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Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Taking the CELTA
What beliefs do I have about teaching, and am I willing to question them or put them aside?
The CELTA is designed to be a pre-service course, which means that the candidates are not expected to have any prior teaching experience. In reality, almost every course has at least one candidate who has taught before, sometimes for several years and in many different countries. Even if you have not taught ESL, your experiences as a teacher of a different subject, a learner of a foreign language, or even your K-12 education or unrelated university study can impact your beliefs about what a teacher is and what their job is in the classroom. This can be a huge benefit for your confidence and giving you a head start on materials preparation or language analysis. However, if too strongly held, these beliefs could end up being a stumbling block on the course.
While there is no one way to teach English and there are many valid approaches, there is a particular set of skills that are taught on the CELTA and to be successful you must show evidence that you are able to use those skills, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them or even understand them. Things like how much talking the teacher should do, how grammatical concepts are clarified, and the timing of your lessons are examples of these skills. The CELTA presents a tool box of ideas, and when you’ve moved on to a job you are free to pick and choose which tools you like and you will hopefully add even more to your tool box through additional professional development.
For those who come into the course with strong beliefs, ideally your trainers will want you to question those beliefs and reevaluate your teaching methods based on what you’re learning on the course. At the very least though, it’s necessary that you put those beliefs aside and remain open minded with regard to the CELTA assessment criteria if you hope to do well.
What am I most sensitive about with regard to feedback and criticism?
A critical component of the CELTA is live teaching practice which is assessed by a trainer and followed by group and written feedback. While there are a few who thrive on these feedback sessions and are able to take criticism with ease, the majority of candidates feel a good deal of anxiety and might take the criticism personally. It’s understandable, since each lesson requires hours of preparation and nobody likes feeling that they didn’t do well. It’s important to remember that your work is being assessed on a global set of criteria and the feedback is never, ever personal.
That’s easier said than done, however, and especially when the feedback touches on a sensitive area it can feel defeating. Comments about the volume of the teacher’s voice, use of humor in the classroom, or methods of discipline might touch a nerve, but they do in fact relate to the criteria and successful classroom performance. If you know in advance that there is a personal trait you are sensitive about or a way you like to receive criticism, talk to your trainer about it. Trainers never want to upset their trainees and will normally try to adjust their feedback style to accommodate sensitivities.
Also remember that there is no such thing as a perfect teacher or a perfect lesson. Your trainers are far from perfect themselves and they are likely trainers in the first place because they’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of feedback and know how valuable it is. Also, each time a trainer assesses a lesson they are actively looking for things to criticize as areas to improve.You will never receive feedback on a lesson that says “100% excellent!”.
What do I hope to gain from this experience?
There are almost as many reasons to take the CELTA as there are candidates. Commonly people simply love to travel, or have a spouse who is moving abroad, or they want to do missionary work, or they want a second career in retirement, or they want to volunteer at home with immigrant communities, or they’ve been teaching for a while and are looking for more doors to open, and so on. Sometimes people are at a place in their lives where they just feel a bit stuck and are looking for some inspiration and direction. Whatever your reasons for taking the course, it’s important you reflect on them and really ask yourself what you’re hoping to get out of it. The four weeks will fly by in an instant and if you’re not emotionally prepared then it might feel like you’re just getting through each day and trying to stay above water.
A lot of people do take the course simply to get a certificate, and that is completely fine. If you truly want to become a better teacher through the experience, it’s important you commit yourself before the course even begins. Do the pre-course work, purchase a few reference books and read some chapters, and talk to others who have done the course. Do not fall behind in your course work. Stay open minded with regard to feedback and keep a positive attitude.
If you want to network and make lifelong friends with your peers, try to be a connector from the very beginning. Organize happy hour for the first Friday. Create an email mailing list and begin sharing resources. Bake brownies on a quiet day and bring them in. While your trainers and the center will do their best to facilitate camaraderie and a social environment, ultimately every group is unique and how much fun the course is falls on the candidates. Remember though that not every person taking the CELTA necessarily wants to be social. Some people have children at home or other obligations and simply won’t have time to participate. Respect their wishes and boundaries.
What can I bring to a classroom that nobody else can?
As mentioned above, there are definitely particular skills and methods that we teach on the CELTA that you are expected to use. That doesn’t mean we want cookie cutter teachers, though! Use your interests and experiences. Were you a competitive athlete in college? Do you have a quirky hidden talent? Are you good at motivating shy students? Do you love literature or music? All of these things can be used to inform your choices of materials and contexts to make your lessons more engaging and personalized.
Students generally love learning about their teachers. Sometimes you are the only proficient English speaker they’ve met in real life, and they will be highly curious about your life and interests. You might find you have more in common with your students than you think, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your lesson flies by and how much your students are talking when you are all sharing information about yourselves!
Am I “all in”?
Your CELTA trainers will do all they can to support you to succeed on the course, on the flip-side you need to be certain you are “all in” for the duration. On top of the 120 face-to-face hours there are at least another 120 at home and on the weekends. Simply put, it’s a serious financial, mental and time commitment, and you need to be sure you are in the right place to take it on. If you’re experiencing stress in your personal life, or are experiencing health issues, you may want to postpone your course until those are resolved. If you give it your all, with an open mind and a positive attitude, you are guaranteed to be successful.
If you think you’re ready you can get started here
Erica Lederman is an ESL teacher and teacher trainer who has had classroom experience on four continents in addition to online tutoring. She is currently focused on teaching academic English to university students in Chicago and also running intensive CELTA courses with Teaching House as a freelancer.
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