Guus Van Der Made – Head of Teacher Training at Frankfurt, Germany
"My best experience has probably been when an elementary class in Thailand asked me to teach them how to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Three weeks later they took me to a restaurant and sang it for me on my birthday."
Guus van der Made began teaching 13 years ago, after moving away from working as a producer and actor in the Netherlands. He took the Cambridge CELTA in Thailand and later, the Delta in Prague. He has travelled across the globe working as a TESOL teacher, in Georgia, Iran, Vietnam, UK and Czech Republic, just to name a few. Guus has eventually settled in a small village near Frankfurt in Germany with his wife who is also a teacher. We speak to him about his drastic change in career from working in film and theatre to becoming a CELTA Teacher Trainer. He offers advice on how to prepare for the CELTA course and how he got to where he is today.
Did you always think you’d become a teacher?
No, I really never did. I am quite sure my mom is still laughing up there somewhere on a cloud in the heavens. I was quite a difficult kid at school and my wife and I ended up in teaching purely by coincidence. We had been travelling for a few years and wanted to live in Bangkok for a while and somebody advised us to take a CELTA. We didn’t even know what it was. We first took an ‘Introduction to TEFL course’ and liked it so much that we decided to move on to the CELTA.
What made you decide to take the leap from acting and producing to becoming a teacher?
Like I said, it was purely by coincidence. But I liked teaching from the start. In countries like Thailand, especially in the rural areas, you can really enrich people’s life by teaching English.
What gave you the drive to travel?
I had been working in television for almost 25 years and I loved it but it was also stressful and I didn’t have much time for anything else. And when the company I worked for started ‘Big Brother’, I really thought it was time for something else. I had always wanted to travel and as I had some money at the time, we travelled far longer than we ever expected. I haven’t lived in Holland anymore since the year 2000. We left the day after we got married. An extended honeymoon you might say.
How was it taking the CELTA in Thailand, away from home? Do you think being overseas changed your CELTA experience?
"I worked in Asia for a long time and students there can be really grateful for what you can teach them."
No, not the CELTA experience. The CELTA curriculum is the same everywhere and each course is externally moderated by an assessor from Cambridge, which is one of the reasons why I always advice taking a CELTA. Teaching overseas, though, is different. I worked in Asia for a long time and students there can be really grateful for what you can teach them.
How do you think CELTA changed the way you teach? Do you still use the techniques today?
I didn’t have any teaching experience before CELTA so it didn’t change me but I was amazed how much I had learned about teaching in those four weeks. The CELTA is intensive, really intensive, but at the end of the course you really understand the basics of teaching. After that you need to get experience. I always compare CELTA to getting a driver’s license. It will take you 30.000 kilometres before you realize you need to look ahead and you learn to anticipate what is going to happen on the road. In that sense CELTA is the same. Start teaching as soon as possible after you get your certificate, start using the skills you have learned and personalize them, find out what works best for you.
Would you recommend the Delta to experienced teachers?
"The Delta is far more theoretical and not so much hands-on as the CELTA."
Yes, but I immediately add to it that it depends a bit on what you want with your teaching. If you want to move on to, for instance, a position as a Director of Studies, or you want to go into teacher training, the Delta is the best option available. If you want to stay in the classroom, though, there may be other options that are more interesting. The Delta is far more theoretical and not so much hands-on as the CELTA.
How do you think working as a manager in the past has helped your teaching skills?
"Teaching isn’t just about passing on knowledge; it is also about helping and motivating people to achieve their goals."
One of the qualities that you need to become a good teacher is to be able to motivate your students. As a manager I have always believed in making people independent and giving them responsibility for a part of, in my case, the production we were working on. As a teacher you need to try and make your students independent learners who take responsibility for their own learning. Teaching isn’t just about passing on knowledge; it is also about helping and motivating people to achieve their goals.
What was your best EFL teaching experience?
Well, I am glad you aren’t asking any difficult questions. I have been in the TEFL world for 13 years now and so much has happened. My best experience has probably been when an elementary class in Thailand asked me to teach them how to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Three weeks later they took me to a restaurant and sang it for me on my birthday.
