CELTA Advice from Nicola Harwood

Nicola Harwood is a CELTA tutor at IH Reggio Calabria in Italy. 

How long were you an EFL teacher, and how long have you been a teacher trainer?

I have been an EFL teacher since 1991 when I took my initial teaching certificate. I have mostly taught in Spain and the UK. I became a CELTA tutor in 2009 and have worked on over 70 courses in a variety of countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, England and Italy. I am currently based in Italy where I combine teaching, examining and teacher training.

Did you have a different career before EFL?

Before taking my teaching qualification, I worked for a charity and for a theatre chain in London but I wouldn’t consider either of those experiences as a career. Teaching has been my only career – I come from a family of teachers and I guess it’s in my blood!

What are your hopes/aspirations for your trainees?

I hope to instil in new teachers a passion for teaching and a genuine interest in their learners. By the end of the course, I want them to feel that they have acquired some really useful teaching tools that they will be able to adapt to the context that they end up working in. We all have different styles and there’s no one way to teach. I encourage them to watch their peers and tutors in order to help them to develop their own teaching persona. For more experienced teachers, I hope to show them some new techniques and reawaken their love for the profession. 

When you were an EFL teacher what did you like most, and how do you bring that into the classroom for your trainees?

What I really enjoy about teaching and training is the nurturing aspect. Teaching is all about listening to our students and noticing their strengths and gaps in knowledge and helping them to upgrade their output. If you are willing to really hand over to students and allow them to show you what they are capable of, you are free to notice their needs and plug in new vocabulary and refine their language production. I aim to demonstrate this in my approach to training by encouraging trainees to try things out, get feedback, reflect and try again with the insight of the feedback they have received. It is incredibly rewarding to witness those ‘lightbulb moments’ when learners/trainees ‘get it’ – these moments can happen when something goes wrong just as much as when it goes right – the key is for us as trainers/teachers to support that learning moment.

What advice would you give your trainees for successfully completing the course?

I think there are three key pieces of advice that I would give:

  • Preparation before the course – if at all possible, read up on your grammar so as to have a basic grasp of tenses, structures and parts of speech. This will take some of the pressure off you during the course if you have at least completed the pre-course task and become aware of terminology.
  • Manage your time – there is very little downtime during the 4 weeks so avoid procrastinating. Do your utmost to respect the deadlines and go to lesson planning sessions with your tutors with a clear idea of what your lesson should involve. This will help you to maximise your time in these useful sessions. 
  • Be receptive to feedback – the tutors and your peers have your best interests at heart so all criticism will be constructive. Reflect on advice you are getting and ask questions if you aren’t sure of how to implement it. Be open to trying things out, and finally, don’t obsess with grades – the most important thing is to show progress on your action points.

What advice would you give your trainees for an interesting and rewarding career?

If you are interested in travelling, the CELTA will open up a lot of career opportunities to you. You could experience different settings which would enable you to teach not only general English but business, exams or young learners. Take the opportunity to be observed and observe peers so as to continue improving. Avoid stagnating by always looking for ways to develop. This could mean conferences, webinars or a simple exchange of ideas in the staffroom. Look for opportunities to take on more responsibilities such as examining for Cambridge or mentoring less experienced colleagues. When/if you feel ready, you could take the Delta and possibly go into management or teacher training.