Choices and Challenges in ELT – Ratnavathy

The post-CELTA Days
Ratnavathy Ragunathan

This might not necessarily be your cup of tea. In fact, it might even cause a slight squeamishness in the tummy and tightness in your chest. These are purely not my intentions. I do, however, genuinely mean to take a reality check, laying out the bare, grim facts of the ELT industry for post CELTA trainees, most importantly, how these dark hues can veritably be transformed into splashes of radiant colours on the canvas of our teaching journeys.

A couple of months ago I got my CELTA done. It was such a momentous experience. I became more aware of my teaching but most of all, crossed paths with people from different walks of life; experienced teachers meaning to become better teachers, serious individuals deeply thinking of switching careers, fresh graduates planning on a bit of backpacking. And then, there was this other group – a group who had not the slightest inclination as to why they’re getting the CELTA done – “yea, probably yea, it’s gonna…you know…help me get some part-time teaching thing going”. The CELTA group support, though, was tremendous. In between back-to-back endless lesson planning, sleepless nights and assignments, we somehow managed to laugh and hold on together during the intense CELTA month. In a swoop it was all done.

Speaking of the CELTA, it’s interesting how this certification is advertised on the Internet. Recognized as the most highly respected and widely known teacher training programme, these advertisements for the CELTA promise you a teaching job “in almost any location worldwide”, with such strong conviction at that. What most training schools fail to mention is “in almost any location worldwide with the right passport”.

 Seriously, the “native non-native teacher tug of war” is, I believe, nothing but a façade. The reality is you just need to have the right passport from the right country. At the very core, this educational industry has regrettably, turned out to be a revenue-churning megacorp, hasn’t it?

Sadly, this truth only set in when some of my CELTA mates started looking for teaching jobs. You see, some of the most passionate CELTAites in my group were NNESTS. They grew so much as teachers during the 4-week course that I was utterly impressed as I sat through their classes day after day. These new teachers connected so well with their learners that it always felt like being in a magical bubble of a classroom. And yet, after the CELTA, they had the toughest time looking for a teaching job (with the “other group” mentioned above, being qualified passport holders, almost immediately receiving offers). It was so painful watching them struggle that it gave me sleepless nights. I could feel the frustration in their messages to me as reality dawned on them.

All I could do was listen, offer suggestions and supportive words.

To these friends so close to my heart, I’d like to say something – “Challenges in life can either enrich you or poison you. You’re the one who decides”. Please remember that …

1) The CELTA is only a certification. Don’t let it define you. Don’t let it break you. Leave it where it belongs – in the file, among the other certificates. Great you’ve got it. Now, move on.

2) Rethink your expectations when looking for a teaching job. Be practical. You’re still fresh in the industry after all. Rather than competing with the “appropriate passport holders” and seeking for the “perfect-CELTA-like-Pre-Intermediate-highly motivated- 16-to-a-class-language school” job, accept the real deal whole heartedly, be it a public school with 30 plus rebellious teenagers or a group of hyperactive young learners who drive you up the wall. Let the experience of working and connecting with them build you up. Reflect. Blog or keep a journal. Think of how you can do it better again. One step at a time.

3) For a start, re-read all the methodology books suggested in the CELTA course. Not for the purpose of completing CELTA assignments, but for expanding your consciousness as a teacher.

4) Get connected with teachers around the world, and don’t give reasons not to. All you need to do is to google ELT webinars,  iTDi,pro, ELTChat or KELTChat (just to name a few) and the teaching world will open up to you.

e) Nothing comes easy in life! If it’s easy, it’s not life is it? Work harder if you have to. Go ahead, complain and vent your frustrations, but keep working harder and growing as a teacher.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering as to whether I’ve put this into practice? Yes. I have. And yes, it has helped me get to where I am right now. And for the record, I do think I need to work on my YL classroom management skills, and am in the midst of reading up a brilliant book titled Getting The Buggars To Behave J

PS: My most personal and heartfelt gratitude to all teachers who have been strongly standing for equal opportunities in the ELT world. If you drop by Malaysia, I’d like to invite you for a warm meal at our home.


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Learning to See – Ratnavathy

The Eyes of Your Mind  — Ratnavathy


It’s a bright, shiny Monday morning, the last week of your teaching term. You’re standing in the middle of your classroom, amidst a group of learners deeply engaged in the task that you’ve set forth. And utter bliss slowly spreads over you. This, you feel, is the “best-practice” classroom for a teacher.

Now, let’s take a reality check. How many of us have truly felt this way each time around? More often than not, we’re faced with issues that can completely drain us mentally and emotionally. As much as we try to view them as opportunities for continuous learning, there are times that we completely succumb. We’re humans after all, aren’t we? Then, the question is, as teachers how are we going to adapt to meet the challenges that we face with our learners?

