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

This is a summary of the #CELTAchat which took place on Monday 7th May 2018. The topic was ‘The trainer’s well-being: what can/should be done to protect the trainer when things get rough?’ You can read the full transcript and find out who the chatters were here. Below you will find some of the challenges which were mentioned for trainers, and possible solutions for them.

Image of the CELTAchat question from above

Institutions should have mechanisms in place to protect tutors from burnout. All trainees are experiencing the course for the first time, and a burnt out trainer can’t help them properly. It’s not necessarily very healthy to do CELTA after CELTA. For example, you could have at least a week off between courses or take a break and teach, though one trainer pointed out that some institutions overdo this and give the trainers too many hours to teach, so they still don’t actually have time to reflect and develop. It’s also really helpful if the centre has a spare tutor available, so you know that it’s possible to take time off sick if you need it without worrying too much. Cathy Bowden asked if we sometimes feel guilty about making a scheduling decision because it’ll make life easier for trainers, but as Fiona Price pointed out even though she thinks about trainee needs first, if something makes trainees’ lives easier, it normally makes everyone’s lives easier. I personally find two input sessions on one day really tiring, even if that means I have a morning/afternoon off at another time in the week, but some trainers prefer this pattern.

Five-week intensive courses can also take some of the pressure off both trainees and trainers, where circumstances allow. This normally works as four days per week, with either Wednesday or Friday off. However, this can be more expensive for potential trainees as they have to pay for accommodation for longer and miss work for an extra week.  They also might not believe just how tough the 4-week course is until it’s too late! Freelance trainers may also find it a challenge to combine 5-week courses with their other work. Another way to help trainers is to not require them to be at the centre for set hours – if they can leave once input sessions are done, or only come in when they’re needed, they can manage their time in the way that works best for them, instead of trying to find work to fill the time that they’re at the centre. Another variation is to have a maximum number of trainees per course which is lower than the six per trainer official maximum, for example maximum 10 trainees rather than 12. This is not so common nowadays though, as it’s often not financially viable. To help trainees, Tom Flaherty says: “On intensive courses, Ss struggle to process overwhelming amount of info provided, though. What about 6-to-9 month part-time course that provides trainee Ts with apprenticeship & time to learn, reflect on & research their teaching, leading to Qualified ELT Status?” Fiona Price pointed out that it is possible to run part-time CELTA courses providing the 120 contract hours over a period of up to a year.

Working with ‘difficult’ trainees can be very challenging, and trainers don’t tend to get taught how to do this. Instead they have to learn from experience. Angeles Bollas did a presentation at IATEFL 2018 talking about this. It’s a skill which trainers need to reflect on: some trainers are unnecessarily strict and demanding – this can end up causing stress for the other tutor, not just the trainees! It’s not always easy to make feedback wholly developmental, but it’s very important, though some trainees can be uncooperative or potentially disruptive for other trainees.

Anthony Gaughan mentioned that a lot of the day-to-day stress on the course is related to discrete grading of lessons. On Trinity or UK state teacher training individual lessons aren’t graded (or they weren’t in his day!). He asked: “How do you feel before you have to tell a trainee their lesson was not to standard, especially when a) they won’t agree, or b) it will lead to a Stage 3 not to standard, a warning letter, etc.?” – I, for one, hate all of that, though I also know that we need to let trainees know as soon as possible if there’s a problem, and help them to resolve it. As Cathy Bowden said, we have to bite the bullet to maintain the standard of quality, and make sure trainees know they’re in danger of failing.

Anthony also asked about immediate feedback/paperwork return, versus delayed feedback. For me, immediate feedback is OK, as long as I have can return paperwork later, as I rarely get it all finished during TP. A delay for trainees can allow more time to reflect, but also to brood. This link about emotional intelligence and why it matters may help during feedback. Assignments are another area of potential stress. For example, getting all of the assignments marked, especially at the end of week 3 and in week 4, can be quite overwhelming, particularly if there are a lot of resubmissions. Trainers often end up taking them home to get them all done.

It’s important for centres to set expectations during the interview process so that trainees know what they’re getting themselves into. (You might also find the links in the first section of my Useful links for CELTA post useful for this.) Additionally, it’s very useful for trainers to chat and share experiences, through things like #CELTAchat or private messaging. Adi Rajan mentioned that his own levels of stress are directly related to the trainees’ attitudes and behaviours on the course and how well the group works together, and this is something I find too.

Angelos suggested getting feedback from the trainees every Friday, not just during tutorials and at the end of the course. He uses a feedback sheet with prompts, and gives trainees 30 minutes to discuss the prompts and write down ideas/views/opinions. Examples of prompts include:

  • What I liked this week
  • What I didn’t like this week
  • My favourite session was
  • My least favourite session was
  • For next week, I want more of
  • and less of
  • Feedback has been

It’s important they do this as a group, so that if someone is irrational about something, they will figure it out on their own if they see that the rest of the group are OK with it. This also emphasises the fact that teaching is also about team building. Once Angelos has read them, they have a discussion about an action plan for the following week. To fit this in, trainees stay a little longer on that day or have slightly shorter input sessions. This can help maintain a dialogue between trainees and trainers, and nip problems in the bud. These strategies also demonstrate reflection and professional development in action: we’re learning trainers, just like they’re learning teachers (or should be!)

Giovanni Licata asks for informal feedback every week on-site and every other week offsite. He also suggests having a neutral person on site who trainees can speak to, somebody who’s not involved directly with the course, though Fiona Price said that if trainees feel they have to go to a third party, this could suggest a bit of a disconnect. Giovanni emphasised that the third party should be there for trainees to vent to, but not to offer suggestions.

Fiona Price wants to experiment with the reflective cycle in assisted lesson planning, adapted from Gibbs (1988):

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Marisa Constantinides and Giovanni use the six thinking hats in peer observation, rotating the hats in peer feedback. Marisa also recommends the ’smelly foot tribe’ activity from Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield [affiliate link] to help trainees with team-building and collaboration. They have to come up with a group name, logo, slogan, rap, jazz chant etc, over the first 2-3 days of the course. She’s worked with groups like ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘The Elegant Dolphins’ 🙂

As Cathy Bowden and Adi Rajan pointed out, a lot of the chat ended up being about trainee well-being, rather than trainer well-being: ‘Are we too selfless for our own good?’ Fiona said that well-being is all about negotiation, between the centre and trainers, trainers with each other, and trainers and trainees. I think that’s a very good note to end on!

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