I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the blogs section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for July 2015, and anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.
My contribution for July is a collection of zero prep activities from other people’s blogs, plus one recommended book. They should help you if you’re doing a last-minute cover class. Katherine Bilsborough has also written on the same topic.
If you do choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?
For the last year I’ve been CELTA training around the world. Here is a collection of random thoughts about what the CELTA does and doesn’t do, and what being a trainer has taught me.
What the CELTA does
Improves the confidence of trainees Even those who are particularly shy at the beginning of the course are able to stand in front of a group after a few lessons and project confidence, even if they’re still worried!
Shows them some ways of staging a lesson logically Though of course the list is not exhaustive, it is a good grounding and can help them plan their own lessons later, whether or not they choose/have to use a course book. Simple things like giving students an activity to do before reading/listening, rather than saying “Read this’, then springing questions on them afterwards, or important steps like providing feedback after activities, may seem obvious to a seasoned pro, but they rarely are to a complete beginner.
Encourages trainees to think in depth about planning a lesson and setting up activities The lessons which fall flat are normally the ones which have had the least amount of thought dedicated to them. One or two of those and the trainees soon realise that they really need to think through what they’re planning to do more carefully.
Makes them think about the instructions are going to give and the way that they talk to a class I sometimes take for granted how easy it is for me to grade my language for different levels of student, and forget that it takes real effort when you’re a new teacher. The key area which this normally affects is instruction giving and activity set-up, often requiring careful planning.
Starts to make trainees adapt materials so that they are more suitable for their learners Although this only done to a limited extent on many courses, stronger trainees show they can adapt to learners’ needs by changing the topic of a text or updating it to make it more relevant to the present day. The ‘Focus on the learner’ assignment also encourages trainees to think about learner needs and finding or adapting materials to meet them.
Makes them analyse language so that they are ready to teach it
Teaching grammar is seen as a big scary thing by most trainees, and language analysis is actively avoided by some and misunderstood by others. The same is true of vocabulary lessons, but to a lesser extent. However, once they’ve observed or taught a language lesson they normally see the value of analysing language carefully before teaching it, and this process also encourages them to start using reference materials to help them.
Gives them the basics of theory for them to build on later
A 120-hour course can never cover everything, and doesn’t claim to either. Instead, trainees are offered an overview of teaching, with ideas about how to further their professional development in one or more sessions in the final week of the course. This grounding in theory is a good basis to build on and the reflection built into the course is designed to encourage them to reflect on this theory and to begin to question it.
Gives them a collection of activities to draw on when they go into the classroom
My friend once told me her German teacher used to suggest the only way to become a good language speaker is ‘Vorsprung durch Diebstahl’ (progress through theft – a play on Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’). I think the same is true of any skill you learn, teaching among them. By ‘stealing’ from teachers observed during the course and used in input sessions, trainees have a good bank of ideas to vary their lessons when they first start teaching, and find their teaching style (because let’s face it, that’s what new teachers are doing way more than adapting to their learners!)
Gives trainees the opportunity to observe about 36 hours of classes
When else do you get the chance to observe so intensively, outside of the Delta or something similar? On the CELTA course, trainees are required to observe six hours of experienced teachers’ classes and approximately 30 hours of their peers’ lessons. I often think that this is actually where most of the learning on a CELTA takes place, with the input sessions just providing the language to talk about teaching, and a few of the ideas to steal. Until you’ve seen it put into action and noticed what does and doesn’t work, nothing really sinks in.
Shows them whether they really want to teach or not
Not to be underestimated! By exposing trainees to the classroom and making them teach, instead of just concentrating on theory, the CELTA helps trainees to realise whether the classroom is really the right place for them.
What the CELTA doesn’t do
Show them how to placement test students The main question I’ve been asked by trainees towards the end of the course or soon after it’s finished is something along the lines of ‘X has asked me to organise some classes for them. Do you know a placement test I can give the student(s) to find out their level(s) and decide which materials to use?’ Thus far, I don’t, so if anyone else can recommend something free, online and fairly reliable, I would be very grateful.
Show trainees how to teach materials-light or materials free
While there are some CELTA courses which focus on this, they are few and far between. I’m not sure what else to say about this as I don’t want to ignite a whole new debate – it’s just a fact.
Tell the trainees everything they ever needed to know about teaching
As I said above, a 120-hour course could never hope to do this. Doing a CELTA is not the be-all and end-all, and does not negate the need for continuing professional development. It is an initial teacher training course and should be treated as such. It frustrates me when a CELTA can trump somebody without a CELTA and relevant experience. If there is no follow-up training or development, it’s worth is diminished. I suspect this is particularly so for trainees who had prior experience before the CELTA, as they may well slip back into old habits (although feel free to prove me wrong!)
What being a CELTA trainer has taught me
How to give clear, concise instructions And about time too! This is something I’ve always struggled with, and it turns out that watching lots of trainees get it wrong, offering tips on how to do it better, and reflecting on it constantly throughout the year have finally sorted out this problem. I even discovered that I highlighted it as an issue in my own end of CELTA reflection, a document I’d completely forgotten about until I was training as a tutor last August!
How to time lessons more accurately As with instructions, this is a long-time issue of mine. Again, offering guidance to others on how to do it has really helped me, and I’m much better at prioritising to achieve my aims, something which seems more key in the intensive CELTA input sessions of a four-week course, than it ever did on a seemingly ‘never-ending’ language learning journey (!) I even came up with some formulae after my trainees kept asking for them.
