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An Interview with Orlando Delgado Mata of IH Mexico
This month, I got to catch up with one of the pros at International House Mexico, Orlando Delgado Mata. Orlando is the director of teacher training and development at IH Mexico, but his industry experience ranges everywhere from teaching young learners to assessing CELTA courses. I had a blast chatting with him about why doing your CELTA in Mexico or Costa Rica is an awesome idea, all his advice on success during the course, how to prepare for your DELTA, and more!
Here are the highlights of the interview, edited down for length (Orlando is an expert and managed to pack so much info into our conversation!). If you are specifically interested in what it’s like to get a CELTA in Mexico or Costa Rica, we start talking about that around 20:00. To hear all about his experience in EFL and his insider tips on the CELTA and job market, make sure you listen to the entire interview!
How did you get started in English teaching industry?
Well in my case this started probably 15-16 years ago. I first heard about CELTA when I was looking for training myself. It all started as a hobby I was doing my BA, my first degree in English lit. I wanted to do something with my free time, and I thought well maybe I could just teach English. The place where I was taking English classes myself was offering CELTA. I just went to the center where I was taking classes and asked them for information, what I can do in my free time, how could I get trained up, and that’s how it all started. It became a hobby and then I suddenly realized that I enjoy working with people. After the first couple of months, I was helping people, and it became more of a vocation for me rather than a hobby.
So basically my first degree became the hobby and teaching my profession. I started teaching young learners. That was quite an experience. That lasted about eight months, close to a year. Then from there I got a job offer from International House Mexico, where I had taken my initial teacher training course. That’s pretty much how I got started through IH Mexico and teaching in different contexts.
I’ve heard so many stories too, of people using the CELTA to reboot a different career. It is a really nice way to get a quality retraining for a different profession if you’re looking to change things up.
And the other thing is it has so many transferable skills when you think about it. Organizational skills, people skills, management skills, things that are not only applicable to teaching English but in the real world. How you talk to people, how you give feedback to people, how you deal with emotions.
As someone who has had years of experience in the industry, why would you advise someone to take the CELTA instead of another certificate course?
I mean to begin with, CELTA is the initial teacher training qualification. It’s a very good course and it gives you the basic tools and skills to perform. Especially for somebody who has no previous experience, like myself. When I started teaching, I knew that I wanted to do something and that something was teaching, but I didn’t really know where to get started. CELTA is the one course that is equipping you with those basic tools, to perform in a group of people, to adapt to new environments. It’s pretty intense, super intense, but it’s just wonderful how right from day number one you start teaching real people, real teaching practice students, people that are super motivated to come to your classes. And they know what’s going on. Ok fine, you’re just getting started and they bear with you. They’re really really patient and that really helps the entire process.
Because ultimately what you want to gain as a candidate on a CELTA course, is to gain confidence. Especially if you’ve never been in front of a group of people before, and that’s precisely what CELTA does for you. It helps you know how to stage classes, how to plan language lessons, how to develop skills in the classroom, error correction, help your learners, and simply just how to assess your learners, how to diagnosis your learners’ needs, accurately, in a way that you can accurately teach a good lesson.
And that entire process is four weeks. And it’s just amazing, if you compare the results from your first teaching practice on day number one and the final product, it’s just amazing. As a CELTA teacher, you create teachers. In only four weeks. You mold their skills. And what you get at the end of the course is a well-principled, well-informed teacher who can actually survive the teaching jungle.
I know I chose CELTA because I did all this research and I saw that people said over and over again that it was the best certificate, both in the eyes of employers, but also for your own personal development. This is the one that really laid that foundation for you to be a good teacher, and I did really find it appealing that we taught immediately. You get in front of a classroom of students and that’s how you know if you want to do this. Especially if you choose to do this abroad. Living abroad is a challenge, teaching is a challenge. So you should try to make sure you at least enjoy the teaching before you go abroad.
Well you’re a CELTA trainer, a DELTA trainer, an assessor — do you have any tips for success for CELTA trainees who are maybe about to start a course or are on a course now?
The first thing that you have to keep in mind is we are here to help. The tutors, the center itself, they want you to succeed. The tutors are going to be helping you, they’re going to be giving you feedback. Yes, the course is challenging, yes sometimes things are going to be a little bit stressful, and you say, Oh why am I taking the course? That’s part of the experience, and more importantly your teachers are there to help you. I think the most important piece of advice would be to remain open to constructive criticism, to feedback. Your tutors really want you to succeed on the course.
And also just try to keep things in perspective because it is a challenging course, but it’s also very doable. More importantly it’s also very enjoyable, and the fact that you are helping people — that’s something that doesn’t normally happen in all professions.
