After talking to my friend Fran (Hey Francis!) who’s going to do a CELTA course in the next couple of months, I thought I’d write a post with some advice and tips and things I wish I’d known before I started. Now, I am no TEFL or CELTA expert, these are just just some notes on some things that I’ve experienced and things I’d like to share to help people.
Before you start!
Do any pre-course task they give you, they probably won’t mark it or look at it, but it is helpful! It shows you what will be on the course and forces you to look things up and it also helps you discover gaps in your own knowledge. The one I had was just some questions about grammar, pronunciation, teaching methods, styles, self awareness. I promise it was useful!
If you’ve got time, try to read some things online about the CELTA course and TEFL world in general, there are plenty of websites and forums with advice, take it with a pinch of salt though, some people are just stupid.
This is what I worried about before I started, mainly because I didn’t know any! A few weeks before I started the course I thought there were only 3 tenses (past, present and future right?!) turns out there are 12! Hands up who knows what the Future Perfect Continuous is? Nope, see, natives do not know it unless they’ve studied another language or specifically tried to learn it! Now, you don’t need to suddenly cram every item of English grammar into your head, but try and have a read of some grammar books (www.englishtips.com has lots of downloadable English teaching books) because that’ll help you familiarise yourself with it. BUT, don’t worry! The CELTA isn’t about grammar really, there’s no grammar test, no one is suddenly going to ask you to what auxiliary you use with past perfect or whether you use the infinitve or third form of a verb in whatever sentence. Saying this, it is helpful to know a little bit! The things I think you should learn:
– Tenses: every tense in its Simple, Perfect, Continuous and Perfect Continuous form (sometimes called progressive)
– Some key words: Auxiliary, Infinitive, v2 and v3, v-ing, collocation, gerund, modal verbs
If you don’t know these, no one’s going to shoot you, but it looks good if you do and it’ll save you a lot of work. The trainers sort of assume you’ll know them, if not they will help you and tell you, but you want to try and look good! Plus, you may have to (will probably have to!!) teach some of these. Obviously you’ll have lots of prep time to learn it, but spending some time before you start will be really helpful.
Saying all that, you pick it up really quickly! 4 weeks ago I had no idea what ‘collocation’ meant, and I sort of knew the tenses but I got them confused. Now I feel pretty confident with it. Grammar is still a weak point for me, but I’m getting there!
The Actual Course
Before I started, everyone told me it was the most difficult thing in the world, that you got no sleep, people got really ill, stressed, it was a nightmare etc etc etc. Whilst it has been very demanding, very intensive and sometimes exhausting, it’s not that bad! As long as you’re fairly organised, have a decent brain and take it what you’re taught you’ll be fine. If you come into the course knowing it’s going to be an intensive full time course, that you don’t have time for much else. Then you’ll be fine! Some people tend to make way too big of a deal about things like assignments, lesson prep, lesson planning, they look so far into it and make it way harder than it has to be.
On my course there were 12 of us. 1 Argentinian, 3 Hungarians, 1 Romanian, 1 American and the rest English. I was the youngest and the oldest was about 40. You get a real mix of people with different backgrounds and experience. I was really intimated on my first day when I realised I was the youngest and the only one who’d had no teaching experience! But, I think this actually worked to my advatange, the CELTA method is very particular and they really want you to do it a certain way, so, it’s easier to learn it from scratch as a blank slate then it is to try and erase 10 years of past teaching methods. I came to the course with no other ideas of how to teach, so I learnt what they taught me, whereas other teachers had problems with picking it up quickly because they were so used to their past methods. My point in saying this is don’t get worried if you don’t have experience or if everyone else seems like they’ll be better than you. Just because someone’s had a teaching job, doesn’t mean they are any good, believe me! Some of the newer people on our course are way better than the ‘experienced’ teachers who’ve internalised bad habits and are stubborn about changing.
