By Tasha Hacker | On 30 Jan, 2014
Congratulations! You’ve done your research and you’ve enrolled in the world’s most respected TEFL certification course, the Cambridge University CELTA. Which means you’re on a path to becoming a successful, enthusiastic English language teacher whose options vary from living abroad and traveling or staying close to home and working for local English language schools.
In essence, you’re bounding happily towards a new future and adventure on the horizon.
This might be your first career out of college, or it might be your tenth. Either way, you’re looking for a job that is fun, brings you into contact with people from all over the world and doesn’t keep you glued to a computer all day. Which means you’ve come to the right place.
But, first, you need to pass your CELTA course. And you need to gear yourself up to be both a student and a teacher– to learn and teach simultaneously. You’re not looking to just pass this course by the skin of your teeth – you want to blow your CELTA Trainers away and get yourself the best TEFL job ever.
Well, as an experienced Cambridge CELTA Trainer myself, I can say with all honesty that there are some tips to being a successful CELTA trainee. But sshh, because you probably won’t get your CELTA trainers to say all of these out loud….
1. This ain’t no college lecture course. It’s way more fun.
No matter what university you attended, I guarantee you’ve never experienced a course like the CELTA.
100% attendance is expected and required by Cambridge University, but once you see how much is covered in each session, you won’t want to miss a thing.
For half the day, you’re a teacher in the classroom, teaching your own lessons to real ESL students, and the other half of the day you’re a student in the classroom, learning about and trying out new and innovative teaching techniques.
Essentially, don’t expect to fall asleep in class and copy your friend’s notes afterwards. You will be actively learning for at least eight hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks straight (if you’re doing the full-time CELTA).
So, what’s the secret? Student engagement.
Active participation, as well as enjoyment, means you’ll remember so much more than if you were forced to sit through a lecture. So embrace this style of learning and take in as much as you can.
Our aim is that by end of the CELTA, you will be a full-fledged English teacher ready and able to handle your own classroom in any country across the world. Are you ready for that?
2. This could turn into a job, if you handle it well.
Many CELTA centers are attached to English language schools and/or have close connections to English language schools that are hiring. This is certainly true of Teaching House.
When you begin your CELTA course, you may think your trainer exists primarily to help you become a great teacher. That is certainly true. But your CELTA trainer is also wondering what kind of teacher you’ll turn out to be, and if they would want you around in their staff room.
So, what do you want your trainers to notice about you? Hopefully, not that you turn up late for class, you dress slovenly, you’re impolite or you’re resistant to feedback about your teaching. Because when the school director approaches your CELTA trainer and asks if there’s a trainee they would recommend for a teaching position, you don’t want them to pass you over.
My advice? Treat every day on the CELTA like a job interview because, well, you never know. If you show up on time, you participate in class enthusiastically, you’re open to feedback, your students love your lessons and your fellow trainees love working with you, then there will be nothing but good things to say about you and your work.
When a school director asks your CELTA Trainer, “Would you give them a job?” You want the answer to be, without hesitation, “Yes.”
3. This isn’t a competitive environment – in fact, it’s the opposite.
The more helpful and collaborative you are with your fellow trainees, the more you’ll get out of your CELTA course because your classmates will share their insights with you, too. Which equals greater success on the course for everyone involved.
Put yourself in the shoes of a school director – what kind of teachers would you want to fill your staff room with? As a school director myself, I can tell you I want a school full of positive, cheerful, hard-working teachers. I want to work with teachers who love students, love coming up with creative lesson ideas and love working with other teachers on developing great lessons.
So, think of the CELTA course as one, big training staff room. If you see yourself as a loner competing for a grade against all the other trainees in the room, and you’re keeping all those great lesson ideas to yourself because you’re afraid someone will steal them, then you’re missing out on opportunities for sharing and learning. And that will be reflected in how successful you are on the CELTA course.
The trainee who is open to sharing, helping and accepting suggestions is a joy for trainees and trainers to work with, and that has an impact on their course success.
4. Openness to feedback and changing how you approach teaching is the key to success.
Modern language classrooms look nothing like the kinds of classroom you may be accustomed to learning in, or even ones you may have experience teaching in. And, therefore, one of the keys to succeeding on the CELTA course is being open to change – change in your technique, your teaching style, and the way you think about teaching – which takes a lot of open-mindedness towards the feedback CELTA trainers will be giving you.
If you arrive to the course believing teachers should always stand and students should always sit, then your trainer may get you to sit down when you teach, just to shake things up. Go with the flow and give everything a try because that’s how you discover what works best for you and your students.
The less fixed you are in your ideas and the more open you are to change and trying out what your CELTA trainer suggests, the more success you will have on the course and in your future as a teacher. After all, in your professional life beyond the CELTA, you’ll be asked to change how you approach teaching often according to your student population, the school you work for, and the focus of the course you’re teaching.
