In Janaury of this year we started what we thought would be a regular 10 -week CELTA course with 12 trainees on campus in our University. Covid-19 and a national lockdown interrupted this course and we had to shift to online to complete the course. CELTA is a demanding enough course without throwing into the mix a global pandemic. Philip Ryan was one of the trainees on this course. Read about his experience.
You completed the 10-week intensive CELTA course, but in reality it was much longer. Tell us about that.
The 10-week intensive CELTA course was probably the longest 10-week course in the history of all CELTA courses run in UCC! From the day the course commenced, Covid-19 had already been in the news for some time, and it was really only a matter of time before we had cases in Ireland.
As Covid-19 was spreading through Europe, Brendan Ó Sé, the course tutor at the time, discussed the possibility of UCC closing down over Covid-19. I think it was very admirable that not only did Brendan raise the topic, it was a conversation that needed to be addressed. Critically, he also made it clear that no matter what happened, that we would each get our certificate, maybe not to schedule, but again, to be aware of the strange times we found ourselves in.
Then, just before my final teaching practice, scheduled for March 13th, the country went into full lockdown. Realistically, everyone knew there was going to be some sort of action taken to try and thwart the spread of Covid-19, but for the full lockdown to be that swift, was astonishing!
Thankfully, the information that was needed for the progression of the course was swift, via email, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp.
The switch to teaching online must have been challenging. What was the experience like for you?
The switch to teaching online was incredibly challenging, as it was unscheduled in the course itinerary, but ironically, it was also something that I was aiming to do, albeit at my own pace!
The actual teaching online was a real an eye opener. Although I had practiced using Zoom with my fellow trainees, online teaching and classroom teaching are really two different fields. They both require different preparation for class, and they both can have their own potential unique difficulties.
For instance, losing power in the classroom is one obstacle, but to lose the power on your own computer while teaching online is quite another! Nevertheless, everyone who taught a class online really appreciated the experience.
CELTA is known to be a very intensive course; is it really?
The CELTA course is very, very intensive. You are literally burning the candle at both ends, and in the middle! It is really the case of no matter how intensive you think it is going to be, it will be way more intensive than you could imagine.
What was behind your decision to do the course?
I think the main decision for doing the CELTA course is that you can travel with it, stay local with it, or even be your own boss!
How did you go about applying for the course?
Since I was already a graduate of UCC, I was very aware of UCC offering the course on the campus. With that, I started to look at the course information online, then I started asking people that I knew, who did the course, for more information.
Is it as simple as just sending in an application form?
Filling out the application form is one step, then there is the interview process. When I arrived for my interview, I was given a questionnaire on dealing with grammar. Once I completed the questionnaire, I was then interviewed by the tutor of the course. It was formal, but friendly.
Do you need to prepare for the course? Are you given tips on what to do?
To prepare for the course, start organising before you start, have your folders ready, clear pocket sheets, etc. Read all literature that will be sent via a link in an email.
Once the course starts, keep your notes in order, organise each and every handout you get. There will be a lot!
What was the first day like?
After an icebreaker, to get to know your fellow trainees, information was coming thick and fast. By the end of the day, not only was I spinning from all the information dispensed, I had to produce a lesson plan as I was scheduled to teach for the next CELTA class at 9 a.m.
Is it true that you are teaching real students from the very start of the course?
That is very true! Depending on the schedule, you could be teaching the very next day of the CELTA course. In my case, after the first day, I was scheduled to teach at 9 a.m on the second day of the CELTA course. The remaining trainee tutors, who were not scheduled to teach on same day that I taught on, were tutoring on the third day of CELTA.
Tell us a little about the teaching practice? How is it assessed?
Each, and every time you teach, you are being monitored and graded by your tutor. You are being assessed on the actual text of the lesson plan you have submitted the day beforehand to the tutor. You are being assessed on how you teach, how you present the material, how you conduct yourself, how you interact with the class, right down to the minutes you have stated in your lesson plan aims for the full class.
