What is the CELTA really like? (Week 1 and 2)

For anyone who’s serious about teaching English some form of teacher-training course is imperative. The Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) is the most revered in the profession and most countries (outside of Asia) will ask for this as a minimum, plus a degree. The CELTA is an entry-level course designed to make you a teacher in 4 weeks and even though it specifies that it is for teaching adults, the equivalent qualification for Young Learners is nowhere near as prevalent and so every institution will accept the CELTA.

I applied and was accepted to the CELTA course at West London College Ealing campus in July 2012. £1000 later and I was still unsure as to what exactly the CELTA entailed. Sure, there’s a bit of information floating about on forums, but most just tell you about how intense it is and warns you against that inevitable breakdown you’ll experience in weeks 2-3. Here I’ll give you the lowdown on what the course is really like….

Week 1

After completing one week of the course I’m surprised at how I’m able to handle the workload. It could be because I just graduated from university and am still in studying mode or the fact that I’m making an attempt to be organised, but I’ve made it to the end of week 1 without feeling the strain. Half of each day is reserved for ‘input’ where we’re taught about teaching strategies, classroom management and various other things pertaining to the TEFL classroom. By day 2 I’m teaching a 20 minute lesson and it’s actually great-you get given a lot of information beforehand. Day 3 I’m teaching my own 40 minute lesson and from then on we have to make our own lesson plans and photocopy handouts. Planning for the lesson is probably the most challenging aspect of the course thus far and surprisingly the textbooks are not as helpful or well written as you’d think (watch out for Headway).

The basic concept I had of a ‘teacher’ has been shattered and replaced by another image, that of the ‘Enabler.’ Our tutors told us that in  this course it’s better to let the students do all the work during lessons and to minimise lecturing and teaching from the board. The onus should be on the students and teachers should ensure that students have many opportunities to communicate with each other and learn the language interactively, rather than them passively receiving the information lecture-style, they call these “student-led activities”.

Whilst teaching, your fellow CELTA coursemates are at the back observing along with your course director. At the end of the teaching session everyone gives feedback on how your lesson went and gives tips for improvement. This was nerve-wracking at first and remains so till the end, as half the time it’s your peers giving you negative feedback. Your lesson is graded either ‘Below standard’, ‘To standard’ and ‘Above standard,’ but bear in mind this differs depending on which institution you’re at- I’ve read of other schools doing a ‘weak’ pass and a ‘strong pass’. Two ‘below standard’ grades and you’ve bagged yourself a meeting with the tutor on how you can improve-if you’re ever in danger of failing the course, you’ll well in advance. In total we teach around 9 assessed lessons each.

We’re required to teach every other day and to write 4 assignments in total. My first one is due tomorrow and is a language related task. One thing that should be mentioned- in CELTA a good knowledge of grammar is desirable, but not exactly essential. I found that the non-native speakers of my course fared particularly well on this aspect of the course as they once had to learn English as a foreign language, but all of us native speakers were a lot weaker in this department. I’ve had one incident where my knowledge of grammar could have been better when teaching a lesson and the first assignment I’ve had to redo (my tutor said most of us will have to resubmit anyway). Resubmitting is not a big deal the first time you fail and the teachers will give you a lot of guidance on exactly what to improve so it’ll pass the next time, all of my four assignments passed second time. Overall, you’re allowed to fail one assignment completely (as in, also fail the resubmission) out of the four, but it means you will be ineligible for the A grade. I was worried about failing this way but my teacher said that it was very rare and had never happened to a student she was teaching.

CELTA is graded as follows; FAIL, PASS, PASS B, PASS A. Many of the forums assure me that the percentage of people who fail is infinitesimal. It’s notoriously difficult to get an A, less than 3% of trainees get this- I even read this woman’s online account where she’d gotten 6 Above Standard lessons out of 8 and was still only awarded a B, so don’t stress out about grades.

