Heath has various opportunities at home and abroad thanks to the CELTA course and has just returned to Australia to run CELTA courses in Perth for Lexis TESOL Training Centres. He’s told us a bit about his experiences and why he thinks CELTA provides you with so many new opportunities.
So Heath, how did you first get into English language teaching?
To be honest, I hadn’t really put any thought into it at first – it was mostly just something different to try for a year, maybe two. I guess I was interested in China and TESOL seemed to be a way to visit for a short time. But the experiences in that first year, both of life in Beijing and as an English language teacher, now that really got me hooked. Living in an older part of the city had a big impact, with its almost surreal architecture, like being in two different Chinese kung-fu movies – one set thousands of years ago with ancient temples and another just 50-60 years ago with the dusty, worn buildings of the era of revolution.
More than that, though, it was the people I worked with and the students I taught. It was discovering far more similarities in the personalities and lifestyles of 20-somethings in China and Australia than differences; making good friends with a few students early on; and being lucky enough to work with experienced teachers and trainers who were visiting from Auckland UNITEC, who helped build my curiosity and enthusiasm. It didn’t take long for that ‘something different to try’ to become my dream career.
Why did you choose CELTA over other TESOL courses?
Professionalism and reputation. Everyone I spoke to knew of the course and spoke of it as the kind of course you know is thorough, professional, and prepares new teachers well. And it was true. I’ve since gone on to complete a range of other courses and qualifications related to TESOL, including a specialist diploma considered to be the next step on from the CELTA, online moderator qualifications, and a Masters in Applied Linguistics. Of them all, the CELTA was easily the highlight – the most practical, the most intense, the most support, the greatest sense of achievement, and simply the one that best prepared me for real classroom experiences. Intense really does mean intense, though. Be ready for that!
What did you like about the course?
There was so much that I liked about it, that by narrowing it down to a key point I feel like I’m selling it short. I’d love to talk in detail about, for example: working closely with five other trainee teachers; the support from the tutors; the amazing lessons we observed by experienced teachers; the new ways of thinking about vocabulary, meaning, pronunciation, skills work; and more. But, I would say it’s the practical nature that has to be number one.
From day two, you are teaching real students who are learning English, and roughly 50% of both the contact and self-study hours are centred on that teaching practice. A couple of hours are spent in class either teaching or observing your peers as they teach; and a couple more are spent on reflection, feedback, and supported lesson planning for that teaching. After hours, you spend most of your time working on the lesson plans, looking at coursebooks and supplementary activity books, and thinking about the students’ and their needs and interests. And when it does come to the other 50%, it’s mostly about activities, procedures, and techniques that you can easily envision yourself using in class in the near future.
What career paths are open to people in the TESOL industry?
For those of us most interested in the actual teaching, there are two broad options: teaching and teacher training. There is a lot of flexibility within those options, though. For example, you could focus on general English, academic English, English for business or occupational purposes, English for exams, or English for teens and young learners. You can teach ‘ESL’ in English speaking countries or ‘EFL’ abroad. You can focus on group classes, or one-on-one classes, or live online classes.
Some of the main other options involving examining, management, or materials development. You could become an IELTS examiner. You might move into academic management (Director of Studies), course or school management (Head of School/Project), teacher recruitment, student services, and so on. You could design or develop content for in-house syllabuses, online resources for students, activities and support for other teachers, perhaps even author your own book or app.
Where has TESOL taken you?
Personally, I’ve not really travelled much. The types of situations I’ve had the opportunity to work in have been amazing: a massive, highly efficient, well-organised multi-national company; a tiny, friendly, family-owned school; a privately owned and managed International schools; non-profit organisations; a local government initiative; and more. As for places, just China, Australia, New Zealand and the US for me. But what’s available? Some of my closest colleagues regularly move between, for example, Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Ecuador, California, and Brazil. Sometimes for a month or two, sometimes for several years. Love travel, it’s an option. Love stability, that’s an option too. And the best part is that you get to meet people and learn more about cultures from all over the world either way.
What advice would you give someone considering a career in TESOL?
Have a background in nursing, finance, IT? There are specialist occupational English courses you’ll excel at. Involved in arts or drama? Non-verbal communication is essential when the language you are teaching through is the one the students are trying to learn. Love music? Check out ‘Jazz Chants’. Into graphic design? The students will appreciate smartly designed, easy to read worksheets and handouts. Particularly introverted or extroverted? You have a unique insight into how many of your students feel, which teachers at the other extreme struggle to understand. Play card games or board games in your free time? You’ll love some of the photocopiable activities that are available.
Whatever they are, play up your strengths and interests.
Thanks a lot for sharing your views Heath!