Yeah when people ask me my advice on the CELTA, my thing is always: your trainers are there to help. They’re not there to fail you. They’re there to uphold the Cambridge standards, but they want all the candidates to succeed. And they’re always great resources, and I had such positive trainers on my course in New York. They really are the biggest help.
And also peers! No man is an island. As a candidate you work in what we call “teaching practice groups,” and that’s so helpful. There are some programs out there where you have to work on your own. You have to write assignments on your own without the help of your peers. Once you become a teacher you’re going to be working with a group of people. The idea is you’re going to be needing help and that’s totally fine. On the course you can actually get help from your peers and your tutors and then put them together constructively, and it’s only going to help even more on the course.
What would you say are the benefits of doing a CELTA course in Mexico or Costa Rica?
Well to begin with, great location! I love Mexico. I was born and raised here of course. Mexico City is such a vibrant place. Full of attractions. People call Mexico City the City of Museums. We have 200-300 museums just in Mexico City. Interesting people, super welcoming, and that’s in terms of location itself.
But also in terms of the ELT market, it has been an emerging market for like the last 10 years. There’s so much that Mexico as a country has to offer to newly qualified teachers. The demand for English teachers in Mexico is tremendous.
All of that aside, our program is very well structured. We have two assessors as part of the staff. One of them is myself. We have another CELTA assessor who is responsible for the design of the program. We consistently receive good reviews, good reports from Cambridge. And also being part of, in this case International House Mexico being part of International House World Organization, we also have contacts with the rest of the schools part of the International House organization. And therefore, for people that would like to get started here in Mexico City or any of the other 14-15 branches in the country where we run teacher training courses, it’s relatively easy for them to get a job, get started here, and then simply move to a different place, to different IH schools around the world.
Costa Rica, this is going to be the first year when we run CELTA in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is super well-known for its wildlife, tropical rain forests, beautiful beaches, of course. Again great location and again being the first year we run CELTA in Costa Rica, again it’s an emerging market. ELT-wise there’re a lot of opportunities for people to go to the country, take a course there, and make that their starting point. A link through South America, North America, and Central America and so forth. The program is exactly the same one as we run in Mexico City, just as structured, just as principled.
It kind of makes me want to do the CELTA again but in Mexico! I mean to be honest, having been based in Eastern Europe for the past two years, I am dying for some decent Mexican food.
The cuisine is just amazing! I think it’s world wide cultural heritage, Mexican food.
And I know people when they’re thinking about going abroad and teaching or getting their CELTA — a lot of people are young. Maybe they haven’t traveled abroad so much and safety is always a concern. But I traveled in Mexico for three weeks by myself. I don’t speak hardly any Spanish, and I felt totally safe the entire time. And obviously you can’t take one person’s experience as the end-all-be-all experience, but I was in Mexico City, Pueblo, Oaxaca, Cancun, Isla Holbox, and Tulum. If anyone is on the fence and is like, “I’ve heard some stories,” I had a blast in Mexico City by myself.
It’s also very cheap compared to other countries! Really so very cheap. Your money can actually take you to so many places in the country.
Speaking of teaching opportunities in Mexico, is it better to connect with the school before going? Is it better to find a school once you’re in location? Do you think teachers will get a full time job or will it be putting together part-time work? Any sort of ideas you can give us about the job market in Mexico?
What it comes down to is where you’d like to work. ELT is such an emerging market, but it’s also very diverse. It really comes down to what you’d like to do and where you’d like to teach.
For example, being CELTA qualified, you can teach in all sorts of different places. We’ve had candidates who finished CELTA on a Friday in week number four and they get started Monday right after finishing the course. They applied to different places, for example, language schools, language institutions, primary schools, secondary schools. You can also work for local universities.
Most people wouldn’t actually get in touch with the schools from a distance. They will come to Mexico, they will travel here, get trained up here, and then as they’re finishing the training or maybe right at the end, they start hunting and start getting in touch with schools. We also work with a number of agencies who would normally recruit from our own pool of candidates. I would say that’s the easiest way to get a job in Mexico.
The three biggest cities in Mexico, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City itself. Those would be the biggest markets in the country, but sometimes through our agents people have moved to Puebla or Oaxaca. Different places where there is a really well known local school or local university.
In terms of when people do that, in terms of hiring season. Working for universities or primary and secondary schools, that will be maybe towards April, May. Schools usually start towards the end of August. But of course way before summer, schools are always looking for teachers for the new term. It’s easier if you’re trained up before summer, if you’re looking to primary, secondary schools, or high schools.
Do you see the industry moving in any particular direction, either in methodology or in business practices?
I would be tempted to say maybe online teaching, though that has been going on for quite sometime. And you know of course with new generations, new schemes of work, there’s more of a market for online teaching. Though there’ll always be, I think, a need for face-to-face contact.
