Thursday, 5 September 2013

Staying happy and getting ahead in ELT

This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Cambridge English Teacher and presented by Colm Downes.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

Colm presented us with ten tips which could be applied equally well to helping you to secure a better job or ensuring that you remain happy and secure in your current one.

1.  Research yourself

Understanding yourself better will help you make employment decisions which are more likely to lead to a successful, satisfying career.  Ask yourself:
  • What makes you happy?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
The process of analysing yourself will help you identify the skills, experience and knowledge you have that employers are looking for.  With the results of your research, you can make a career plan:
Diversify, go up, or get out
  • ELT author
  • Teacher trainer
  • Examiner
  • Expert (EAP/ESP)
  • Academic
  • Editor
Go up:
  • Teacher centre manager
  • DOS
  • Senior teacher
Get out:
  • Self-employed
  • Government
  • Photographer
  • Artist
  • Journalist, etc.
2. Improve your qualifications

  • Pre-service - for example, CELTA
  • In-service - for example, DELTA
  • Post-grad - for example, MA in Applied Linguistics
  • Other - for example, CELTA YL, IDLTM, CertICT (certificate in teaching languages with technology
3. Get involved

Teaching can be a solitary profession, so:
  • observe other teachers
  • invite feedback from other teachers observing you
  • take advantage of training opportunities
  • volunteer to give training sessions yourself
  • join online communities
  • watch webinars
  • get to know your colleagues better
  • share your experience and get noticed
4. Diversify
  • Teach a wide range of classes - all ages/levels, etc.
  • Teach a variety of specialised classes - BE, EAP. ESP, etc.
  • Actively seek out more work in the areas you enjoy teaching.  
  • Join a SIG.
  • Become more of a subject expert in the areas that interest you most - for example, blended learning, CLIL, etc.
  • Do more than just teach.  Develop your hobbies and interests to a professional standard.
  • Go freelance and develop a 'portfolio career' - short-term consultancy work, article writing, summer school teaching, pre-sessional instructor, etc.
5. Be honest, be real, be authentic
  • Be honest with yourself and in interviews - it'll make you sound more credible.
  • Admit your knowledge-based limitations in an interview and explain what you're doing about them.  Don't admit behavioural flaws.
  • Remember your students are real people and are often the best resource you have in the classroom.
  • Ask real questions, discuss real issues, and share real opinions.
  • Keep your lessons fresh with real, relevant, recent authentic material.
  • Go beyond traditional ELT materials, especially if you are teaching skills as well as the language.
6. Become an examiner
  • It's an extra string to your bow
  • It can supplement your teaching salary
  • It adds variety to your work
  • Look at Trinity ESOL, Cambridge English Language Assessment and IELTS
7. Attend a conference
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the field
  • Show your commitment to professional development
  • Network and sell yourself to prospective employers
  • Get an insight into career options you haven't considered before
  • Present yourself to gain confidence and recognition
8. Make better use of technology
  • Create your own website to give yourself an online presence
  • Read blogs or write your own
  • Network via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Cambridge English Teacher, etc.
  • Build a professional Facebook page
  • Keep up with the latest teaching and learning trends
  • Complete a CertICT online
  • Participate in webinars
  • Read ELT journals
  • Keep an eye on the job market
  • Register for conferences
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Search for resources
9. Demonstrate your competency

Competencies are a combination of the knowledge, skills and behaviour needed to do a specific job.  Examples of interview questions you might be asked to demonstrate your competency are:
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision
  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated good customer service
  • Tell me about a time when you showed strong leadership skills
  • Tell me about a time when you played an important role in a team
  • Tell me about a time when you experienced pressure at work
A common technique for planning answers for such questions is to use the STAR method:

You should prepare short memorable stories which demonstrate how you employed these competencies in action.  You should also measure your impact - you should use impressive facts and figures in CVs, cover letters and interviews.  For example, stating that you have prepared over 200 students for an IELTS exam is much more memorable than saying that you have experience preparing students for IELTS exams.

10. Develop a plan

Write a personal PD plan to help you to identify the specific tasks and goals you need to complete to achieve progress in your career. Aim to identify both short-term and long-term goals with time scales included.


  1. Excellent review!!! Thanks for sharing! I don´t know why I missed this one! I am a volunteer CET, maybe it was for members! Wonderful, thanks! Sharing right now!Greetings from Argentina

    1. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment, Fabiana - much appreciated!!

  2. You´re most welcome, Andrea. It really is enriching!.