Chia Suan Chong is a Singapore-born success story – an English language teacher who has made her mark on the field of ELT internationally and who is an inspiration to a lot of teachers. We caught up with her recently to ask her a few questions about her remarkable teaching journey.
What inspired you to get into English language teaching?
I’ve always been interested in language and in communication (I did my BA in Communication Studies at NTU) but I actually got into ELT by complete accident. I was an actress trying to get work in London and trying to make ends meet when I was told that I would make a really good English teacher! I was then introduced to a school that was entirely flexible with their teaching schedules, which allowed me to take time off for auditions and filming. But as I got more and more into teaching, I realised that I was becoming more passionate about teaching than I was about acting. I got into acting because I wanted to be able to say something to people, to tell a meaningful story, to change lives. And what better way to do those things than to teach!
How did the CELTA course help you in this goal?
I was teaching for a couple of years at a Callan school – a school that followed the Direct Method quite strictly – so I didn’t need a CELTA to teach then. But following one method slavishly can get boring quickly and you also begin to see its drawbacks. When I finally decided that I wanted to pursue English language teaching as a career, I knew that I had to do a CELTA and get the official qualification.
The CELTA really provided a solid framework for me to not just teach but to also explore different aspects of teaching. Years later, when I became a CELTA trainer myself, I used to tell my trainees that the CELTA is not going to be the be all and end all of what you learn about teaching. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s the first step you take but it’ll inform you about all the steps you can take and will need to take in your continuing journey as a language teacher.
What different types of teaching and training contexts have you experienced since then?
I have taught General English, Business English, exam preparation classes, group classes, one-to-one classes – I have delivered intercultural skills courses, presentation skills courses, teacher training courses, CELTA courses – I have taught teachers, business people, teenagers, university students, young adults, retired pensioners – I have taught in schools, in companies, in people’s houses, on webinars and online courses – I have taught in London, in Munich, in York and delivered training in different parts of Europe, Singapore, Japan . . . It’s been pretty mad!
What have been some of the high points of your teaching journey so far?
There are so many! The memorable ones would be finishing my DELTA with triple distinctions, becoming a CELTA tutor, giving my first plenary talk at a conference in France, and seeing my book, Successful International Communication, in print for the first time.
But you know what? The high points are not just the achievements and the exhilarating moments. The high points are also the moments of fear and trepidation as I ventured into a new area I had never tried before and doing something that I had absolutely no confidence in doing. For example, the first time I had to stand in front of a class, the first time I did a one-to-one Business English session, my first exam class, my first conference talk, my first ETp [English Teaching Professional] blogpost/article, my first time doing the red carpet interviews at the ELTons awards . . . They were scary but I learnt so, so much from these experiences, so they are definitely high points.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of teaching English as a career?
This is a wonderful industry to have a career in. There’s always so much to learn and so many new places you can go to in your career – and I’m not just talking about physical places (although there are lots of amazing cities, towns and villages you can teach English in). I’m talking about the new areas you can explore, new aspects of the job you can learn about, different approaches to teaching you can experiment with.
Penny Ur once said there are two types of teachers: one with twenty years’ experience, and the other with one year’s experience repeated twenty times. I know which one I’d rather be.