Phil Wade Interviews: Chris Ozog
Chris Ożóg is a teacher, teacher trainer and writer, originally from Scotland but very rarely there now. He’s been involved in English Language Teaching for long enough now to have white hairs appearing. He works for International House and is the current editor of the IH Journal. His work has taken him all over the globe, from Costa Rica through Dubai to Thailand, amongst other places, and he’s very much enjoyed almost every minute of it. He also tutors on online courses and keeps the world’s least updated ELT blog.
You might occasionally see Chris presenting at a conference or giving the odd webinar, but you’re much more likely to find him in a café reading literature, history or ELT books. At present, his work involves mainly Delta and CELTA courses, which he enjoys for the chance to work with so many teachers and aspiring teachers from such diverse backgrounds.
Chris is a very knowledgeable and respected ELT professional as anyone who has read the IH Journal will know. His work has given him a very holistic perspective on the TEFL world which I hope this interview benefits from.
With so many alternative types of TEFL training around and the price of the CELTA, why would you suggest people do it?
I would suggest people take CELTA over other pre-service TEFL certificates for a number of reasons. Firstly, CELTA is a practical introduction to language teaching. It might only be six hours’ worth of teaching practice and another of observations of experienced professionals, but that is by far better than nothing and you have an experienced teacher in the form of your tutor there to help you along. Only experience will ultimately help anyone develop into a truly effective teacher, but some initial practical training can help shape how you see lessons and learners, which can only help with your reflections as you gain classroom experience.
Secondly, the CELTA requirements are standardised across all courses and are externally set by Cambridge English. This means that course provision, no matter where you take it, has to cover certain core ELT concepts and techniques. This doesn’t mean that every course worldwide will be of the same quality or have the same contents – a lot depends on the individual centre (and indeed, tutors!) – but it does mean that taking CELTA is the best chance of getting quality initial training.
Finally, it is logistically and practically more useful for teachers as the CELTA certificate is recognised by a number of ministries round the world, as well as a high number of private language schools. This simply increases a successful candidate’s opportunities for work and, importantly, for work in better quality establishments with reasonable pay and conditions. I have spoken to a number of teachers recently who used to work in eikaiwa – large-scale private chain schools where the teacher more or less simply reads out dialogues – in Japan and they tell me about a lack of job satisfaction and a sense that they are like a performing bear. If people are serious about teaching and don’t want to work in such an establishment, then they need initial ELT qualifications and CELTA is the most recognised one there is.
What is your response to the many new TEFLers who have no TEFL certificate but find work?
Before I answer this question directly, I’d like to point out that “new TEFLers” most likely refers to white native speakers who move abroad. Most ELT teachers I have met and worked with have been qualified teachers with qualifications from their country and, if taking CELTA or Delta, it is not the qualification that will get them a job. They gained that through hard work at university (even if in most cases the qualification isn’t actually practical).
Many people become English Language teachers in the way you describe in the question. My response would be to look in the mirror and think about what you’re doing, maybe not as you start out (most people know no better), but certainly after some time teaching. There was debate about this online last year which related to a member of staff of an ELT company leaving to go teach English in South East Asia but without any practical training. A number of people complained, and rightly so, highlighting issues ranging from short-changing the students, being exploited by your employer and simply being a fish out of water.
Teaching is a profession and as such needs professionals. Just speaking a language is no guarantee you can teach it, regardless of what many schools might advertise. It might be very easy to find work as a white native speaker, but this does not mean it is the right thing to do. However, the majority does this because the industry allows it and they don’t know about training opportunities, which indicates that you have an industry-wide image problem and not a few nefarious individuals out there. Many good, professional, committed teachers (and some big name teflebrities too!) started off like this but, and here’s the key thing, they eventually saw that they needed training and sought it. To continue to ‘teach’ without any reflection or awareness of this sort is unprofessional in the extreme.
To widen this issue slightly, I think there is an unfortunate ‘The Anglophone West is better than the rest’ attitude too. The language used in discussing teaching abroad is revealing to this extent. People ‘head off’ to Asia/Eastern Europe/Latin America to ‘teach English for a couple of years’, for example. Think of any other profession and you probably won’t find such collocations describing it. I’ve never heard of someone heading off to Asia to nursing for a couple of years (unless they were actually a qualified nurse or volunteering, i.e. not being paid as a professional). The very fact that we seem to think it is ok to think about and describe teaching English in this way is indicative of cultural attitudes and biases that relegate the teacher to native speaker and the ‘developing world’ (I dislike the term, but use it for ease of understanding) to somewhere where it’s ok to not be good at or understand what you do. It is insulting to the many committed teachers from the country you happen to be in, those I discussed in the first paragraph of this response, that this attitude should prevail and it helps perpetrate the myth that the native speaker teacher is innately better.
