Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

At IATEFL 2015 Manchester I was disappointed to miss a workshop by Helen Dennis-Smith with tips for more mature CELTA trainees on how to enter the profession once they’d finished their course. I contacted her and she very kindly agreed to write this post for me. She’s now a teacher at Wimbledon School of English, London, UK. Helen Dennis-Smith headshotWimbledon School of English logo

My experience

I entered the EFL profession at the age of 56 in 2010, taking my CELTA in London and needing to sell myself into an overcrowded market place. My recommendation is to tailor the way you market yourself to carefully reflect the experience you have and the subsequent impact that this will have on your teaching.

My own experience looks like this:

Mind map showing Helen's experience, divided into previous experience: love of languages, Chinese primary school, business career, raising a family, primary and secondary schools, school governor; and impact on teaching: sympathetic to the difficulty of learning a new language, celebrate different types of education and value different expectation, not afraid to teach business of legal English etc, appreciate some of the difficulties of management and be supportive, not scared of failure, can attempt to understand what makes younger learners tick and empathise, appreciate the legal implications of health and safety, employment law, safeguarding etc

I recommend taking the time to complete this kind of exercise for yourself before applying for jobs. The market place is tough, and your application needs to make it as clear as possible that the school you want to work for is going to benefit hugely by employing a more mature teacher than a very young one.

The challenges and how we can rise to them

Having obtained my first job, my initial thinking was to work as many hours as possible in as short a space of time as I could. This was based on my research into the market place in London, where it had become clear that permanent jobs in good quality schools were given largely to DELTA qualified teachers rather than CELTA teachers. The result of that was that I was eligible to start my DELTA just two years after initially qualifying. This also potentially opens up pathways into management for anyone considering this.

It also seemed essential to consider the need to squash the lifecycle of a teacher into a much shorter time than most teachers.

I recommend watching a presentation given by Tessa Woodward, a former president of IATEFL, about the various phases of teaching: The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers.

In this video she suggests that we need to start tinkering with our teaching as soon as we have got through the initial survival phase. This implies that we will experiment with different teaching styles, approaches and activities and never be afraid to try something out. Younger teachers may take some years in the survival phase. We do not have such luxury!

By doing this, we also make ourselves more marketable, as we can talk from direct experience both in applications and at interview and indicate clearly that we are not going to get stuck in a conservative approach to methodology.

The final area I would like to highlight is technology. It seems to me very important to keep up-to-date with what is available in terms of technology wherever you are teaching, but it is also important not to attempt to be seen as “cool” by the students. For me, the best approach has been to let, to some extent, the students teach me! Enquire what they use and what they would like to be able to use in class and let them show you where to find it and then adapt it for teaching purposes. The students will love to be the teacher for a while.

Last of all, we need to remember why we started teaching English. We need to enjoy ourselves, so when you get that first, albeit seemingly elusive job, make sure you have fun!

If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me at hdennissmith@gmail.com or via the Wimbledon School of English website. You can also tweet me.

With thanks to Sandy Millin for allowing me to be a guest writer on her blog.

Update

I’m very pleased to announce that Helen has been awarded the Teaching English British Council Featured Blog of the Month award for September 2015 for this post. You can find links to all of the nominated blogs by clicking on the image below. Well done Helen!

Featured blog of th emonth

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Comments on: "A few tips for mature entrants to the EFL profession (guest post)" (7)

  1. naeem fouad yousef said:

    I am 55 years old and I am a head teacher at at high school in Egypt . I am interested in English language and I always want to improve my skills. Lately I attended six workshops to be a professional teacher. They were about secrets of reading, writing, listening, speaking and assessment. If you have any activities like this anywhere I am ready to pay to take part. Thank you

    Like

    • Hi Naeem,
      I don’t know of any workshops like this off the top of my head, but perhaps you could investigate places like Cambridge English Teacher and iTDi, both websites with many different online workshops and communities.
      Good luck!
      Sandy

      Like

  2. Hi Sandy and Helen,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on tomorrow’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.

    Best,
    Ann

    Like

  3. Raihana haque said:

    Hello,
    This news inspired me so much.thanks.i am a headteacher of primary school in Bangladesh.i want to learn english teachig method.please inform me how fulfill my desire.Raihana.

    Like

  4. This article really hit home for me. I also taught EFL during my younger years with no formal training and am now in my late 40’s looking into going back to teaching EFL and returning to school for CELTA certification. Thank you for sharing your experience and words of encouragement. It’s refreshing to know there are other mature teachers out there who were able to successfully transition into an EFL teaching career.

    Like

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