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A Super Course, A Superlative Month
Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA)
Member Name: zoe_page_1
Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA)
Advantages: Thorough and fun introduction to teaching, leaves you highly employable
Disadvantages: Not cheap
CELTA stands for the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. It is a qualification awarded by the University of Cambridge, but can be taken in more than 50 countries worldwide. It can be taken part-time, for example at an evening class over 6 months to a year, or intensively, full-time over 4 weeks. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to take the Certificate in the country I wanted to work in, so I enrolled in a 4 week course in Mexico in June this year. I had no real desire to be a teacher, I just wanted to live and work in a country where I am not an advanced speaker of the language, and teaching seemed the easiest way to do this. I apologise to "proper" teachers for whom this career is their true calling, but I know I am not alone in being one of those people who "fell" into the job as a means to an end.
CELTA is recommended for new teachers and those who are currently teaching English without any formal qualifications. We had a mixture of people on our course, but interestingly those with prior experience seemed to find it harder, since they had to "un-learn" bad habits. An alternative view is that there are many ways to teach, and CELTA basically churns out monkeys who all teach in the same way, with no room for personalisation. I would disagree with this. Virtually all my colleagues have CELTA and, having heard their classes, I know we all teach in different ways, depending on our personalities, but there are some common, core features, like how to introduce Target Language, that just make sense, and it's these things that CELTA teaches you. During the course you are assessed by your tutor(s) but each course is also moderated by an external assessor, which is a job I quite fancy - Richard who came to see us just seems to spend his life travelling from centre to centre, checking up on things.
There are no strict Cambridge rules about who can apply for a CELTA course, though some institutions impose their own. However, it is recommended that prospective students:
* Are aged 20 or over (though I know an 18 year old who did it)
* Have a standard of education equivalent to that required for entry into higher education (so this means A Levels...not a degree, for UK applicants)
* Have a standard of English which will enable them to teach at a range of levels (though this is open to interpretation, and for example a Mexican doing the course in Mexico might not need exactly the same level of English as they would do if they were doing the course in the UK - one of our locals taught "In England, they say toilet not bathroom, so in England I wash my hair in the toilet" and got away with it)
You do not need to speak any other languages - even in Mexico, we had a Polish girl who spoke only English and a South African who could greet you in Afrikaans but not Spanish). The course is, obviously enough, conducted entirely in English, though we had a Mexican tutor as well as an American one. During the course we did however have a short Japanese lesson (aka....what it feels like to be an illiterate student in an EFL class).
In order to be accepted onto a CELTA course, you have to pass a "test" and a phone or in-person interview. They do this because the course is not cheap, and they want people to pass, so they like to let you know what you're in for before you sign on the dotted line. I applied in January (it was my new year's resolution) and had a phone interview with Barcelona a few weeks later, during which I was accepted. The "test" I had to submit included a little bit of grammar analysis along the lines of "How would you teach....?" but there were no real right or wrong answers, it was just to get you thinking.
I spent the next 5 months getting super-excited about my trip. I received a suggested reading list and a pre-course task to complete. I booked my flight and accommodation, handed in my notice at work and all but memorised a map of the beach resort I was headed to. I finished work on the Friday, flew early on the Saturday, went to the beach on the Sunday and started the course on the Monday. Nothing like jumping in head-first...
Obviously this will depend on the centre who is running it, but I found the course extremely well organised, a relief having watched my mother complete a badly-run Trinity course in Manchester part-time over the previous year. On our first day we received a detailed time-table that spelled out everything we would be doing, where we were doing it, and when we had to be there. For an organised soul such as myself, this was bliss, but even the more relaxed members of the group appreciated that with the tight-schedule we were working to, this level of detail was necessary.
The CELTA course consists of a number of things. There are five main units of learning:
* Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context
* Language analysis and awareness
* Language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing
* Planning and resources for different contexts
* Developing teaching skills and professionalism.
These are split into 4 sorts of activities during the course.
(1) Teaching Practice
During the course you have to teach for a total of 6 hours. This sounds daunting at first, especially when your first class is on day 2 of the course, but you get very well prepared for it. We started off teaching for 20 minutes at a time, and worked up to a full 60 minute class. This seemed like such an achievement at the time, but now I regularly teach 2 hour classes, and even have one 4 hour class each week (with just one student, no less). We received detailed TP notes for the first few classes, telling us what to teach, which text books to use, and so on. You have to teach 2 different levels during the course, and have a minimum number of students in the class for it to count. This was not a problem for us - the school I was at offered our free classes to the local community, and they were well-attended. We had a good mix of students, aged 16 to about 40, with varying reasons for learning English (the most strange being from 16 year old J, who was on holiday for the summer with his grandparents and thought the classes would stop him getting bored). Our students were great fun - they invited us out in the evenings, hung out with us in the breaks and generally gave me a great introduction to the Mexican people. At schools where they teach English classes, you may have paying rather than volunteer students, and be taking over someone else's class for a few weeks, it just depends on the set-up.
Our students also livened up the course with their interesting answers to questions and prompts. Notable enough for me to remember 6 months on are:
Teacher: "This shirt is dirty. This chair is dirty."
Student: (with get-with-this actions) "I am dirty."
Teacher: "A pet is an animal you keep in the house, like a dog or cat. Does anyone have a pet?"
Student: "My wife."
You get grades on your TPs. Ours were Below Standard, To Standard (with Weak Pass and Strong Pass options) and Above Standard. We taught pretty much every second day, and observed the other members of our TP groups on the other days. So, every day you teach or observe, and every day you have to participate in feedback. This was usually helpful, but sometimes dragged a bit - it's hard to be constructive when someone's given a dreadful lesson, for the 3rd time in a row, just as it's hard to be constructive when someone's class was virtually perfect. It's important not to take this too personally - they're criticising your teaching, not you.
