You’ll be happy to know this is not a cycling rant, although my goodness could I rant about pointless selfish urban 4x4s. No, this stems from a parallel that occurred to me in a Twitter discussion about CELTA.
Celta, of course, is the moped. It’s perfect for getting you round the hotspots of the world, and for getting you started in the world of teaching English. It’s useful for hitting the streets of some of the most exciting places on earth, for volunteering abroad, or for starting a bit of teaching to migrants at a local community centre. It’s agile: the content can be applied with a degree of universality, and adapted lightly to meet a local context, as long as the subject being taught is English and the students are speakers of other languages. This is what it is for.
What it is not, however, is a teacher training qualification. Well, no , it is, but it is a necessarily limited training. Nobody expects someone to come off of CELTA with a full understanding of grammar, lexis, and skills, and their acquisition and learning. The appeal of the course is also its biggest drawback: its brevity and concision means that there is simply no time to cover as much as the trainees might want. CELTA gives you a bunch of practical tools to set you off. You pass it, then you really learn to teach. Let’s face it, after a couple of even part time weeks of post CELTA teaching, you have usually taught far more than you taught on CELTA. What CELTA does do, however, is give you the tools to survive that period: a handful of good solid lesson structures, some practice in researching language, some structure for your planning and for your reflections so that you can make the most of your learning in that first two weeks, and way beyond it. You found CELTA hard? The reality is, you are going to be just as busy once you start teaching. You may not have to write down language analysis, stage aims, timings and so on if you don’t want to, you are still going to need to think about them.
A PGCE, then, is a Range Rover. You want something that can handle all the challenges that teaching throws at you? You want a PGCE. It is generic, so it goes into any classroom, does everything, and can even double as a bomb shelter. (That last point is not entirely true, obviously). Arguably, a PGCE is the teacher training antithesis of CELTA: only partly practical but very theory heavy. I think that this is because, in an FE setting, a PGCE/Cert Ed/etc. is more often an in service qualification: they require you to be teaching at least fifty hours a year, meaning that there is ample opportunity to reflect and apply the theory.
A PGCE is a statement. It says “I am a person with a Path. I have heard the Calling, and I know my Mission.” This is absolutely right, of course. This is not something you undertake lightly with a view to hanging out in Mexico for the next five years drinking margaritas on the beach after class. It’s too damned long and hard for one. If the intensity and challenge of CELTA is acute, on a PGCE it is chronic. You don’t want to put yourself through this without something solid and “proper” to look forward to. Sadly, in FE, the various governmental cuts of the last few years mean that job opportunities are rare, and in ESOL positively endangered, so there’s got to be a lot of love and passion there now.
Both courses are valuable, but they do different jobs. CELTA is brief, narrow and practical. A PGCE is long, broad and with a generous helping of theory. I know of ESOL teachers who came the CELTA route and who came the PGCE /Cert Ed / generic DTTLS route, and I’d say there was a fairly even spread of good and poor teachers from both routes. CELTA-route teachers often have a much better awareness of the specific needs of language learning, and PGCE-route teachers are sometimes better with the wider contexts and public accountability aspects of FE teaching (and it’s where these two things collide that much of the professional tension in ESOL arises). The toughest challenge I ever had as a teacher on level 5 ESOL teacher training courses was getting PGCE trained teachers to unlearn lots of what they knew about classroom interactions, and trying to navigate themes of success rates and policy history to CELTA trained teachers.
The most sensible, if slow and expensive route for an ESOL teacher in the UK is to start with CELTA, build up some hours, and then do the whole PGCE and then ESOL specialism. You get the best of both worlds, and let’s face it, nobody is very likely to give you an ESOL teaching job with no qualifications at all. However, if you’ve got any sense at all of the current funding and political status of ESOL, and the personal freedom, you’ll get out of the country as quickly as you can. And you can do that on a moped.