An Interview with Michelle Doherty - Teacher Trainer in the Sunshine Coast
"After meeting some English teachers on a trip to China the idea of teaching English took root and thankfully – I went with it."
Michelle Doherty is originally from Australia and has been working in TEFL since she took the CELTA in 2003 in Brisbane. Her TESOL career brought her to Prague, where she taught English and then, after taking her Delta, progressed up to a Main Course Tutor. She is now back in her Australia, working as CELTA Teacher Trainer at our beautiful Sunshine Coast location in Queensland. We speak to Michelle about her experiences in the ESL teaching world, ask her advice on how to be successful when taking a CELTA course and all the fun things to do on the Australian East Coast!
What drove you to change from a career in accounting to teaching English?
I had always had an interest in teaching but was pushed by my high school teachers to select other options. I started a Law degree and then switched to Accounting and IT. I did enjoy working in this field but still had a desire to teach. After meeting some English teachers on a trip to China the idea of teaching English took root and thankfully – I went with it.
Where has teaching English taken you so far?
"I have taught a wide range of students from three years old to 73 years old."
As well as Australia, I have taught in the Czech Republic (Czechia now), Slovakia and Russia. I have met amazing people from all over the world. I have taught a wide range of students from three years old to 73 years old. I’ve held various positions and worked on some exciting projects.
What were your motivations for moving to Prague? That’s a long way from home!
I went to Prague on my first trip to Europe. I was there for a week but the guide book I had didn’t include the Czech Republic. I had a brilliant time but afterwards everyone asked if I’d seen this or that and more often than not the answer was no. I promised myself that I would go back one day.
Did you find it hard living away from Australia?
"My original plan was to go there for one year and to then go to Argentina. Which of course never happened."
Only when I was unwell. When I was sick I just wanted everything to be easy and to be home. Other than that – not at all. I loved Prague. My original plan was to go there for one year and to then go to Argentina. Which of course never happened. All of the expats that I knew in Prague all experienced ‘down days’. Days when every little thing about the city/country annoyed them. But those are few and far between for most of us.
What’s been the highlight of your TESOL career so far?
Presenting at an international conference in Rome. It was a conference for Directors of Studies and focused on young learner classes.
What do you think sets CELTA apart from other TEFL courses?
One: The practical component. Course participants are teaching ‘real’ students and getting the chance to put into practice the theory and methodology discussed throughout the course.
Two: Course consistency. Every CELTA tutor around the world has to undertake annual standardisation (watching videos of lessons and grading them, grading assignments… and making sure their grades meet Cambridge requirements). In addition to this every CELTA course around the world is moderated by an impartial assessor that represents Cambridge. Their job is to make sure that the course meets the requirements set by Cambridge and to act as a double check for grades awarded.
How would you suggest people ensure they are ready to take the CELTA course?
"Do a language awareness course before the CELTA starts."
Make sure that you can devote the time needed to the course. If doing the full-time course this means that you can’t work during that time – even weekend work.
Brush up on your grammar and terminology. Make sure you know the names of the different tenses and verb forms. Have a cheat sheet ready to use during the course. Do a language awareness course before the CELTA starts.
Put the time and effort into the pre-course task.
What tips would you give to those during the course to manage their time and stress levels?
"Keep your notes and handouts organised so that you can easily refer to them."
• Work on what you need to when you need to.
• Don’t try to work on everything at once.
• Ensure that you factor in some down time – to watch a movie, go out with friends, etc.
• Keep your notes and handouts organised so that you can easily refer to them.
• Read the assignment information carefully and make use of examples and advice.
How do you think the Delta improved your teaching style?
It helped me to refocus and to notice the beginning of some bad habits. It also strengthened my ability to analyse tasks and activities and determine what students really needed.
What advice would you give to those looking to progress in the EFL world?
Avoid being pigeonholed. Try to teach a variety of classes. Reflect on your lessons and look for opportunities to improve.
What are your favourite things about working on the Sunshine Coast?
"I love chilling out by the ocean."
I don’t actually live on the Sunshine Coast but I stay there during CELTA courses. I love the chance to stay there though. I love the general atmosphere there. Everyone is a little more considerate of each other. After so many years in a landlocked country (the Czech Republic) – I love chilling out by the ocean.
Any local tips on best places to eat or drink?
Ocean Street. It’s one minute from the school and has about 15 different restaurants and bars serving all kinds of food and drink from all over the world. If you ever tire of Ocean Street which is unlikely, head over to Dirty Moes at Mooloolaba for the best slow cooked meat on the Coast!
What other things does the area have to offer?
"If you have time you can take a tour up to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, it stunning."
Apart from awesome beaches there are tons of things to do on the coast. Australia Zoo, famous for the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is a short drive away, there are amusement parks and if you have time you can take a tour up to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, it stunning.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work?
• arts and crafts (painting, sewing, etc.) and checking out what others are making by trolling markets such as Peregian Beach Markets.
• After living on the 6th floor of an apartment block for 13 years I am really excited to have a yard and garden. Mowing the lawn is still a novelty (I'm sure it will wear off eventually) and I'm super keen to start my own vegetable garden. I live in Toowoomba (and commute/stay at the Sunshine Coast when we have a CELTA). The weather in Toowoomba is great for gardening.
• I'm not very sporty but enjoy a game of tennis now and then and am really keen to learn how to stand up paddle board
• I love listening to live music.
Are there many ESL jobs in the Sunshine Coast or surrounding area?
"From September through to May schools are screaming out for teachers"
The work on the coast is quite seasonal but consistent. From September through to May schools are screaming out for teachers with many having to employ teachers from overseas to cope with demand. During the winter the adult classes quieten down a little but the junior study tour groups ramp up. So there is always something going on.
Does the Sunshine Coast centre offer help with EFL teaching jobs after the CELTA course?
We don’t guarantee work but if we know of any positions available we share the information and we are happy to chat about options and/or the best plan of attack. We have some recruitment contracts with schools in China and we are always happy to be referees for our trainees.
What facilities does the training centre have?
"Lovely classrooms, often with gorgeous views of the ocean."
• Lovely classrooms, often with gorgeous views of the ocean.
• A fully equipped staffroom (computers, printers, photocopiers, resource books, etc.)
• A spacious lunch room with fridges, microwaves, hot water, etc.
What’s next for you professionally?
Working on other teacher training projects with Dave Fox (Head of Training for our Sunshine Coast centre).