An Interview with Mary Grennan - Head of Teacher Training Dammam, Saudi Arabia
Mary Grennan is one of the most well-known faces in the TEFL industry, having spent her time between Europe and the Middle East, teaching CELTA and Delta to countless new trainees each year in Galway and previously in Riyadh. Mary and the Galway teaching training centre is now excited to announce that they partnered with a school in Dammam, bringing a new CELTA destination to Saudi Arabia. We speak to Mary about her experiences as a Teacher Trainer and also about her plans for the future!
What got you into the TEFL industry in the first place?
I was always interested in languages and I studied Spanish and French at university. My first teaching job was in Santander, Spain, when I was still a student, and I loved it but knew I needed to get some training! I did my CELTA course in Seville, Spain, and this completely changed my life as it gave me the opportunity to work in a great school in Seville for 11 years.
This is where I learned a lot about teaching Young Learners and exam preparation groups and it also gave me experience working as a Business English teacher. I loved my work and wanted to continue to grow and develop in education management and training so then I completed the Delta, the higher level qualification, also from Cambridge, followed by a Master's degree in teaching English.
From there, I continued training: as a director of studies, a CELTA tutor, a Delta tutor, and then as a CELTA and Delta assessor. I'm also an inspector of teacher training courses for Quality Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the official body which regulates teacher training courses in Ireland, as well as an inspector of language schools for QQI, IHWO and Evaluation and Accreditation of Quality Language Services (EAQUALS).
So working in English language teaching became my life long career and it's been lots of fun, taking me to places I never thought I'd visit in a million years.
How has your teaching changed over time and what are your key interests in terms of teaching methodologies or teaching techniques?
Over the years, I have become more focused on developing students' vocabulary range, as having a large vocabulary bank is so important for developing fluency. Grammar is like the scaffolding so it's needed as the base, but it's so important to help students develop ways to learn, record and recycle vocabulary, to use dictionaries and to develop independent learning strategies.
I've also developed lots of authentic materials using online sources such as online newspapers and You Tube. Finding out what your students are interested in is a great starting point and if your lessons are based on topics of interest or a need for your students, you're onto a winner!
Another thing I've been interested in over the years is classroom interaction and how a teacher's interaction in the classroom can be more or less effective. On our CELTA course in Galway, we focus a little on this aspect of teaching.
English Teacher Training in Dammam, Saudi Arabia
We know you spent a lot of time working in the Middle East (i.e. Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc), tell us about your experiences there as a teacher and trainer. What contrasts did you experience working in a non-European based cultural context?
It's interesting as the more I work with other people in new countries, the more I learn that everyone is ultimately the same - we all prioritise the same things in life, when it comes down to it: family, friends, work etc. In countries like Saudi Arabia, you have quite a few restrictions, especially as a woman, but it's a very interesting place to spend time in and the students are really lovely.
I assessed a CELTA course at Tabuk University in northern Saudi Arabia, and the women on the course were all teachers at the university, some very young and some with lots of experience and PhDs, but no formal teaching qualification, so the CELTA was completely new for them. Listening to them speak about the CELTA was very uplifting as they all said that it had completely changed the way they teach and they were looking forward to getting back to work with their own students and to try the techniques and methodologies they'd looked at on the course.
Further reading: Read about life as a female English teacher in Saudi Arabia here
Who are the typical candidates for the CELTA in Dammam, Saudi Arabia?
Candidates can either be experienced teachers who are already teaching English, or people who have never taught before but who would like to work as a teacher in a school, college or university. It is now pretty much mandatory for teachers of English in Saudi Arabia to have a CELTA and we’re delighted to work with both experience and inexperienced candidates together as both types of candidates bring different experiences to the course. We offer part time courses to suit working teachers and also to suit people who can’t afford to take time off work to attend a full time course. We have separate courses for men and women.
Please see more information on the schedules in Dammam here.
We know you have spent a lot of time working on CELTA courses in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What contrasts do you experience working in KSA?
It's interesting as the more I work with other people in new countries, the more I learn that everyone is ultimately the same - we all prioritise the same things in life, when it comes down to it: family, friends, work etc. Saudi Arabia is a very interesting place to work, the people are great to work with, conditions for teachers are good and the students and colleagues are really lovely.
I’ve worked with candidates on different CELTA courses. Some of them already had a lot of English Language Teaching experience, and listening to them speak about the CELTA was very uplifting as they all said that the course had completely changed the way they teach and that they were looking forward to getting back to work with their own students and to trying the techniques and methodologies they'd learned about on the course.
It was great to spend time with them and to find out about their lives. They were such a hardworking and pleasant group of women it was a pleasure for the CELTA tutors and me to work with them.
One thing about teaching English, it's a great way to get to know the culture of a country, as you're immediately in the middle of your students and colleagues lives. And you don't need to speak the language to work there, which makes English language teaching pretty much unique, I think. And they absolutely love hearing about your life and country too!
What advice would you give teachers thinking about teaching in the Middle East?
There are so many opportunities in the Middle East. I recently met with schools in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and there is so much demand there, as in other countries in the region. I suppose I would tell teachers who are thinking about working in the Middle East to carefully consider which country they would prefer to go to and why.
For example, in Saudi Arabia, you have to look carefully at what kind of accommodation is offered to you as it's important to get a job where they offer you a place in a compound. In the UAE, you have more freedom than in Saudi but you still have to follow dress codes. Both countries are tax free, which means that you earn a lot more than you would in Europe.
I would definitely take the opportunity to travel to other countries while I'm in the region. Oman has some beautiful spots to visit, as does Iran, for example.