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An Interview with Lizzy Adams of Teaching House
I first met Lizzy Adams at Teaching House New York when I was just a CELTA trainee – she was my TP tutor for the second half of my course, so she got to see my moments of triumph and my one or two teensy stressed out meltdowns (more about that later!). Now, Lizzy is the Director of Teacher Training for Teaching House, and she joined me for a special interview to talk about Teaching House New York’s 10th anniversary, share her tips for CELTA trainees, and give insight into the potential of an English Teaching career. Here are a few highlights from our conversation, but make sure you check out the audio to hear the whole interview!
Amy: I’m sure what people would like to know first is, how did you get into teaching?
Lizzy: It was funny because my parents are both teachers, my grandparents were teachers, but it was something I always said I wouldn’t do. I was quite resolute about that growing up. But then I went to university and graduation was looming and I was like, “What am I going to do? I have no idea!” I went to careers service and in those days there was no Internet but they set us up on this computer and I did a little quiz and it said, “Oh, you might like publishing!” That sounds quite snazzy, publishing, how do I get into publishing?
Well one of the routes into publishing is through T-E-F-L – what is that? Ok, so it’s TEFL, teaching English as a foreign language. How do I do that? And it said, “Well, you do a CELTA.” So I found a local course, I applied without really knowing what I was getting myself in for, and got accepted (which was a massive surprise for me at the time). I did it and loved it, like couldn’t believe how much I loved teaching and the CELTA. It was one of the most stressful and intensive experiences of my life as it is for many of us. But totally revolutionary and really completely changed the course of my life.
A: Where did you go teach first after completing your CELTA?
L: I started in Poland and I was there for two years. My job interview for the job in Poland consisted of my CELTA tutor saying, “So, do you want to go and teach in Poland?” I was like, “Yeah, alright.” He was like, “You’re not going to cry every night because you miss your mom?” “No.” “Ok, you have a job.” And that was it! Ok, Poland.
After that I transferred to Argentina. I was there for two years as well. And then I went back to the UK for a year chasing a boy as so often happens. I realized, no, I can’t stay here. So I went to Spain for five years in Madrid, which was amazing, and then New York. And that’s where the Teaching House thing started.
A: Had you been to New York before? Or is that what sort of drew you to Teaching House New York?
L: It was the course. I got the job as a freelancer over there. And I was like, “Wow, New York. You don’t get to work in New York very often.” So I snapped that opportunity up and I was only really planning on going for one month.
I had never been to New York before and I touched down on the Fourth of July. Which was really cool. And I was a little bit naïve and thought, “Oh, New York!” I had heard all these stories and thought it was dangerous — I was walking around on the streets on the Fourth of July and there was fireworks going off everywhere and I was like, “Oh no! Oh no – it’s just fireworks.” And everyone’s really happy and really cool. So that was my first experience in New York.
And then during that course me and my boss at the time got on really well and he offered me a full-time position. Which was tough! Because I wasn’t planning on leaving Madrid. I had this amazing apartment, a really great life, a great job over there, and I really wasn’t planning to leave. But I loved New York so much and I thought, go on, do it! […]
I had a list of pros and cons. And I gave each pro and each con a number about how important it was to me, and I added up all the pros and I added up all the cons and I think New York won by one.
A: That’s such an organized way to make a decision! I literally wake up one day and am like, “I think I’ll stay longer!” or “I think it’s time to go!” Who knows what’s next!
L: Well that was the first time I felt like I actually had to make a decision. Up until then it had all been, “Yeah I’ll try that! Yeah ok!” This was a real proper decision for the first time. I thought, “Oh, perhaps I’m a grownup now.”
A: It’s funny when you’re involved in this industry how easily you can go from, “Oh I’m going to spend one month in this place” and then you end up there for five years or eight years. That was me in Kyiv too. […]
L: I think you’re right. It’s such a flexible job. You can really go wherever, do whatever.
A: Back to that first course that you did in New York, that first life-changing course – what are your memories of it?
L: I remember the trainees very vividly. A few of them went on to teach abroad, a few in New York. One of them was quite a shy, reserved half-British, half-American dude, and on the last day we discovered he was like a rapper. That was cool! Yeah he was like a professional musician with some really cool tracks. It was a really nice mix of folks. I’ve kept in touch with a few.
A: So how has Teaching House changed since that second course you were involved in ten years ago?
L: I would say that a lot of the ethos has stayed the same, it’s all about travel and fun. But it’s expanded. We started off with two teacher trainers and two classrooms in a university in downtown New York. And now we have nineteen schools all around the world. It’s not taken too long to get to that place. Ten years, that’s quite impressive really. We’re the largest provider of CELTA in the world at the moment. So it’s been really cool to be part of that journey and see that expand and grow and develop. But like I said, the ethos of fun and professionalism and travel and adventure – that has stayed the same since the beginning.
A: And so your role has changed a lot. In addition to the company expanding, you’ve taken on new responsibilities. So how has that sort of morphed over the years?
L: I don’t feel like it’s changed that much, to be honest. I started off as a teacher trainer, and I’m still a teacher trainer. I guess I’m an assessor now for Cambridge, which is great because you get to go to other centers and compare notes and share best practices and discuss different options of training and how to implement the syllabus. So that’s really cool. We have a team of twelve – well, there’s actually more like eighteen teacher trainers now worldwide. So I sort of look after them in a way. We discuss academic issues. But I don’t really feel like a manager. I feel like I’m still a teacher, sharing ideas with the team and getting their input in how a course could be run and what could be different. That’s my favorite favorite part of the job.
