Did you think one week of midterms was too easy?
Do you like being sleep deprived for days, nay, weeks on end?
How would you rather spend your weekends: researching present continuous for six hours, or doing literally anything else?
If you are excited about any or all of these prospects, then an intensive CELTA course might be for you!
I’m not selling this very well, and I’m not being entirely fair. Here’s the deal. If you want to teach English as a second language (ESL), a CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is a pretty good investment. It is also very, very intense.
Let’s back up. I am not currently an ESL teacher. I took the CELTA for a few reasons:
1. I am interested in working with kids in a classroom environment*, language acquisition, and traveling, and teaching English seems like a good way to combine these interests.
2. I really hate tracking down things like accreditation information, reviews, scam alerts, and so-on. CELTA is the international standard for ELS teaching, full stop. By choosing to do a CELTA course and not something else, I guaranteed I’d be putting my time into something useful. I also significantly cut down on the amount of options present, which was super helpful because I seriously struggle to choose between brands of milk in the grocery store, let alone certifications costing me 1k+.
3. I had a month to kill between training on Lady Washington and going to Taiwan. This seemed productive.
I opted to take the intensive CELTA course offered by International House Chiang Mai. This post isn’t about IHCM (which I recommend, by the way). I’ll come back to them later. Let’s talk about more general stuff — the “meat” of CELTA.
I was thoroughly impressed with both the course design and the techniques we studied.
First: course design. The course focuses on eight teaching practices, or “TPs”. More experienced teachers teach a full 45-minute class the second day of the course; teachers with no experience generally teach the third day. Five out of eight hours a day are dedicated to teaching practice. In the morning we’d review the previous night’s classes, in the afternoon we’d plan for our next lessons, and at night we’d teach and observe for three hours.
TPs are scored on a “to standard”/”not to standard” scale. The bar rises every week. You can get an NTS the first week, but it’s hard. (Teaching for only 20 minutes would be one way to get a Week 1 NTS.) It’s much easier to get a NTS your last week of teaching. Trainers provide a lot of support at the beginning but encourage you to take control as soon as you feel comfortable. This is so you get practice planning independently, but also because the CELTA grading scale is all based on how much support you’ll need once you start teaching professionally. 3-5% of all participants get a Pass A, which means they are top-notch teachers who need no support. 25% get a Pass B, which means they’re very competent but could use a little bit of support here and there. (That’s me! I got a Pass B!) The majority of trainees get a Pass (or Pass C), which means that they’re decent teachers if their bosses help them out. Only 3-5% fail. If you do your work and don’t have a difficult personality, it’s very difficult to fail. The bar for Pass A and Pass B might be pretty high, but the bar for passing is quite low.
CELTA-style teaching emphasizes communicative language learning. Much of our training focused on how to design classes that got students communicating and diminished the teacher’s perceived role as Constant Center Of Attention. TTT (teacher talking time) is public enemy number one from day one of the CELTA course. (CELTA, if you haven’t noticed, churns out acronyms like they’re behind deadline.)
I learned a lot about teaching — not just ESL, either. And I’ve been teaching in various dynamic environments since I was sixteen! A lot of techniques we learned could be applied to debate workshops or museum science programs. (If you happen to teach forensics and are interested in my thoughts on applying CELTA theory to teaching speech and debate, you can read my post on that here.)
What I learned almost nothing about was language acquisition. I would have liked more of this, honestly, although I’m not sure where it would have fit in. I had a pretty good base from independent studying and certain college courses, but if you’re planning on taking the CELTA, I’d recommend reading the following books:
1. Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner, for background on language acquisition
2. Language Myths by Bauer and Trudgill, to dispel some long-standing myths about English
If you’re planning a quest to get your CELTA, that entry-level holy grail of ESL teaching, here are a handful of assorted tips:
1. They are serious about getting an accordion filer to file your papers. GET ONE.
2. If you possibly can, take a residential course. I did, and after comparing notes with others who didn’t, I’m convinced this is the best option.
3. It is intense. I work hard, I work fast, I assimilate knowledge quickly, I already knew things like how IPA works and what the forgetting curve is, and this was still an intense challenge for me. There were at least five hours of homework every day, on top of 8 hours of classes.
4. Read those books I mentioned above. If you can get your hands on Learning Teaching, read that, too. If you can do all the pre-course homework, do it. If you can’t, you can still pass the course! It might just be more difficult.
If you have questions, please get in touch! I realize this post is a little here-and-there, but it’s hard to parse my CELTA thoughts into neat chunks, so please forgive me. If you’d like to share your CELTA experiences, you know where to find the comments section.
*This is mainly because I’m hoping to make a career in museum education, and classroom experience is seen as a plus when applying for certain jobs.