Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

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:

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 😉

Map of the places I've visited in 2014-2015

Click the map to see where I’ve travelled this year, including photos

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!

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Comments on: "Reflections on a year of CELTA training" (18)

  1. When I’m going to meet a student for the first time and want to get a general idea of their vocab and grammar level, I send them to examenglish.com — they’ve got a free multiple choice 20 question level test that gets progressively more difficult. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s fast and easy, and it gives them a rough CEF classification

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  2. Cuol you please tell me where I can study Celta online please?

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  3. Really useful points for me to think about, being about to start a (different kind of) teacher training course, observation and reflection will be key. And my lovely german teacher would be proud to be quoted!
    Good luck for the next adventure Sandy, I can’t wait to hear about it!

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    • It’s one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard, because it’s so true 🙂
      Thanks for the message Kim, and good luck with the course – looking forward to hearing about that too! x

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  4. IMO placement testing students is hard when you first start teaching because you don’t know what different levels should be able to do. There are tests like the Oxford one, but I found in Vietnam that students scored really highly in the grammar questions, but then when you spoke to them face to face they could barely say anything. It depends on the type and quality of their previous instruction. A few grammar questions can tell me what level of grammar they know, but the writing and speaking components tell you much more about what they can do with their language. The ability to grade this to levels is what takes experience. Will be interesting to know if you find an answer!
    I’ve been reading your blogs on CELTA and watching our CELTA course run and it’s interesting how they are different. Do CELTA trainers get together at conferences etc, and compare?
    Finally, being rejected for jobs because we have a different tefl qualification but 6+ years experience in quality schools with teacher training and observations over someone with a CELTA and no experience has been incredibly frustrating and must be wrong, especially over some CELTA qualified teachers I’ve observed as a DoS! Companies of course need some way to judge job applicants, but surely there it could be less restrictive. For us, Diplomas have removed that bias so let’s hope they pay back the cost, time and stress involved!

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    • Hi Kylie,
      Sorry it’s taken a while to get back to you. I agree completely about placement testing being hard at the beginning – it’s very difficult to know what different levels can really do until you have experience with a range of students.
      I found the CELTA sessions I went to at IATEFL really useful, not just because of their content but because I was meeting other trainers and learning from their experiences. There are also informal discussions on social media, and I think people compare notes whenever they meet up.
      I also agree with your final comment, particularly because however useful the CELTA might be, it’s doesn’t compare to experience in a good school!
      Thanks for the comment,
      Sandy

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  5. Interesting, Sandy!

    Can I suggest that one of the other things CELTA doesn’t do is to point trainees in the right direction as far as technology is concerned?

    Printing and photocopying and using PowerPoint… ? Is that 21st century learning or exploiting any of the communicative possibilities technology has been offering for a long time?

    Perhaps there just isn’t time for it…? Or just technology isn’t that important…?

    Perhaps it depends on the trainer, or the centre…? But I suspect a major rethink of the official Cambridge syllabus to incorporate technology ought at least to be considered!

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    • Hi Tom,
      Thanks for the comment and sorry it’s taken a while for me to reply. It got a bit lost in my move to Poland.
      I’d say that technology depends very much on the centre and the trainers. There’s so much to pack into the four weeks that trainers who don’t feel comfortable with technology themselves are unlikely to be able to help their trainees learn to use it effectively in the classroom, especially if they’re still having problems with basic classroom management.
      I agree that a major rethink of the Cambridge syllabus is in order, and I don’t think technology is the only area where it would benefit from changes!
      Sandy

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  6. I had a great time on my CELTA course. The tutors gave us loads of feedback and I learnt so much. Plus points: my confidence at speaking in public has improved dramatically and I’ve been able to perform so much better at job interviews. Minor minus point: Me and my housemate both have CELTA certificates, but it hasn’t really helped us communicate with our mysterious Japanese housemate who appears to speak no English!

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  7. I’m a teacher with a CELTA and 6 months’ experience, and I agree with your list of what CELTA does and doesn’t do. Another aspect of teaching that, perhaps inevitably, wasn’t very realistic in my CELTA was the amount of a typical lesson that needs to be made up of review: I don’t know how universal this is, but in my CELTA we mostly kept moving on to the next thing — perhaps to expose us to as much different material as possible, or perhaps because reviewing language would be considered an ‘easy job’ compared to presenting things that were new to most of the students?

    One thing about CELTA showing trainees whether they really want to teach or not: it’s worth pointing out that real-world teaching can be less stressful than CELTA. 🙂 I was very stressed throughout my CELTA, to the point that I was a lot less sure about whether I wanted to teach after the course than before! A big part of me wondered whether I should just write teaching off as a failed experiment. In fact I’ve been far less stressed since I started teaching. It’s certainly helped that in a country like Germany where almost all teachers are freelancers, the work is likely to build up quite gradually and comfortably. I’ve found that (a) there is such thing as an excellent school that will employ newly-qualified teachers and give loads of support (I’d assumed that anywhere good would only take experienced teachers, so I couldn’t really see how anyone got started!); (b) real-world lesson lengths (e.g. 90 minutes rather than 40) make it rather easier to achieve your aims; and (c) if you don’t achieve your aims, it’s often because you did something more immediately important, and under normal teaching circumstances there’s (nearly) always the next lesson.

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    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Rosie. I wanted to mention something about stress, but couldn’t work out how to word it, partly because I know everyone has different experiences after CELTA and some people (like me!) thrive under stress. It’s very true that there are excellent schools that employ newly qualified teachers – we need to make them more well-known, and try to bring up the standards so that as many people as possible can benefit from these schools. Good luck with your teaching – it sounds like you’ve landed on your feet!
      Sandy

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  8. Hi Sandy
    This is quite a nice test to give to students to start with. Speaking and Writing would have to be tested separately though. http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/test-your-english/

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  9. Hi Sandy

    Where in Poland will you be?

    I am curious as I have just finished my training in Krakow, I love Poland so much I can’t wait to return there to work.

    I have yet to find that job role though! Any advice for a new-bee ?

    Best Tanya

    >

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    • Hi Tanya,
      I’ll be working in Bydgoszcz. Kraków is beautiful 🙂
      I don’t have any specific advice for a new teacher, but I’d recommend looking up Joanna Malefaki’s Younger Teacher Self post and the replies it’s prompted – there’s a lot of great advice in those posts.
      Good luck!
      Sandy

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  10. […] to write a similar post about that journey. Then I realised I’d kind of already done that by reflecting on a year of CELTA It turns out I’d already mentioned a few things that being a CELTA tutor has taught me, but […]

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