The CELTA is known as the cream of the crop of the various intensive ELT teacher prep courses out there, and the majority of candidates who attend a CELTA are newbies to the world of teaching. There are, however, a significant number of folks who go for their CELTA after years of actual teaching in the real world.
Do a little research or talk to people who've completed their CELTA and you'll find that these experienced teachers are often the ones who have the hardest time with the rigors of the course. There's lots of reasons for this, but as an experienced teacher who's just successfully completed a CELTA, I thought I'd share how I felt about the whole thing, lesson plan style.
Date: last day of the CELTA, sitting in the computer room with nothing to do.
Main aim: to discuss how to prevent previous teaching experience from interfering with success in a CELTA course.
Secondary aim: to share some general thoughts about the experience
Personal aims: In this article, I will be working on using writing management techniques to keep my blogger talking time (BTT) to an appropriate level.
Lead in: In your pairs, for two minutes, I'd like for you talk about learning to do something in a classroom as compared to learning on the job by actually doing it. What are the advantages and disadvantages? What kind of learning is more valuable? Who are you working with? How much time do you have? Go.
Setting Context: Imagine you've been living somewhere in Asia for a few years, teaching English as a second language. You think you're pretty good at your job; the students seem to like you, and you've never heard of any complaints.
You landed your first job after completing one of those TEFL-in-paradise training courses which was helpful in preparing you to step into a classroom initially, but that was a while ago now and you don't really remember that much about it except it was actually a lot of fun. You keep hearing one thing over and over from your senior colleagues: get yourself a CELTA.
There's a lot of time and money involved in earning a CELTA. You considered it initially when making your mid-life career shift, but was assured by many that the much cheaper TEFL certificate would be fine for starting out, and if at some later point, you decided you needed that CELTA, you could always get it later.
Again with your partner, I'd like for you to discuss what reasons you might have to decide to get the post-TEFL CELTA certification. What kinds of things might be happening in your life and career for you to make that decision? Please talk for two minutes.
Controlled Practice 1: In a moment, I'm going to give you a handout that lists some scenarios that might lead an experienced teacher to go back to the other side of the desk and earn a CELTA. You'll also see a box with some motivations. Please match the scenarios to the motivations in the box. You've got 4 minutes for this task.
A. job security
B. higher pay
C. career advancement
D. becoming an IELTS examiner
E. ability to work in more countries
F. personal development
G. living in Chiang Mai for a month
H. tuition reimbursement from employer
Now, please check in pairs. Did you all get the same answer? Great.
Controlled Practice 2: Again in your pairs, I'd like you to talk about what kinds of difficulties you think an experienced teacher might face when taking an intensive teacher training course like the CELTA. You have two minutes to talk.
Okay, I heard some great discussion out there. Well done.
In a moment, I'm going to ask you to flip your handout over to the other side. You'll see some sentences with blanks. Think of an appropriate word to add to the blank. I've given you the first letter of the word, and the first one is done for you as an example. Okay, take a look.
1. Experienced teachers tend to underestimate the intensity of the CELTA coursework.
2. Experiences teachers often rely too much on their previous k_____________.
3. Experienced teachers can have a tough time a______________ new methods.
4. Experienced teachers may have difficulty taking constructive c___________.
5. Disgruntled experienced teachers think that sometimes their tutors are full of s____.
Okay, check in pairs. What did you get for #2? Very good. #3? Yes, that's right. And #4? Yes. And how might that difficulty taking criticism manifest itself? Ah yes, that leads us to #5.
(answers: 2. knowledge; 3. adopting/adjusting to/adapting; 4. criticism; 5. shaving cream)
Freer Practice/Productive Exercise: Imagine again that you're that teacher who'd done a TEFL and are now going on to complete the CELTA. The course is at an end and you want to share your experience with other teachers via a blog at a TEFL oriented website like Ajarn.com. What was your experience like? Outside the context of the CELTA itself, what did you learn? Please write at least 400 words and you have the rest of class period for this task.
I ignored what my friends had told me and what I'd read online. I took the pre-course prescriptions about the intensity of the CELTA as pro forma warnings to scare off the lazy. I thought of myself as a pretty good teacher and all of my students survey feedback at work backed up my confidence. I thought the CELTA was going to be if not easy, then at least easier for me than it would be for other, less experienced candidates. I was a little bit cocky.
That was my first mistake.
I even went as far as contemplating 'tanking' my first teaching practice (TP), which with a CELTA, can come on your second day of training. My thought was that by purposefully delivering an awkward, poorly delivered, ill-conceived lesson, I could start low and show major improvement through the rest of my course. It just crossed my mind; I didn't actually tank my first lesson. I used all the skills developed over two years in the classroom and did quite well, by my own reckoning.
When I got my feedback from that lesson, I was mildly shocked to see that the tutor had given me more points that 'needed improvement' than things I did well. Wait, I thought I did pretty well.
The same thing happened in the next TP and the one after that. On that third TP, I even got a dreaded "Not to standard" on my level of 'teacher talking time'. Whoah. I got an "N"? But the students loved my lesson!
My second mistake was not realizing something very essential about what the CELTA tutors are looking for. It's not about delivery. There are no points given for being funny.
How much the students enjoyed the lesson is not a criteria in their assessment. Instead, they're more interested in content. They want a learning aim achieved; they want the students to be educated, not entertained.
I think back to when I was first leaving for SE Asia to become a teacher and some advice my mother gave me. She had been a teacher herself earlier in life. See, in my free time, I enjoy acting, videography and playing my ukulele at open mics wherever I can find them. Mom told me back then: "teaching is not an open mic night!".
I was paying thousands of dollars to learn something my mother told me.
Of course, the CELTA teaches one a lot more than platitudes about student-centered versus teacher-led learning. You also get a lot of really great examples of teaching techniques and how to stage a lesson in logical and effective ways.
My advice to experienced teachers is pay very close attention to how the input sessions are delivered. Emulate the classroom management methodology of your tutors while teaching the students.
The sooner you forget what you think you know about how to run a class, the sooner you'll shine in the eyes of your tutors. You must unlearn what you've learned.
Don't judge the methods. You may think their way of delivering a language or skills lesson is dull and formulaic, and you can do it better and make it more fun for the students.
You'll be sorely disappointed when you get your feedback and find you're not to standard. This can generate resentment and even anger and you may find yourself disregarding the tutors direction and thinking to yourself: I already know how to teach!
Fortunately, that was not my third mistake.
In the second half of the CELTA, I sorta figured this stuff out. I realized it wasn't about how well I delivered the lesson; instead, it was about what the students got out of it. It's not about me!
I copied every technique I could to reduce teacher-talking-time and found that I could get a lot more into that 45-minute lesson than I ever thought I could. There were no further "not to standards".
All in all, I think the experience is going to make me a much more effective teacher when I go back to work. If I had maintained my cocksureness and taught the way I always had, I'm not sure I'd be at this point now, a newly accredited CELTA graduate.