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5 Secrets to Success on your CELTA Course
By Tasha Hacker | On 30 Jan, 2014
Congratulations! You’ve done your research and you’ve enrolled in the world’s most respected TEFL certification course, the Cambridge University CELTA. Which means you’re on a path to becoming a successful, enthusiastic English language teacher whose options vary from living abroad and traveling or staying close to home and working for local English language schools.
In essence, you’re bounding happily towards a new future and adventure on the horizon.
This might be your first career out of college, or it might be your tenth. Either way, you’re looking for a job that is fun, brings you into contact with people from all over the world and doesn’t keep you glued to a computer all day. Which means you’ve come to the right place.
But, first, you need to pass your CELTA course. And you need to gear yourself up to be both a student and a teacher– to learn and teach simultaneously. You’re not looking to just pass this course by the skin of your teeth – you want to blow your CELTA Trainers away and get yourself the best TEFL job ever.
Well, as an experienced Cambridge CELTA Trainer myself, I can say with all honesty that there are some tips to being a successful CELTA trainee. But sshh, because you probably won’t get your CELTA trainers to say all of these out loud….
1. This ain’t no college lecture course. It’s way more fun.
100% attendance is expected and required by Cambridge University, but once you see how much is covered in each session, you won’t want to miss a thing.
For half the day, you’re a teacher in the classroom, teaching your own lessons to real ESL students, and the other half of the day you’re a student in the classroom, learning about and trying out new and innovative teaching techniques.
Essentially, don’t expect to fall asleep in class and copy your friend’s notes afterwards. You will be actively learning for at least eight hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks straight (if you’re doing the full-time CELTA).
So, what’s the secret? Student engagement.
Active participation, as well as enjoyment, means you’ll remember so much more than if you were forced to sit through a lecture. So embrace this style of learning and take in as much as you can.
Our aim is that by end of the CELTA, you will be a full-fledged English teacher ready and able to handle your own classroom in any country across the world. Are you ready for that?
2. This could turn into a job, if you handle it well.
Many CELTA centers are attached to English language schools and/or have close connections to English language schools that are hiring. This is certainly true of Teaching House.
When you begin your CELTA course, you may think your trainer exists primarily to help you become a great teacher. That is certainly true. But your CELTA trainer is also wondering what kind of teacher you’ll turn out to be, and if they would want you around in their staff room.
So, what do you want your trainers to notice about you? Hopefully, not that you turn up late for class, you dress slovenly, you’re impolite or you’re resistant to feedback about your teaching. Because when the school director approaches your CELTA trainer and asks if there’s a trainee they would recommend for a teaching position, you don’t want them to pass you over.
My advice? Treat every day on the CELTA like a job interview because, well, you never know. If you show up on time, you participate in class enthusiastically, you’re open to feedback, your students love your lessons and your fellow trainees love working with you, then there will be nothing but good things to say about you and your work.
When a school director asks your CELTA Trainer, “Would you give them a job?” You want the answer to be, without hesitation, “Yes.”
3. This isn’t a competitive environment – in fact, it’s the opposite.
The more helpful and collaborative you are with your fellow trainees, the more you’ll get out of your CELTA course because your classmates will share their insights with you, too. Which equals greater success on the course for everyone involved.
Put yourself in the shoes of a school director – what kind of teachers would you want to fill your staff room with? As a school director myself, I can tell you I want a school full of positive, cheerful, hard-working teachers. I want to work with teachers who love students, love coming up with creative lesson ideas and love working with other teachers on developing great lessons.
So, think of the CELTA course as one, big training staff room. If you see yourself as a loner competing for a grade against all the other trainees in the room, and you’re keeping all those great lesson ideas to yourself because you’re afraid someone will steal them, then you’re missing out on opportunities for sharing and learning. And that will be reflected in how successful you are on the CELTA course.
The trainee who is open to sharing, helping and accepting suggestions is a joy for trainees and trainers to work with, and that has an impact on their course success.
4. Openness to feedback and changing how you approach teaching is the key to success.
Modern language classrooms look nothing like the kinds of classroom you may be accustomed to learning in, or even ones you may have experience teaching in. And, therefore, one of the keys to succeeding on the CELTA course is being open to change – change in your technique, your teaching style, and the way you think about teaching – which takes a lot of open-mindedness towards the feedback CELTA trainers will be giving you.
If you arrive to the course believing teachers should always stand and students should always sit, then your trainer may get you to sit down when you teach, just to shake things up. Go with the flow and give everything a try because that’s how you discover what works best for you and your students.
The less fixed you are in your ideas and the more open you are to change and trying out what your CELTA trainer suggests, the more success you will have on the course and in your future as a teacher. After all, in your professional life beyond the CELTA, you’ll be asked to change how you approach teaching often according to your student population, the school you work for, and the focus of the course you’re teaching.
But the key to success in all these situations is the same: adaptability.
5. Yes, there are grades, but they aren’t the most important thing.
When you complete your CELTA course, you will be awarded one of four possible grades: Fail (hopefully not), Pass (about 70% of successful candidates), Pass B (about 25% of successful candidates), or Pass A (about 5% of successful candidates).
The grading system is based on criteria provided by Cambridge University in the UK and is not at all similar to the grading system you may be used to if you were schooled in the United States — you know, the oh-you-tried-your-best-so-we’ll-give-you-an-A kind of grading system.
Truthfully, trainees who are overly fixated on grades are not usually as successful as the trainees who focus on meeting their students needs, helping out their fellow trainees and using their trainers’ feedback to improve their lessons.
And though you will always know right away if you’ve passed or failed an assignment or lesson, you won’t always know how this fits into Cambridge criteria or how this equates to a Pass, Pass B or Pass A, until you see your end-of-course report.
So, my advice is to relax and focus on the big picture. And try your best to do the following:
a) Observe your trainers carefully and learn as much from them as you can.
b) Observe your fellow trainees and think about what you like and don’t like about their teaching.
c) Observe your students and try to understand how they learn best.
d) Come to class prepared for your lessons and assignments.
Doing your best may not guarantee that you get a Pass A on your CELTA course, but it will guarantee that you become the best teacher you can be.
And that’s what we CELTA Trainers aim to do: give you the tools you need to get out there, live your dream and make a positive impact.
Tasha is a CELTA Trainer with 15 years’ experience teaching ESL in Russia, England, Qatar, Spain and the U.S. After co-founding Teaching House, Tasha is now retired and blogs about her travels at TurfToSurf.com.