A: What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing a CELTA?
L: I would just say do it! It’s such a great career because it’s great for people who are social — you meet people from all over the world, you get to learn about their backgrounds, their experiences. It’s good for people who are creative because you can be creative, you can concoct amazing lessons and use authentic materials. And it’s really really good for people who are academic because there is a lot research that’s been done into teaching and English language teaching in particular. It’s a big business so people have invested money in researching what works, what second language acquisition theories actually do hold up in the classroom. So if you’re thinking about whether or not to be an English teacher, that’s the advice I’d give – Yeah, you should. Because it’s really fun.
In terms of preparing for the CELTA, just do your reading before you start the course. Just get prepared. There’s a pre-course task you’ll get, and there’s lots and lots of online resources. Everyone, I would say 99% of people who finish the course, say they wish they had done more preparations.
For some people that’s preparation in the methodology of teaching and for some people that’s the grammar research. It really depends on how much you know about grammar already and with the case of people whose first language is not English, they often have learned English so they understand the grammar rules better. So as native speakers, that’s probably where I would advise putting your time and energy before the course – grammar analysis and learning about the language. If you’re a non-native speaker perhaps thinking about the methodologies. It really depends on those sorts of things. But do as much research before the course, because during the course, you’re not going to have a second.
A: Are there any big pitfalls that students get trapped in on a CELTA course?
L: The main one is just not managing their time correctly. And putting things off. That’s the biggest one. As soon as you get an assignment – start working on it! At least start thinking about it. As soon as you get the material you’ll be teaching in a couple of days, start working on it. Don’t leave it to the last minute. Because the success of the lesson depends entirely on how much time you spend planning it, in my experience. […] It’s really hard for a tutor to help someone if they haven’t done any prep. So getting ahead with your lesson planning – that’s the secret to CELTA.
A: Do you have any advice for people considering their DELTA – like me?
L: It’s a key to further your career basically. It opens so many doors. Things like academic management, teacher training, materials development. But it also makes teaching so much more rewarding. You really start to understand what the learners need and what they’re getting out of it – and how you can get them to where they want to go more efficiently and more effectively. It makes your job satisfaction go up.
The Blended DELTA that we offer at Teaching House is really flexible. You do Module 1 online, 100% online. And then you take the exam at your local center, wherever that is. Module 3 is 100% online and you don’t even need to do an exam. You can submit that from anywhere, as long as you’ve got an Internet connection. And Module 2 we do in person. That’s because we find that the face-to-face component of the practical teaching is really invaluable and there’s no real replacement for face-to-face teaching and observation. In New York it’s a five-week intensive program and in London we offer it as well. It’s a ten-week part time option. It’s flexible! […] I 100% recommend the DELTA, especially if you want to be a teacher trainer. It’s the best job in the world!
A: Two things I really valued about my CELTA course at Teaching House was teaching on your second day – and it sounds terrifying, and it was – but if you are someone who gets nervous or stage fright-y, having that first – just being thrown into the classroom and working with the students right away gets you adjusted to this idea that “Ok, I’m going to be teaching and I’m going to be assessed.” And thankfully that won’t be my whole career! There’s not always going to be someone in the corner assessing my lessons for my whole life. It’s tough for extroverts and tough for introverts, but I don’t think people should ever let them stop them from doing the CELTA.
Because the second thing I loved about Teaching House was the supportive staff. It never felt like the trainers were judging me or trying to be hard on me. It’s always done so supportively and getting feedback – it never felt like we were being criticized. The Teaching House trainers were just so well trained in giving feedback in a supportive way that I just really appreciated that. Because you’re going through such a stressful, difficult process it’s important that trainers have that sympathy.
L: We put a lot of emphasis on that feedback and a lot of thought into how we can deliver it effectively but really sensitively and supportively.
A: And what would you say are some of the cool things about Teaching House?
L: We go above and beyond with the jobs support. We know that CELTA trainees want to be good teachers, but really we know that they’re doing it to get a job. At the end of the day, it’s a qualification that gets a foot in the door. […] One of the things that’s cool about Teaching House is that we have the largest jobs search database on the web. We post lots of jobs every week. And we do three sessions during the course to help you find a job. There’s one that’s looking at your CV, your resume, making that more tailored to teaching English. There’s a one-to-one jobs tutorial during the course, with your teacher trainer, where we look at your ambitions and what sort of teaching you want to do and give you some advice based on that. And then there’s a session called Different Countries, Different Jobs. We tailor that to the group that we have. It’s basically what to look for in different parts of the world when you’re looking for a job.
These are just the highlights, but there are more stories and more info in the audio interview! Lizzy talks about how the CELTA is expanding in the United States, shares how the course enabled her introverted self to be a confident teacher, and explains why being a teacher trainer is the best job in the world. I nerd out about diagraming sentences, give my best advice for people worried about failing the CELTA, and talk about how having a CELTA has been crucial in getting all my jobs.
Listen to the full interview here:
To watch Lizzy speaking about “reconstruction” as part of our speaking series:
Amy snagged a CELTA from Teaching House New York in 2013 and since then has taught on three continents (and counting). Having a CELTA has made her dream of moving abroad possible, and currently she is slow-traveling through Europe. She loves getting to know students, wandering around cities, and trying to find the world’s best donut. You can check out her travel adventures and mishaps at The Wayfarer’s Book.