10 Things You’ll Learn By Doing The CELTA

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.

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14 Responses to 10 Things You’ll Learn By Doing The CELTA

  1. Great piece, James,

    You are so right!

    One thing only I don’t agree with is “bare essentials only” tutor attitude -both is good not just the “no edtech approach.

    I think the reverse is true – when teachers can do edtech they can also do without – it’s teachers who don’t learn to integrate it who resist it for the longest time so I really don’t think that this is the best thing a tutor can do for their CELTA trainees

  2. James says:

    Thanks Marisa.

    I’m certainly not against teaching teachers to use tech, in fact, I do think it’s vital. But on this course, the way they took us back to basics was really effective.

    They made a point of telling us that it wasn’t because they were against it, but they wanted to make sure that we knew the basics and could grow from there.

    They taught me how to use technology correctly: by identifying the needs of the lesson and seeing if there is a tech option. In other words, by putting the horse before the cart, as opposed to the other way around.

    If they hadn’t done that, I think I might have become overexcited by all the options that tech can offer us, as so many inexperienced teachers do, and it would have taken me a lot longer (and some terrible classes!) to discover it.

  3. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus says:

    Thanks so much for this posting. I have been teaching in France for nearly four years now, but I’m seriously looking into getting a CELTA because, like you said, I want to go from “someone who teaches English” to “an English teacher.”

    The post is very convincing, which is just what I needed, since doing a CELTA is going to require me to stop working for one month and leave my husband all alone for a month so I can go to Paris to do the CELTA!

  4. James says:

    Hi Christina.

    I’m glad you found it useful. I can’t think of a better way to spend a month – in Paris, doing a CELTA. I think you should go for it, and I’m sure your husband can cope!


  5. Deborah says:

    This is a great article and it puts in words why I am going to be doing the CELTA in April. I can get work without it but I want to get better work and I want to be a better teacher and develop and grow. I am really looking forward to my course now. Thank you.

  6. James says:

    Thanks Deborah. I hope you have a great time on the CELTA and it helps you to develop as a teacher. Good luck!

  7. juanita says:

    I did a month live in boarding school situation -summer school
    in uk- all ages levels- back to back classes, lesson planning till midnight, as a newly qualified teacher good experience basic materials to work with- great learning curve- hard work but fun

  8. Rob Dickey says:

    thanks for a lovely article that is fully in line with what I tell novice teachers. Two points worth adding, and a comment.

    I went to England, though I am American working in Korea. Two reasons:
    1. to learn another form of English. Students come up with the darndest things, and it’s nice to distinguish between perfectly-good British versus other “global Englishes” versus, perhaps, an interesting invention or L2-interference.
    2. there isn’t a good N.American counterpart to the CELTA/DELTA. There are a ton on online courses, and some good independents or smaller “chains” — but nothing with the global namepower of CELTA (or to a lesser extent, the Trinity.

    Also, I agree with the bare-bones teaching approach, even though I often need to use technology in my classes (employer & student expectations). The toys sometimes mask deeper education issues, and the toys sometimes fail in the classroom. Learn the basics, then add the flash.

    Rob Dickey
    past president, Korea TESOL

  9. Ajaan Rob says:

    Thanks for the info on CELTA. I will not waste my time with taking the course. The reason is clear that our ELL’s are using technology daily more advance than the “old” teachers who are afraid to integrate technology with ESL / EFL pedagogy. Sad really, not to train teachers for the future classroom environments and graduating educators without the functional knowledge needed as a new English teaching professionals. What a waste of intelligent teaching resources and materials. Sir Ken Robinson says that schools kill creativity… How does this apply to CELTA certificate?

  10. Alex Case says:

    Despite the idiocy of your arguments, Rob, I was going to spend a few minutes answering your points. Then I noticed that your email address is ajaanrobcmu@[a well known email provider] and realised that in fact it wasn’t believing such a fatuous argument that made you say it. That’ll be CMU as in Chiang Mai University by any chance??

  11. Alex Case says:

    That’s Ajaan Rob, not Rob Dickey, that my comments were aimed at, if that is not clear!

  12. James says:

    @Rob Dickey. Thanks for your comment, and for clarifying the status of American equivalents. It’s good to know.

    The bare bones approach is very effective I think, not because I think that is how we should teach, but something we need to know how to do. It provides a great foundation.

    @Alex – Thanks for saving me from rising to the bait!

  13. TEFLista says:

    Thanks, James, for your piece — well done.

    I agree with Rob Dickey, in a general sense, that there is no equivalent to the CELTA. Clearly it’s the best know and most widely-accepted certificate internationally. And it’s pretty much the only certificate that you will see employers ask for specifically by name.

    That said, there isn’t a big demand for TEFL certificates from employers in the USA, as an MA in TESOL is often considered the minimum. And, in my opinion, the SIT TESOL Certificate is a good American ‘equivalent’ . In the States, SIT and CELTA are both offered by an equal number of training centers.

  14. TEFLista says:

    As for Ajaan Rob in Thailand, I’ve yet to see a refugee center that’s got a good computer lab. Most places would be lucky to even have air conditioning. I’m laughing at that one… Thanks for pointing that out, Alex.

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