was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I made the decision to apply for it back in October 2011 and it was at a point where I was going through a lot of uncertainty in my life. I finished my MA in Film Studies in December 2010, but after graduating, I wasn’t sure what the next step was going to be. I explored the possibility of doing a PhD in Film Studies, but the CELTA option was always there, and I decided one Sunday in October 2011 to just go ahead and apply for it. I remember feeling a renewed sense of purpose and I couldn’t wait to begin.
Because of my part-time job, I opted for the 10-week course, which is far less intensive than the 4-week option. Nevertheless, it was a demanding and very challenging 10 weeks, during which I learned an enormous amount about methodology, classroom management, lesson planning, materials design, and so on. A lot of material was covered during those 10 weeks but it was always exciting and I finished each day inspired to put our input sessions into practice. I would even go so far as to say that I have never learned so much in 10 weeks. To this day, I use the methodology learned during the course, and it provided me with the perfect foundation on which to launch my teaching career.
So, you got your CELTA back in 2012, what was your first intention?
My first intention was to begin teaching as soon as possible, and, within days of finishing the CELTA, I began working at ACET (Active Centre of English Training) in Cork City. However, I knew it was only going to be a temporary thing, and I actually wanted to work in Spain. In May 2012, I attended a TEFL workshop in Cordoba to see about finding a job there. Unfortunately, that didn’t bear fruit, so it was time to consider Option 2: South Korea.
Tell us about the process of securing a teaching position in South Korea.
Well, I first applied through a recruitment company that didn’t follow through on their initial response, but I then found a more reliable company called Gone2Korea. The application process was stressful at times, to be honest! I was applying to work for EPIK, the public school teaching program, and it took a long time to get all the documents together to post over to them. I think the whole process – from my initial Skype meeting with the recruiter through to being offered a contract – took about 3 months. They needed notarized copies of my degrees, a criminal background check, passport copy, university transcripts and various other things, including my CELTA cert. The final package I sent to them contained about 80 pages, as they wanted double copies of everything. So it was pretty drawn out. However, the elation I felt when I was finally accepted made it all worthwhile. And I haven’t looked back since.
Very often, when we get students coming to us to learn English from overseas, we can see that they struggle at the start with adapting to a new culture. What was it like for you as a teacher in a new country?
Surprisingly enough, I felt I adapted quite quickly. I don’t remember feeling any culture shock, even though I couldn’t speak the language. All EPIK teachers had to attend a 1-week orientation program before we started teaching, which will certainly go down as one of the best weeks of my life. I got off the plane and was suddenly in the middle of a large group of EPIK teachers who had also made this move, so there was definitely that sense of everyone being in it together. We had such a great time during that orientation week and I was one of about 300 teachers (I think) being placed in Daegu. The advantage of that was, by the time I got to Daegu, I already had a large network of people in that community. The staff in my school were very nice too, so no, I didn’t really experience any homesickness or culture shock.
Starting off in your new job, how much did your CELTA training help you?
It helped an awful lot. I remember we had to do a demo lesson during our orientation week and my observer asked me if I had taught EFL before. When I answered in the affirmative, he said, “It shows.” So that was a nice confidence boost at the beginning! In my high school classes, I used staple CELTA techniques, like asking concept-checking questions, reducing TTT (teacher-talking time), using effective body language, speaking slowly, etc. It was noticeable that those who hasn’t received CELTA training talked way too much during their teaching demos. Doing a CELTA equipped me with all kinds of classroom skills that I continue to use to this day.
Were there things you think the CELTA course had not prepared you for?
A CELTA can obviously never really prepare you for the cultural differences that await you in the classroom. Sure, you can learn about, for example, how to make classes more student-centered, but in a culture like Korea, where students are much more used to the teacher doing all the talking, communicative approaches to language teaching are often at odds with the way they’ve been educated. In that sense, I feel that CELTA courses are designed with a European classroom in mind, where students tend to be more outgoing and chatty.
I also feel that one of the biggest problems I’ve encountered is a lack of motivation from many of my students. It’s not hard to see why. Korean students are under relentless pressure to get a high score in their final exam, and a high English score is often the key to acceptance into a good university. There is almost no communication between the students in English class, and the preferred method of instruction remains grammar translation. If you take a look inside a Korean English classroom, you’ll see almost no evidence that it’s a language class. It may as well be a Maths or Science lesson. Students begin to resent English for all the pressure associated with it, and as a result, motivation is often low. I don’t think the CELTA really prepares you for this kind of thing.
Would you agree with the old adage: there’s no substitute for experience? Is this true about teaching?
