CELTA

This feels sort of like part three of a trilogy on planning and standards. It is also my first explicit post on the subject of a course that I have been teaching for five whole years.

I didn’t do CELTA. I did the Trinity Cert TESOL, essentially the same course, albeit on a slightly different model. However, the lessons I lesrned from that are still with me. My model of a reading or listening lesson is essentially what I learned on that course, and I still remember (with much embarrassment) arguing with one tutor about the presenve or otherwise of the /r/ on the end of words like car, and bear. I was, of course, completely wrong and I can now imagine, with sympathy, what an irritating person I was that night. I owe CELTA,  or at least its cousin course, my career.

It is a far from perfect course. No course is perfect. It is quite violently prescriptive in its definitions of how to teach, and of lesson structures. This is understandable, given the nature of the course. My favourite analogy for CELTA is that it is like passing your driving test: in reality, it doesn’t so much prepare you for teaching as prepare you to start learning to be a teacher. It is reductive by necessity: here are some basic lesson structures and techniques it says, and a brief introduction to language analysis, now go forth and teach and you may learn to be a great teacher. Let’s face it, many trainees will gain more practical teaching experience  in the first few weeks of a new job, maybe even the first few days, than they do on CELTA. And some of the syllabus is still a bit hokey, in the grand teaching tradition of not getting rid of something, just in case. Just like the cassettes in my office drawer, you can find learning styles still buried in the CELTA syllabus.

But it has some great things in it. The huge huge amount of peer observation involved, for example: the second largest proportion of the course after the input sessions. It is also wonderfully specific: I have seen generically trained teachers struggle like hell to let go of their preconceived ideas of teaching (yes, that complex explanation and use of socratic questioning techniques might have been great for your PGCE, but it’s as much use a chocolate teapot with beginner language learners) and I have seen people who haven’t been in a classroom for ten years become brilliant, insightful teachers because they have so few preconceptions on which to base their ideas. (For the sake of balance, I should add that the opposite is true as well, in both cases.) Teaching English is a wonderfully challenging task when the language of instruction is the same as the language being taught, and CELTA does a good job of preparing you for that.

I love CELTA, I do. It is always good to watch someone move from that first teaching practice of terror to their final teaching practice where they have devised their materials themselves and executed them beautifully. It is satisfying in its absolutes, and a pleasure to teach. I only hope I can make it as much of a pleasure to learn.

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One comment

  1. Completely agree. Last night, like many of my colleagues, I had CELTA trainees watch me teach. To begin with I was a bit nervous but then I got it into perspective and just enjoyed teaching and being watched by people who didn’t want to be judgemental but who just genuinely wanted to learn and see one person’s interpretation of the job.

    I made a completely elementary error during my matching exercise – I gave the incorrect sentence ends to match up to the beginnings. My students were struggling and they told me they couldn’t match up the prepositional phrases. I turned it into a piece of learning for the trainees. I advised they use different coloured paper for the beginnings compared to the endings and wear their glasses when sorting paperwork out!

    CELTA is like your driving test, you are given the tools to teach, and it’s possible even years on to make mistakes. However, experience gives you the confidence to deal with them. My driving is not outstanding, I have confidence, road awareness etc but if I took my test again I would definitely fail, if I did CELTA again I would struggle to remember the theory and I’m not sure if I can remember the order of TTT and PPP!

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