Doing the CELTA: My experience

Wanting to be taken more seriously in the field of ESL I decided to take the CELTA as a way to become a better teacher and to invest in myself some of that hard-earned K-money from my year and a half in Korea.   I looked around Asia and settled on doing mine with International House in Bangkok. I’m going to say it now that this is more about the CELTA course and not about my experience with IH.

Overview

The CELTA, which is accredited by Cambridge University, is considered the gold standard of initial TEFL/TESOL English teaching certifications. Only the Trinity TESOL certification is comparable and there is a lively debate as to which is better/worth the money because as far as I’m aware the CELTA is considerably more expensive generally. I’ll make a future post about the CELTA vs. Trinity debate but for now I’m sticking to what I know; the CELTA and whether it was worth it.

The CELTA is a 4 week intensive practical teaching certification that includes 6hrs of observed teaching broken into 8 45min classes. That’s 2 classes each week. On top of the observed teaching portion of the course are 4 written assignments; 1 each week.

On the first day your group (depending on the size) will be divided into smaller groups, and then those small groups divided again if necessary. The smallest groups will be the people who teach on the same day as you while the others in your subset group will be the ones observing you, along with a trainer. So for example in my subset there was teaching group A and B, both groups combined were then joined in the afternoons by the same types of groups to make one big group for the learning portion of the course.

Week by week

WEEK 1. Unit 1: Learners and teachers and the teaching and learning context. Your first 2 classes taught will be judged with less criteria because week 1 is more for your trainer to see how you deal with a classroom and the material given to you. After each class you teach from day 1 to finish you will be given an evaluation from your trainer and feedback from the observing group of teachers. In general you either get satisfactory or unsatisfactory which is a fail. You should not fail more than 2 classes if you want to be sure you will not fail the teaching portion of the course. In the afternoons you learn the Cambridge teaching methods. The first written assignment is also handed out and each assignment is related to the topic of the unit. Assignment 1 is typically the assignment which a lot of people have difficulty with. If it is judged to be unsatisfactory, then you are allowed to resubmit it by making corrections. You are only allowed 1 re-submission per written assignment; so it is ok to have to resubmit each written assignment once and still pass the course. It is also ok to fail 1 written assignment because more weight is put towards the teaching component of the course. I should also say that assignments 1 and 2 are the ones where most people have to resubmit.

WEEK 2. Unit 2: Language Analysis and awareness. You’re now given more leeway on how you want to teach the topic of the class. The topic of the class will be something from grammar, lexis, functions, vocabulary, writing, listening, speaking, and reading. Before each class you teach you will talk it over with your trainer and give them the lesson plan and class materials. Your classes will now also be judged using the full criteria to pass/fail the lesson. Your classroom time will be used to bring you up to speed and give you ideas about what to do when teaching something from this area. Assignment 1 will be due at the beginning of the week and Assignment 2 will be discussed and due the next week. Unit 3 is also released in week 2 but not due until late the next week. At the end of the week you will have a mid-course evaluation given to you by your trainer telling you what you’re good at and what you need to improve upon, and also whether you are par for the course at that time.

WEEK 3. Unit 3: Language Skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Now you will be free to choose one of the aforementioned topics you have not already done, or do one of the topics suggested by the trainer because they wish to see you improve upon your prior effort. I should also say that you will now switch learners; so if you had intermediate, you will now be teaching elementary. The classroom component will be more of the same except on the topic of Unit 3. By now most teachers are hitting their stride or nervous about the final legs, especially if they have failed one or two lessons or an assignment. Assignment 2 will be due early in the week and Assignment 3 I believe is due the same week but most teachers find it not nearly as challenging as the first two. Assignment 4 is issued by the end of the week, this is the easiest of the four written assignments.

WEEK 4. Unit 4: Planning and resources for different contexts, plus Unit 5: Developing teaching skills and professionalism. Again, teachers should be pretty confident by now especially being the last week as it is just more of the same from the previous 3 weeks but different topics. Unit 4 is the main emphasis of the week and Unit 5 is just a one afternoon thing where you discuss future professional development. Assignment 4 will be due back early in the week. On the last day you will have a free lesson to teach on what ever you like and it will be observed by the trainer. After that there is free time and depending on the center you take the course you will probably either have a little goodbye party with food with your students or have a lunch/dinner with your fellow trainees thrown on by the center. Assuming you have completed all the course requirements you will sit down and sign off on anything not already filled in.

Was it worth it?

I see a lot of people online questioning the value of the CELTA, especially because of how much it cost.  Mine cost $2,100USD.  Of course you can get online courses for MUCH cheaper but the quality is generally not the same, even if it includes a classroom component.  There are exceptions, but generally online English teaching certifications are only good if you want to get your foot in the door, not if you want to be taken seriously and make teaching English abroad a career.  From what I found online the Trinity TESOL is significantly cheaper by hundreds of dollars.  But what I guess what it comes down to it is the effect it is supposed to have on your ability to teach and job prospects.

Personally, I really enjoyed learning the CELTA methods of teaching.  I had taken an online TEFL course like so many people but mine could not hold a candle to the methods I learned during the CELTA course.  I really like the idea of making your classes student centered and interactive.  Already here in Thailand my lesson plans are drastically different than what they would have been had I not learned the CELTA way.  People might debate whether it is the ‘best’ way to teach but for now I will leave that debate to them.  I’m a big supporter of what I learned and in terms of it making me a better teacher I say YES, the course made me a better teacher by giving me whole new approaches to lesson planning and teaching that I would not have known about otherwise.  In this regard, it was worth it.

As to whether it was worth it for the effect on my job prospects I still say YES.  In my first month of looking for jobs in Korea the first time around back in Nov/Dec 2013 I had just two interviews.  This time around, again in Nov/Dec during the height of the recruitment phase, I had 5 or 6 interviews for Korea.  Not only that but the general quality of the jobs I was interviewing was much higher.  The pay was significantly more than my first two jobs in Korea.  I did receive concrete job offers for Korea and I would have taken at least one of them if my recruiter hadn’t been incompetent and fucked up royally….so, yeah.  Personally I feel there has been a significant improvement in my job prospects as a result of me taking the CELTA.

This is just my experience and belief.  What are your thoughts?  Was the CELTA worth it? Is the Trinity TESOL better?  Where did you take your CELTA? Leave me your thoughts.

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