My CELTA experience

As you can read from my profile, some time ago I got my first ELT-related teaching qualification: Cambridge CELTA. I took the full-time course here in Thiene (Italy) with 10 other candidates. I enrolled in the course after a year of thinking, pondering if that was the right choice and – most importantly – saving, not because it is required where I work or because I wish to improve my position or salary (since I’m self-employed, none of this applies) but merely as a professional development opportunity.

With this post, I would like to quickly summarise some thoughts that came to mind looking back to those busy CELTA days (yes, CELTA is as energy-consuming and time-demanding as they say) in order to clarify them in my mind, and to share them with other people considering to take the course.

How helpful was CELTA for you?

The people who took the course with me ranged from ex-secretaries and bank clerks wishing to try out what teaching means, to more experienced teachers who were requested to get the qualification for their current job position or to work abroad. Speaking with them after the course, they all agreed with me on one thing: whether you have never taught one lesson before or you already have some experience, if taken seriously and with commitment CELTA is indeed very helpful.

To totally inexperienced teachers, the course gives a taste of the issues and situations you will be confronted with once you start teaching, but it also helps approaching these with the right tools and set of mind. To more experienced teachers (most of the people in my course had at least 6 months of teaching experience), CELTA gives the opportunity to reflect on you as a teacher, pushing you to find the reasoning behind every activity, every stage, every material you use in the classroom. In short, the course aims at creating a framework to use in your daily lesson planning and delivering.

I fall into the second category, and I have so say I am really grateful I did this certification, as it really succeeded in its purpose. It really changed me as a teacher.

What is the best thing about CELTA?

The best parts for me were :

  • the possibility of discussing issues, ideas and solutions with my peers and with more experienced teachers during the course. This really helped me approach certain things from a different perspective and gave me a lot of comfort in finding out that some of the most frustrating issues I face in the classroom are the same that my colleagues struggle with;
  • the fact that CELTA really pushed me to reflect on how I teach, why I choose to do this instead of that, and most of all to reflect on my lessons after I’ve delivered them, to find what worked and what didn’t in order to improve my teaching as I go along.
What is the worst thing about CELTA?

Definitely the pressure of being constantly monitored, assessed, evaluated. I found the continuous observed teaching practice (you typically teach every other day in a full-time CELTA) very frustrating, so much so that at the end of the course I could not be bothered any more and would just go ahead and do what I would normally in my lessons.

Do you actually put into practice what you have learned?

Definitely yes. Well, it’s not like I spend 3-4 hours planning a 40-minute lesson as I did during CELTA, and I definitely don’t do a language analysis for each and every point I teach in class, but the overall idea of planning, thinking about what I do, thinking about the students that I have in front of me and planning accordingly… all of this finds plenty of space in my teaching now, and I really believe it dramatically changed my teaching for the better. Plus I now attach a lot of importance to self-development as a teacher: after all, I owe to CELTA the fact of having started this blog. 🙂

5 thoughts on “My CELTA experience”

  1. Great post! Question: can you expand a bit on why and how the observed TP was so frustrating for you? As a CELTA trainer I’m very aware that the constant feedback (and critique) can be…well, tough and draining. I’m always aware of the need to try to make it build in more positive ways than negative ones, and allow trainees a sense of ‘space’ and growth along with self-consciousness and constant effort. So…I’m wondering how it was for you? Would you say it was the nature of the feedback you received from the tutors? The process of self-reflection and group feedback? The way GLP worked? I’d love to hear more of your thoughts and experiences there….cheers! And great blog. Really enjoying it.

    1. Hi Matthew, thanks a lot for reading and commenting on my post!
      I have to say that possibly the most distracting part for me was the “grade” that we had at the end of each session (meets the standards, below standards, above standards) and I noticed that that was a big source of stress for the other trainees too. If someone always got “meets the standards” and then on one not-so-great lesson got “below standards”, sh/he would feel really bad — at the point of locking themselves up in the toilet to cry their eyes out. No matter how the tutor tried to make them feel better, they would still feel like a failure.
      Personally, after about one week of TP I was getting a few “above the standard”, so when I started to get “meets the standard” again I felt again like a failure, like I was going backwards instead of forwards.
      All of this to say that that stupid grade puts a lot of pressure on you, I know it’s stupid but it’s true.

      The other stress factor for me was that I noticed a big gap in the feedback I got from the two tutors (we had 2 tutors, but I am not sure if this is actually the standard for CELTA): one was always saying good things about me, the other was always pinpointing my weaknesses. I’m not saying my lessons were perfect, and the first tutor was also telling me what to improve, but the second tutor was mainly telling us what to improve. A typical pattern during a feedback session was something like:
      A (observing treinee): I think B did great in his drilling today, a lot of ss engagement, ss had fun drilling! It’s a big improvement from his last lesson
      TUTOR: well, yes that’s true, but what about his student engagement during feedback?…
      Or something like this. You can see that this can be really frustrating for someone who’s worked hard in improving his drilling technique.

      Finally — but I doubt there’s something any CELTA tutor can do about this — the fact that as soon as you do something right, there’s something else to adjust, can also be very frustrating and demotivating.

  2. This is really fascinating to me, as someone who has complete a short, albeit fairly intensive British Council Assistantship as an English Language Assistant in Germany, taught business English briefly in Bilbao, and has done some private tuition online…
    I look forward to the mix of people and experience ranges I’ll meet on my CELTA at the Berlin School of English in April – thanks for forewarning me of what to expect 🙂

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