Monday, February 8, 2016

Introducing Cinzia Guerriero

Thank you very much Cinzia Guerriero for posting your thoughts in this website. Let the world know that she has recently received a CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) qualification, which has given one more value to her ongoing English teacher's carrier. Ms. Guerriero is Italian and holds some anxieties of how the market views her while she is a non-native speaker of English. 

Good news is it is not ethnical background but professionalism that counts as a good instructor (Lia Kamhi-Stein, 2007, p. 20) and it is already easy to see that she is a dedicated teacher of English. 

Source: Kamhi-Stein. L.D. (2007). Learning and teaching from experience (4th ed.). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press

If what you do is who you are. The whole story.
by Cinzia Guerriero

My story with CELTA starts on a rainy day in May, riding a train for Kobe to attend an interview with the manager of the Cambridge Examinations center.

The interview lasted an hour and a half, and it ended with me smiling when I was accepted to the course. The manager told me that from September I would be a CELTEE for about 4 months.

Already during the interview I had an idea of what it would mean to attend the course, to have the chance to work and study in an environment supporting my teaching method and style.

I was surprised, glad and honored that I could gain that opportunity. As an Italian native speaker my curiosity led me to ask how many non-native English teachers had previously passed the course. They told me that there had been some Japanese, French and a couple of Spanish, but no Italians so far. I was even more delighted. What a mission it would be for me to represent my nationality, non-native English (Italian) teacher! I even asked about the scoring system and they explained it: “Pass A almost never happens, Pass B is very rare, almost all teachers get a Pass and that doesn’t mean you’re not a brilliant teacher”.

My ambition grew even more. I was already fantasizing about how proud all my family and friends would be, once I completed the course with more than just a Pass!

Daydreaming was a lot of fun and a good incentive until the course started. The real challenge presented itself very clearly and quite soon, in fact after the first couple of Saturdays I took some steps back and told myself, “Aim for the Pass and you will be more than happy and satisfied!”

Many told me that CELTA is a hard path to go through, it requires commitment, precision, dedication and time. All of us were struggling with trying to manage time, jobs, families and our own real lives. The reality in the end was that for almost 4 months CELTA was my life. Putting CELTA first meant other things had to come after my studies. My family was very supportive and the Pass B I received is indeed the result of my commitment and their help. Family and friends played an important role during CELTA, they believed in me and I succeeded brilliantly.

The greatest novelty: observing your peers

CELTA is a stage and I was always on, each week, every Saturday, even when I wasn’t teaching. I was always engaged with an assignment, a TP to teach, a TP to observe, feedback to give to my peers, feedback to receive from my tutors.

During the course we were often asked: “how are you coping with the observations? Don’t you feel a little bit under pressure? Peers’ feedback, tutors’ feedback?

In reality I thought it was a good chance that we celtees were given to improve even more, through observing and being observed, but overall to receive feedback on our lessons and our planning was unique. It’s a luck that not all the teachers can afford. Through that process not only could I foresee or recall my mistakes during past lessons, but if I worked hard during the planning I could simply overcome those mistakes, and replace them with some solid language awareness while teaching. I could observe the students’ reactions and their faces and expressions, understand what they liked, what they knew, what they might ask me in the next lesson and so be prepared to satisfy their thirst of knowledge.
Peer observation is an element that, so far, only CELTA can offer, and it appears to be one of the keys for completing the course successfully.

Observing my peers meant that I was on stage with them, actively taking part in their choices while they taught and in their planning. I had the chance to look at their lesson plans and watch them in action during the teaching practice.

How about the times they observe you?

Sometimes I would hear my colleagues telling me “Your teaching techniques and principles go back to zero.” “For me, it would have been better if I didn’t know anything about teaching… Instead I had to reset everything”.

For me it wasn’t so much about resetting, but adding, integrating, enriching my professional assets and skills, discovering authors, techniques, giving names to methods that I had previously adopted but never known exactly how and why. The fact that I am Italian never represented a problem with my peers and tutors during the whole course. Actually it was always an element of admiration and praise from them. “Wow, how do you know this stuff?” was the most common comment.

My background knowledge actually ended up being an advantage in some moments. I had studied English as a foreign language since I was 10, so I knew what it meant to struggle with pronunciation, phonetics, grammar rules, connected speech and weak forms. Because of my Latin-Greek background knowledge I knew and used some lexis that wasn’t so common in an everyday speech between friends! So sometimes my peers would genuinely laugh at me, hearing words like ergo or vice versa with a strong Italian accent. At the end of the day my peers were starting to speak English with my accent!

Not even my students ever seemed uncomfortable with an Italian national teaching them English and again, even from them, I had a lot of support, respect and appreciation. One of my strengths was planning and anticipating possible problems in class. I myself had already been in a class with the same questions, the same doubts and I knew all about the expectations that students can put in their teacher’s clarifications. So I did my best all the time. Each lesson I worked hard to give my students the right amount of material to work on, constant but gradual challenges and fun too.

Only one month after the end of CELTA, I could get my certificate and with great surprise and satisfaction I could see that I got a Pass B. Although this great accomplishment, at almost each interview I have attended so far, I have been told that students usually prefer a native English speaker and because of this “the company’s hands are tied”. I don’t give up though, I know that out there are other people like me who will believe in what I do and who I am without associating it with my nationality.

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