An Interview with Mick Griggs - Head of Teacher Training, Cape Town CBD
This month, Mick Griggs, a Teacher Trainer based in Cape Town, South Africa talks to us about his career in TEFL. Mick is a highly experienced reflective Teacher Trainer who has taught scores of CELTA and Delta students. His enthusiam for his craft and the on-going re-fining of his skills as a teacher, are what students studying CELTA or Delta in Cape Town take away with them.
We asked: How many years have you worked within the TEFL industry and what have you done with yourself during that time?
I've been working in language teaching since 1992. I started my career as a teacher in Turkey, working at private language schools in Istanbul and also at the University of Marmara. I then moved to Poland and kept working as a EFL teacher. I passed my Delta in my first year there, then gradually moved more into management and training, first becoming Ados, then Dos (Director of Studies).
My job as Dos involved a lot of teacher observation and running the in-service training programme, so I got a lot of training experience, which eventually led to me training up as a CELTA trainer at IH London, where I was privileged to work with some of the people at the top of our profession.
I continued in management and training in Poland until 2002. I had started running CELTAs in Spain and South Africa in 1999, and so training became my main priority, leading me to become a freelance trainer. I then had stints in China and Bangladesh before being offered a full-time position in Cape Town in 2003, where I’ve been ever since. In 2003 I became a CELTA Assessor and also started working as a tutor on Delta courses.
I have now worked on around 80 CELTA courses and 5 Delta courses, and carry out around 5/6 CELTA assessments per year.
Like most people (probably) becoming involved in TEFL was something of an accident, although I was such a bad student at school that my mother often said I would become a teacher!
I had completed my BA in Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1992 and my main language had been Turkish, so I was keen to spend some time in that country.
How to live in a foreign country and support yourself financially? Teach English, of course! So I did a CELTA course in London and off I went. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
We asked: How much teaching did you have behind you before embarking on further study and becoming a teacher trainer and why did you choose this career path?
I did my Delta in my third year of teaching, then got lots of training experience in-service in Poland. I was fortunate in that English was hugely popular there in the 1990s, so there was a great demand for teachers and lots of opportunities to get involved in teacher training. I was offered the chance to do CELTA training as part of my ongoing professional development, something the school I worked for put a high value on as a way of retaining staff. As with anything, there was an element of luck involved, but I also worked for a good school.
My initial training on CELTA was a bit of a whirlwind.
I had just finished a degree in Linguistics but I quickly realised that this was of little help in learning how to teach English.
I think the main thing I learned was the value of collaboration in learning, how the dialogic nature of learning drives the acquisition of knowledge. Which is common sense really – ideas don't just pop out of nowhere.
My teaching has changed hugely over the years. In general, I concentrate much more on learning than teaching nowadays. A colleague of mine once said there’s only one way you’re going to become a better teacher, and that’s by understanding more about how people learn.
My view of language has also changed a lot. A better understanding of how languages are basically similar to each other, and how different they can be, has altered my view of the role of grammar in language teaching. Basically I used to teach too much grammar, whereas nowadays I teach much more lexis. I was trained to teach communicatively, an approach which tends to put quite a lot of emphasis on speaking and generally producing the language. Nowadays I focus just as much on the receptive side of things, just listening or reading and understanding. Texts are wonderful things to use in language teaching.
Individual empowerment and self determination in learners as well as the way we interpret linguistic competence underpins a lot of teaching theory and practice in CELTA. We asked: What is Learner-Centred Teaching (LCT) and Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)
To me LCT is just really about thinking about learning as opposed to teaching. Traditional education systems tend to not consider the learner much, just what needs to be taught and how to go about doing it. In LCT everything starts with the learner. Although people are more similar than they are different… CLT I think came about as a result of the internationalization of English, and the resulting need for people to communicate using a lingua franca. A language can be studied for various reasons – a simple interest in its structure, or to read its literature, for example. With CLT the focus is on language as a tool for communication. An often stated fact is that the majority of the English that is spoken in the world today is between non-native speakers.
The great thing about CELTA courses is that they attract people of all sorts of ages from all sorts of backgrounds.I also think that CELTA contains lots of transferable skills.
Basically, you need to like working with people (and I mean really like!), be well-organised, and have an open mind about what constitutes effective teaching. For most candidates CELTA is one of the steepest learning curves they have experienced, and the more open you are to new ideas, the more you will get out of the course. An interest in language and how it works is also useful.
We asked: Why would you recommend the CELTA and Delta programmes that you offer in Cape Town especially?
What marks the difference for those from outside Cape Town and South Africa? Well, I can’t speak for all the other CELTA and Delta Centres out there, but we have a team of experienced trainers here who have been working together for many years. We are a small Centre, enabling us to run very personalized courses, and I myself tutor on all the courses we run.
The students that our CELTA trainees practice on are also a positive; mainly French-speaking Congolese refugees, who are a joy to teach and fascinating people in their own right.
Obviously the city of Cape Town is also a huge draw, with its spectacular scenery and fantastic lifestyle. We try to price our courses competitively, and accommodation in Cape Town is cheaper than in many other major cities around the world. The Centre can offer help with a range of accommodation types, from individual apartments to rooms in host families, the latter being very popular as a way of learning about South African culture.
How is the market for ESL work in South Africa, and apart from South Africa, where do your CELTA and Delta graduates tend to find work easily after their courses?
The market in SA is relatively new. Since democracy, more and more schools have opened up but they all tend to be rather small and teaching work can be seasonal, although there are tourists coming to Cape Town throughout the year. Most schools here tend to employ a small core of full-time teachers and then a large number of part-time teachers as the need arises.
With a CELTA certificate in Cape Town, you’ll find some teaching work at some point. There is always the visa issue to bear in mind, of course.
Elsewhere, if you’re willing to travel and be a little flexible about where you work, then you’ll find some teaching work. The Far East and the Middle East are popular destinations for many South Africans, but South America and Central Europe are also popular. Delta graduates tend to already be employed by institutions which they return to after the course.
Cheers Mick! Check out CELTA courses in Cape Town here.