But the key to success in all these situations is the same: adaptability.
5. Yes, there are grades, but they aren’t the most important thing.
When you complete your CELTA course, you will be awarded one of four possible grades: Fail (hopefully not), Pass (about 70% of successful candidates), Pass B (about 25% of successful candidates), or Pass A (about 5% of successful candidates).
The grading system is based on criteria provided by Cambridge University in the UK and is not at all similar to the grading system you may be used to if you were schooled in the United States — you know, the oh-you-tried-your-best-so-we’ll-give-you-an-A kind of grading system.
Truthfully, trainees who are overly fixated on grades are not usually as successful as the trainees who focus on meeting their students needs, helping out their fellow trainees and using their trainers’ feedback to improve their lessons.
And though you will always know right away if you’ve passed or failed an assignment or lesson, you won’t always know how this fits into Cambridge criteria or how this equates to a Pass, Pass B or Pass A, until you see your end-of-course report.
So, my advice is to relax and focus on the big picture. And try your best to do the following:
a) Observe your trainers carefully and learn as much from them as you can.
b) Observe your fellow trainees and think about what you like and don’t like about their teaching.
c) Observe your students and try to understand how they learn best.
d) Come to class prepared for your lessons and assignments.
Doing your best may not guarantee that you get a Pass A on your CELTA course, but it will guarantee that you become the best teacher you can be.
And that’s what we CELTA Trainers aim to do: give you the tools you need to get out there, live your dream and make a positive impact.
Tasha is a CELTA Trainer with 15 years’ experience teaching ESL in Russia, England, Qatar, Spain and the U.S. After co-founding Teaching House, Tasha is now retired and blogs about her travels at TurfToSurf.com.
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Arguably, the best part of the CELTA course is the feedback sessions. Especially in the beginning, observation of the other trainees was a great learning tool; you learn a lot by watching – both the good and the bad. A large part of my modus operandi is based on what I didn’t like about my Spanish classes when I was learning all those years ago. During this CELTA course, we all tried to improve on the weaker things we saw, and perhaps copied what we thought might work well for ourselves and our students.
During these sessions, we’d analyse each other’s good and bad moments, always starting with a personal assessment, and the tutor then gave his or her two pennies’ worth.
We were generally very respectful towards each other – one had to maintain a balance of being careful not to dampen a fellow trainee’s motivational level while, at the same time, not to be over-patronising.
In this first TP, we were told to take notes on the following:
The teacher’s speech
- was it too loud/too quiet?
- was it too fast/too slow?
- Was it clearly audible?
- Was the language graded?
The teacher’s body language
- Did the teacher sit or stand?
- Did they maintain an appropriate position in the classroom? Too far/too close? Did they have their backs to the students?
- Did they obstruct the whiteboard?
- Did they maintain eye contact with the students?
Basic teaching skills
- Did the teacher nominate effectively?
- Were the instructions clear?
As I mentioned in the previous post, my fellow trainees were a great bunch. Even the trainer, Ian, said so in the feedback. In that post, I’d reviewed – to a fashion – the performance of the others, albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but there wasn’t anyone to review mine although I sort of did a personal evaluation.
I was really chuffed that day when Ingmar, bless his heart, said I was “really professional” and “reminded him of a lot of the teachers he’d had” (or did he say “reminded him a lot of the teachers…”?). I hope they were good teachers, Ingmar! Freya (an incredibly efficient observer and note-taker, I’ll have to say) added, “controlled but not too formal”. Wow! Thanks Freya!
I don’t know about the others, but, on the whole, I valued the trainees’ feedback very highly. We learned a lot, too, from the trainers’ observation and their ideas and suggestions; I wouldn’t take that away from Ian.
Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang (Where’s Chris? Still at the café?)
After the peer feedback session, Ian gave us a rundown on giving instructions. Now, I might have mentioned before, CELTA (now, when I say CELTA, I refer to Seville’s IH CLIC and it could be different elsewhere) is BIG on giving instructions. To be honest, I’d probably forgotten about this session quite quickly, having had so much to absorb on the first few days, and am only recalling them now. Did I say rundown? Rather than a rundown, it was more like the ten commandments. So, future trainees, this is thy tablet!
The Ten Commandments of giving instructions (creative licence applied)
- Thou shalt get the attention of thy pupils (without rapping their knuckles) before commencing.
- Thou shalt call them by their names.
- Thou shalt tell thy pupils what to do clearly and concisely. Thou shalt not be wordy!
- Thou shalt master the art of chesting, and know’st thy chicken from thy egg (in new English, which to come first – the handout or the instructions).
- Thou must also tell thy pupils what NOT to do (e.g to fill in the gaps).
- Thou shalt do an example with thy whole class (Let’s do the first one together!). If this shouldst not be possible, or even if it were, then thou shalt swear by the ICQs and nothing but the ICQs.
