Armed with a linguistics background and English teaching experience, Bridge student Uchechukwu Wezeali, from Nigeria, decided to specialize in teaching phonics and phonetics. Through his own private consultancy, he helps both young learners and ESL teachers develop this foundational skill in English. Wondering how he thrives in this particular TEFL niche? Read our interview to find out.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, Uchechukwu?
I’m from Nigeria. I studied Linguistics and English, first and second degree, respectively.
How did you get into the field of teaching English?
I will trace my teaching English right back to my university days. I got spurred by my Phonetics and Phonology lecturer. I admired the way he spoke and simplified his lectures. From there, I began to dream of becoming a lecturer and a broadcaster. You can’t imagine how fulfilled I was being posted to a school for my primary assignment in my service year.
I actually started teaching English in 2000, during my one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) – a program set up by my country to involve graduates in nation-building and the development of the country. But in 2003, I decided to try something different from what my parents – who were both teachers – were doing. Yeah, I can tell you I did, but it didn’t last two years because I wasn’t finding satisfaction in doing the job.
So, I found my way back and taught English as a full staff at three private secondary schools. In 2013, I resigned to begin private teaching, concentrating more on phonetics (diction) at secondary and primary levels, and phonics at the nursery level. Now, my team and I are engaged by private schools to teach their learners.
Uchechukwu’s students practicing pronunciation by reading English from a screen
Why did you decide to go into private teaching and start your own consultancy?
Basically, I wanted to have control of my time and achieve more in terms of self-development and finance.
Why did you decide to focus and specialize in teaching phonics?
At the time, not very many people had explored this aspect. There was (and still is) high demand by school owners to get their secondary and primary-level learners to speak with an acceptable accent and for their early learners to read early enough. Again, there were a few times I encountered people teaching phonetics to early learners. I thought, I should get into this and train teachers, too.
Can you tell us more about your consultancy organization?
Our consultancy organization is called Lufrednow Concepts. Our clients are basically schools (secondary, primary, and nursery), teachers, and individuals. Apart from teaching students within school premises and training staff at schools, we also organize a yearly training that is open to the general public to participate for a moderate fee. This training is usually held between August and September.
How do you create a client base?
We would usually distribute proposals to schools and my team would go to sell our services. A few other clients are through referrals.
What are some of the teaching strategies and activities that you use for teaching phonics to kids and adolescents?
For teaching kids, we make use of flashcards, visuals, audiovisuals, worksheets, and rhymes. On the other hand, adolescents do a lot of listening, imitation, and dialogue exercises.
Where do you get resources and materials for teaching phonics?
The resources and materials we use are from some websites, published books, and some are put together by us.
What kind of teacher do you think is best suited for teaching phonics to kids?
A teacher who would teach phonics to kids first must be fond of children and be able to become childlike. And of course, such a teacher must be conversant with graphemes with a strong phonemic awareness. Content selection is also very important – a teacher should know what’s appropriate for a particular level.
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected you as a teacher and your business?
The pandemic affected us in no small measure. Nothing was coming from our clients – our organization is not their responsibility. Besides, it wasn’t easy for them, either.
First, the experience from the crisis made one consider other avenues of income. Online teaching is one of such. The opportunity to teach foreign students or even teach in a foreign country is another.
You took the 120-Hour Master Certificate course with Bridge. Why did you decide to take this course and how has it helped you professionally?
I considered its advantages, one of which is the possibility of my seeking admission into one of the universities, should I decide to further my studies.
It’s been a period of learning and unlearning, I must say. I have been able to see a whole lot one did not do right, particularly in the aspect of teaching comprehension. The month or so has really been a discovery time for me.
Additionally, I haven’t had online teaching experience before. I’m excited that this training will afford me the experience to teach the English language online, as well as make me qualified to teach ESL/EFL.
What are your other future career plans?
Music (gospel) is a lifestyle for me. I am actually releasing a single in about three weeks.
I haven’t also let go of my dream to be a broadcaster. I enjoy newscasting in particular. I’d like to work in electronic media houses someday.