At last, a guest piece to save me from the endless list of links that this blog is turning into! Many thanks to James Taylor, TEFLer in Belgium, blogger at http://www.theteacherjames.blogspot.com/ and writer of the much anticipated first TEFL.net review of the Global series.
“If you look online, there is a huge range of EFL teacher training courses available, but most of them, unfortunately, will not deliver what they promise. When I decided I needed training, there was only one serious option for me, The Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA), administered by the University of Cambridge. Being British, it seemed the logical choice (I’m sure there is a good American equivalent), and at that price, I expected something great. It didn’t disappoint. But what exactly did I gain from taking the course, and what can you expect if you decide to sign up yourself?
1) That if you want to be good, it’s not as easy as you think.
Sure, your friend who went backpacking to Thailand said it was great fun and the kids were awesome and it was easy money, and he was probably right. But if you want to be good, then you’re going to have to work and go through the experience of failed classes with bored faces staring back at you as it all falls apart around you. You can’t avoid it, but once you’ve got through the other side, it truly is the best feeling. The CELTA makes you aware of how complex this teaching game can be, and if you find this interesting, then it looks good for you.
2) You will learn how to lesson plan.
New or old, teachers haven’t lesson planned until they’ve done a course like this. You are required to hand in detailed plans, breaking your class down into tiny chunks. You will also have to anticipate problems, justify materials, profile the class, identify your primary and secondary aims and so on. In reality, you’ll never plan like this again (unless you do a DELTA), but by forcing you to do this, it makes you aware of the minutiae of your lesson and you’ll begin to question and evaluate things you hadn’t even considered before.
3) You’ll find out who Scott Thornbury is.
His name adorns your mandatory CELTA handbook, and this may be just the introduction you need to a world of quality writers and a professional learning network. If you haven’t investigated it yet, wait until you’ve qualified (you probably won’t know what we’re on about otherwise) and look his name up on Twitter. It was my path into a PLN that has changed my teaching forever. Just don’t do it now, it’ll put you off!
4) You’ll discover what a CCQ is.
And what eliciting is. And what drills are. And how correction can be hot or cold. Trust me, you need to know.
5) If you’ve taught before, you’ll find out that you are not the finished article.
The course is designed for novice teachers, but in reality, many experienced teachers take the course because they think they need the qualification. On my course at the British Council in Seoul, every trainee was working as a teacher at the time. Subsequently, there is a temptation for some people to turn up at the building and think “I know what I’m doing, I’ll just get through the next month and get my certificate.” Those people, if they’ve got an ounce of humility, will discover pretty quickly that they still have a lot to learn, and if they don’t accept it, then they’ll never be more than a mediocre teacher.
6) You’ll learn how to receive honest feedback from your tutors…
Without any shadow of a doubt the most important part of the course is the feedback sessions which happen after your teaching practice. If you can’t take honest feedback, well, you’d better learn. If your tutors are good, they will let you know exactly what you did wrong (and you will do something wrong because you’re not perfect, right?) It won’t necessarily be harsh, but it should be honest and may prick your pride somewhat. Don’t worry, take it on the chin, and learn from it. If you want to get a good grade, then you have to follow their advice and act on their suggestions.
7) …and learn how to give and receive honest feedback from your peers.
No, the feedback session doesn’t end there. Next up, your peers are going to wade in and let you know what they thought. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll get a group that shares their opinions freely and isn’t scared to criticise in a constructive way. If this happens, you’ll feel yourself getting better everyday. If not, then try and make it happen. Don’t be frightened to get the ball rolling, and to take the lead. As long as you’re respectful, nobody who’s worth knowing will complain.
8) You’ll learn how to teach without tech.
When we entered the lovely shiny British Council Building in Seoul with its lovely shiny facilities and we saw its lovely shiny interactive whiteboards, I’m sure we all thought “Great, I get to play with one of them!” That was not, however, to be the case. The decision had been made to only allow us access to the computers for the most basic things such as CD playing and showing a photo on the big screen. Some would argue that this Luddite approach goes against modern methods of teaching, but I think it was the best thing they could have done. They gave us a book, a board and a pen, and we had to make the classes from that. Technology is great when applied in the right circumstances, but everyone needs to know how to teach with just the bare essentials.
9) You’ll get to know your tutors, and your fellow trainees.
The greatest resources that you have on the course are the people around you. Your tutors will be knowledgeable and helpful, and will lead you in the right direction when you are stuck. The other trainees are a great sounding board for when you are stuck. Use them, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll make friends and find employment prospects. I did!
10) You’ll find out whether you are really a teacher or not.
The course will really sort everyone into two groups: those who love it and those who don’t. Once I reached the end of the course, I didn’t want it to end because I was having the time of my life. I knew that this ELT game was for me. It lit a fire under me that is still burning and is not showing any sign of going out. There will be others who don’t feel the same way, and doing a course like the CELTA is the best way to find out which camp you are in.
I took my CELTA course two years ago this month, and I can honestly it was a turning point for me, not just professionally, but also personally. It made me realise that I didn’t just want to be ‘someone who teaches’, but rather I wanted to be a ‘teacher’. Maybe it won’t have such a strong effect on you, but at the very least, if you have the right attitude, it’ll make you a much better teacher.”
Thanks again, James. Much much more on the CELTA here, and hopefully another guest post on the rather unusual topic of teaching in Belgium coming up from James soon. Comments and guest pieces from the rest of you gratefully accepted.