In your opinion, what are the core teaching skills everyone needs?
This is an incredibly difficult question to answer as the context and culture in which you are teaching will make a big difference to your required core skills. To think macro for a moment, I’d say that teachers need empathy and patience as that is most likely to lead to rapport. Rapport could actually be the single most important attribute for a teacher to possess, but it’s not fully technique-driven and relies a lot on personality. Cultivating a sense of empathy can really help in this direction, however, and people can be taught to do this through raising their awareness of their own personality and the struggles that their learners have learning English.
Another key skill is the ability to analyse language. Many people think this only really applies at advanced levels, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re teaching YLs, you still need to be able to identify valuable chunks to teach and this depends on your ability to analyse language. Language analysis is not simply knowing what the past perfect continuous is and why it’s used. It’s an ability to look at the systems of English and identify areas which cause your learners problems, which they need for their own purposes with the language, and importantly what is not worth teaching. If you don’t know what collocation is, for example, how could you do this?
A third point would be classroom management. This does not mean routines and punishments, but really effective teachers have a means of creating chaos but being in complete control. It is a set of skills, mixed with personality and a number of techniques from experience and training, but when you see a really good YL teacher ‘work the room’, so to speak, it is a humbling experience. The same can be said for teachers teaching adults too. They can be sitting a circle and you walk in and aren’t sure who the teacher is, but it becomes clear that there is a teacher pretty quickly, even if they don’t take a teacher’s position in the room and do all the talking (Mike Griffin posted a short audio related to this on his blog just the other day).
Do you think that great teachers are born or made?
Impossible question, but I’d hedge here and say it’s a bit of both. Great teachers are not born in the sense that someone pops out the womb able to manage a class of 23 young adults in a university setting. However, if you have a personality suitable for the job, which means having empathy, patience and awareness of other people as well as yourself, then with training in techniques and approaches and so forth, you can be a very effective teacher. If, on the other hand, you have all the techniques, but not the personality, you are unlikely to be able to be as effective as the first teacher described. I’ve seen it go bad both ways: the rapport teacher who gets by on personality and entertainment versus the techniques teacher who really just doesn’t care about the learners but can sure concept check. Somewhere in the middle is probably the best place to be.
If you had carte blanche to adapt the CELTA or DELTA , what would you change?
I would not change much about the content of the syllabus for either award as they are quite flexible. CELTA, for example, has a reputation for PPP methodology and what have you, but this is not a syllabus requirement and on my own courses I don’t suggest candidates use it for their lessons (though we still discuss what it is – it’s important to know as a professional). Another example would be that some people argue there should be much more focus on technology on CELTA and Delta but, again, there is scope for this in the syllabus (though I disagree with including more than two sessions, say, as it does not yet reflect the majority of teaching contexts that graduates will end up in). Others still argue that CELTA and Delta are prescriptive in terms of accents you have to use when describing pronunciation, use of L1 in the classroom or even something called the ‘CELTA Method’, but this is all down to individual course provision and syllabus interpretation (though I’d play safe in the Delta M1 exam and transcribe in RP).
However, having said I wouldn’t change much, I think there really should be a strong YL component to CELTA. Most candidates will go on to teach YLs at some point as it such a big part of the market, but CELTA leaves people unprepared for this. It’s not CELTA’s fault – it is, after all, a general introductory course about teaching adults – but as the preeminent gateway qualification into ELT, I think it should reflect the market more. This is particularly true with the YL Extension ending in 2016 too (though Cambridge now do the CELT-S and CELP-P, but these are aimed at groups rather than individuals, making them more difficult to access).
It sounds terrible to say, but I would be stricter in monitoring tutors and strike some off the approved list! 99% of tutors are excellent, committed, knowledgeable professionals, but there is the odd bad apple. As an example, I worked with one trainer on two courses last year who received numerous and repeated complaints from the candidates about their training style and assessment. While the individual centre will not employ this tutor again, they are free to apply for work elsewhere. This is never talked about and is largely swept under the carpet but it affects the professional reputation of the industry and the satisfaction of the candidates taking the course.
On a much more prosaic note, I’d change the assessment criteria to make them more user-friendly, though I won’t bore you with the details of that!
Thanks again to Chris Ozog for agreeing to be interviewed.