You see, the truth is, situations and individuals are often beyond our control. Nevertheless, there is one thing that’s within our reach. It’s how WE react to the challenges that we’re faced with. Can this really be done? But, of course! By using the power of learning how to see.

Turning the tables around – Contradicting your thoughts by your actions

In my journey of teaching and learning, I’ve met learners of diverse cultures, physicality and demeanor. I’d like to share this particular incident with you. It was a new term and I was waiting excitedly in my classroom, chatting with my learners and getting to know them. As I turned towards the window, I saw someone walking pass my class. Obviously, he was a new student. But what really shook me was the ghoulishly dark, sub-cultural fashion statement he was making. Pale features, very dark eye make up, spiked leather jacket and wristband, skull-faced necklace and the darkest lipstick I’ve seen on a man. And that cold, cold stare. I found myself praying under my breath “not here, not here…” And….you guessed right. The next thing I knew, he was knocking on the door and peering into my classroom with a registration slip. What did I do then? For some reason, my actions completely contradicted my thoughts. I gave him the brightest smile and warmest greeting, ushering him in like he was any other learner. Throughout the term, I treated him kindly, praising him when required, encouraging him to do better. And how did he respond? He never failed to greet me each morning with a smile, completed his homework on time, studied hard and was the most polite and participative learner of that term. That was one of my most memorable terms as a teacher. I learned a very meaningful lesson, that as a teacher I need to learn how to reconsider the dogmatism of my own beliefs by looking beyond what meets the eye. I told myself to never judge a learner by the way they portray themselves.

Seeing with the eye of your mind

I once had a learner with a terrible rebellious streak. Every past teacher warned me about him and wished me luck. And boy, was he one rebellious lad. He was always late to class, never did his homework, hated working in groups, and worst of all, he was extremely impolite The worst situation happened when I once told him “Please be quiet” to which he replied, “No, you shut up”. I was completely stumped for words. But one day it changed. And how so magical it was. I was in the midst of class when I got the news that one of my closest family members had passed away. I did the most unprofessional thing. I just stopped short and completely broke down. My learners were too surprised to react. The whole class just stared at me. The only person who jumped up and walked towards me was this boy. He held my hand and said, “Teacher Ratna, please don’t cry. Can I get you a cup of coffee? I know how it feels.” That came as a surprise to me.

A few days later he told me that he came from a war-torn country, which is constantly enduring political reform, his mother was gravely ill in the hospital and his brother was in the military service. From that incident, he toned down and turned over a new leaf. And he keeps in touch even to this day. These are what I consider “moments of awakening” for a teacher. It is sometimes a negative situation that opens our “inner” eyes. As teachers, we need to learn and train ourselves to use our inner eye to see things, or rather, see through things. And this can only be done with practice and by being open to growing alongside our students.

A wise master once said “We are three people in one; who others think we are; who we think we are; who we really are”. Perhaps, as teachers, we’d need to tap into the innermost self of the learner. But, for us to be able to do that, we first have to understand and accept who we really are! By learning how to see within us, we learn how to peer within our learners. And this is how can truly “learn how to see”.

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Challenges in Teaching – Ratnavathy

Facing ChallengesRatnavathy square

‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get’- Forrest Gump

Don’t we all wish that we can view life just as Forrest Gump did? Especially in embracing the dawn of each new day and savouring the nuggets of challenges that the platter of life’s got to offer.



Well, it doesn’t work that way in reality, now, does it? For many of us, facing challenges can be a harrowing experience. It’s frustrating, tiresome, energy consuming and accompanied by lots of uncertainties about the future. Challenges vary in intensity and duration; the more intense and the longer the duration, the tougher it gets.

Ah! If we could only find a single workable wonder in moments of adversity, but alas, our brick walls are never quite the same.

Hence, what I’m about to do now is to let you through the door of one of my toughest challenges; one that I’ve been enduring for many years and which brought me back home from abroad.

It’s private, a tough ordeal, emotionally draining and has left me feeling hopeless one too many times. Apologies for not being able to disclose the exact details here. However, I do believe that the bits I’ll be sharing will provide you with some insight on how you, probably, can deal with similar experiences yourself.

Accepting Reality

Initially, it was impossible for me to accept facts. I sobbed, had sleepless nights and wallowed in self-pity. I thought of a thousand “what-ifs” and secretly detested people who seemed to have it all. Mental arguments often took place within me and this caused a lot of stress. However, as time went by, I realized that the pragmatic way is to accept reality no matter how painful it is; for when I finally did and learned to ‘let go’, a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders (and probably off my inner self as well). I found myself starting to think of ways to overcome the challenge. Hope arose and kept me going. It still does.

Acceptance is the key.

And when I accepted reality….

