An Interview with Susan Walden - Director of Academic and Teacher Development in Cape Town (Sea Point)
"I wanted to help others learn what I had learnt. Some of the first teachers I trained were primary and secondary school teachers from Mozambique. It was great to later visit them and see how they were applying the techniques in their own school contexts."
- Susan Walden, Cape Town
Susan is a Delta qualified teacher trainer, who has experience teaching English at a wide range of locations, such as Romania, Egypt, Poland and South Africa. Since the Delta, she has gone from strength to strength, obtaining Honour’s and Master’s degrees to deepen her knowledge and understanding, thus improving her classroom methods and approaches. Susan is now based in Cape Town, South Africa and is working as the Academic Director, responsible for the academic programme of the school and teacher training and development. Susan also is a Cambridge CELTA assessor and has trained many other CELTA tutors and assessors. We speak with her to find out how she got to where she is today…
Have you always wanted to be a teacher? When did you decide this was the route you’d like to take?
Yes, always. When I left school I knew I wanted to teach but it wasn’t until I had been teaching English in a rural primary school for some time that I stumbled upon TEFL and the CELTA course. Even though the learners at the school were only elementary speakers of English, the national education department required that they learn all their subjects in English from the fourth grade. Unfortunately, due to Apartheid, my national teacher training diploma had not adequately prepared me for this EFL/ESL context. You can only imagine how excited I was to learn the ‘how’ on the CELTA course.
You have worked in some quite diverse locations over the years, what first inspired you to move to Romania?
It was my first job post CELTA and I was ready to go anywhere. I must admit I knew very little about Romania before I went, but was anxious to gain experience. I was employed to start a new satellite school in a city an hour away from the main school. I will never forget my first teaching day when the local television camera crew arrived 10 minutes before my first lesson to interview me and to film the first 20 minutes of my very first class. Not for the faint-hearted!
You’ve also worked in Egypt and Poland. Do you think the CELTA prepared you to teach a wide variety of students from different backgrounds?
Absolutely, the CELTA course introduces and gives practice of a variety of classroom teaching techniques giving you a solid base to start from.
When you begin teaching it is also important to have support from more experienced teachers so Poland was a strategic move for me. The school was one of a group of schools and teacher development opportunities were fantastic. By this time, having taught in a variety of contexts, with Egypt behind me too, I was well set to begin my Delta preparation.
You’ve done a lot of work with Young Learners, what advice would you give to CELTA graduates who would like to teach children?
The CELTA is a practical foundational course for anyone wanting to teach adults in EFL/ESL contexts. If you are keen to teach children after the CELTA, I’d suggest that you check, when applying for a job, what guidance and support you would receive to help you adapt to teaching young learners.
How do you feel taking the Delta changed the way you teach?
It helped me to solidify what I had learnt on the CELTA but also gave me the opportunity to get into teacher training which I was so keen to do. I wanted to help others learn what I had learnt. Some of the first teachers I trained were primary and secondary school teachers from Mozambique. It was great to later visit them and see how they were applying the techniques in their own school contexts.
See our Delta calendar here, for dates and fees.
You’re clearly a high achiever, what motivates you to keep learning and improving your teaching methods?
I don’t see myself as a high achiever, I think that’s because all my learning has been on a want-to-know basis. I am genuinely interested in wanting to know more. My Honour’s and Master’s degrees were so exciting. Assignments and other assessment tasks were designed in such a way that I could explore areas of my own teaching and training. I had mentors to guide me and access to journals and books in the field. What more could I have wanted?
What would you say is the highlight of your TESOL career so far?
Mmm... that’s a difficult one. Each school prepared me for my next step but I’d say it was living in Egypt and then later doing my Honour’s and Master’s degrees that shine out above the rest. When I was doing my post graduate degrees, the Applied English Language department structured life on campus around what they called a research incubator with each person participating and mentoring others in a community of researchers. This truly unique experience led me to presenting a conference paper alongside my lecturers entitled ‘Building a Community of Critical Researchers: Regenerating the Academy’.
What are your favourite things about living in Cape Town?
Where do I start? I love that the students here have such a variety of things to do and are so excited to share after a weekend.
I love that I can jump in the car and go away for a quiet weekend to a variety of different locations and explore. I see Cape Town as a city of hope and of creative energy.
I don’t know if it’s the unique setting with Table Mountain as the backdrop, or if it is the little treasures you find on each street and the views along the coast, but it’s definitely also the people and their creative spirit – Cape Town was 2014 World Design Capital.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I’m a nature lover so walking, hiking and birding are close to my heart and take me into beautiful places both on and off the beaten path, and what better place than in Cape Town and its surrounds. I am also currently teaching myself to play the keyboard.
How easy is it to find TEFL work in Cape Town?
There are quite a number of different language schools in Cape Town and schools give preference to teachers with the CELTA so there’s a fairly good chance of getting work, but it can be seasonal. Student numbers are usually better in the summer than in the winter months. You will need to have a South African passport to get work as work permits for foreigners are hard to come by.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to take the CELTA?
Be patient with yourself and the course. It is well worth the long hours and hard work. Make sure that you are organised and focus on only the CELTA for the duration of the course.
Another very important piece of advice is to make sure that you work on the areas the tutors ask you to. If you do, you will eventually get to where you need to be by the end of the course. You won’t believe how much you learn each day.
Do you have any other plans on the horizon?
We’ve just been donated a whole library of books on teaching English as a foreign language so I continue to read and to apply what I read to my current teaching context. I am particularly interested in learning more about mentoring experienced teachers, and deepening my understanding of curriculum design and assessment.
Thanks Susan, that gave us a real insight into how you can continue to progress in a TEFL career. To see more information on Cape Town Sea Point's CELTA dates and fees, please click here.