Posted in CELTA, tips

My top 10 tips when doing the Cambridge CELTA

I completed my Cambridge CELTA in June 2015. With regards to the full-time course, when they say it’s an intense course, you’d better believe it. Before I started my course, I was rummaging around the internet to find any information I could on what I would be expecting from the course and good advice to enable me to have the best possible chance of passing the course. 

Now, I want to give back to the community a little bit and help any trainees in need of support as they embark on this journey. Here are some tips to keep in mind while navigating the course.

Consider your motivation(s) before enrolling on the course

CELTA is a very intense course. Your tutors will get you through a lot of content, you will need to complete a lot of assignments, and you will be expected to practice your teaching from the get-go. This may go without saying, but it’s very important that you ask yourself before the course if teaching is something you really would like to explore as the course demands a lot from you. 

Make sure you have an idea of what you want to do after the course with the certificate later in hand. A lot of graduates go on to work in schools in their country and/or abroad. You will hear of other courses such as Dip-TESOL and Delta, but don’t be confused as I often see on social media of candidates not knowing if they should get a CELTA or Delta. CELTA is just your initial teaching qualification. It will get you in the door. Those other certs are diplomas to help you pursue careers in management, teacher training, publishing etc. As you can guess, you need to have been in the game a fair bit before taking those courses. 

Select the best way for doing the course

CELTA can be taken in three ways: face-to-face, online or a mix of both. The course can be taken full-time or part-time. Each mode of delivery has their advantages and disadvantages, but you should pick the one based on your current situation and needs. I chose face-to-face as I simply wanted to be in a room with my tutors, peers and students and full-time as I felt as if I could cope well with the pressures the course brings. Going with the online route looks to be an increasingly attractive option for many candidates. If you are leaning more towards the online side of things, I would say to just give your eyes a break whenever possible and go for a walk around the house, as online learning and teaching can sap the energy from you after prolonged periods of time staring at the screen trying to read people. 

Complete the pre-course materials

Your training centre will distribute a ‘Pre-course Task’ document for you to study and work on before you start the course, and this can serve to be a good diving board into the world of English language teaching. The tasks are there to act as an appetiser for the course. Do sit down and have a look at this document if you are a complete beginner to teaching languages. As you work through the material, make note of any areas you find difficult e.g. the English sound system, and try to work on these areas during and after the course.

Gauge your expectations

I’m not sure about how content is managed and delivered on part-time courses, but for full-time courses, you will be given a lot of content in a very short amount of time. Tutors will be under a bit of pressure to make sure you have covered everything on the curriculum on the CELTA course. There won’t be a lot of time to go into great depth when it comes to content, as you will be spending your time doing other aspects of the course e.g. planning lessons, teaching practice, writing assignments, and you will feel like the course is a bit of a whirlwind at times. 

It’s a good idea to gauge your expectations here with these points in mind. The course will give you the tools, it’s your job to explore, analyse, research further on topics you find interesting if you wish to do so. Keep in mind that, as a developing teacher, you will have your whole career to do this, and many of my colleagues and I continue to do this today. 

Dive into the course content

I cannot stress this point enough. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on CELTA. I would love to do it again to experience that magic. I would seriously encourage diving into the content head first, and with a lot of enthusiasm. Participate in the tasks your tutors set up and just have fun. 

When you start teaching on your own after the course, you may find yourself utilising the activities your tutors were demonstrating to you or executing lessons the way your tutors did. You will look back on your experiences of the course for guidance a lot afterwards and with fond memories later in your career. So, in order for those post-course reflections to occur, make sure you take the bull by the horns during the course to get the most out of it.

Lean on your peers for support

Your coursemates on CELTA will be a valuable asset to you. From day one, get to know them and start building rapport and connections. You will be working closely with them until the very end of the course, for example, providing peer feedback on your teaching practice. They will probably be going through the same struggles as you so do lean on them when you need support. From my time on CELTA, we created a WhatsApp group to keep in touch. Now, while this might not be for everyone, it may be something to consider to help get different perspectives on matters and help alleviate any stress you may have. 

Acknowledge the gaps in your knowledge

We talked a little bit about the ‘Pre-course Task’ document and how it can prepare you for the course. Another thing it can help you with is reveal any gaps you may have in your linguistic knowledge. For me, it was phonology. It’s pretty important that you find out what gaps you have, acknowledge them, and then set a course for action to fill them. Once you start teaching after the course, you will probably find more, but that’s natural. Having the skill, capability, and courage to acknowledge you have gaps are the traits of a good teacher. Working on this skill before, during and after CELTA is something to think about.  

Observation etiquette

You will be observing a lot of teachers including your tutors, your peers, and teachers working within your training centre. You should be very respectful of your peers while they are practising, so don’t be working on your lesson plans or talking with others during this time as it may be distracting for your classmates. 

An important note on observing teachers within the training centre. I and other teachers normally have great interactions with teacher trainees. It’s great to see and chat with you before the lesson starts and at the end to talk about your course and other things. However, there are others who do not know how to conduct themselves during observations and I don’t want you to fall into this bracket and get yourself into trouble with your tutors.

The teachers you are observing are asked by your tutors to allow you to come into their classrooms. They are under no obligation to do so. You are observing a real teacher working with students on a course they have paid a lot of money for, so you should be conscious of this walking into the classroom. You should remain seated at your designated area working silently on your observation worksheet. If you have to work on your lesson plan when you should be observing, do so very quietly. Do not talk with your peers during this time. Under no circumstances should you talk with students in the room or the teacher while they are in the middle of an activity unless allowed to do so by the teacher. Do not combat what the teacher is saying to their students, even when you think you are right. Finally, do not leave the lesson early as this is incredibly rude and very distracting for the students in the room. 

Don’t sweat your first teaching practice. You can do it

When it comes to teaching for the first time, you may go through a range of feelings and emotions, from excitement to sheer trepidation. It was the latter for me. I won’t go into detail about what you should do in your lesson here as your tutors are better qualified for that, but what I will say if you are feeling nervous about teaching is that the students expect to do a few tasks, learn something, maybe do conversational practice, but ultimately what I’m trying to say is that the students see you as the person in charge and they are ready to follow you wherever you want to go. 

Take in the feedback your tutors give you and act on it

Take in what the tutors are telling you during your feedback sessions on your teaching practice. Receiving criticism on work you felt you had prepared well for is difficult for everyone, but remember that this is constructive criticism of your work and not of you the person. Their feedback is often supported by evidence e.g. reactions of the students, the exact words you used to clarify language, the number of times and time stamps you and students did things, and so on, so it is not technically a subjective observation. Good tutors will feed back to you this evidence and will question your choices so as to give you a chance to reflect and discuss why you did so. They will then give you a few pointers to work on for your next teaching practice; make sure you attend to these. Ultimately, listen to what they have to say, make sure you understand what they are saying and act on the feedback given. Your tutors want you to pass the course.

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