Reflections on My Experience of the CELTA Course
Why did I complete a CELTA course?
Having decided to stop working as an assistant head teacher in a challenging school in UK and to work as an independent language tutor, I decided it would be a good idea to refresh my English as a foreign language teaching skills by completing a CELTA (Cambridge English Language Teaching for Adults) course. Before applying for the course, I read a number of reviews about other people’s experience of CELTA and how they managed to ‘survive’. Having taught French and German in Secondary Schools in UK as well as English at schools and universities in Germany for over 30 years, I did not appreciate why they had used the word ‘survive’. What could be so difficult? As an experienced teacher, tutor, examiner and now independent tutor and cross-cultural coach, I imagined that the CELTA course would be fun and not pose any great challenges. Some friends even assured me it would be a ‘stroll in the park!’ with all my experience. Well, with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you it was certainly not ‘a stroll in the park’ or a ‘piece of cake!’, despite my previous experience! However, it did turn out to be a really valuable learning and development opportunity for me and one I would certainly recommend to others, including modern language teachers.
My approach to professional development
I have always enjoyed taking part in professional development. While teaching, I took part in a Department for Education project using storytelling to motivate reluctant language learners. I also studied for a Masters’ Degree in Education and for the NPQH (National Professional Qualification for Headship) qualification to apply for school leadership. I carried out action research in school about teaching boys how to learn. My teaching has been observed and graded at least once a year and I have also been fortunate to observe other colleagues’ lessons as a head of department and, more recently, as an assistant head teacher.
Where did I choose to do the CELTA course and why?
I chose a month long intensive course at a local college in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, that has a good reputation for the CELTA course. Once I had passed the initial requirements and been accepted onto the course, I planned on achieving the highest grade possible! The course started quite gently on the first day but we moved very quickly from observing and learning from our tutors to preparing, observing and being observed ourselves. The pace was challenging, alternating between preparing, teaching, observing, reflecting and listening to feedback on our lessons from tutors and fellow CELTA trainees to preparing, observing and feeding back to our colleagues about their lessons.
What were students and tutors like?
Our adult students were from all over the world. They were lovely and very motivated but, despite our best efforts to group them at the same level, there was still a wide range of different abilities in our classes. This meant we had to ensure we were careful to differentiate our teaching and materials. We also had to make sure to allow enough time for learners to work independently, in pairs and groups, to minimise teacher talk and maximise student learning. Our tutors were positive in their approach and skilled at their job but did not let us off the hook for one moment. They made in-depth notes about our teaching and students’ learning, acknowledging the positive and challenging us about our areas for development.
What did the CELTA course involve and what was it like?
The pace was and had to be relentless, otherwise we would not have been able to meet these requirements. The CELTA Syllabus covers 5 topic areas; i) Learners and teachers and the teaching and learning context, ii) Language analysis and awareness, iii) Language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing, iv) Planning and resourcing for different teaching contexts, v) Developing teaching skills and professionalism. Our mornings were spent listening to presentations from CELTA course tutors, reflecting on and trialling ideas and working with fellow CELTA trainees to cover all 42 of the teaching practice criteria that need to be met to pass the course. We taught at the start of the afternoon for approximately 2 hours and then had tutorials where we reflected on our own and other colleagues’ practice. We went home every evening to prepare our next lessons, writing in-depth lesson plans, language analyses and preparing teaching and learning resources. We also had to prepare 4 written assignments that were handed in at different times during the month long course. We worked on these during the week as well as at weekends. We could not afford to miss any time off the course and our evening and weekends were busy working on planning and assignments.
What about lesson observations and feedback?
We were each observed for 8 lessons and we observed colleagues and experienced CELTA teachers for at least another 12 lessons. I know from a lifetime of teaching in schools that this is a real luxury and not something every teacher has the opportunity to do regularly. However, I’d recommend it as it made the theory we were learning about much more meaningful in practice. We were very supportive of each other, recognising strengths and giving positive criticism to help the other people to improve their practice. Although none of us knew each other before the course, as we worked and struggled together, the camaraderie grew and we developed into a caring, supportive group that encouraged each other.
Did it make any difference to my teaching now?
Writing about my experience some 6 months after completing the course has given me the chance to go back over the action points I set for myself. It’s interesting that some of them are indeed now integrated into my practice and some remain areas of development.
Would I recommend the CELTA course?
I’m pleased to say I passed the CELTA course and would certainly recommend it, as the learning from practice, reflection, and observation is very useful. CELTA is, however, only a stepping stone towards further development and experience. Although it is intensive, it only lasts a month and so can only offer ideas and recommendations to help us on our professional development journey! If you’re considering taking a CELTA course, you need to be determined and committed to complete the course as, in my opinion, it would be a costly mistake to start it and not to go on to use it for teaching.
Here’s a useful link for more information about the CELTA course: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/teaching-english/teaching-qualifications/celta/about-the-celta-course/
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