After each teaching practice, you will get feedback from your fellow trainees, and tutor. Feedback is crucial in the pursuit of the CELTA cert, as it helps you to improve every class you are scheduled to teach next, and to prevent a poor grade.
Although I have had teaching practice prior to the course, I still found it very stressful to tutor. Thankfully, I had a bottle of water on the table, which I continued to replenish for each of the remaining teaching practices!
What else do you have to do in terms of assessment on the course?
Along with being assessed on your teaching practice, you will have to submit four assignments. The assignments, although “short,” are somewhat painstaking at times, and will need to include evidence from reliable sources that can be found in the resource centre, or online. Deadlines for the assignments are given early in the course, so it is best to start them early as possible.
Fortunately, if one, or all the assignments are not to standard, you can resubmit. A resubmission will come with detailed information, where an improvement, or points, need to be made clearer. Naturally, if you need to resubmit, you are given another deadline.
Is it 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?
It is very intensive, and more! In balancing my course work and personal life, course work took over everything. It really is the last thing at night on your mind, and the first thing on your mind in the morning.
The advice I would give to someone taking up the course, is be prepared to see less of your family and friends.
What part of the course did you enjoy most?
It is really difficult to say which part of the course I enjoyed the most, as it constantly it changed. There were days when you had a great teaching practice, to listening to a fascinating topic being discussed. Nevertheless, one particular part of a course I remember warmly, was tutoring a student who was very shy and timid in class.
As the weeks passed, you could see the student grow in confidence to the point where they were ready to take a risk giving an answer on question that was posed to the class. To see the student change from the first class to the last class before my eyes was fantastic! That, to me, is what being a CELTA teacher is about!
What were the tutors like?
The tutors were extremely professional, approachable, but very dedicated to the criterion stipulated by CELTA. With each monitoring of your class, by your tutor, your stress levels will reach a new level from the class before, as your tutor expects you to implement improvements from your last teaching practice feedback.
While the pressure is certainly on, the tutors know this, but don’t feel you can’t ask for their opinion on an idea you have for the next class you will teach. They are really helpful, and always ready to point you in the right direction of your ideas.
Doing your CELTA course in a university environment is a great advantage and looks very good on your CV also. Tell us a little about that.
The university has a charming ambience, which is always there no matter what the weather is like! It is especially great to know that during your lunchbreak, you can get a breath of fresh air while taking a short stroll across the campus to get a bite to eat.
Furthermore, doing a CELTA course in UCC has numerous advantages. Along with meeting up with likeminded individuals doing the same course, everything you need to assist you in your CELTA studies is located in the nearby resource room.
All of which is managed by the excellent, and extremely helpful staff. Of course, having UCC on your CV is not a bad thing to have!
What advice would you give to someone starting the CELTA?
The main advice I would give to someone starting the CELTA is get to know your trainee tutors. They will make your time doing the CELTA a lot easier. Do not be afraid to ask them for tips with an assignment, or lesson plan, I did, and I am really grateful for the tips that I received.
Definitely know how your computer works, as you will be using it a lot, PowerPoint, designing handouts etc. If you don’t have a computer, borrow one, get one, as you will be spending a lot of time on the computer once class is over.
What have you been doing since you got your CELTA qualification?
Since I have gotten my CELTA qualification, I have registered on a number of teaching online sites, updated my LinkedIn profile, and brushed up on grammar notes. In the future I would like to teach in class in Germany for the summer months, as I have a vested interest in the German language.
Is there any question I have not asked, but you would like to comment on?
Read Padlet, it is akin to an online noticeboard operated by your tutors, from start to finish. It will be immensely helpful when drawing up a lesson plan. It is also regularly updated throughout the course with other useful information.
Upon finishing a lesson plan, for a teaching practice, follow the times designated on the lesson plan to the second. If a “live” teaching practice runs over, or under time, it shows straight away that something went wrong, which will definitely be relayed to you in your feedback. To prevent this, practice the night beforehand with a clock/stopwatch, then practice, practice and practice some more!
Lastly, if you are still reading this, I wish you all the very best in your CELTA journey. It is an experience that is like no other, and rewards like no other.