Examine Alternative Solutions

I started educating myself, taking the initiative to examine and explore possible solutions in overcoming the challenge. I’d try one with hope, and when it failed, I’d feel crushed. I’d then pick myself up and look for more solutions. As this repeated itself, I felt my resilience building; I became stronger within, and empathized with others who faced similar challenges. Of course, there were moments when I’d break down, but I guess we all do as humans.

As time went on, I realized that….

Many people face similar challenges

Some challenges are so private that it’s almost impossible to confide in anyone. I kept mine within me for a long time. It eventually became unbearable, leading me to confide in a close friend and that’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one! As I trod along the path, I found many others; each individual more strengthened than before, and each giving me a breath of fresh air.  I was inspired, for the hopes of many helped foster the hopes I held. Finding people who’ve gone through similar challenges really helped open up different doors of perspectives in my mind.

And the most important thing I realized was to….

Make a light moment out of it

Sometimes I sit down with my husband, laugh and make jokes about what I’m facing. As foolish as it may sound, the magic of laughter can sometimes be so healing. Laughing has also helped me feel more energized and made me realize that the challenge I’m facing is really, quite trivial, in comparison to those faced by others. So, when you feel like you’re facing some tough times, try laughing about it and you’ll know exactly what I mean.


Having shared the above, I believe that there’s a reason for every challenge that manifests itself; for only in the face of adversity is a new-self born. Character building can never take place without challenge driven opportunities.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering as to whether I’m still facing this particular challenge, the answer is yes. But I do see the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel and it’s almost within reach. And of course, a promising future lies ahead!




Voices from the iTDi Community 3 – Ratnavathy

My name’s Ratnavathy Ragunathan, and I am Malaysian. I’ve been teaching for the past 5 years at International House (IH) Malaysia. I’m currently residing in Ulsan, South Korea due to the nature of my spouse’s job. I love traveling, singing, and being an avid vegetarian, experimenting with various vegetarian cuisines from around the world. I’m passionate about teaching and learning, and believe that if we open our minds, the world becomes our teacher.

What are you passionate about, Ratnavathy?

This is a rather interesting question, I must say. Well, there are quite a number of things that I’m passionate about, and one of the list toppers is traveling. I’ve been traveling from a very young age, despite most of my adventures being vacation trips with families or friends. I find traveling to be such an enriching eye and mind opener to the various cultures and lifestyles of the world. It has helped define who I am as an individual and reaffirm my beliefs of the culture and tradition that I belong to.

Traveling has also greatly helped shape my teaching beliefs and approaches, which leads to the second thing that I’m passionate about – teaching. To me, teaching is about having the power to nurture and mold the creative and critical thinking faculties of learners, which play an influential role in the development of their characters. I’ve been very fortunate to work with learners from many parts of the globe. Hence, one of the most important insights that I’ve gained is the fact that learners are learners, no matter where they come from. Never judge them based on the picture that the media paints about them or their countries. Each learner is a unique and worthy individual fully capable of achieving what he aims to achieve. However, above all that’s been said, what inspires me most about teaching is the fact that I can help to make that very change that awakens a learner from within.

How and why did you become a teacher?

I would say that I “stumbled” into being a teacher and later realized that I actually enjoyed it! I was initially working as a Senior IT Executive at a multinational organization, earning a good salary with great employment benefits. But, deep down, I was very unhappy. It felt like no matter how hard I tried, I just could never excel as much as I wanted to. I felt like I was deceiving myself in doing something that did not suit me. One fine day, I sat down and deeply reflected on this conflict within me. I tried to identify what made me happy, and realized that I loved the English language and everything’s that got to do with it. I started going to night school to get my TESOL certification, and got a job at an English language school in Malaysia. My initial teaching days were definitely not a bed of roses. It dawned on me that being proficient in the language wasn’t a determining factor in being skilled at teaching it. So, my earliest teaching days were rather challenging as I tried to cope with my new career, identify my teaching style and nurture my skills.

Nevertheless, as time went on, I realized that I actually enjoyed teaching more than anything else, as it brought a great sense of inner satisfaction and fulfillment. There’s just something really magical about working with fresh young minds. I loved reflecting on my teaching and fine-tuning it. I became my own critique, questioning myself on lessons that didn’t work well and rewarding myself when something went well. I found that it helped me to improve by great lengths. It dawned on me that this was what I wanted to do, and in the long run I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.

One interesting point that I’d like to highlight is that my initial training and character development as an IT professional really helped me work diligently and professionally at my language school. Coming from an industry that banked on the importance of customer satisfaction, I kept reminding myself that my learners are my “customers”, and I must do my best to deliver my skills to them.

What are you most interested in right now?