What was your favourite place to teach?
I loved teaching in Thailand. Learners are mostly very motivated and enjoy learning. Moreover, a teacher is still highly respected in Asian countries and this makes the teaching a totally different experience than in Europe. And I loved working on summer camps in England. Those kids can drive you crazy but I have also had immense fun with them.
What are your reasons for basing yourself near Frankfurt?
My wife and I had been living in Asia for almost eight years and we felt it was time to go back to Europe. I was asked to run a course for the Frankfurt training centre and the owners and I immediately hit it off. In that time we were still an off-site centre of the Barcelona centre and they asked me to help them to become an independent centre and I just never left. I like living in Germany and it is close to my home country.
What do you do in Frankfurt in your free time?
I don’t really live in Frankfurt. I live about 40km north of the city in a rural area called Hoch Taunus (High Taunus). It is a bit of a mountainous area and I live in a small village in the middle of the woods. I walk a lot with my two dogs and when I am not working on a CELTA, I translate novels for a Dutch publisher from English into Dutch.
What is the jobs climate like for CELTA graduates in Germany?
"There is enough work but you may be working for two different schools."
Very good. Most CELTA graduates have no problems at all finding work, although having a native like pronunciation is a must here. Moreover, you need to realise that Germany is a freelance market for TEFL teachers. There is enough work but you may be working for two different schools.
What are the peak hiring periods for English teachers in Germany?
The period before X-mas and before the summer holidays is always good because a lot of people move in that time. Having said that, in the main cities like Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt there is enough work year round.
What recommendations would you give to those preparing to take the CELTA?
Brush up your language awareness, do your pre-course task and make sure you are well rested. You will need your energy during the course because it really is an intensive course.
What are the best ways of managing the intensive nature of the CELTA course?
"I did my own CELTA thirteen years ago and I am still in contact with some of my peers."
Taking it day-by-day. Don’t worry about next week yet but focus on what you have to do today and plan the writing of the assignments well. Most importantly, though, work well together as a group. The better you work together as a group, the easier it gets. On most courses I see people making friendships that last for life. I did my own CELTA thirteen years ago and I am still in contact with some of my peers. You are all in the same boat.
What advice would you give to people to help them stand out to potential TEFL employers?
If you have a niche, use it! For instance, I had a trainee on one of my courses who had been trained as a pilot. He used that to find himself a job at a trainings centre for pilots. And think well about your motivation. Don’t just write you want to teach. Think well about the country where you want to teach and the customs and needs of that country. For instance, a teacher in Thailand needs to be well-dressed and have to wear a tie and pronunciation is one of their main needs. Use such information to your advantage.
What do you enjoy most about being a CELTA teacher trainer?
The coaching. Like with normal teaching there is the transfer of knowledge in the input sessions but the coaching is certainly just as important. How do you explain to a candidate what went wrong in a lesson, how do you help them to benefit from their strong points, how do you approach them? Each candidate is different and has different needs.
Do you think you’d ever go back to working in film/theatre?
I would love to play a part in a movie or a TV series again but I don’t ever see myself going back to producing. Been there, seen it, did it. But it isn’t very likely to happen and I am not looking for it. I am quite happy with what I am doing now.
What do you think has been your greatest achievement in your career?
Again, I am glad you aren’t asking any difficult questions but I think not getting divorced while we were both doing our part-time Delta for nine months while teaching at the same time. After that my wife and I decided our marriage couldn’t be that bad! Let’s say it was quite stressful.
What are your plans for the future?
"We have got a good team and I love the place where I live."
I don’t really plan ahead that much in life. For the time being I am completely focused on the Frankfurt teacher training centre. I am head of teacher training and centre manager as well so that keeps me occupied enough and I assess courses regularly. It also depends on my wife. We have been travelling around for quite a while and you never know where new changes suddenly pop up. For now, though, I am happy where I am. We have got a good team and I love the place where I live. For now life is good and that is something to enjoy.