We met up with Sophie Deabreu who completed the fully-online CELTA in our University Language Centre with us in summer of 2020 to learn of her experience and what she has been doing since the CELTA course finished.
Hi, my name is Sophie. I’m 25 years old. I was born in Kent in the UK but I have lived in Cork since the age of 6 or 7. I did my undergraduate degree with UCC (English and Archaeology) and I did my MA online with another University. I did the CELTA course from June – August 2020. I now teach English online and I love it. I also enjoy reading, writing, listening to music, and making poor quality pottery.
Why CELTA? Why in a university?
I knew I wanted to do an English language teaching course, but I wasn’t sure which one. I initially did an online TEFL course and as helpful as that was, I didn’t feel it had actually helped me to learn the skill of teaching. So, I took to Google and found that a lot of language centres wanted a CELTA certificate (or equivalent) and I already knew that UCC did this (I tend to stalk the courses that UCC do in case one I want to do pops up). UCC being where I did my undergraduate degree, it made perfect sense for me to go back there to do this course too.
How did you go about applying for the course?
I remember contacting UCC about it and sending in information about my academic history and/or experience. I did a task/test before the interview. I believe the task was to check that I had an understanding of what it was I was going to be teaching (i.e. the test was answering questions about the English language). The interview was about why I wanted to do the course, if I thought I could handle how intense the course is, and then a further discussion about the answers I wrote for the test. I seem to remember that the test was an hour long, as was the interview.
Do you need to prepare for the course? Are you given tips on what to do?
Please prepare for the course. It will help with boosting your confidence when you’re teaching. When it comes to the language itself, I recommend getting yourself a couple of grammar books and even a book about teaching English as a foreign language (UCC will send you a list with good books to get) and highlight the areas in those books that you feel less confident about. Then study those things. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to memorise everything though, memorising things isn’t always helpful. Sit down with the language and be the student for a while. Even get yourself a students’ activity book and test yourself.
As for preparing for the structure of the course, familiarise yourself with that too so you know what’s coming and can feel prepared for it. Read the information about the course on the UCC website, but also have a look at videos on YouTube of people talking about their experience when they were doing the course.
What was the first week like?
Scary. Definitely scary. I felt overwhelmed. There is a lot of information thrown at you all in one go, but the beauty of it is that you’re not alone and if you are feeling that way then it is likely your fellow trainees feel that way too. Talk to them, share your worries with them, ask them to help you out with the things you are unsure about, help them out with the things they are unsure about. Support one another. We taught a class in the first week, but I seem to remember that it was only for 15 minutes per trainee (for that week only, after that it is 40 minute and 60 minute classes), but that was a really good way to get some of the nerves out of our systems.
Is it true that you are teaching real students from the very start of the course?
Yes. It sounds scary but it’s for the best. This is what it’s going to be like once you’re qualified to do this as a living so you may as well get stuck in! If it were any other way it wouldn’t work as well because it wouldn’t be a true reflection of what teaching real students would be like. The students know you’re training, and they know you’re nervous, and ours were really understanding of that. I think most students would be.
How did it being fully online affect you? How do you think it compares to a face-to-face course?
As with anything, there are pros and cons. I loved being in the “safety” of my own home, it made me feel less nervous about the teaching practice element of the course. I feel like it also gave me additional time to focus on getting the work done because there was no getting distracted by grabbing a coffee and chatting to my new found friends. On the flip side of that, there was no getting distracted by grabbing a coffee and chatting to my new found friends. I think doing that could have been helpful and would have generated even more discussion about the course. There are always ways around that though. We had Zoom calls together, a WhatsApp group, and we connected on our social media accounts. We bonded, and that bond thus far has been unbreakable. The course being online did present a few real problems to begin with though. Technology is unreliable and getting used to using a new platform was difficult, it would have been much more straightforward to split students into groups and share the teaching materials with them in person. It took a bit of time, but we all adapted.
Teaching online must have been challenging. What was the experience like for you?
Like I said, the reliability of technology and getting used to a new platform posed a problem initially, but overall I loved learning and teaching online. Another difficulty to note is that it was sometimes harder to pick up on the students’ body language and facial expressions, or to gauge the ‘feeling’ of their level of understanding before going through the concept checking questions.
CELTA is known to be a very intensive course; is it really?
Absolutely. It takes over your life a little bit but it’s important to remember that it’s because it’s a short course. When you have so much work to cover in a relatively short amount of time it’s always going to be intense. However, it is also very rewarding and by the end of the course it really feels like you’ve accomplished something, and that you faced something that was quite daunting… and succeeded!
Tell us a little about the teaching practice? How is it assessed?