Experience is invaluable, as it is in any profession, but you need to be equipped with knowledge of teaching practice. No matter how experienced you are, if you haven’t taken training courses in your profession, I think there will always be some holes in your practice. For example, I have a colleague who just recently took his CELTA, and even after 10 years of teaching he found that the CELTA opened his eyes to how language classes ought to be taught. Despite his experience, then, he still had much to gain from doing a formal training course like the CELTA.
In the years since the CELTA you have continued to study and develop professionally. Can you tell us what motivates you to do this?
Well, the biggest reason, I suppose, is that I really like teaching English and want to keep getting better at it. I decided during the CELTA, actually, that I wanted to make a career of it. I recall one of our tutors reassuring us at different times during the course that we didn’t need to go into any more depth on a particular language point because “this is not an MA in Applied Linguistics”. Well, I remember thinking, “I want to know more about this!”, so I began my MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL in September 2014 after almost 2 years of trawling through courses to see which one was the most suitable. I went with Leicester in the end because of the flexibility they offered with their online option, as well as the wide range of modules available to students. I’ve also been presenting at national and international conferences inside and outside Korea, in order to continue growing and developing as a teacher.
Tell us about your classes?
I teach university students and elementary school students in the language center of our university. All freshmen must undergo a 3-week Intensive English program in this center. We run these programs throughout the year, and for each session we have 3 groups of students. I teach a presentation skills class, a TOEIC speaking class, and a Digital Storytelling class. Motivation can be a problem for these students because, if nothing else, they have to attend our course after their regular on-campus classes. I sympathize, to a certain extent. We also run a children’s program where we teach elementary students for twice a week for 2 hours. This is not my favourite part of my job, but it’s how the center makes its money, basically! Sometimes, I also teach non-credit classes for college staff who want to improve their speaking skills. Speaking is certainly the biggest weakness for Korean learners, as they almost never get the chance to develop these skills in school.
What do you feel your strengths and weaknesses in teaching are?
That’s a good question. In terms of strengths, I think I speak in a clear and comprehensible way. Even with low-level classes, I rarely have any trouble being understood. Adapting your speech according to the level you teach is more difficult than it may seem, but I think I’m quite good at it. I also feel I have become much better at organizing and managing communicative activities, and I always try to provide strong scaffolding for my students before they begin an activity.
As for my weaknesses, I feel my knowledge of language testing could be improved, as any test I write is normally based on instinct rather than theoretical knowledge. I’m not sure if I test each student according to a class standard or individual standard. When grades are important, this is a potentially serious weakness that I need to rectify. I would also like to be a better motivator of weaker students. Some would argue that this goes beyond the teacher, but I think I could definitely improve in this area.
What are your long-term plans? Coming back to Ireland, maybe?
As much as my family would like that to happen, I don’t think it is on the horizon for me! In fact, this February I will be moving to China to teach English for Academic Purposes at International College Beijing, a college jointly set up by China Agricultural University and the University of Colorado at Denver. In the long-term, I hope to settle in Hong Kong or Singapore, but I am pretty flexible, really. My girlfriend is a college English teacher in China, but like me, she is open to settling somewhere else. So we’ll see what the future brings! I will probably do the PhD at some point if I start doing more research.
We are coming to the end of a CELTA course at the moment. What advice would you give to our trainees as they set out on their TEFL careers?
I would say that if you want to make a career out of this, always be prepared to reflect on your teaching practice. One way of doing this is to make a teaching diary or development folder in Google Docs or somewhere like that. Ask yourself at the end of the lesson what went well and what didn’t, and then try to figure out why. Don’t just pack up and go home. Take a few mins to update your teaching diary before heading to the pub! 😉
Doing an advanced degree in TESOL would be a huge help, too, and you don’t even have to leave your job for that nowadays, as there are so many online MA TESOL programs you can do with reputable universities, like Leicester, Nottingham or Birmingham. You could also do the Delta as a follow-up to your CELTA.
I would also encourage you to join a teaching group in your community. In Korea we have a really vibrant association of English teachers called KOTESOL, and they are always having conferences where teachers get together to present the results of their research or conduct workshops. If nothing else, you’ll immediately feel more connected to the English teaching community and your social life will improve dramatically! I think having a network of friends and colleagues is very important when you’re living and teaching in a foreign country, so get involved in any way you can. There are also numerous Facebook groups you could join, the best of which, in my opinion, is Teacher Voices. Put your heart into teaching and it’ll be a very rewarding job.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this with us, Chris. Would like to wish you all the best as you continue in your teaching career.
If you would like to know more about our teacher training courses, all information is available here.