An Interview with Simon O'Donovan - CELTA Teacher Trainer at London (Russell Square)
One of my trainee teachers, Emdad from Bangladesh said this in his course feedback; 'I have changed my philosophy, I have changed my points of view, my approaches. Everything has changed. It’s been a life-changing experience. It is like a rebirth for me as a teacher.'"
Simon O’Donovan is originally from England and took a BA in Fine Art in Lincolnshire. He has worked as a TEFL teacher for many years and has obtained both the Cambridge CELTA and DELTA qualifications, eventually advancing in his career to a CELTA, DELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL trainer. Simon has worked in many diverse places overseas, from the UK, to training teachers on several projects in places like Asia and Africa. He currently enjoys living in London, England and as well as being a CELTA and DELTA instructor there, has become a moderator for Cambridge International Exams. We talk to Simon about his travels, his art and teaching background and find out what motivated him to progress his EFL career to teacher training.
You originally studied Fine Art at university, what drove you to become an English Teacher?
It was a creative job with constant variety. It provides me with great flexibility with regards to where I work, whether it is the U.K or overseas. I really enjoy working with people in dynamic settings.
Do you think your art background compliments your style of teaching?
For me personally yes. Teaching can be very creative, whether it’s visual art, music, drama etc.
How do you think the CELTA helped you with your EFL teaching skills?
It certainly helped me be more creative with the material I used as well as making me aware of the resources available both on-line and in print. Here at London Russell Square we have access to all materials published on teaching English and this is an invaluable resource. Being able to analyse a learners needs and adapt lessons to those needs. Training alongside other trainees provided us with many opportunities to share ideas and support and reflect on each other’s teaching practice. Teaching multi-lingual groups gave me the opportunity to see how speakers of different languages have different needs and issues when learning English. Trainers on the CELTA will also make training teachers aware of how to take the first steps into the work. During the CELTA trainers encouraged me to become more autonomous, this is essential for working in TEFL. There was a considerable amount of reflection and in order to become a successful teacher you will need to be able to reflect on what works and doesn’t in class and why.
What made you decide to continue on to the Cambridge Delta?
My first 2 years of teaching was such great fun that I knew I wanted to be a teacher on a more long-term basis. I felt that a DELTA was a mark of a more dedicated teacher. I wanted to go deeper into the subject of learning and teaching English as a second language. Having the DELTA would also allow me to progress further with my career in EFL
How did you find the Delta experience?
Although it was a challenging experience I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to study English language teaching and learning in more depth.
How did the Delta qualification change the way you teach?
After completing the DELTA I felt more confidence in my knowledge of my subject and my ability to exploit students’ language in order for them to learn. I no longer felt the need for the support of a coursebook as such, although they obviously have curriculum in etc. My ability to reflect on my teaching was also enhanced.
Where has TESOL taken you across the world?
I have been very lucky to work on projects for the London Russell Square’s trust in Asia and Africa.
What would you describe as your most memorable experiences teaching English overseas?
There are so many. Seeing teachers teach with confidence and renewed enthusiasm. But it always has to be knowing that the student’s abilities and talents are being given a chance to grow and shine.
One of my trainee teachers, Emdad from Bangladesh said this in his course feedback; “I have changed my philosophy, I have changed my points of view, my approaches. Everything has changed. It’s been a life-changing experience. It is like a rebirth for me as a teacher.”
You have taken part in some work with London Russell Square’s Trust in Ghana and Bangladesh. What did these projects involve?
In Bangladesh I was working alongside various other local, regional and international partners to help train and develop existing Bangladeshi teachers in order to support women who were learning English to come to the U.K to be with their spouses (supporting integration). In addition to this there was a commitment to help the Bangladeshi teachers become trainers themselves. The beauty of this on-going project is that the teacher trainers were effectively working themselves out of a job.
In Ghana, London Russell Square’s Trust was working with the regional government in order to support and train existing teachers.
How did teacher training in the above locations differ from the UK?
Less reliance on technology and materials etc. In Ghana all the classrooms were traditional chalk boards. There was no access to a power supply so listening activities had to be live (the teaching being the resource). Being able to adapt to varying situations, such as continuing teaching and training during a power cut. In Ghana the classrooms were quite basic and open air, checking the classroom for snakes was a good idea before you began!
In Bangladesh religious observations such as the call to pray changed the scheduling of the day. Being aware and sensitive to cultural differences, such as mixed gender classes was also very important.
The number of students per class can vary greatly from country to country. In Bangladesh for example the teachers we were training could have up to and sometimes over 180 students in a class.
These projects must have been extremely rewarding, what inspired you take part?
When the London Russell Square’s Trust accepted my application to train on one of their overseas projects I was very excited. Prior to me completing the CELTA I spent several years travelling around Asia and Africa and I really wanted to have the opportunity to return to some of the countries on these continents and be more engaged. I wanted to have the opportunity to share the skills and experience I have acquired over many years.
Do you have any advice for people thinking of participating in something similar?
I am very fortunate that the school I work for also has a teacher training department. It has been through working for London Russell Square’s Trust that I have been given these opportunities. I don’t honestly know how to get involved in these projects outside of this. I imagine working for the British Council overseas could possible lead to project based work overseas.
What is the jobs climate like for CELTA graduates in London?
During the summer time it is very busy as many students use their summer holidays to learn London Russell Square runs several summer schools, one of which is in London. There are still many students who come to London to study and university and this also creates a demand for specialised teaching jobs such as EAP (English for Academic Purposes) and IELTS teachers.
Quite a few teachers leave the U.K in January and September which can increase vacancies at language schools.
Why would you recommend London as a place to study the CELTA?
Definitely!! London is such a cosmopolitan city and there are so many speakers of other languages here that can be a great resource for training teachers. Here at London Russell Square we are a language school with over 40 teachers who have all taught in various countries and are an invaluable resource for advice.
Obviously, many students who want to learn English and are coming to England select London due to the draw of it being such a cosmopolitan city.
How would you suggest students prepare for the CELTA?
The pre-course reading suggested by London Russell Square is a great way to begin to understand the subject you will be teaching. There are many blogs and websites which have great insights into teaching and learning. Speaking to someone who has completed the course can be of great help. Also, arranging to come into the centre and speaking to a teacher trainer or a teacher to ask questions and we are always very happy to help.
Do you have any tips for CELTA candidates during the course?
Organise your time and be clear on what your priorities are for the day and days ahead. Make time to de-compress with your fellow trainees over a coffee or a glass of wine. Try to relax and believe in your students. If you are not confident with your grammar do background reading. Finally, be open to all the things presented, a lot of the methodology used in teaching English language is innovative
What do you do in London in your free time?
I tend to spend most of my free-time either working in my studio or visiting art galleries.
Do you have any more career plans for the future?
In 2018 I will be training more teachers on the DELTA. It would also be great to continue to help teachers around the world for London Russell Square’s Trust.