CELTA Courses at ECC (Thailand)
Some Tips On How To Approach An Intensive CELTA by Barry Nonweiler
You have probably already heard ugly rumours that a four-week CELTA course is extremely intensive and often stressful!
Any training in a new skill requires commitment and hard work. But it is true that many people find the CELTA course to be the most demanding four weeks of their entire education. Nevertheless, while one characteristic comment at the end of the course is “You told me it would be tough, but I didn’t think it would be this tough”, just as often we hear “But I’ve got a huge amount out of it and I’m very glad I did it”.
An intensive CELTA course is hard work for
the simple reason that it covers so much in such a short period. To
complete the course successfully, trainees are required not just to
assimilate a great deal of new information but also to learn and
demonstrate a wide range of specific skills. They spend their
mornings in input sessions, their afternoons doing teaching practice
and their evenings and weekends planning lessons, writing
assignments and observing experienced teachers. Sometimes they even
find themselves still on the course in their dreams!
The overwhelming majority who make it successfully to the end of the course will have completed what almost everyone in the profession regards as the best TEFL training programme in the world. The certificate they receive will open up career opportunities and guarantee better pay and conditions internationally but it is the knowledge and skills they have acquired that will make them effective and sensitive teachers, informed and supportive guides and resources for their future students.
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of an intensive CELTA course
Before the course begins
- Make sure that you are doing the course at an appropriate time! You need to be able to give the course your full attention and it will require a lot of stamina as well. Don’t do the course when you’re in the midst of a traumatic life-change, for example. Feel certain that you’re in good health when you start. An applicant who was trying to get over the break-up of a marriage and another who was still recovering from a long-term viral infection are among those who dropped out and lost their course fees during the last two years here at ECC.
- Ensure that you will have no other commitments during the course. People who, despite all advice, try to continue doing part-time work during the CELTA course invariably fail it. Family and social commitments will also have to go on hold for the course duration. 100% attendance is expected (unless you are really ill), so don’t choose course dates that you know clash with weddings or children’s birthdays or graduations or similar occasions.
- Do some background reading before the course. Characteristically, people comment that “nothing can prepare you for teaching practice”. However, if you read a guide to TEFL methodology (such as Jeremy Harmer’s How To Teach English) and a grammar book (such as Martin Parrott’s Grammar For English Language Teachers), this will get you off to a good start by familiarising you with the terms and ideas of the course.
- Unless you already know Bangkok, be sure to arrive a few days in advance. Give yourself a chance to settle in to the charming chaos of your new environment and adjust to any culture shock. Take care to find somewhere to stay where you can work comfortably and which doesn’t condemn you to a long unpredictable struggle through the traffic to reach the training centre.
- Don’t take things personally!It’s just a professional training course. However intense it may feel, it is not a psychotherapeutic probing of your shortcomings or a test of spiritual strength. If you start to think that the trainers are making judgments about you as a person instead of observations on your teaching, if you find yourself breaking down in tears or storming out of the room after unsuccessful lessons, then you’re turning a training course into a personal crisis. Don’t lose your sense of proportion.
During the CELTA course
Barry Nonweiler (a former CELTA Course Trainer at ECC (Thailand) Teacher Training Centre)
- Jai yen yen! (Keep a cool heart!)Take a tip from the Thais around you and try to stay calm and kindly-disposed whatever happens. No matter how stressed you feel inside, remaining co-operative and courteous with your fellow trainees, your students, your trainers and the centre’s administrative staff will not just make everyone’s life easier (including your own), it will also be good preparation for coping with the stresses and strains of being a teacher “in the real world”. (Your ability to get on with others is actually an assessed element of the course.)
- Have realistic expectations of yourself. Especially if you don’t have any teaching experience at all, you can only achieve so much in four weeks. You may well reach the end of the course feeling that you haven’t given the perfect lesson. But you don’t need to be teaching perfectly to pass the course. It’s a pre-service training course and the trainers will be content to see that you’ve reached a point from which you’ll be able to develop independently given time.