During the course you have to observed experienced teachers in action. This can be live, with you sitting at the back of a classroom, or watching a DVD lesson. Because the school I taught at was small, we observed just two classes there, and had another on DVD which was unintentially hilarious and taught by an energetic Australian woman. Following these observations you are expected to reflect on how these teachers teach, and how you can apply it to your own teaching.
(3) Input Sessions
We had input sessions every day, which are the "core" of the course. While you don't get lessons in grammar, you do get sessions on receptive and productive skills, meaning, form and pronunciation, lesson planning, the use of games and warmers, phonology, testing, error correction, the use of authentic materials and so on. We had a 2 hour session on this every day, and I found this one of the most useful parts of the course as a newbie teacher.
The CELTA course has no exam, and you are assessed through your TPs and through 4 assignments. These include a reflective journal, some grammatical analysis exercises, an expanded lesson plan for which you design thoughtful tasks for the students, and an interview with a learner following which you analyse their errors and provide suggestions on how they could improve. To submit 4 assignments in 4 weeks as well as teaching lessons every other day takes some planning, and I found my laptop essential, since I could work on lessons at home in bed, or on the terrace, or anywhere other than the stuffy computer room. Assignments did not have grades as such - you either passed first time, or got one chance to resubmit (with guidance on what to change). If you failed a second time, that was it.
Not everyone passes the CELTA, though the pre-course screening does help to keep the number who fail low. On our course one person did not pass, though everyone has done so on the courses that have run in Mexico City since I started. The Cambridge website states that over 10,000 people successfully complete a CELTA course each year. That's an alarming number of new teachers being let loose on the world annually, but it also illustrates the demand for English teachers. CELTA is a qualification for life, which means that even if I go back to the real world next year, I could still come back to teaching again in the future without re-certifying.
The reason I chose to do this course was because I thought it would be the quickest and easiest way to get a job abroad. I did not expect to learn too much, and was doing it more for the piece of paper, than for the course itself. That said, I learnt a tremendous amount during the course, and am very glad I did it. The course cost me £1000 which is a lot of money for 4 weeks, however it is totally worth it. I started the course on Monday of Week 1 and had a confirmed job offer, a contract and a room in an apartment by Wednesday of Week 2. It helped that the institution's head of Mexico was in town that week and came to see us, since I now work for the same company I trained with, albeit in a different city, but had that not been the case I am still certain I would have secured a job quickly because CELTA is seen by many schools as a green light to employ someone.
On a different note, Cambridge really do have the monopoly on ESOL in many parts of the world - I spent all morning today invigilating one of their exams, and all my students know whether they would be at PET or KET or CAE level. So, even if you choose to do a different course, you will still hear "Cambridge this...Cambridge that" regularly during your teaching career. The Boy has apparently had it up to here with Cambridge. He did his training with a different, less well-known group (though it was disturbingly similar to the course I did, having nosed through his files) but now that he's working, Cambridge is all he hears about. You do not need CELTA to administer or prepare students for the Cambridge exams, nor do you spend too much time on them on the course, but somehow having been Cambridge certified and preaching about the wonders of Cambridge exams all day seems to be a good combination for me.
I loved my course, and it remains one of my best experiences in Mexico so far, but it is very intense. Before I arrived I had a slightly deluded view that I could go jogging on the beach every morning before our 10.30am start. By the end of Day 1 it became clear that the sheer workload would prevent this happening, though we did manage to take weekends off to hit the beach, by being diligent and organised during the week. Week 3 is traditionally the hideous week of the course (longer classes to teach, multiple assignments to complete) but it was totally worth it for the chilled Week 4 we had, during which we were swimming in the Caribbean every day on our siesta break. I found the course hard work without finding it too hard - intellectually it was not too challenging, but in terms of the volume of new information to assimilate, it was up there with either of my Masters degrees (yes, I have 2). This course is not recommended for those who are not in top physical and mental condition. We lost one student to what they affectionately called "Pulmonia" even before the course began. She was in Mexico, so we got to meet here, and she was well enough to go to the beach, but they thought the course would be too taxing.
So how much did CELTA prepare me for my new life as a teacher? I would say that it gave me a very good overview, and a good grounding in teaching, without necessarily preparing me 100%. I now teach 1-to-1 classes, and we did not cover these during the course. I also teach Business English, and again, the course was more general. That said, I have not struggled at all in my new role, and am constantly reminded of little hints and tips I picked up during the CELTA course.
For me, taking the CELTA was absolutely the right choice because it gave be the certificate I needed to get the job of my (current) dreams. I do not plan on being a teacher for ever, but I still do not begrudge the £1000 fee (incidentally, two months salary here, and I get paid quite handsomely). My CELTA gave me some great friends, and the chance to justify living at the beach for a month, but more importantly it got me classroom-ready in a very short space of time. For anyone considering a permanent or temporary career change, or anyone wanting to travel and seeing teaching as a way to do it, I would highly recommend you look into doing CELTA. There is a saying in Mexico, "Diez pesos le vale, Diez pesos le cuesta" which is chanted endlessly by the people who sell in the Metro (and The Boy when he is being rude) but multiply it up and it is 100% true for this course - it is worth exactly what it costs you, if not more. After my car and house it is the most expensive thing I've ever done - I didn't pay tuition fees either time at university, and though I take a lot of trips, no single one has ever cost that much - but for me it has proved invaluable, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Summary: An excellent and quick course for would-be teachers
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