I’ve always loved getting learners involved in fun collaborative projects where they’re required to think, pool their thoughts, work and coordinate with one another. I believe this to be a vital process that enables learners to both flourish in a new language and develop their personal characteristics and communicative skills. I also encourage my learners to question what they’ve learned and voice their opinions confidently. Thus, most of my classroom tasks are designed with the underlying objective to build and increase learner confidence in using the language, even at the lowest levels. It truly inspires me to watch learners using the language to discuss and provide supporting explanation for their arguments in their best possible English. The more learners communicate, the more confident they become. I’m also interested in designing competitive language games because I find that learners have a lot of fun participating in them. Despite numerous past studies that have provided conflicting evidence in using competitive means in language learning, in my case, I find that learners have lots of fun and thoroughly enjoy competing with one another. The fact that I’ve joined several public treasure hunts in Malaysia has helped me so much in designing these language races. Another amazing discovery I made from these races was how much the reticent learners in my class actually enjoyed participating! To my surprise, they really did give their best and worked very well together with their teammates!

Apart from classroom teaching, I’d also like to share my experiences on “successful classroom activities and ideas” in the form of workshops, as many teachers I know are very keen in participating in “hands-on” workshops about ideas and tasks which have worked well in the classroom. I’ve recently started conducting training workshops, both online and offline, and found it to be a whole new experience. Technology is amazing, I must say! However, since I moved to Korea, I’ve not been able to conduct any workshops, but am looking forward to a few that have been lined up in the near future.

Another thing that I’m really interested in is to meet like-minded ELT professionals from around the world to share experiences as well as empower ourselves via conferences and discussion groups. There are a number of conferences coming up in Korea in a few months, and I’m really looking forward to participating in them. I’ve also been recently introduced to #KELTChat and KOTESOL by Josette LeBlanc, and am in the midst getting accustomed to using it (sadly and regretfully, I’m not so much of a twitter person but I guess it’s time to change!).

What things do you do to help you get better at being a teacher, Ratnavathy?

I remember one experience that was a true ‘eye-opener’ in my teaching career; a chance I got to observe one of the most creative teachers at my language school. It was an experience I’d never forget! Observing him was almost like a revelation in my teaching career about exactly what I needed to do as a teacher. And things were never the same again in my classroom! So yes, I really find peer observation to be an opportunity for teachers to observe, learn and help one another in improving our individual classroom practices. I personally feel that observing my peers can be very resourceful and inspiring, and most importantly set two primary, yet simple reminders: things I should do and things I shouldn’t do as a teacher in the classroom!

I’m also a very reflective person by nature. Reflecting on my teaching has been so beneficial to me that it has helped me constantly in improving myself as a teacher. I write my reflections about my classroom practices in a diary on a weekly basis, making notes on successful lessons and unsuccessful lessons, my learners and my observations on them, and generally, every other thing that happens in my classroom. My diaries were more of a conversation with myself, in which I questioned how and what I could possibly do to further improve my teaching. Sometime in the near future, I might start a blog on my teaching reflections (which I should have done a long time ago!)

And of course, last but surely not least, is just talking to my learners. Sometimes, as teachers, we feel that we know exactly what needs to be taught. But we need to remind ourselves that what we want to teach is probably not what the learners want to learn! I’ve always made it a point to have informal discussions with my learners just to get a grasp of their background, language learning aims, source of motivation and what they look forward to learning in the classroom. I find that learners sometimes have some wonderful ideas that I’d never have thought of myself!

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

To continuously come up with new, dynamic, fun, stimulating and engaging lessons in the classroom! Each learner is uniquely different from one another, with varying needs, motivation, and aims for learning the target language. Sometimes I find it quite challenging to find a single “common” theme that the whole class is interested in. And that’s the reason why I see the need to have informal chat sessions with my learners on a constant basis just to keep me on track

What advice would you give to teacher just starting out on the journey of professional development?

Constantly experiment with new teaching ideas and techniques in the classroom. It’s always about experimenting, reflecting, refining, fine-tuning, and re-experimenting again. Fret not, and never give up, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel! Also, constantly observe and be observed in the classroom by experienced teachers; be open to constructive criticism given by them and put some deep thought into their feedback. It will really help you unfold as a teacher. Most importantly:

a) learning is a life-long process; always strive to continuously develop your skills

b) participate in and present at ELT conferences, it will open up a world of knowledge to you!

c) read, read, and read! Be it teaching resource books, the Internet, or teaching blogs.

d) always ask yourself, “if I’m a learner in this lesson, will I enjoy it and find it engaging?”

Ratnavathy, is there any online link or blog you’d like to recommend?

I read lots of online blogs, but other teachers have already mentioned most of them. However, there are some really good websites I’d like to recommend: – fantastic resource for academic and exam-based writing, lots of examples and techniques that are explained well.– lots of ideas, worksheets, resources, games that teachers can use in the classroom.

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher?

“… And the true teacher is the learner.” – Elbert Hubbard