An Interview with Nicola Harwood - Head of Teacher Training, Quito
Nicola Harwood was raised in Yorkshire in the UK and has been working in the TEFL industry since 1991 when she took the Cambridge CELTA. This was spurred on by her drive to explore the world. She ran her own school in Spain for 11 years before returning to London to further her career by taking the Cambridge Delta course. Before advancing to a CELTA teacher trainer, Nicola worked in an inspiring range of roles, such as General English and Exam teacher, Evening School Coordinator, IELTS examiner and Assistant Director of Studies. Nicola has now clocked up over 65 CELTA courses, with some taking place in exotic spots like Colombia and Ecuador. She is now the Lead CELTA Teacher Trainer in the exciting new location of Quito and we are sure that it will become a magnet for candidates looking to teach in South America.
You are originally from the UK, what gave you the drive to take the CELTA in the first place?
I come from a family of teachers and was always determined I wouldn’t go into education as I saw how much time my parents spent preparing and marking. However, when I was bitten by the travel bug, I realised CELTA would provide me with a passport to travel and, I guess, you can’t fight what’s in the blood!
Did you find that taking the Delta dramatically changed the way that you teach English?
There was an eleven year gap between my CELTA and Delta and, in that time, I was very much on my own without observations and, consequently, picked up a lot of bad habits. The Delta got me back on track and brought me into contact with so many inspirational people. However, I think that what changed the way I teach more was when I became a CELTA trainer. Having the opportunity to witness good and bad lessons, and striving to be a good model in input sessions teaches you so much about being an effective teacher.
What do you think puts the CELTA course above other TEFL qualifications of its kind?
When candidates are trawling through all the websites looking for the right TEFL qualification to get, it must be baffling. Having trained up new CELTA tutors, I can vouch for the level of preparation that CELTA tutors have to go through before they can take up the reins. I also feel reassured that, because every single CELTA course is standardised by an independent assessor, Cambridge are maintaining a high level of instruction worldwide. In my opinion, if you are thinking of TEFL as a potential career, it is worth investing in a CELTA course and I would definitely avoid a cheaper course that doesn’t offer a practical component.
What factors made you decide to move from Europe TESOL to South America?
I had always wanted to travel to South America and once I had my CELTA I headed off to Spain to try and learn some Spanish in preparation. Eleven years later, I was still in Spain and, sadly, hadn’t left Europe. My opportunity to travel to South America came when I was sent to deliver a 5-day training course in Lima, Peru. Those 5 days, followed by two weeks visiting Machu Pichu and the Amazon were amazing and reawakened my love for adventure and speaking in Spanish. I took a year’s sabbatical and headed off to Bogota, Colombia to run CELTA courses. The sabbatical ended and I am still out here!
What local recommendations can you give to CELTA candidates of Quito?
As travel guides will tell you, Ecuador is a hidden gem in South America. The country is so diverse with the Amazonian Rainforest, the Andes, the Galapagos, colonial cities, unspoilt coastline – it has everything. Quito is a beautiful city which enables you to access all of the above easily. If possible, CELTA candidates should spend a couple of weeks before or after the course to explore Quito and the surrounding areas. Definite must-sees are Mindo, Cotopaxi, Baños, Quilotoa and many more…
What is the job market like for CELTA graduates in Ecuador?
Teaching jobs are mostly found in the three biggest cities, Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca. However, there are jobs available off the beaten track if you prefer. Some private language academies may hire you without a TEFL qualification but having the CELTA will mean you go up a pay scale and better schools will want you. Universities can be the best paid jobs if you have a master’s degree or PHD. At the Quito centre we will provide you with an extensive list of contacts for paid and voluntary work, advice on CVs, covering letters, interview questions and serve as your first reference.
What advice would you give those who are thinking of taking a CELTA qualification?
The CELTA course does not require trainees to possess a perfect understanding of English grammar, but you will be teaching real students how to conceptualise the difference between tenses and understand the different parts of speech. If you are only one step ahead of your students each time you stand up to teach, this can add greatly to your stress and be time-consuming, too. My advice is to get hold of a decent grammar book and work your way through the basics – it will pay off and help you look more professional.
When you’re not teaching, what do you do in your spare time?
CELTA courses are very intensive for tutors as well as for trainees and so when I have time off, I tend to take it pretty easy! My two passions are travelling and eating so I try to combine these two as much as possible. Having adopted 3 cats, my husband and I can’t take off as easily as we’d like to so there’s more eating than travelling going on these days! Fortunately, we are spoilt for choice for great eating opportunities in Quito.
Have you any plans for the future? Will you be settling in Quito?
We are optimistic that CELTA will take off here as there seems to be a lot of demand so I imagine we will stay here for a year at least. After that, we will see – there is still a lot of South America I would like to see. Who knows – perhaps this is just the first of many centres that will want to run CELTA courses and we may be able to get involved in other launches.