If you dream of travelling to far flung places to teach English, then becoming qualified is the first step. Globally, CELTA is the highest regarded qualification for teaching English as a foreign language. Because it’s internationally respected, it’s a very intensive course and is a steep learning curve. I’ll admit it was exhausting at times and I became a coffee addict while training for my certificate. I loved it prior to starting the course, but it soon became more than love, it became a necessity.
A typical day usually went as follows: I go over my lesson plans on the hour long bus journey to my training institute. I get a coffee around the corner from the school and then sit through a session on learner autonomy. I have a break for 15 minutes, most of which is spent making sure I have everything photocopied and prepared for my teaching practice in the afternoon. I sit through another session, this time on classroom games and activities and then take a break for an hour; most of this break is spent going over my lesson plan again and conversing with my fellow trainees on how we’ll ever get through this. After the break I teach an hour long class and receive feedback on my performance. I ride the bus home and go over the assignments I still have to complete. After having dinner I complete an assignment due the next day, and go to bed shattered.
It may sound harrowing, and to be perfectly honest sometimes it felt that way, but don’t let me put you off. With English being the world’s default second language, having a CELTA really opens a great amount of doors for aspiring English language teachers. Those four weeks have enabled me to change my life in so many wonderful ways, and I now teach English in Cambodia in a school that pays just as well as European schools.
What exactly is a CELTA?
CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages and is affiliated with Cambridge English, hence its good reputation and high standards. It’s an intensive four week course that teaches trainee teachers, with or without previous experience, how to teach English. The course can also be done part-time, which can take from two to three months. You don’t have to be a native English speaker nor does your English need to be absolutely perfect to do the course, as long as you have a high level of English, which according to their requirements, must be at least a C1 level (i.e. advanced.) If English isn’t your native language some schools may require you pass an IELTS exam, before you can work for them, though this isn’t always the case.
Because the course is so highly regarded, it will improve your chances of getting an English language teaching job at home or abroad tenfold. However, English language teaching isn’t for everyone so if you’re thinking about doing a CELTA and wondering what it will entail, here’s an idea of what to expect.
Before you start the course
With a CELTA you can’t just pay the course fee and expect to be accepted. There’s an application process which first involves completing a pre-application task in which you answer some questions on grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation to test your English language awareness. There are also some questions on your own ideas on teaching English, which should be a minimum of 200-300 words. After your initial application has been processed, there’s the interview, which can be either face-to-face or over the phone. Very few people are turned down during the application process and the purpose seems to be more about ensuring that potential trainee teachers know what they’re getting themselves into.
Brushing up on your grammar before the course starts is beneficial and I would highly recommend purchasing a good grammar book before you start the course. The syllabus does consist of language analysis sessions, so make sure you reacquaint yourself with some grammar basics before diving straight in.
Training for a CELTA generally costs around £1,600, but when you’re considering the cost also take into account that you may need to sort out living arrangements for the course period, as well as taking into consideration the fact that you’ll be living without a wage for a whole month. It’s impossible to work and do the course at the same time, even if you have an evening job and even those who have a part-time weekend jobs will struggle to do both.
You don’t necessarily have to do the course in your home country either. If there is a country you think you would like to teach in, you may be able to get the feel for it first by training there. International House, for example, has teacher training centres across the world including countries such as Vietnam, Ecuador, New Zealand, and South Africa. Doing a CELTA in another country could also potentially bring your living costs down, so it’s something worth considering.
It’s a demanding learning experience
If you’ve heard anything about doing a CELTA you’ll know that it’s no walk in the park and not something to be blasé about, especially if you opt to do it full-time. If you’re a native speaker perhaps you’re thinking “How difficult can it be to teach English?” but there are many aspects of English language teaching that you may not have considered before, such as classroom management, phonetics, and games to make English learning more interactive and communicative.
The course is designed to be suitable for people with no prior teaching experience, so moulding beginners into fully fledged English teachers within 120 hours is bound to be demanding. Personally, it was more exhausting than completing a masters degree in many ways. Teaching itself is an exhausting, albeit rewarding, job and the course includes eight hours of teaching practice, as well as input sessions, and assignments.
If you do decide to do a CELTA full-time, you’ll have to accept that you’ll have very little time for anything else during the course. While you’re feeling the burn, do bear in mind that four weeks is a relatively short period of time and that it will be all worthwhile.
