Luis Clavijo: Professional development is a must

Today’s interviewee has had a very interesting teaching career. We talked about his work in South America and Russia, the role of technology, advanced teaching qualifications, the importance of teacher training, and other ELT topics.

Luis Clavijo is a Peruvian-born English teacher based in Bogotá. He started his teaching career in 1995 in La Paz, Bolivia. After working in a variety of teaching positions, Luis did his CELTA at the British Council in Bogotá in 2003, which allowed him to land a job at BKC-International House in Moscow. He then returned to Bolivia, joined forces with what used to be The British Council La Paz, a new language school then called The Language Works. A few years after that, he ended up opening his own language school and became involved in teacher training. Luis went back to Russia in 2013 and completed his Delta four years later. He has been working as a freelance online teacher since moving to Colombia in November 2020.

Luis Clavijo: Teachers should have access to professional development

You arrived to Colombia in the middle of the current pandemic. How would you describe your experience so far?

It hasn’t been easy because I’ve spent most of my time here in my apartment. I try to keep myself physically active, so I go to the gym. When it comes to teaching, I work exclusively online through Zoom thanks to having incredibly loyal students from my time in Russia. They have been studying with me for a long time, which is amazing. I work mainly in the morning because of the time difference between Colombia and Russia. I’m also open to teaching Colombian students here if an opportunity appears, and I’m thinking of setting up a project for teachers.

Was it easy for you to move back to Latin America after spending almost seven years in Russia?

I wanted to come back because I missed being in Latin America. The process itself was complicated due to the restrictions; it was difficult to find a combination of flights that would get me here. When a window to travel through London opened, I got myself on the plane and left Russia. Of course, living in Latin America presents its own challenges. Even though I am eligible for a Mercosur visa, it took the authorities more than two months to process my application.

You started working as a teacher in La Paz in 1990s. How has teaching English changed since then?

I didn’t have much contact with technology until I moved to Santa Cruz in 2012. We used overhead projectors connected to PCs because we couldn’t afford interactive whiteboards. By the way, I’ve never laid a finger on an IWB in my life. When I returned to Moscow, I had only a whiteboard and a CD player, so I decided to use my mobile phone and wireless speakers for playing audio files. Then I bought a tablet that came with a projector, and I feel that projecting stuff has made a huge difference because the visual content always attracts the students’ attention.

How did you cope with the switch to online teaching?

I actually started teaching online a few months before the pandemic due to unfortunate circumstances. I injured my ankle in December 2019, so the school asked me if I wanted to try doing some Skype lessons from home, and I agreed. Then I discovered Zoom, and that’s how IH Moscow started delivering online classes. I began experimenting with Google Docs and WhatsApp groups, which is something that I still use because I find it extremely helpful when teaching online. I decided to get the IH COLT certificate, which I obtained in February 2020, and we all know what happened the following month. Of course, my friends kept jokingly asking me if I knew something that the rest of the world did not.

What can you tell me about your CELTA experience? I see that got a Pass A grade, so what advice would you give to those considering this qualification?

I did my CELTA at the British Council here in Bogotá in 2003. Even though I had managed to save some money, I didn’t want to travel to an expensive place. Doing the course in Colombia was an amazing experience; I was really impressed by the school and the resources. When it comes to getting a good grade, I recommend doing a lot of reading before starting the course, and you should take the pre-course tasks seriously. There are also helpful preparation courses that clearly exemplify what the CELTA is all about. Of course, we did not use much technology when I did the course, but I think current CELTA trainees will benefit from being familiar with tools that can be used in the classroom (Vocaroo, Quizlet, etc.).

You then spent one academic year in Russia. Why did you decide to move there?

Bolivia was going through an economic crisis, which meant that a lot of students dropped out, so I decided to move to another country. I had job offers from Turkey and the Czech Republic, but I was intrigued by the idea of going to Russia. Winston Churchill described the country as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, so I thought it would be nice to go to Moscow. That year was a really interesting experience for me. I also did an exchange programme in the middle of the academic year and went to Istanbul for five weeks. We stayed at an amazing hotel a few blocks away from the Grand Bazaar, which was great. When my contract in Russia ended, I had a job lined up in Portugal, but unfortunately I couldn’t get a work visa because of my Peruvian passport.

What motivated you to set up your own school in Bolivia?

