CELTA: Impressions & Practical Tips

Here I should thank Hugh Dellar for writing his critique of CELTA. To cut a long story short, he questions CELTA as a golden standard and its suitability for native trainees with no prior teaching experience. I must say I do partly agree with him, but, in my opinion, for me, CELTA was a really good way to expand my horizons and boost my teaching career.
So I’ll start my blog with reflecting on CELTA as a course, and, hopefully, some people who are only looking at it thinking if they should go for it or not will find it useful.

Where: St Petersburg, Russia, IH

Key Points:
– 20 days (weekdays only)
– 50 hours of workshops
– 8 hours of observation of experienced teachers
– 8 hours of teaching (TP)
– 4 written assignments
– many, many hours of independent work

There is only one requirement though: Advanced (or higher) level of English. That is all. You do not even need any teaching experience since CELTA is considered to be a course for beginners (I was really tempted to say ‘dummies’, but that would be TEFL course). However, the majority of non-native trainees have the average of 5 years teaching experience, so if you are a true beginner I recommend you to read all the books from To-Read List. No one is going to explain the terminology; if you do not understand, you should read Harmer or Scrivener, or better both. Native speakers struggle more than non-native because they usually have a less clear understanding of grammar rules. That is why they also have to read Parrot and Murphy. Although non-native speakers can get a lot of interesting information from these books as well.

You know, I fail when I try to estimate how difficult this course is. The thing is that before taking CELTA I also took TEFL so I already had some understanding of key points in methodology, course format, and progressive teaching (by this I mean teaching used in English-speaking and European countries and not used in Russia and Asian countries).

The format is quite an important thing here. The better you understand what they (= Cambridge examiners) expect from you the better results you can achieve. For the majority of trainees, it usually takes around a week to figure that out and start writing CELTA-style lesson plans and teaching CELTA-style lessons. For me personally, it was quite easy from the very beginning thanks to TEFL course (the requirements are technically identical).

Lesson planning is a very big part of CELTA; you get a separate grade for this. Through planning, tutors assess your ability to set correct goals, distinguish between primary and secondary goals, and anticipate any problems along with coming up with potential solutions.

Input Sessions are a theoretical part of the course, but it looks more like a sequence of workshops. Tutors can adjust the schedule and topics based on trainees needs. At the very beginning, you learn how to teach skills and systems lessons using the basic methods such as PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), TTT (Test-Teach-Test), GD (Guided Discovery), and TBL (Task-Based Learning). In the latter part of the course, you are introduced to various bells and whistles, e.g., using media for teaching purposes, teaching Young Learners/Small Groups/Individual Students, finding and using Warmers/Fillers/Coolers, creating tasks that boost students’ creativity, etc. 200% useful and actionable.

Observations mostly consist of video observations. I recommend you watch them with all possible attention and write down as much information as you can (e.g., the staging of the lesson, activities performed, board work done, etc.). I remember one amazing video observation: a lesson on Past Perfect taught by Jane Comyns-Carr (the author of Cutting Edge) using GD method. Gosh, I fell in love with this lesson, honestly! There were other awesome lessons though. The variety of video observations will not leave you cold since the lessons are chosen thoughtfully and represent different teaching styles, approaches, and aspects. There is a lot to learn, trust me.

Apart from video observations, there will be 5 hours of observations of tutors and invited teachers (usually they are alumni).

Teaching Practices: There are just 8 of them, but there are tons and tons of independent work behind the scenes. During the first week, tutors help a lot and check every stage of your lesson plan and each word in your instructions (yes, it is recommended to write down the instructions you are going to give to your students). In the second week, they help less actively. Finally, in the last 2 weeks, you are supposed to be able to plan your lesson and choose/create materials without any assistance whatsoever. You can ask questions, of course, but keep in mind that there is such criterion as Independent Lesson Plan Preparation, so I advise asking other trainees for help and then, if you feel hopeless, going to your tutors.

One lesson is only 45 minutes long. It is very short so you should be extremely careful with timing. It will be difficult at first, but quite soon, you will get the sense of timing. Make sure to plan some stages as flexible ones or having a couple of short extra activities in your sleeve so that you could easily keep up with the time. What else… In the last week, you have to plan a lesson from scratch. Meaning it SHOULD NOT BE BASED ON A COURSE BOOK USED FOR PREVIOUS LESSONS or better not based on any course book at all (use authentic materials, yep). Quite a challenge. I spent 5 hours looking for materials for my last lesson, but as a result, I got a perfect lesson which I loved with all my heart.

After each lesson, you write a self-evaluation where you analyse what you did well and what you could improve (and how you could improve it). And of course, you get a thorough feedback from the tutors and peer-feedback as well. Be attentive and take notes – you can learn many cool tricks and teaching tips this way.

Assignments: Well, you just have to do it. You will get thorough instructions from your tutors along with recommended reading.
#1 – Focus on the Learner: You choose one student from your current group and analyse his/her mistakes suggesting the way you could address it, nothing difficult really.
#2 – Language Related Tasks: You have to analyse 3 grammatical structures and 4 vocabulary items. Dreary but not that difficult either if you can find a competent way to use Parrot, Swan, Murphy, and online dictionaries. Make sure you do the task attentively since the lack of concentration is number one reason for many trainees to resubmit this assignment.
#3 – Language Skills Related Tasks: I would say it is the most difficult one. You have to choose one receptive skill and one productive skill and create a lesson with a compulsory use of authentic materials addressing the chosen skills. According to my personal experience, you spend more time trying to find the materials rather than writing the rationale for your choice. May patience be with you! And do not forget to support your rationale with quotations from Harmer or Scrivener. This assignment is also often resubmitted.
#4 – Lessons from the Classroom: The easiest of them all! It is just a longer self-evaluation and self-reflection paper with elements of analysis of lessons taught by experienced teachers and other trainees. No one ever has to resubmit this one.

Other points for consideration: It is better to pause your social life while taking CELTA since you will only have time for, well, CELTA. If you are a hysterical perfectionist or a control freak make sure to buy some sedatives – you might want to use it during the third week (it is not a coincidence that this week is called ‘The week of tears’). You will dedicate first two weekends to writing assignments, so NO PLANS FOR GOING OUT WITH FRIENDS. Other two weekends will be less busy (I somehow managed to go to pubs and concerts).

It is very important to build up a good relationship with other trainees – they are your best friends, magic helpers and sources of wisdom so you should take care of them, and they will take care of you in return. We had a 500% mutual assistance and mutual aid; even on the weekends, we would gather in some café and do assignments exchanging ideas and helping those who stuck. We would also assist each other in creating lesson plans, perform as students so that other trainees could practice before teaching, proofread each other’s assignments, share materials from our collections, and comfort those who at some point fell into despair. To sum up, teamwork is extremely important during CELTA so even if you are a lone wolf put your habits aside and cooperate.

You might also want to choose tutors rather than a learning centre – believe me, it does not really matter how famous your learning centre is but it does matter how professional, helpful, caring and understanding your tutors are.

Pass A: How? Work hard. Like very hard. Like even harder! Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses; be ready to evolve and show progress – that is what tutors want to see. Use new methods and techniques you are being told about – tutors like it. Aim for 200% in order to achieve 100%. And when teaching lessons, just relax and enjoy the process – the main thing, after all, is to share your knowledge with students and teach them how to use it, and the grade is just two words typed on a paper.

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