- Don’t lose sleep over grades. The grade on your certificate doesn’t mean much. Immediately off the course, a higher grade can sometimes help you find a better position, but in the long term, employers attach little if any significance to CELTA grades as they all know teachers go on developing after the course. Having just “Pass” on your certificate certainly won’t hold you back in any way. Worldwide, about 63% of trainees receive a Pass, while only 25% and 4% respectively receive a Pass B or a Pass A. Worrying about getting a B (or about why you’re not getting a B) is likely to distract you and interfere with your concentration. Asking trainers incessant questions in the hope that they will tell you how to do your lessons “right” will only be seen as a sign that you’re lacking in the independence that would be expected of a B. Concentrate on improving your knowledge and skills. The CELTA course is a learning opportunity, not a race! (The teaching world is not the business world: in assessing your “professional development” as a teacher, your tutors will give credit for willingness to listen, to adapt, to co-operate and share ideas, for example, but not for ambitiousness or a drive to compete.)
- Manage your time sensibly. Don’t stay up until the small hours fretting over something that doesn’t seem quite right in your lesson plan, for example. Make sure you get the sleep you need. You’re not likely to suddenly see how to improve your lesson while you’re propping your eyes open with matchsticks. Nor are you likely to teach even a good plan well if you’re exhausted. Plan in advance when you will work on written assignments or do observations of experienced teachers. Allow yourself some free time at the weekend to forget about the course for a moment and relax.
- Keep notes and records in an organised way. Buy yourself a large file/binder to keep your many course notes and handouts in. Group your notes neatly by topic in such a way that you can find them and refer to them easily. Keep lesson plans and feedback sheets tidily and in order in the “portfolio” provided so that you can look back at them too when you need to.
- Be organized about lesson planning. Allow yourself a maximum of three or four hours to plan a lesson. Start by reading the teaching practice point very carefully, then consult any notes or handouts from the input sessions or any past feedback sheets that are relevant to what you’re teaching. Research the grammar if you need to and have a look at both the materials in the coursebook and some other resource books. Decide fairly quickly what materials you are going to use or adapt. Start planning on paper as soon as you can. Sort out your stages and check that they’re in a logical order. Build up to a detailed plan. Think carefully about what it will be useful to script word for word (for example, instructions and eliciting or concept checking questions). Ideally, allow yourself a break and go back to look over the plan with a fresh eye. Check that it matches the teaching practice point. If possible, try out your eliciting ideas or practice activities on fellow trainees before you do them in class.
- Don’t waste effort on trying to be original or showy. Trainees often make the mistake of wasting hours producing elaborate visual materials or shopping for real objects which will only be used for a few seconds of lesson time and/or for something which is by no means the main point of their lesson. They rack their brains to dream up humorous or outlandish contexts for language when the most everyday context would be ten times clearer. The CELTA is a pre-service training course and you are neither expected nor required to produce strikingly creative lessons in order to pass. Remember you’re trying to enable somebody to use another language, not mounting a Hollywood spectacular. Simple ideas are often the most effective and there is nothing wrong with using materials from books if they’re appropriate. (In “the real world”, you will rarely if ever have the luxury of having enough time to prepare totally original lessons.)
- Research the grammar and lexis you will be teaching. If you are presenting or practising a grammar item, research it thoroughly in one or two grammar books and make sure that you understand it yourself before you begin planning your lesson. If you are teaching some items of lexis, check their meaning, usage, spelling and pronunciation in a dictionary designed for learners of English (not one designed for native speakers, which will be much less clear and detailed).