We had eight teaching practice classes (TPs) four with students of one level and four with students of another level. The first three classes were 40 minutes long, the fourth was 60 minutes long. When you swap to the other level, the same pattern applies ( 3×40 mins, 1x60minutes). The grade you get is either ‘below standard’, ‘to standard’, or ‘above standard’. The tutor and your fellow trainees watch you teach, and your mark is given to you by your tutor and is based on your performance. There are a few things that you really need to remember during these classes. I’ll highlight some of them here:
TTT – Teacher Talk Time: Don’t overdo the teacher talking time. Let students interact with one another as much as possible, they learn better this way.
CCQs – Concept Checking Questions: You will be told all about these and how to prepare strong CCQs. Don’t forget them!
ICQs – Information Checking Questions: When you give students instructions about what they need to do, check that they understand those instructions. You will be shown how to do this as well.
Example sentences – make sure any vocabulary is put into context. For example, if you are teaching someone the word ‘library’, give the definition and then use an example sentence. Context is so important.
Lesson plans – before your teaching practices you will have to write out and submit lesson plans. Do them thoroughly.
There is so much more to it than just this, but those are a few of things that have really stuck with me.
What else do you have to do in terms of assessment on the course?
There are units to complete each week. This involves reading and answering questions. Some of these questions are multiple choice, some require a longer answer, and some involve a group work.
There are four assignments you need to complete. You need to pass three of these assignments to pass the course. Start them as soon as you get them!
You also need to observe professional teachers and fill out notes based on what they are doing (this will be part of one of your assignments as well) and you need to observe and give feedback to your fellow trainees.
If it is as intensive as they say, how did you balance the course work and your personal life? What advice would you give someone who is thinking of committing to doing a CELTA course?
I didn’t balance it very well to begin with but I don’t recommend that. I did CELTA all day every day for the first few weeks and this is not only bad for your well-being but I think it also has a negative impact on the quality of your work and performance, so don’t make the same mistake I initially did. After a while I realised that what I was doing simply wasn’t sustainable. I sat down and made a more realistic (and less exhausting) plan. I had certain days that I did certain things every week. For example, if I needed my unit work to be done by Wednesday, and had a TP on a Friday, and an assignment to complete, my week would look like this: Monday – Lesson Plan and unit work, Tuesday – Lesson Plan, Wednesday – Lesson Plan and Assignment, Thursday – Lesson Plan in the morning, assignment in the evening, Friday – Observations and assignment, Saturday – Observations and assignment, Sunday – Unit Work, and then anything extra was fit in around that. Of course this plan wouldn’t work for everyone (especially if your TP is on a different day of the week) but following that strict schedule worked for me. Basically, planning and organising yourself is key.
What part of the course did you enjoy most?
The reports/reflections we had to write about our own lesson after our teaching practices. They were really good for structuring my thoughts on what I felt I was doing well in and what I knew I needed to work on. Of course, the very best thing was the people and friendships that I made, and the support network that was there. I also loved the students we taught, you form a real bond with them. It is important to mention that after the course, and now that I am teaching, the teaching itself is the most enjoyable part.
What were the tutors like?
They are there to help and guide you. Their feedback is everything so you need to listen to it and use it moving forward for each TP, lesson plan, assignment, everything. Ask them as many questions as you can, get everything that you can out of the course. They want you to do well so remember that every step of the way.
What advice would you give to someone starting the CELTA?
Prepare beforehand, be organised during, and be delighted with yourself after. Do a full run through (or two, or three) in your own time of every TP so you can get the timing of the lesson right and familiarise yourself with the flow of the lesson. Reach out to your fellow trainees and form friendships. Be supportive and allow yourself to be supported. Care about your students. Look after your mental health by doing your best to balance the intensity of the course and your personal life. Enjoy yourself, and remember, if you love teaching, your students will probably love learning with you.
What have you been doing since you got your CELTA qualification?
I have been teaching! I am now teaching online to all levels and ages and I love my job. I also stay in contact with a lot of people from the course and we chat about teaching, we get advice and support from one another, and we talk about non-work related things too of course.
Is there any question I have not asked, but you would like to comment on?
It’s not so much a question, it’s more of an additional statement that I would like to add. Sometimes the thought of having a job that you love doing feels like a fantasy or a lie we tell ourselves to remain hopeful, but it’s not. If you believe that this path will make you happy then please go for it. Don’t let words like ‘intense’, ‘heavy work-load’, ‘overwhelming’, or ‘daunting’ hold you back. Instead remember other key words I have used like ‘rewarding’, ‘supportive’, ‘friendships’, and ‘delighted’. Go for it, you can do it!
You are so right. CELTA is intensive, but the positives greatly outweigh any downsides.
Thanks, so much for taking the time and sharing your experience, Sophie. We really look forward to seeing where the CELTA will bring you.
If you are interested in getting a qualification which will allow you to work anywhere in the world, a CELTA course might be for you. All details here.