On the course your group will be split in half into ‘Teaching Practice Groups’ so the people you will teach with and observe. In mine there were 6 of us, so 3 of you teach every other day, and when you’re not teaching you observe the other half. You teach the same students (usually local people who’ve paid a discounted rate to get English lessons from trainees, like when you get a cheap haircut from a trainee!) for two weeks, then you swap and you teach another set of students for two weeks. They’ll be different levels, so I had pre-intermediate and then upper-intermediate (massive difference and it takes adjustment!)
This leads me to two important points:
The students you’ll be teaching
Usually, they are really nice! I have not experienced any problems at all with students. They have paid and chosen to come, they know you are a trainee, and they get a little prep talk about how you’re learning to teach. Because of this, they are really understanding and the try hard in the lessons, they want you to do well and they are on your side! Also, get to know them! Talk to them before and after the lessons and during the breaks, find out about them, it makes it way less scary and you have a much better rapport in the classroom. Generally you’ll have a group of 10-15 adults, varying from 18-70!
Observing your peers and feedback.
This is an issue that I’ve got quite annoyed about! If it’s not your teaching day, you will observe 3 of your group teach, you are supposed to make notes on their lesson, what went well, what you think didn’t work well and general comments and suggestions. .Then after everyone’s finished you have a big group feedback and you discuss each lesson one by one and everyone is supposed to add their thoughts in order to help the teacher develop and improve. It’s an invaluable part of the course, it helps you see points to improve and constructive criticism is really good. Please actually be a considerate team mate and contribute in these bits! Some people use other people’s lessons to plan their own, or they zone out or chat through them. This is so rude! They are also usually the people who’ll want you to give them loads of feedback and input on their lessons, but won’t bother watching yours or contributing to your feedback. It’s selfish and it makes you look bad if you get asked “so what did you think about John’s lesson?” and you sit there and say “errm, well, er I liked that he smiled”. Another point here, don’t be afraid to give criticism, believe me it’s helpful and welcome as long as it is constructive. One thing we all get frustrated about is never really knowing how we’re doing because everyone’s so nice for fear of hurting people’s feelings. My basic point is, be fair and pay attention in people’s lessons, give good feedback and then you can expect good and helpful feedback too. I’d much rather hear “I liked your detailed task and your instructions were really great today, although I think your follow up task was a bit confusing because you didn’t explain it well” than “Hey great job, the students looked happy today!”
Some people also have a habit of arguing against feedback, it’s fair enough if you really disagree with good reasons but don’t come up with excuses for everything that went wrong in your lesson, just accept it and work on it! Being able to take criticism is a critical part of the intensive course.
After this rant I should say, most of my group are great and there is no one I don’t like. There are a few who I have to be very very patient with, but it is so so much better if you get along with your whole group. It’s not a competition, help each other out, support each other, you’ll need it! Plus part of the way they mark you is on how you work with others and whether you are a team player.
you get four 1000 word assignments during the course these are on language awareness, errors students make and how you’d design a task to help, finding a piece of ‘authentic’ material (e.g. real English newspaper article) and desiging a task to help students and then a self evaluation assignment. These really don’t have to take long but some people get very worked up about them. It seemed like the longer people took on them, the poor complicated they made it and then they had to resubmit them.
Be organised!!!! You’ll get so many handouts and notes and materials, get a folder, get some dividers, organise it before you start and it’ll be so helpful during the course. This goes for lesson planning on your computer, organise your files, save them all in the right place!
Don’t be scared about your first lessons. I started the course on Monday and was teaching on Tuesday, but you get loads of help, you get taught different lesson types, how to stage and structure them, what to do for each part. Gradually they help you less and less and you do it more independently, but especially at the start you have so much support.
The tutors are really good at what they do, they have a difficult role of supporting you and also evaluating you. They treat you like adults and they’re not going to tell any one off. However, they have eyes like hawks! They might not say anything if someone is late, but they notice and it’s noted down. Same goes for feedback sessions, they know the people who never contribute. So, keep them sweet and just turn up on time and try to look alert!
This is an insanely long post and I can’t think of any other things but if I do I will add them!