- Think of lessons that go wrong as a positive learning experience. No matter how much work you put in, some of your lessons are likely to go wrong. If you could teach faultlessly, there would be little point in spending a great deal of time and money on a training course, would there? Look on mistakes as memorable (and valuable) learning experiences! It isn’t a problem if things sometimes go wrong in your lessons (indeed it’s to be expected). However, what certainly is a problem is getting defensive about them and denying to yourself and/or your tutor or your peers that they happened. Rather you should try to identify what went wrong, work out why it happened and reflect on what you could do in future to avoid it. Even in cases where the tutor has told you your lesson was below standard, an awareness of your mistakes and an understanding of how to avoid them on your part will counteract this and serve in itself as a measure of your successful development as a teacher.
- Make good use of the time you spend observing. During the course you will find yourself sitting through hours and hours of lessons given both by your peers and experienced teachers on the job. Don’t waste these. Don’t sit at the back looking at your holiday snaps or planning your next lesson while your peers are working hard to teach theirs. Take the opportunity to learn from watching others. You can learn as much from a poor lesson as a good one. Good teaching sometimes seems to go so smoothly you don’t register everything that’s happening or notice how much preparation went into it. By contrast, watching a poor lesson from the outside can often alert you to things that are lacking or need to be done differently. And remember you can learn a lot by watching the students as well as the teacher.
- Get to know your practice students. Trainees with no teaching experience are often so terrified of their students they fail to notice they’re just human beings who want to learn. You can get over this fear by talking to them outside the class, in the coffee breaks, for example. Before the class starts, don’t sit tense and aloof under the whiteboard, staring silently and anxiously out at the students as though your log cabin was under siege. Chat to the students who arrive early. Try to find out something about their personal circumstances – work, family life, future plans, why they’re learning English, etc. Not only will this help to reassure you that they’re just people and build up rapport but it will also give you a chance to listen to their language problems in an informal context. Don’t be afraid of students who ask you questions – they haven’t been secretly planted by the tutors to show you up, they just want to know something and think you can help them! If you can’t answer, there’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t know but you’ll find out, provided you keep your promise. This way you learn something too.
- Don’t put an inappropriate amount of time or worry into the written assignments. These are primarily consciousness-raising tasks. Keep them in proportion. Although you do have to pass at least three of the four written assignments to pass the course, they are not considered as significant as your teaching practice in assessing your development and also have little if any influence on final grades. They need only to be clear, relevant and concise. Three or four hours should be plenty of time in which to complete any one of them. Pay particular attention to reading the rubric and the assessment criteria carefully! Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked of you. If you are asked to re-submit, it will nearly always be because you have misinterpreted the directions or failed to follow all of them. If you are a non-native speaker and worried about keeping up your writing standards under pressure, get a native speaker to read through what you have written to check for any slips or stylistic awkwardness before you hand it in to your tutor.
- Take care of yourself! Sadly, it’s not that unusual to see trainees looking rundown and sick by, say, the third week of the course. Don’t let this be you! Plan your stress management in advance whether it’s meditation, listening to your favourite music, a lazy swim or whatever. Make sure you get enough sleep. Eat regularly and healthily. If you’re new to Bangkok, ask for advice on where and what to eat. Don’t get into the habit of living off snacks or junk food. Fresh fruit, for example, is easily available on the street or in supermarkets and the local pharmacies have plentiful supplies of vitamins and supplements. Especially if you’re new to the climate, don’t underestimate how much liquid you should take daily to avoid feeling tired and off-colour from chronic dehydration. With its humidity and pollution, Bangkok is not the easiest place to take exercise but there are plenty of welcoming hotel swimming-pools and gyms which you can pay to use on a temporary basis. At the weekend, make the effort to go somewhere that will be a contrast to the indoor environment of the course. Calm yourself down in Wat Po or the gardens of the Teak Palace, for example, take an atmospheric canal trip through Thonburi and old Bangkok or let a twenty minute stroll from ECC carry you to the peaceful ordered stylishness of Jim Thompson’s house. Avoid staggering in late for the morning’s input sessions with a hangover! Save your celebratory binges or the drowning of your sorrows till after the course is over. Bangkok will still be there.