A BrELTer from Sete Lagoas, Minas Gerais, Mariana Ferreira has just passed the one-month CELTA. Yay!!! Mariana, who holds a B.A. in History from UFMG, had the whole community rooting for her after she told us about her initial struggles of being a CELTA candidate with disability.
1. Could you tell us a little about your pre-CELTA experience and qualifications as a teacher?
I’ve been in the teaching field for 3 years. However, before the CELTA, I had never dealt with groups of students. I used to teach one-to-one, but in an informal way, teaching mostly people I knew quite well. About my qualifications, I have studied History at UFMG and done CAE in 2011.
2. What made you decide to take the CELTA?
I decided to take the CELTA course because I wanted to boost my CV in order to get a good job teaching English.
3. What obstacles did you face? What did you do to overcome them?
First it was the language issue. I thought I wasn’t eligible for the CELTA because I didn’t have the amount of language necessary to take part in it.
After two interviews and some teaching observations recommended by the interviewer just to make sure I really wanted to do that, I landed in an unknown place, just as far from the CELTA dream as the Earth from the moon. Yes, it felt like it.
Most of my colleagues were highly qualified, coming from a Letras background or with years into the teaching field. I felt really out of place — not necessarily because of my disability, but mostly due to my lack of experience. I wondered what I was doing there so many times I can’t even count! During the course, I felt I was on the “fail” threshold throughout, although my overall grades were “standard”.
Also, while some of my colleagues were able to spend the night preparing their lessons, I needed a five-hour night sleep to be able to teach the next morning… and I wasn’t used to it! So, for me, it was a real struggle to have that limited amount of sleep.
Things got better when I moved to the beginners group. To be able to drill was magic. Everyone did as I asked! And during the second half of the course, I felt more comfortable and was able to deliver better lessons, although the students could produce less because of their level.
About the disability itself, in relation to the course, all I have to say now is that I had the amount of support I needed to get around. Surely, if I could stand and move easily like the rest of my colleagues, it would have been easier, especially on the issue of classroom management. Monitoring students was hard but I managed it. In fact, if there is a thing I really improved throughout the CELTA, this thing is classroom management. I feel like I really mastered the pairing up thing!
I had a hard time with other obligatory items of the course such as ‘Instruction Checking Questions’ (ICQs) and “Meaning – Pronunciation- Form” (MPF), but since in my last lesson I was able to do it properly I guess I’m on the right track, or I wouldn’t have passed.
Another silly problem I had during my TPs [Teaching Practices, the assessed lessons during the CELTA] was to look into students’ eyes. Yes, as silly as it may sound, I had this as an area to work on. Only after I returned home did I realize why I didn’t do it during the course. It’s because most most people would avoid my gaze, so as a way to protect myself I would also avoid students’ gaze as well.
4. What did you like the most about the course?
Although the hardships were several, what I really enjoyed at the CELTA was to watch experienced teachers live. I could learn a lot from those observations.
5. What are your post-CELTA plans?
I’ll get in touch with the person whose lessons I observed before the CELTA, and hopefully I’ll get a job in that language school. About my long-term plans, I want to take Letras and keep on qualifying myself to give better lessons.
6. What are the adaptations that a teacher with reduced mobility may need in the classroom?
First of all, if possible, get someone to help out with the board. I had one of my fellow colleagues during the course, but others may ask a student to come to the board and write if this doesn’t upset him or her.
Second, make sure there is enough room for you to move around (if the person is in a wheelchair) especially in crowded classes. If the class is smaller, it is easier to manage.
7. Have you ever felt any resistance from students, colleagues, or employers?
During the CELTA, students, colleagues and tutors had no resistance to my presence or to the wheelchair… it was almost an ideal place. But you know that in the real world things are quite different. I tried to get a job in my city and I have been declined so far in all my attempts. In a certain school, I was told I’d get a place in the training program if I passed the grammar test and, even though I got 80% of that test right, they did not let me in.
8. Would you like to leave BrELTers a message?
I’d highly recommend the CELTA for more experienced teachers, at least here in Brazil. If you have an open mind , go for it without fear, you will probably have lots of fun, even if you don’t get so much sleep!
And for those fellow English teachers who happen to have a disability as I do, I’d recommend it as well if you observe some things. First, your health must be checked so you’re sure you can do it. CELTA is a really tiring course and you really need to be confident about yourself concerning your body; make sure you are able to go to the course every single day! Get some sleep if you can’t stay awake and try to sleep more on the weekends. All your needs have to be met by the center concerning the disability. You need to remain calm and not let small details spoil your whole course. And last but not least, ask yourself if you have any fear of getting in front of people when you’re a person with a disability. Try to build rapport with the students you’ll be teaching from day one, engage on feedback sessions as much as you can, and success during the CELTA!