When I was looking for a job after returning from Russia, I was initially told, by my own friend no less, that my name sounds too Latino. Funnily enough, The Language Works called me back a couple of weeks later to cover for an absent teacher. Everything went well and I was hired thanks to positive feedback from the students. That job gave me an opportunity to get some experience as a senior teacher, and I became a DoS when the school was sold to new owners. I was trying to raise the standards in terms of hiring teachers because I believe that La Paz deserves better teachers than some random backpackers with an online TEFL certificate. Unfortunately, the owners disagreed with that, so I decided to step down from the role. I thought it was the right time to do my own thing, so I set up a school called Language Plus. By the time I decided to leave South America again, the school had grown a lot and I had three teachers working for me.

You then went back to Moscow and completed several teaching qualifications there. Could you briefly talk about the courses you took?

I was a little out of practice teaching groups, as I had spent years primarily teaching one-to-one, so I did the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology, which was great as a pre-Delta course. I actually enjoyed it more than the Delta Module One preparation course. CAM spells out things explicitly and provides a lot of structure, which is what I needed at that time. Then I did the first two Delta modules in 2015, which was very demanding time-wise, particularly the two-month Module Two course. Fortunately, I was lucky to have an amazing tutor, Joanna Graham, who is always willing to support the trainees and go the extra mile. Academically speaking, it was a challenging experience. I did a ‘for and against’ essay for my LSA4 and intended to highlight relevant features. When I was teaching the lesson, it dawned on me that I was running out of time, so I had to repair instructions and go with my plan B. Fortunately, it proved to be a good decision and I passed.

What was your Module Three specialism?

I chose teaching one-to-one because that’s what I’ve been doing my whole career. I have a lot of experience in this area, so the creative process wasn’t that difficult, but I struggled a little with sitting down and structuring the assignment. It was necessary to make references to other parts of the essay and put everything together in a coherent way. Of course, I wrote too much and needed to trim it down at the end. I thought the final version was pretty good, so I was a little disappointed with a Merit grade.

You also worked as a translator. Would you say there are any transferable skills between translating and teaching?

Not really. The only thing that can help you as a teacher is the knowledge of typical mistakes that learners make due to translating directly from their mother tongue. Back in Moscow I made a list of some common errors Russian speakers make, and that was very helpful in my teaching practice.

I think my growing up in the USA influenced my attitude towards languages. My parents spoke Spanish at home and my dad would always tell me to speak the language properly, and then I applied the same logic to English because I wanted to fit in. I started to develop an interest in writing when I was studying in Chile, and I even won some awards in Bolivia. I always try to be as accurate as possible, which has helped me both in teaching and translating.

Your name also appears in Rory Fergus Duncan-Goodwille’s book The English Teachers, which was published last year. How did that come about? 

I met Rory in his role of ADoS at BKC-International House in Moscow. He is an amazing, knowledgeable professional, so I was more than happy to contribute to his book as an interviewee. I really enjoyed it, and it would be great to collaborate with him on another project again.

Would you recommend the Cambridge Train the Trainer course to those interested in becoming teacher trainers?

Yes, I would. I actually did the very first online Cambridge Train the Trainer course. It was similar to the IH Teacher Trainer Certificate I had done before, so it doesn’t really matter if you do the Cambridge or International House version. Both courses are very helpful in terms of communication with teachers and understanding their needs. If I were to open a school again, I would make sure that teachers have access to professional development and academic support. Sadly, this is not always the case anywhere else I’ve been to, and many language schools and institutions still don’t do enough when it comes to teacher training.

Cambridge Train the Trainer FAQ

If you are interested in professional development courses leading to certificates issued by Cambridge Assessment English, you may have come across the following framework of teaching qualifications. This image is a simplified version of a table that can be found in the Delta handbook for tutors and candidates:

Cambridge Train the Trainer FAQ

Even though Train the Trainer is an advanced qualification, there isn’t much information available on the most relevant website, so teachers on social media keep asking for more details. I have just finished this course with IH Lima, and I hope that those interested in obtaining this qualification will find my post helpful. Please note that this article is based on my personal experience and online research, which means that you should always double check everything with an authorised course provider.

Why is Train the Trainer placed slightly higher than Delta on the framework?
Good question. Train the Trainer is definitely not that demanding! I believe the main reason is the fact that Delta is supposed to make you a better teacher, but it doesn’t prepare you for being a trainer. I guess the idea behind this is that you should at first reach a certain level of development as a teacher before getting involved in training.