While it is demanding, it’s not difficult to pass
Although the course is challenging, the good news is that the failure rate is significantly low. As long as you put the effort in and do the work, passing should be a breeze. Your teacher trainers are there to help you every step of the way. I would advise to try not to have too many other commitments during the course that could cause distractions. Free up your time as much as possible for the four weeks, but don’t spend every living minute working on your CELTA either.
There may be times during the course when the workload feels too heavy or you just don’t know how you’re going to get everything done on time, but keep reminding yourself that it’s near impossible to fail, that is unless you simply don’t do the work.
You will be assessed throughout the course
There is no final exam for a CELTA, instead you are assessed on your performance in teaching practice sessions, your lesson plans, and your assignments (of which there are four). We were strongly encouraged not to leave assignments until the last minute and I’m going to agree with that advice. The assignments are not too long or overly complicated, but they still take time to complete, and when you have to write detailed lesson plans and complete observation forms all within a month the workload can pile up quickly.
You’ll get to observe experienced teachers
One of the most beneficial parts of the course is getting to observe teachers with years of experience under their belts. In total, you will spend at least six hours observing teacher trainers to see how they interact with their students. During these observations you must take notes on specific points related to the class and analyse the methods these teachers use; this will be part of your on-going assessment throughout the course.
Seeing how experienced teachers conduct their classes gives novices a really clear insight into teaching English. An important factor in English language teaching is to reduce teacher talking time and by observing other teachers I found that the encouragement of communication between students to be a key ingredient in a successful class, as well as games, group activities, and giving clear instructions.
You will probably teach a short lesson on your second day
This can depend on how big your class is, and how they divide the trainee teachers’ teaching practice times. In some institutes you could even be teaching on your first day. This can be daunting if you have no teaching experience whatsoever, but the good news is that for your first class you will only teach for about half an hour to forty minutes. Your first teaching practice usually involves an activity that you just need to explain clearly to the students, monitor their work, and at the end give some feedback to the class. Feedback could involve correcting grammar or pronunciation mistakes made during the activity.
For each teaching practice session, you’ll have to write a detailed lesson plan in which you explain the main objectives of your lesson, what you expect students to learn during the lesson, and potential problems you may encounter. Timing is another important factor when working out your lesson plan. When you’re considering how much time to allot to each part of the lesson, make sure to allow enough time for explaining activities to students and giving feedback. It’s also handy to have a back-up activity for the end of class, if you happen to get through the material quicker than you anticipated.
After each teaching practice session you will sit down with your teacher trainer and go through the lesson step-by-step. For new teachers, the constructive feedback you get after each teaching practice will be invaluable when it comes to your professional development. Your teacher trainer will help you to pin-point where you’re going wrong and how to improve it, as well as letting you know what you were doing right, which is also a nice confidence boost! All of this will help you to hone and perfect your teaching skills, more so than anything else you will do in the course.
It’s extremely practical
There isn’t a single thing that was covered during the course that I didn’t find useful when it came to working as an English teacher. Everything from classroom management to adapting and creating your own materials was covered. The course really prepares you for teaching in the real world and also helps you to build your confidence as a teacher. When you start your first teaching job, you won’t be as petrified at having to stand up in front of a class for the first time because you’ll have already done it eight times during the course.
It can be fun!
Despite the heavy workload and caffeine induced insomnia, I had some incredibly enjoyable moments while training for my CELTA. Discovering that you can stand up in front of a classroom full of people who are hanging on your every word and not crumble under the pressure is a marvellous feeling. After my first teaching practice I felt like I was walking on air.
A lot of the input sessions are also enjoyable. One of my favourite sessions was when our trainer, who speaks fluent Polish, came into class and spoke nothing but Polish to us for the entire class and somehow managed to teach us some basic phrases, demonstrating ways to teach students without the need to speak their first language.
If you’re lucky, there can also be a great sense of comradery within your teacher trainee group. You’ll end up spending a lot of time with these people and will probably see them more than your family or friends over the four weeks, and knowing that you’re all in the same boat can help get you through the course. At least you’ll be spending most of your time with people who understand what you’re going through!
While everything that I have mentioned was true for me and other teachers I know, each training centre has its own methods of teaching. Course structure will vary slightly from institute to institute; however, the workload will still be generally the same. Every teacher I know agrees that while it is demanding, it is worth the blood, sweat, and tears (the latter two I mean literally). If you’re thinking of making a career of English teaching around the world, or even at home, then obtaining a CELTA is the best place to start.
This post originally appeared on Lifehacker UK, which is gobbling up the news in a different timezone.