Don’t feel you need prior teaching experience to embark on a CELTA- out of the ones on my course who had worked as ESL teachers, half benefitted from this previous work experience and the other half found it hard to unlearn previous teaching habits. It may be harder for those without previous teaching experience to get the higher grades, but it should be noted that this course is not like school. Do not, on any account, be disappointed with anything less than a B. In six years  (so around 60 classes) a Cambridge examiner told me that his centre had only awarded around 3 A grades! I imagine if you did get an A grade you wouldn’t really have needed to take the course in the first place. Should get a refund if you ask me…

Week 2

It’s the start of week 2 and things are heating up a bit-with assignments and Teacher Practice (TP) sessions every other day it’s hard to go out the evening before teaching a lesson. In the past week and a bit of the course we’ve had a foreign language lesson (Gaelic, so we know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of teaching), techniques in teaching new vocabulary and have watched other teachers as part of live observation or on DVD.  We’ve gone through different types of lessons- speaking skills, reading and listening lessons. The ‘productive skills’ are speaking and writing, with the ‘receptive skills’ being listening and reading. The tutors reminded us today that we are also observed on professionalism, punctuality and preparedness, so this is something to think about before starting the course. Your tutors will also give you your first reference so it’s important to have a good relationship with them (and no, no one’s paying me to write this!)

Most failed the first language assignment and so we have to resubmit it with the corrections our tutor made. This weekend I have a party and am meeting a friend, but might have to blow off my plans as I have to re-do my first assignment, finish off the second one and come up with a lesson plan for Monday. But honestly, that’s not as much work as it sounds! Assignments are usually around 1000 words each and you’re never asked to resubmit the entire essay, just the section(s) you get wrong.

The CELTA is definitely not as stressful as I thought though, I’d heard many accounts of people getting stressed into week 2/3 and whilst I’ve been quite nervous teaching, it’s because I feel I’m not planning the lesson effectively enough or taking in the feedback very well.  I’ve been told to reduce my TTT (Teacher Talking Time) and to deliver slower instructions as I have a tendency to speak very fast, so bear this in mind when you’re teaching! Most importantly remember to grade your language and simplify! Rather than saying “Let’s go through the answers…” we were told to say “Look (points at worksheet) at the answers.” I’ve just finished teaching the elementary class and am now moving on to teaching the upper intermediate class.

Next week I’ll be publishing my experience of week 3 and 4 of CELTA. If anyone has any questions about the course, please feel free to post them (top right-hand corner of the page speech bubble or bottom of the page) and I will get you back to you.

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10 thoughts on “What is the CELTA really like? (Week 1 and 2)

  1. I just wrote a blog post about CELTA and ungenerously said I could find just about zero down-to-earth resources about it pre-course. Thought I’d give you a quick shout-out and thanks for this, although unfortunately it was too late for me to read it in 2011!

    http://sierralights.blogspot.com/2014/02/survivors-guide-to-celta.html

  2. I m confused about the lesson plan. Will the tutors give us topic to plan on. I saw some of the samples on line. Its so much detail. I feel I might not get thru

    • Hi Ash, thanks for commenting. I was in a sub-group of 3 and us 3 teachers would always have a choice of topics and we would have to rotate between reading/listening/ writing lessons. To some degree you could choose, but you have to have an even spread between the different types of lessons anyway.

  3. Reblogged this on The Celta FAQ and commented:
    Good overview of the first two weeks of CELTA!

  4. All I can tell you is that CELTA is hard from beginning to end, and then when you apply for a job, we employers can see if you learned anything or not, and you get your final grade by way of which school you get accepted into to teach, those who learned most get the best jobs, those who didn’t get the rubbish schools. You make the choice early on. Don’t just sit there and wait for the certificate, really try to retain as much information as possible, it will all be needed and pay off in the end.

  5. Hi SB,
    Do we need a great vocabulary in order to join CELTA? Thanks.

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