No two CELTA courses are ever the same While there are the inevitable differences brought on by location and trainees, I didn’t realise that each CELTA course is put together by the Main Course Tutor and others working at the same centre if relevant. It is the result of experience and is constantly tweaked, so each course I worked on this year had slightly different documentation and assignments that were set up in different ways, as well as timetables that we organised very differently from one place to the next. Having said that, all of the courses are judged on the same criteria, covering the same basic set of input sessions, and with the same requirements for teaching and observation. The assessor’s visit on each course and annual Cambridge standardisation ensure that wherever you get your CELTA, it has the same value.
I’m ready for some stability
For anybody coming to this fresh or who has got a bit lost in my adventures of the last year (I don’t blame you – I can’t believe them myself!), this is where I’ve been:
Until August 2014: Director of Studies in Sevastopol, Crimea and trained as a CELTA tutor
September-October: Action English Language Training, Leeds, UK
Apart from in Thailand where I had the luxury of nine weeks, I spent four weeks in each place, living in a range of accommodation including apartments, a residential hotel and lodging with two different couples. I improved my packing skills, and felt like I was living out of a suitcase. In between, I was at home for up to a month, ‘camping out’ at my aunt’s house, then off again. I’m really looking forward to my next adventure, when I’ll be moving to Poland to start a new job, and hopefully staying for at least a couple of years, enough time to build up a bit of a (social) life there! I also can’t wait to have my own kitchen again 😉
I love my job
Well, I knew that already. But a year of sharing it with other people, and helping them to enter the wonderful world of EFL teaching has reaffirmed it again and again. I have no regrets whatsoever about the career path I have chosen, and I know that I have been incredibly lucky to have the year I have just experienced, despite commenting on the lack of stability above. The people I have met and the places I have been will stay with me forever, and I hope it won’t be the last time I work with these inspiring people or visit these amazing places. Now, on to the next adventure!
I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you!
My contribution for June is about accent and identity, looking at my feelings about my own accents.
How do you feel about your accent? Do you think it’s influenced by your identity?
I spent July back in Sevastopol after nearly a year away. So what changes have there been? And do people still believe they made the right choice at the referendum and they are better off in Russia?
The most striking change for me was how busy the city is now. There are a lot more people and traffic jams are much more common. At least half of the number plates are Russian, and they come from a wide variety of regions. When I first arrived in Sevastopol I think the population was about 500,000. On this trip, I was told that it’s grown to about one million, although nobody is really sure. A lot of the difference in numbers is due to refugees from Donetsk and other parts of Eastern Ukraine. It was also the peak of the holiday season when I was there. Flights from Simferopol airport are constantly booked up, with people arriving from all over Russia, plus other former Soviet states like Kazakhstan. This means it’s now very difficult to find accommodation in the city and the price of rent has risen considerably.
The rest of the changes I found out about were less obvious.
There now seems to be some recognition in the outside world that Crimea is no longer part of Ukraine, although not yet that it is part of Russia. When I visited Skyscanner to book a flight, Crimea was listed as a separate place in the country list. I found it interesting that it was listed in Roman characters on the Ukrainian list, rather than in Cyrillic, and wonder what prompted that decision.
Sanctions have not had as much of an effect on commerce as I expected, as you can still buy many ‘Western’ products, like Mars bars, Bonaqua water, Laughing Cow and mascarpone. However, the majority of these are actually produced in former Soviet states, which is why they have slipped through the net.
They have affected my friends in other ways though. Those who have opted for a Russian international passport* can no longer get a Shengen visa, meaning they cannot easily travel to or work in Europe. The only way to get around this is if the address your passport is registered to is outside Crimea, for example in Moscow or Saint Petersburg. It used to be possible to get Shengen visas without leaving Crimea, but this is no longer possible.
Even if you have a Ukrainian international passport, you still need to have a Russian local passport to meet the requirements of daily life in Crimea as far as I know. If you cross the land border from Crimea to Ukraine and the Ukrainian border guards find that you have a Russian passport, they can fine you heavily (about £500 if I remember rightly), remove the passport and destroy it. This means that most people now travel via mainland Russia rather than crossing the land border (though it is still used). That adds another layer of complication for those with Ukrainian passports, since they require a Russian entry visa to come back into Crimea. This is only valid for 90 days. I’m not really sure what happens if they overstay that period.
While we’re on this topic, the only area in which people said it was better being in Ukraine was the bureaucracy. Although it was long-winded, Russian systems tend to be even more complicated. There is also the added problem that Crimean officials are still trying to get their heads around the Russian systems, and don’t always know how they are expected to do things in their new country.
One positive change I noticed was that money seems to be flowing more freely than when I left in August last year. At that time, one or two cash machines were starting to work, but it was still largely a cash economy. From what I could tell, most cash machines seem to be functioning normally now, and card machines in shops are also back in use. There is now a Russian 10 rouble coin featuring Sevastopol, and another featuring the Swallow’s Nest in Yalta.
Having said that, not all of the money from the Russian government is making it to where it should. One person told me that Sevastopol was given $5 million to repair the roads in the city centre ready for the 9th May Victory Day celebrations, but there was no evidence of any repair when I was there in July. Apparently the money ‘disappeared’.
Overall, everyone I asked said that they still believe they made the right decision in the referendum to leave Ukraine and join Russia. However, some of the optimism has worn off a little, as their high expectations have not been met. While there have been some improvements in their lives, there is still a long way to go before life becomes free and easy again.
*In Russian, the word ‘passport’ is used to describe both the local/national identity document and the one used to travel internationally, hence the distinction here.