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Connor's CELTA experience - why I did it and what it did for me

Updated: Feb 22


Connor O'Donoghue | DC Teacher Training Director

When I was 21, I didn't really know what I was doing with my life. I'd finished a degree in law and I knew I wanted to go on an adventure before settling down to my "real life" as a lawyer. At the time, I was obsessed with Finland and reindeer and saunas and all things Nordic and I googled ways of finding a job in Finland. I came across the idea of teaching English as a foreign language. I did a cheap weekend TEFL course in a hotel in my home city of Cork, and got on a plane to Helsinki. Two weeks later, I came back with my tail between my legs. I'd failed to find any work. But I'd told all my friends I was emigrating and so I went back online and googled some more and eventually got offered a job in a small town in Western Poland.


The school I was working at turned out not to be very good. I was given 23 different classes a week, from 4-year-olds to adults, from beginners to advanced level, with no support from the school and only a weekend TEFL course to prepare me. I had a pile of 16 different coursebooks that I was teaching from every week and I lived in the basement of my boss's house. She would insist we got through textbooks as quickly as possible with the students so that they would then buy a new book from her bookshop to continue studying.


After a year in small town Poland, I knew I didn't want to go back to my grown-up life in Ireland yet. I loved the Polish food and culture and the friends I was making. However, I knew I wanted to move to a bigger city and I wanted to work in a better school. I started searching for jobs and I kept coming up against dead ends. If I wanted to work in a big city or a good school, a weekend TEFL qualification wasn't enough. I needed to do a CELTA course. School after school told me point blank that I wouldn't get a job unless I had one, and so I applied and was accepted to a CELTA course in Wrocław.



A man beside a river in a Central European city
In Wrocław in 2005. My hair was a lot better by now.

My CELTA was a revelation. For a whole year I'd been teaching and I hadn't had a clue what I was doing. On every day of the course I had a new revelation - "oh that's how I should teach a listening lesson!" "oh that's how conditionals work in English!" By the end of the course, I was genuinely enjoying teaching practice. I never learnt as much in one month before or since my CELTA. It was during my CELTA course that I decided I would become a CELTA tutor and teach the same course to other people in the future.


Now that I had a CELTA, it was much easier to find work. I got a job teaching in a lovely, modern, well-managed school in the beautiful city of Gdańsk in Northern Poland. It was a good school that offered plenty of support and my teaching skills improved. I got more and more teaching opportunities the longer I spent there, teaching legal English to lawyers and going to the Technical University of Gdańsk and teaching academic English to PhD students. I also fell in love with where I was living. On an English teacher's salary, I was able to afford a big flat of my own in the resort city of Sopot, a short walk from the famous pier. Life in Poland was good.


However, after three years in Poland, I decided it was time to return to Ireland. Everyone assumed that my experiment with teaching English was over and I'd be going back to training as a lawyer. That's not what I did. Instead, I did a DELTA (the next step up from a CELTA) and learned even more about teaching. My heart was still set on becoming a CELTA tutor and training people to be teachers.


I moved to Dublin and got a job in another excellent language school. Teaching English in Ireland was a lot of fun. I'd loved teaching in Poland and learning all about Polish people, but in Dublin, I was teaching mixed-nationality groups, and so I got to go to karaoke with groups of Korean students and my Brazilian students cooked me feijoada. It was wonderful. Before long, I was part of the teacher training team in the school in Dublin and had the opportunity to work on teacher training programmes with groups of teachers from Germany, Spain, Greece, Russia and Sweden.



A group of adult students
In Dublin, with a lovely group of German students

After three years of teaching in Dublin, I'd completed a Masters in Education and knew I would probably never be going back to law. I also finally qualified as a CELTA tutor. I loved training new teachers and I got to travel again. In the years that followed, I taught on CELTA courses in Dublin, Cork and Belfast in Ireland, but also in Ljubljana, the laid-back, sunshiny capital of Slovenia, in stunning historic Cambridge in the UK, in cosmopolitan Strasbourg in France, in quiet Rostov in Southern Russia and in the stunning mountains of the North of Italy near Vicenza. I felt like the world was my oyster and I loved the freedom of travelling around, meeting new people and learning about different countries and cultures.


A group of adults under a tree on a sunny day
In sunny Ljubljana, with happy Slovenian trainee teachers

At the same time, I was studying for a PhD in Education in Dublin. I really never thought that my CELTA would lead me to becoming a Doctor of Education, but in 2014, I graduated and set off for Vietnam, where I became manager of a teacher training centre.



A man in doctoral graduation robes
Doctor Connor!

After a year in Vietnam, I started travelling on short-term contracts again, to the bustling Skopje, the eccentric capital of Macedonia and to Almaty in the mountains of Kazakhstan, where Islamic, Asian and Soviet history all mix to form a fascinating culture and society.


A white man in a rice hat
On the tourist trail in Vietnam

I knew it was time to settle down. After 12 years in the business, I moved to London, where I worked as a teacher, then a teacher trainer, then the manager of a teacher training centre and finally as a school principal. After 6 years at that school, I decided it was time to strike out alone, and so I started DC Teacher Training with my colleague Danny.


CELTA has taken me all over the world. It's introduced me to new cultures, new people, new languages, new loves. It's helped me build an academic and business career. It's given me skills I didn't know I could possibly use. I'm proud to be a CELTA graduate and a CELTA trainer and I'm proud to now be the owner and director of a brand new CELTA centre, giving opportunities to people in Birmingham and online to see the world and experience all that is out there.



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