As I walk round the British Council in Paris, I’m always amazed by all the different things going on around me: English classes for adults and young learners, exams, teacher training and all sorts of programmes creating links between the UK and France. In the midst of it all, however, are a series of outreach projects aimed at supporting migrants and refugees who have recently arrived in France and which have proved a resounding success. These include book donations and talks by migrants on their experience of arriving in France. Today, however, I’d like to tell you about one of these in particular.
Every year, our teacher training department runs its annual CELTA course which is a qualification which trains people with little or no teaching experience to teach English to speakers of other languages. The most important part of this course is the observed teaching practice when trainees are observed teaching real students in a real classroom context. This is what makes the CELTA the gold standard in teacher training.
At the British Council, our CELTA courses are extra special because we offer the places in those classes for free to migrants and refugees from four associations: Singa, UniR, Wintegreat and Place. Last year alone, we welcomed 50 students from a wide range of countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to complete 40 hours of classes with us. Once again the course proved a hugely rewarding experience for all concerned with the classes enhanced by the varied backgrounds and experiences of our students.
Fiona Carroll was one of the trainee teachers on the course and is now working for us as a teacher:
“For me it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I didn’t realise how key that would be to my CELTA experience and the fact that we had to be more sensitive to people’s backgrounds helped me to think about who I was teaching, why I was teaching, how I was teaching and has also led me to continue working with refugees after the CELTA, going out and finding opportunities to work with them myself. So I think that the opportunity that both the students and the teachers got through the CELTA course was really enlightening and very open and accepting and understanding for everybody, which was just a really lovely thing to be a part of.”
The success of the programme was also recognised recently by Place, one of the partner associations, who awarded us a Place Maker award. Another CELTA alumni, Grégory de la Bégassière went to accept the award on behalf of the teacher training department and had a wonderful time during the lively ceremony. One of the students touchingly told us that: "Through the British Council I was able to learn English with very different teaching methods by very nice teachers. I am very grateful to the British Council and its teachers".
For me personally the highlight of any CELTA course at the British Council is always the graduation ceremony we hold for the students at the end. As I watch the students collecting their certificates, I’m always moved by the links that have been formed both between the students and with the trainees. The British Council is much more than a language school. We are in the business of creating communities and I’m proud to say that our teacher training programmes are at the forefront of this effort. CELTA is inevitably a very intense experience but I like to think that our courses also create intense bonds that are likely to last far beyond the end of each course.