Do I need to have a Delta to take this course?
No. Having a Delta is an advantage, but the course provider may accept candidates with other qualifications. The course is aimed at experienced teachers interested in teacher training, and each application is evaluated individually. I am sure that having Delta Module One and Three certificates helped me compensate for my relative lack of experience and get accepted onto the course.

Do I need to have training experience?
Again, it’s desirable but not obligatory. I had delivered just a couple of workshops before taking the Train the Trainer course.

I have been training teachers for many years. Should I take the course?
There were some experienced teacher trainers on my course, and their comments were really positive. Many trainers receive very little support and have to figure out a lot of things by themselves, so they will benefit from receiving formal training.

What areas does the course deal with?
The Train the Trainer course comprises these six modules:

The training class focuses on the main differences between teaching students and training teachers.
Analysing and designing training sessions will show you how to plan a variety of input sessions.
Delivering training sessions is the most practical part of the course. You may be asked to plan and run a mock training session.
Observing teachers consists of watching a recorded lesson and analysing it as if you were the observer.
Managing feedback helps you identify various ways of giving oral and written feedback to teachers. You analyse a recorded feedback session as well.
Course planning and trainer development goes beyond standalone sessions and teaches you how to plan longer courses. You also receive advice on further professional development opportunities for trainers.

How long is the course?
Approximately 30 hours. There are even intensive week-long courses for those who can afford to take time off from work. I chose a course that lasted 8 weeks and consisted of 4-hour Zoom sessions every Sunday, so it didn’t interfere with my job.

What do I have to do to pass the course?
When it comes to the course delivered by IH Lima, you just have to attend all the sessions. Other providers might have other criteria, but there is no final exam and you don’t need to produce any written documents to be sent to Cambridge Assessment English.

How can I learn something from a course without formal assessment?
The course is structured in such a way that you can’t just sit back and listen to other people. In addition to your tutor’s input, there are many tasks you have to complete and plenty of interaction with other trainees. I enjoyed talking to experienced teacher trainers and I feel that I have learnt a lot from them.

Is the course standardised?
Other bloggers have taken the course with different providers, and it seems the course content was pretty much the same. I recommend reading Rachel Tsateri’s reflections and James Fuller’s series of eight blog posts with information about each session. My tutors used materials provided by Cambridge Assessment English, so I don’t think there will be huge differences between courses.

Do I have to work for the centre running the Train the Trainer course to be accepted as a trainee?
No. The course is open to external candidates as well. Most of my colleagues on the course were from Peru, but there were also participants accessing the Zoom meetings from Ecuador, Uruguay, Scotland, and Bangladesh. I was the only trainee based in Colombia.

How can I find a course provider?
I think Cambridge Assessment English could do a little bit more to promote the course. Unfortunately, you can’t find course providers using this otherwise helpful Find a teaching qualification centre search tool. Google doesn’t always help because there are other courses of the same name that aren’t related to teaching at all. What you have to do is look for training centres running Delta courses and check if they offer Train the Trainer as well. I have found the following providers:

South America: IH Lima, São Paulo Open Centre, Seven
Europe: ACE TEFL, Applied Language Studies House, CELT Athens
Asia: Apollo English, ATI Ankara, ICD Lahore, ITI Istanbul
Africa: Britishey
Australia: Lexis

This list is by no means complete. If you would like me to add other providers, please get in touch and I’ll update this post.

What can I do with the Train the Trainer certificate?
You become eligible to train teachers on the CELT-P and CELT-S courses.

Will this course help me become a CELTA trainer?
Not directly because you have to go through a separate training process for that. You can read this series of posts written by Anthony Gaughan for more information. That said, the knowledge gained on the Train the Trainer course definitely applies to CELTA trainers too, so I suppose having this qualification on your CV may increase your chances of becoming a CELTA trainer in the future.

Is taking this course online a good idea?
I don’t think that attending the Train the Trainer course through Zoom represents a major issue. Our tutors used this platform in an effective manner, and I really enjoyed the activities we were asked to do in breakout rooms.

However, it was quite disappointing to see that the materials weren’t adapted to the online environment at all. We simply received the handouts that are used on in-class courses as PDF files. Some trainees actually printed them out, which of course meant that they couldn’t share their notes on the screen. The handouts are full of useful information, but working with them wasn’t a user-friendly experience. I believe that the materials should have been shared as Word documents or made editable by using a tool such as PDFescape.

That was my only criticism of the course; I found the content very useful for my professional development, but I think that persisting with the PDF file format wasn’t a step in the right direction. I don’t know how exactly other course providers share the materials, so I recommend that you ask them about that during the application process.