- Thou shalt give thy pupils a limit of time and be clear if they have to work in pairs, groups, or individually.
- Thou shalt write thine instructions (as a back-up) on thine handouts.
- Thou shalt never forget to monitor. Are they doing the activity correctly?
- Should the instructions be too complicated, thou shalt give a demonstration (e.g. in playing a board game).
After Moses laid the tablet down, we were handed our feedback (evaluation) sheet, then we moved on to preparation for the next days’ TP. Since these lessons were of a 40-minute duration, 3 of us would teach the next day, and the other 3, the following. I was to be the very last again.
More of that later. For now, let us take a look at the feedback sheet.
As it was an observation of a 20-minute class, the assessment check list was brief:
- logical and organised planning
- presenting materials with professional appearance and regard to copyright requirements
Classroom Teaching Skills
- establishing rapport and developing motivation
- adjusting own language to meet level and needs of learners
- giving clear instructions
- providing accurate, natural and appropriate examples of spoken and written language
Awareness of Teaching and Learning Process
- teaching a group with sensitivity to the needs, interests and background of the group
- organising the classroom to suit the learners/activity
- setting up and managing individual, pair, group and whole class work
- co-operation with colleagues
- attendance and punctuality
Eleven items to observe and evaluate in twenty minutes. That’s OK. What I’m interested in knowing, however, is how they actually grade these. As far as I know, there are three grades N (not up to standard), S (to standard) and S+ (above standard). How badly does one have to do to get an N? And what constitutes an S+?
I’m not sure what the others got, but I received 11 S’s. Fair? I don’t know. How would I evaluate myself? I’d give everyone of us S+ for both items on PD; well, except for Chris, who arrived late. The rest, we co-operated, we were early. So?
I’d also give myself an S+ for rapport, definitely. Then there were the 3 items on awareness. I’d give myself S+’s too. I hardly knew these students, but, hell, for the time I knew them, yes, sure I was sensitive to their needs and interests. They weren’t entirely sure of the differences of have and have got when they got to my lesson, so I explained to them, using the WB well, according to the official feedback. Or wasn’t this in conformity with what was expected because it wasn’t in my aim and my aim was to give controlled practice? Codswallop, I’d say, if that was the case.
Organising the classroom? It was a small room. And it was fine the way it had been arranged. So?
Setting up work? I thought I did what I was supposed to do. Or perhaps not. I think I might have goofed at the end when I apparently told them to write and speak when it should have been one or the other. I don’t remember exactly.
Or perhaps no S+ are given on the first TP?
The overall tutor’s comment? Glowing. Lovely friendly rapport, good use of board, voice volume, concise instructions, controlled written practice, close monitoring, paused to allow ss to correct, providing visual answers, blah, blah.
So, why only To Standard?
At that time I didn’t mind. It was the first TP and I was just happy I got over it without any catastrophe. Later, however, it would become a different story…
In retrospect – or perhaps I’m just being paranoid with this chip on my shoulder – I may have earned two black marks on Ian’s book on this very second day.
The first was when Ingmar remarked that he had a plan but he didn’t exactly follow it, to which I half-jokingly added, “The best lesson plan is the the one that ends up in the bin”, then “Isn’t that true, Ian?” He kind of looked at me, thinking, “Mmm, where’s this guy going?” To understand my remark, you’ll have to understand many things beyond CELTA; you’ll have to understand me, and my philosophies, you’ll have to know different lesson approaches other than those presented by CELTA, rapport, dynamics, and so on.
I don’t think I was understood after four weeks, let alone after two days.
It wouldn’t have been the first time my warped sense of humour got me into deepish waters.
The second instance was when we, the trainees, were discussing speed of speech, and I gave my opinion, “I’m sure Ian will disagree, but I think we shouldn’t slow down too much because the students get used to this and then have difficulty understanding real-life situations when people speak normally.” I still stand by it. OK, sure, I tried to adapt to what the trainers wanted, but it was obvious to the sensitive ones around me that, from day one, we had had our differences.
And I repeat. I stand by it. For crying out loud, why are they so against repeating? Don’t we repeat, or ask others to repeat, in REAL situations? Even Cambridge examiners have said, “If you don’t understand the examiners, it’s quite all right to ask them to repeat the question.” But, what’s more important is this. Look at this sentence:
/ ɪts kwaɪt ɔːl raɪt tə ɑːsk ˈpiːpl̩ tə rɪˈpiːt /
That’s when we speak normally. But we when we slow down, we tend to emphasise all the words and the /tə/ becomes the standard /tu/. And as you are probably aware, in normal speech, almost all unstressed vowels take on the schwa sound and this is the reason learners have problems understanding us! So what should it be? Slow down? More than slow down, I’d say what is more important is to speak CLEARLY.
In all honesty, when I asked the students they all told me they understood me, Speedy Gonzalez or not…
What do you think? Do you agree with me or do you think I’m completely and utterly wrong?