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Where are you now? Graduate story: Lucy Parsonson

CELTA course Barcelona

Lucy is originally from New Zealand and she completed our 4-week face-to-face CELTA course in Barcelona in August 2017. Lucy appeared in our CELTA course interview and then moved to Buenos Aires to teach English. Now back in New Zealand, we caught up with her to find out more about how the CELTA qualification has been a positive move for her, professionally and personally.

After you graduated from the CELTA, what did you do?

I think for most people when they decide to do the CELTA they’re at a transitory period in their lives. They know they’re ready for a change, but possibly don’t know what their next step will be, or where the CELTA will take them. That was certainly me at least! I didn’t exactly have a plan around where I wanted to teach, or even really have the knowledge of where I could teach in terms of where I could obtain a work visa.

So, after I graduated, I wanted to stay and work in Spain, but realised I couldn’t do that without going home to New Zealand to get the right visa first. From there, I investigated working in Italy and the Czech Republic, but the story was similar. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to fly all the way home and back to wait for a visa. It just goes to show that if you’re considering teaching in Europe but you’re not an EU citizen you really can’t play it by ear, you have to plan ahead. Luckily Oxford TEFL has a visa service so they can help you with your visa applictaion, if you need one.

How easy was it to find work? Where did you look?

I found out that the ease of finding a teaching job really is timing and location dependent. For example, right after I graduated in September 2017, I reached out to Oxford TEFL in Prague and they kindly sent out my CV to a number of schools there. I was truly overwhelmed by the response! I couldn’t believe the huge number of schools who wanted to take me on, despite the fact that I had only just graduated. If only it hadn’t been for my visa woes!

Compare this to New Zealand, where there’s a lot of people able to teach English and relatively few schools. Needless to say, I’ve had very little luck here so far.

In the end, my first teaching job was in sunny Costa Rica. Spoiler alert, it actually rains a lot there! After a CELTA friend had mentioned wanting to move to Costa Rica, I started looking into teaching there too. After some superficial research into English schools in Costa Rica, I realised the industry was very undeveloped. Despite this, I got an interview over Skype with the school that seemed to have the most online presence, and shortly afterward I saw most of my remaining savings disappear on a one-way ticket to Latinoamérica.

Where have you been working? What is/ was it like?

My first teaching job was in San José, Costa Rica’s capital city. Working for this school, I quickly realised that the English teaching landscape in Costa Rica was not only undeveloped, but also unregulated. Essentially, the school wasn’t interested in maintaining international English institute standards. My first class there was observed, and the only feedback I got was “Great class, but your skirt is too short.” On top of this, the pay was ridiculously low compared with the cost of living in San José, (which was comparable to that of New Zealand).

It didn’t take me long to decide it really wasn’t the place for me, and I flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Again, I kind of played it by ear as I didn’t have a job lined up before my departure. Months before, I had emailed a language school in Buenos Aires about potential jobs there. Things fell into place when I arrived in the country and they emailed back to ask if I was available for an interview!

Working at this language school was a world apart from my Costa Rican experience. The school is a world-class institute, with experienced teachers that are passionate and very good at their jobs. I always felt I could ask someone if I was ever unsure about something.

Overall I loved my year of teaching there and I felt very supported, although there were a few miscommunications from management about teaching feedback. Another downside would have been the hours – there were some long days!

For a full-time teacher, it was standard to have two days a week with classes scheduled from 9 am to 9 pm. That required some serious mental and physical strength.

How did the CELTA prepare you for your first teaching job?

On the whole I felt that the biggest benefit I got from the CELTA was knowledge of class staging and understanding the logical flow of a class. Another big takeaway for me was making sure my lessons are student-centered. I think that can be a big challenge for some newer teachers (including me) who tend to talk more in class due to nerves. In practice, I realised that silence is an integral part of a good class. Students need time to process the information presented – just because they’re not interacting with each other doesn’t mean the class isn’t student-centered.

Are you still in touch with the others on your course?

I am, I actually miss them a lot! From what I hear, most of them are still living and working in Barcelona. They’re such a great group of people and I really miss our hangouts. I would go to Barcelona again just to see them.

In which ways do you feel your teaching has improved during your first year as a teacher?

I would say in two noticeable ways. On the one hand, I gained a lot more confidence in my teaching. This came from dealing with so many different types of students and classes, from privates, to exam classes to workshops.

Otherwise, I would say that my technical knowledge also improved hugely. Teachers who learned English as a second language have the advantage of understanding it from a technical perspective, making it much easier to teach. I found that I was studying grammatical rules as I went through the syllabus, a bit like my students! After a year of teaching the same concepts repeatedly, I felt a lot more comfortable. But I still have a lot to learn.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about taking the CELTA course?

If you don’t have an ELT background, it’s a good idea to find an English language textbook before the course and just look at how they present information. Try to look at a grammar point, a vocabulary point and a skills section (reading, writing, listening or speaking). It’s a good idea to get familiar with textbooks, as a lot of English teaching is taking that information and presenting it as a lesson.

And yes, the rumours are true! The CELTA is extremely stressful (if you’re doing it full-time), but don’t let that scare you. During the course, just keep going. Your tutors want you to pass the course, just stick with it. Personally, I would make sure not to enrol in the course if you’re going through a major life change or emotional period, because during the course there’s very little room for anything else in your life. But don’t worry, if you feel ready, go for it – you’ll be great!

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for 2020 were to come back home to New Zealand after two years travel/working overseas and continue teaching English here. I recently arrived home, but unfortunately, schools here aren’t hiring at the moment due to the Coronavirus, as they rely so heavily on international students who aren’t coming. Needless to say, the whole ELT world is in upheaval at the moment. So for now, I’m keeping my options open and looking forward to the next adventure.

If you would like to gain the most recognised TEFL certification worldwide, apply for the next available 4-week face to face CELTA course in Barcelona! or get in touch for more information.

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