“Seriously, what am I doing?!” This is the question which I asked myself, with an apprehensive smile on my face, as I stepped off the train into a bustling market on a warm spring day in April 2016. I had a battered, bright red suitcase, a backpack which was way too heavy, and practically no knowledge of anywhere – or anyone – in the magnificent city of Barcelona. I would experience this feeling several times again during the next few years, in other parts of the world. I loved that feeling every time. I still do.
After graduating from the University of Birmingham in 2010 with a degree in Political Science, I began working as a clerk in the legal industry. A typical day involved firing out several emails per hour at lightning speed, and regularly speaking with lawyers, court staff, and members of the public on the telephone. It was a fast-paced, office-based role and one, which, in hindsight, helped me to develop my own English language skills. After all, drafting a brief email to the staff at the High Court requires a different register and vocabulary from that which you use when chatting with a long-standing client, nurturing a professional relationship and building rapport with them.
My time as a clerk provided me with fantastic life experience, not to mention a priceless opportunity to develop my communication skills. However, five years had quickly passed; I was now approaching 27 years old and teaching English to speakers of other languages was something which I had wanted to do since my university days.
I had one of those ‘now or never’ moments which occasionally like to pop up in our lives, filling us with anxiety and excitement in equal amount. Some early communications with Oxford TEFL made them stand out to me as an excellent provider of professional qualifications for the ELT (English Language Teaching) industry. Furthermore, in what better city could I begin this new adventure than Barcelona – the city of such splendid architecture, a rich and proud Catalan culture, and (at the time) Leo Messi regularly playing football in the city stadium?!
A few months later, I had a one-way ticket to Barcelona booked, which brings us to the opening paragraph of this blog post. So, what was I doing there? I had enrolled with Oxford TEFL in Barcelona on their initial teacher qualification course, the Trinity College London accredited, CertTESOL. (Oxford TEFL now provides its Cambridge equivalent, the CELTA.) It was an intensive course, but the intensity was alleviated by the supportive atmosphere of the school and its people.
I remained in Barcelona for over a year after that, teaching in a busy language school. I had a brief ‘break’, teaching at a hectic but highly enjoyable summer school in Malta too. My teacher colleagues in Barcelona became lifelong friends with whom I still communicate regularly. Since then, I have taught in a variety of contexts, from a ‘Global English’ programme at the University of Kanagawa in Japan, to several short-term contracts as a ‘travelling teacher’ in Austria, visiting schools and colleges across the country.
I have also found opportunities back in my home country of the UK. Since 2019, I have spent roughly half of each year teaching EAP (English for Academic Purposes) to international students at the University of Birmingham – back where it all started, where I was once a student too! In between these contracts, I have taught in language schools in Birmingham, and have also found myself in full-time study again, taking the next step in teacher qualifications with the Cambridge DELTA. I began the DELTA in late 2019 and received my certificate in March of this year, after many months of hard study – many of them during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020!
I acknowledge that for many people around the world, the prospect of beginning a journey like this – studying, working and living in so many amazing parts of the world – is something which would be incredibly difficult to realise. Despite the sometimes precarious nature of many employment contracts in ELT, I feel fortunate to have entered this industry and to have had these experiences during the last five years. I look forward to continuing to play my small part in helping to facilitate communication between people from different backgrounds and cultures. You can play your part too! There is a thriving community of practice within ELT and if you are considering becoming a teacher and doing a CELTA course, for instance, then all I can say is – congratulations! The very fact that you are reading this blog post means that you are already part of this community.
Before you start though, here are my three top tips to help you on your way!
Do all the pre-reading before you start your teacher training course – and enjoy it!
Initial teacher qualifications such as the CertTESOL or CELTA each last for roughly four weeks. This sounds like a very short amount of time (albeit intensive) but to do these courses justice, it must be noted that the study starts well before day one. Whether you have been given pre-course tasks to complete, or simply a reading list, my advice is to get started now! The practice of English Language Teaching is a fascinating cross-over between language, pedagogy, culture, communication, technology, and more! There will be something that catches your eye and sparks a genuine interest, so get stuck in and start studying now!
When you start writing lesson plans, don’t get too stressed over timings.
I will explain this tip in a little more detail. As an example to demonstrate what I mean, when I was studying with Oxford TEFL, I remember often spending an eternity thinking about how to fill a ten-minute slot at the end of my lesson plan. Twenty, thirty, even forty minutes would pass while I was contemplating what to do, and I would still have this ‘big’ ten-minute slot which was empty in my lesson plan. It hardly seems efficient, does it?
On one hand, it could be argued that this was time well spent on considering and reflecting upon my knowledge of what makes a successful lesson. However, the key word in this tip is don’t get too stressed over it. Why? Your students will ask questions. Your students may want to chat about something. Lessons change. You can’t plan every single minute. This becomes easier as you get to know your students – and get to know yourself too, as a teacher. For me personally, I usually anticipate that around 20% of the lesson time may be lost to ‘the great unknown’, i.e. emerging learner needs, longer explanations, chats which are off-topic (but are nonetheless potentially motivating and fun), and just general distractions or technical hitches.
As already mentioned, there is a thriving community of ELT professionals out there, from teachers and researchers, to those who are involved in writing, publishing, instructional design, and even cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality. Connect with others on social media sites (such as LinkedIn or Instagram), explore blogs, seek online webinars and other opportunities to listen to the experiences of others. It may seem daunting at first, but it can make your day when you receive a friendly reply from someone. Besides, you might just make someone else’s day by sending them a message!
On that note, please feel free to reach out to me too! I am active on LinkedIn and you can find my profile by clicking here. Whether you are considering starting your career in ELT, as I did with Oxford TEFL back in 2016, or you are an experienced ELT professional and just want to say hi, I would be delighted to hear from you!
Finally, if you find yourself in Barcelona one day, or any city for that matter, or even in a quiet space at home, studying online in a virtual classroom with other budding language teachers from all around the world, you too may find yourself asking the question: “What am I doing?!” My last piece of advice is simple: embrace that moment. An exciting world awaits.
Would you like to gain an internationally recognised qualification to teach English as a foreign language anywhere in the world? The Cambridge CELTA is your fist step into a rewarding career as an English teacher and is requested by around 75% of employers worldwide.
Get in touch with us at [email protected] to find out more or apply via the course page above.