Jo Greenyer – Head of Teacher Training at London (Highgate)
"The sheer effort and commitment the trainees put into their CELTA experience never ceases to impress me, and seeing all their hard work and determination lead to incredible progress in their teaching, is highly rewarding as a trainer."
Jo Greenyer was born and bred in North London, UK. She has a creative background, having originally studied Contemporary Writing at university and is also an established painter. Her arty side means that she enjoys designing and making materials for her lessons. Jo took her RSA (now CELTA) in 1992 and also holds a PGCE and Camb Dip TEFLA. She now plays a great role in the TEFL industry, having contributed to IATEFL and other TESOL conferences. Jo has progressed from teaching English in Poland and the Czech Republic to training English teachers back in Highgate, London in the UK. We speak to Jo about her career development and some exciting projects the Highgate team are currently working on overseas!
You studied Contemporary Writing at University, did you originally want to follow a different career path?
To be honest, I didn’t really know what I wanted to ‘do’ at that time. I just knew that I was interested in literature and ideas - it certainly wasn’t a vocational choice, but it was an excellent pathway to critical thinking!
You haven’t always been a teacher, what were your motivations for becoming one?
"When you see a student learning - it’s the best thing in the world!"
I’d always enjoyed being in an educational environment; I wanted to work with people and I wanted to use my brain! However, when I started teaching, the motivation grew. I became aware of just how important learning English was to learners - my role then became more meaningful than I had ever imagined and the focus very quickly switched from my own wants to those of my students and that, in turn, became hugely motivating and satisfying. When you see a student learning - it’s the best thing in the world!
What was the highlight of your overseas English teaching career?
My first foray into teaching English was in the Czech Republic and it was a steep learning curve! It taught me so much! Armed with one upper intermediate course book and one grammar book, I soon found that teaching with very few materials forces you to be creative and to think on your feet (hey - we didn’t have the internet in those days). But, not only that, it also gave me insight into another culture, history and language. And Czech is very rich in all three. I remember swapping English lessons for cello lessons as the music department was down the corridor. Wow - how wonderful! Teaching abroad, does truly broaden your horizons and I learnt just as much from my students as they did from me. No - undoubtedly more. You learn to see things in a different way, encounter wonderful people, and gain an appreciation of other cultures, all of which, will see you in good stead for the future, wherever you work. Work abroad is my advice!
How do you think your RSA (now CELTA) qualification prepared you for your first teaching jobs?
It was excellent. It equipped me with all the tools I needed to continue learning how to teach! And that is what the CELTA is about - it gives you basic techniques and procedures on which you can build your experience and develop your teaching beyond CELTA level.
You have ended up working close to where you grew up, what do you like so much about the area?
Obviously, my family and friends, but also the environment and people who work at London Highgate. I met some of the most interesting and inspirational people I’ve ever met there. They had a huge influence on both my professional and personal life. It taught me how important it is to have mentors.
What projects are you currently running at London Highgate?
At the moment, the London Highgate’s Charitable Trust is taking part in a project to elevate educational standards in Buenaventura in Colombia. Buenaventura is a city on the Pacific coast: it is one of the major ports on the continent and it accounts for almost 60% of all Colombian maritime imports and exports. The city and its economy have historically been affected by very high levels of poverty, deprivation and violence and Buenaventura is considered a centre for the cocaine trade in Colombia.
After many years of neglecting the area, the government has finally started to make some investment and change is predicted. Universidad del Pacifico is one of only two public universities in the region and there is an extremely high level of social disadvantage amongst its student body. National government policy in Colombia requires university students to reach CEFR level B1 in English before they can graduate. A number of measures are being implemented across the country in order to achieve this but a city such as Buenaventura faces compound challenges.
Do you have any involvement in these projects?
I’ll be involved with testing and assessing grammar, writing and speaking skills.
What is your favourite part of being a teacher trainer?
"Every course I teach on, I learn something new - the development never stops for teachers and trainers alike - I work with the most professional, dedicated and inspirational trainers - making each course a positive learning experience."
There are so many parts I enjoy! Let’s start with the trainees - every single one is different and brings their individual character and experience to the classroom, making each course unique. I’ve met so many amazing people over the years. The sheer effort and commitment the trainees put into their CELTA experience never ceases to impress me, and seeing all their hard work and determination lead to incredible progress in their teaching, is highly rewarding as a trainer. The courses wouldn’t happen without the students who take part in our practice classes. They are patient, funny, infinitely forgiving and always conscientious in their learning. They too, have some of the most incredible stories! Every course I teach on, I learn something new - the development never stops for teachers and trainers alike - I work with the most professional, dedicated and inspirational trainers - making each course a positive learning experience. Training teachers is one of the most unique, interesting and satisfying things you can do!
What advice would you give to those hoping to become a teacher trainer eventually?
"The first time you do anything makes you anxious - of course - but start by giving a session at your school - do a few more and break through that fear barrier."
Get as much experience of teaching in different contexts as possible: abroad, in an English speaking country, teaching general English at all levels, teaching English for specific purposes, teaching one-to-one, teaching young learners.
Keep up with what’s going on in the world of ELT! Go to as many continued professional development sessions you can, as well as conferences - and with a few years’ experience - don’t be afraid of leading a session at a conference - have the courage of your convictions! The first time you do anything makes you anxious - of course - but start by giving a session at your school - do a few more and break through that fear barrier. Then go for a conference! The first time I presented at IATEFL I was encouraged by my DoS, but I was so scared! I knew what I had in terms of material, was appropriate, but presenting to your peers at such a prestigious event was TERRIFYING! But - I did it - and it wasn’t half as bad as I thought it’d be. …in fact … it was GOOD and I got very positive feedback.! And then I did it again with a different presentation a couple of years later. YES! Go for! It gives you experience and confidence!
You have a very creative background, how do you think this influences your teaching style?
Use colour and ensure your materials look interesting and professional.
How would you advise candidates prepare for the CELTA?
"Ensure you are free of any ‘distractions’ for the duration of the course. Clear the decks of anything you need to sort out."
Of course, the most obvious advice is to: brush up on grammar terms - the more familiar you are with parts of speech, tenses etc. you are, the less daunting the language side will be.
Do some background reading and complete the Cambridge CELTA pre-course task - it will familiarise you with ELT ’jargon’ and heighten your awareness of the methodology.
Brush up on spelling! If there are words you commonly misspell - put your mind to learning them! A list of commonly misspelled words can be found at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/spelling/common-misspellings .
Check your punctuation - advice at http://www.walsworth.com/blog/10-common-punctuation-mistakes-avoid . - you don’t need this to work against you with everything else you’re dealing with.
Finally, ensure you are free of any ‘distractions’ for the duration of the course. Clear the decks of anything you need to sort out.
See your family and friends and loved one(s).
Do you have any tips on ways that candidates can manage their time on the CELTA course?
"Take time to take time for you and remember to eat"
Organise your time efficiently.
Take your tutor’s advice.
There will be times when you’re likely to feel overwhelmed by the demands of the course, so in order to help you cope with the workload, devise a schedule and allocate realistic times for planning and writing assignments.
Don’t scrimp on sleep - it’s unproductive.
Take time to take time for you and remember to eat - you need to give your brain space to process and you need to nourish it! If possible, prevail on a family member or close friend to look after the food side!