In terms of methodology, you’re looking at more principled and informed teaching practices. Now we’re living in the post-method era, we’re talking about principled eclecticism. The whole idea being whatever methodology you use, it all comes down to the kinds of learners you have and the context in which you’re teaching. It really has to do with really knowing your learners very well so that you can adapt your methodology, your practices, but in a principled way.
That’s such a transferable skill. That applies to any teaching context. Nowadays, with globalization, the people that you’re going to be teaching in the future are people that are going to be potentially interacting not only with native speakers but with non-native speakers as well. Talking to other non-native speakers. There’s also the idea of English as a lingua franca, English as an international language, for which you also have to teach a number of different cultural values.
That’s something that’s been of interest to me over the last couple years, teaching English as a lingua franca and not just for students to go study in the UK or the United States but rather to communicate with business partners in Europe or in China or wherever. It was interesting because when I was in Kyiv I taught English to a film company. On one hand, there was a lot of work I wanted to do with idioms and expressions and things like that. But after a couple of months of teaching them, I was like, “They’re probably not going to need these because they’re talking to their Dutch partners or their Japanese partners and they probably don’t know those idioms. So if my students use them, they’re only going to confuse their partners.” And it really made me rethink what the goals were for the students and how I could best help them too.
Nowadays days it really has more to do with intelligibility. The issue now is like you’re saying, teaching English as a lingua franca. And that’s where methodology is also moving to very rapidly, rather than English as a foreign language even or English as a second language. Issues of ESL or EFL are kind of being left in the past rather than been pushed forward.
And with teachers developing, if you’ve been in the industry for a couple years you’ve probably thought about getting your DELTA — I know I’m thinking about getting my DELTA this upcoming summer. Do you have any advice for teachers — and me — those of us about to start our DELTAs?
I would say do an awful lot of background reading! There are going to be so many new things that you’re going to be learning on the course. Methodology and language awareness and analysis and skills work. The more you read in preparation for the course the better. DELTA is super demanding. It’s very challenging. It’s pretty much a life changing experience. You’re one kind of teacher, one person before the course, and you’re a completely different human being right after, a renewed teacher. Deconstructed, reconstructed, put back together. It’s such a rewarding process.
You know one of the key differences between CELTA and DELTA, when you’re taking that course you’re working with experienced teachers. For example, when I took the course myself, I was the youngest teacher there in my group. I was sharing the room with people who had twenty years of experience, twenty five years of experience. People that had been teaching in Poland, UK, refugees, Pakistan, Oman. All of these different teaching contexts. I learned an awful lot from their experiences. Whenever I was doing research, bouncing ideas off each other. Have you ever taught xyz in that context? How did your learners react to that? Potentially, I learned as much from the course itself in terms of input as I did from working with my peers. Gaining all this insight that you sometimes cannot get from books, journals, or other sources.
I would say approach a course with an open mind, do as much reading as you can, get as much done as you can prior to the course, and then when you’re on the course, try to get as much as you can from your peers, from their contexts, their backgrounds, their expertise.
How did you start assessing courses and what do you think are the benefits of being a course assessor?
I think that’s potentially the favorite thing I do in my profession. I think I started assessing back 4 or 5 years ago, back in 2013. I started assessing CELTA and I also assess DELTA candidates around the world.
Many moons ago I became a CELTA tutor. You have to be fully DELTA qualified and then you have to be attached to a center to be nominated to be a CELTA assistant course tutor. You run a number of courses under a main course tutor’s supervision. You get feedback so that you can go on to be a main course tutor. Then the opportunity just showed up. Cambridge was looking for assessors in the region, and I applied.
Being an assessor allows you to travel to these different places and different countries and different training contexts. I really enjoy and love training and teaching. Teaching is at the heart of what we do as trainers. But then, as a trainer, you impact on so many lives. It is kind of a cascading effect. You train people and then these newly qualified people are going to be touching so many different people. It’s so rewarding.
To me, the most rewarding part of the process is, as a Cambridge assessor you have to go to these Cambridge centers and you have to make sure they’re running the courses according to regulations. And of course you do that, you talk to the candidates, you talk to the tutors, you talk to the center, and then you send your report back to Cambridge. But the most rewarding thing, at least to me, is when you talk to candidates and you talk to the trainers and you actually exchange ideas. One of the things I enjoy the most is the feedback that I get from the candidates on the course because you get to understand the course from the candidates’ point of view. So much feedback and so many ideas that you never thought of yourself before. And then you discuss those ideas with the tutors. You agree on suggestions, actions point for both the center, the tutors themselves, you give them feedback. It’s such a rewarding experience.
I think that’s my favorite part of being an assessor – the best part is being part of that community of professionals that really want to help people and run better courses.
So, what do you think about doing a CELTA in Mexico or Costa Rica? Do you have any CELTA questions we can help you with?
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.