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

When a Twitter account called What they don’t teach you on CELTA started to pop up on my stream I was intrigued. Looking at their tweets, it seemed they were trying to fill the gap in post-CELTA development that I’m hoping ELT Playbook 1 also helps with. This is one of my main areas of interest for all the reasons Chris Russell describes below, so I was very pleased when he agreed to share the story behind the site and the Twitter account with us. Thanks Chris!

As for many of us, lockdown has been a strange time for me. Along with some colleagues, I’ve spent most of it furloughed and with a desire to do something productive with all that time on my hands. Fortunately, my colleague Stephen, an experienced teacher, teacher trainer and examiner, identified a problem waiting to be solved.

He got a few of us together on Zoom and asked us to think back to our early days of teaching, and all those moments we cringe at: the overly-ambitious lesson plan; the activities that fell flat; the grammar explanations that confused more than helped. CELTA and equivalents are great courses, but there’s only so much that’s possible within the confines of a month-long course. They should be one of the first steps on a journey in learning to teach, but for many it seems that their professional development doesn’t progress much after it.

As we thought of those moments, we wondered if there was a way of others finding a kind of shortcut. Especially those not lucky enough to work in a school with a supportive manager and opportunities for professional development. For teachers who have some experience, but aren’t ready to be thinking about doing a Delta or Master’s yet. We toyed with a couple of names, but ultimately settled on What they don’t teach you on the CELTA.

The name is a little tongue-in-cheek, and not intended as a criticism of CELTA per se, but an acknowledgment of its limitations. It can’t teach you everything. Cambridge are quite open about this: it falls under the ‘foundation to developing’ stage of their teaching framework, rather than ‘proficient’ or ‘expert’. We also noted the number of job opportunities that simply require a CELTA-qualified candidate, without asking for relevant experience or offering sufficient support to newly-qualified teachers, perpetuating the myth that CELTA is the final destination, rather than a first step, in ELT.

So, with our combined experience as teachers, teacher trainers, DoSes and language learners, we got writing, trying to help others benefit from our experience. We thought about what we wish someone had told us in our first years in the classroom, from the websites we now can’t imagine living without to knowing how to deal with classroom cliques. We’ve also thought about the things we do in class now, almost as second nature, like correcting students effectively and dealing with being observed. We don’t intend to imply that none of what we discuss is actually covered on any CELTA courses! However, expecting trainees to retain all that knowledge from such an intensive course doesn’t seem realistic, and so we hope some reinforcement will prove useful.

We know there are lots of other resources out there, but we don’t feel there are enough aimed at this audience – likely time-poor (planning and teaching 25 hours is a very tough ask at first!) and in need of a bit of guidance. The industry churns out lots of CELTA graduates, but how many really last in ELT? I’ve seen some have an initial unfulfilling year and never return – could some more support and development have helped them have a better time and retained them? Those staffroom tears and breakdowns that I’m sure many of us have seen really shouldn’t be the norm. I’ve also seen plenty of teachers with many years of experience, but whose teaching ability seems to have stagnated early, doing a disservice to their students and perhaps limiting their job satisfaction.

A blog certainly won’t solve all those issues but we hope to provide some help as well as to start a conversation around this issue within the industry. If nothing else, writing it has helped us reflect on our journeys within ELT and been a mixture of interesting and cathartic, emphasising the good that can come out of blogging and reflection – another important tool in professional development!

Chris Russell is a CELTA- and Delta-qualified English language teacher who has been working in ELT for 8 years in the UK, Spain and Poland. He recently took on the role of school director at Alba English in Edinburgh. He blogs with some colleagues at https://notoncelta.com and tweets at @ChrisRussellELT.

Comments on: "Professional Development beyond CELTA (guest post)" (4)

  1. What a fantastic post on such relevant topic in our lives as teachers: professional development. Very unfortunately, some of us fall into the trap of thinking we have nothing else to do after initial our TEFL qualification. I see myself in many of the situations raised here: ‘not having the support of an experienced colleague’, ‘plateaued at a certain level of teaching’ and so on…

    I am sure most or all do but perhaps Celta tutors and first training teacher courses must emphasise post professional development even further during the sessions. Reading blogs, having a chat with experienced colleagues, and exploring the ELT literature are just some ‘resources’ available out there ready to be explored. One session that could be run during the course ‘What If…?’ and common classroom issues completing the title; e.g.: ‘What if students arrive late in class?’ as a way to think about common problems in the classroom. Another session topic could be something along these lines: ‘Do you really want to be a teacher?’ to raise awareness of what a teaching job entails.

    One point we must make here though: some people become teachers just for the sake of having a bit of travelling; making teaching a means of getting some money to support themselves while abroad. School owners, DoS and others could ensure to have routine sessions on professional development as way to involve all teachers in the school. This would be a great way to explore topics or issues that are, to a certain degree, problematic in the teaching practice of the school staff.

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    • Thanks for the comment Jose. It’s hard to fit everything into a CELTA course in just four weeks, which is why is so important to keep developing afterwards. The final assignment is all about developing after the course, and I think trainers do mention a lot that this is the starting point, not the end, though maybe not all trainers do that!
      The what if… session is incorporated to some extent in anticipated problems and suggested solutions on lesson plans, and many courses also have Q&A sessions near the end of the course, but I think it’s hard to come up with the situations for what if… until you’ve experienced them and need an answer!
      In the finding a job/after the course session, we try to emphasise all of the other things which teaching involves beyond planning and being in the classroom, but again, these differ from job to job in terms of the amount of time you spend on each area.
      They’re all important to remember though!
      Sandy

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      • Agreed 100% Sandy. I have not taken the Celta; I have taken the TEFL certificate. I do recall having to write about potential problems and solutions in my lesson plan. I also remember having my tutor and co-TEFL takers talking about their experiences and mentioning some common classroom issues. It helped me loads to have a better picture of many of these issues.
        I understand that the Celta and these TEFL courses are run very intensively and thus it is hard to fit in so many of the thingsin the syllabus. I guess the point is to really sensitise future teachers to always seek professional development and provide them with some tools to do so.
        On a side note, I am a huge fan of your blog, Sandy. Thank you ever so much for your response. Wish you all the best.
        Jose

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  2. […] R from What they don’t teach you on the CELTA suggests a range of techniques to help you teach more student-centred lessons. Stephen J has […]

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