I figured that it made sense to invest my time, energy and money into a top quality qualification.
Here we continue the series of interviews with CELTA trainee teachers who have just completed the recent January to March 10-week intensive course. This time Michael Beirne tells us of her experience.
- Hey Michael, thanks for taking the time to do this. Now that the CELTA course is over how do you feel?
Honestly I feel great. Having taken a day or two to catch up on sleep and unwind, I’m feeling very pleased with how the course went and I definitely think I made the right choice in doing the CELTA.
- What were your reasons for doing the course?
I took the CELTA course because I had heard from numerous sources that it was the most recognized and internationally renowned TEFL course at certificate level, and I figured that it made sense to invest my time, energy and money into a top quality qualification. I’m quite a meticulous person and I did not know at first whether or not teaching was something that could really be taught/ learned with any great deal of precision or technical skill. When I researched the CELTA course I was pleased to find that it was a rigorous and demanding course that approached pedagogy seriously and was intended as a starting point for people who were considering a professional career in education.
- Can you tell us a little about the application process? What did you have to do?
The application process was quite straightforward. I filled out a simple form that included a brief essay outlining my motivations and reasons for doing the course. I was then sent an e-mail inviting me for an interview and test. The test assessed knowledge of English grammar and usage, and also required me to write similar essay style questions about my motivations for choosing the course. In the interview was asked about some of my test answers and about what other commitments I would have in my life whilst doing the course. I was informed that the course was very intense and required trainees to devote large amounts of their time to lesson planning and assignments (this was an accurate warning).
- How about the first few days of the course? What were they like?
The first few days are slightly overwhelming. We were quickly introduced to the students that we would be teaching. We conducted placement tests with these students to determine which of the two teaching groups they would be put into. There is a lot of information and terminology given to you in the first few days, but the main concern is apprehension about teaching. Once you have planned and taught your first lesson or two you begin to feel more comfortable with the course and can start to get a handle on how to organize your time.
- On the course you have to teach for a total of six hours? How does that work out?
Your first lesson is twenty minutes, then you teach seven lessons each of forty minutes, and finally you teach a one hour lesson.
The CELTA trainees are divided into two groups- one is assigned the Upper Intermediate students, the other is assigned the Lower Intermediate students. I taught the Lower Intermediate students for my first five lessons, and the Upper Intermediates for the last four lessons.
- Are the students ‘real’ students?
Yes the students are adult learners from the local ESL community that are given free classes by UCC. Students that attend these lessons are issued an official certificate that states that they have attended English classes.
- On average how long did it take you to prepare for a lesson?
First draft takes between three and five hours. Then you usually require some kind of feedback, even if it’s just asking a question or two. Then you might have another few hours of editing and rethinking, and then rehearsing the different stages might take another couple of hours (on a good day).
- Did the tutors give you a lot of help in the planning stage of your lessons?
At the beginning you are given supervised lesson planning sessions with detailed one-on-one feedback. Later on detailed and personally tailored feedback is provided by e-mail. In the later stages of the course you are expected to plan lessons mostly by yourself, but the tutors are still ready and available to answer any specific questions and offer guidance.
- Going from one lesson to the next do you know what you need to do to improve?
Yes, you always know exactly what you need to improve. After teaching practice there is a thirty minute session in which you discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your lesson with your tutor and fellow trainees.
- What about the afternoon input sessions? Tell us a little about those.
The afternoon input sessions provide you with essential theoretical knowledge relating to teaching methodology and technique, with each session focusing on a different area of teaching. Additionally, these sessions are structured and conducted in such a way as to emulate the style of teaching that you are expected to use in your own teaching practice. In this way, these input sessions allow you to observe and learn from the teaching style of your tutors.
- What is the hardest part of the course?
The hardest part is sitting down in front of a blank lesson plan and beginning. The choices you make in the planning stage determine how well the lesson will go for you and your students, so it can definitely be slightly daunting to begin structuring and allocating time slots for your lesson stages. It’s great to rehearse with others, but inevitably there will be times when you are just sitting/ standing around talking to yourself. Finessing your teacher language and staging always pays off in the lesson, but at the planning stage it can feel daunting and frustrating, especially trying to predict how long each stage will take.
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses” -Ali
Granted, it’s not quite as dangerous as boxing, but assessed teaching can definitely make you sweat.
- Are there assignments? Are these easy?
The written assignments are not too bad once you allow yourself time to get them done. The latter two assignments (skills and language related tasks) contain many components and require a careful reading. It can be slightly difficult to finish assignments while also planning lessons. It’s good to read some relevant chapters in advance of having to write the essays, so when you are issued the Written Assignment briefs at the start of the course make sure to take a detailed look at them. That way you can have most of the research ready at your disposal when it comes to writing.
- Was there anything you found easy?
Assessed teaching is a little nerve-wracking, but what I found easy was building rapport with the students. These are adults who are very keen to learn English, and interacting with them is for the most part very enjoyable.
- Was there anything you had not expected at all; something that surprised you?
I was surprised by how collaborative the course is. I usually prefer to work alone, but this course seem to bring out the collaborative and cooperative side of people, and I found myself consistently working and consulting with my fellow trainees and really enjoying their company
- What advice would you give someone preparing for the CELTA course? Are there any books or websites you would suggest?
Familiarize yourself with phonetic script. You will be given a pre-course task that covers a lot of grammar points. It’s a large document so give yourself several days to complete it. It’s a good way to re-familiarize yourself with English grammar. Also take a look at http://www.englishpage.com/ for grammar. Jeremy Harmer’s book The Practice of English Language Teaching is worth reading beforehand as well. It also comes with a DVD that features interviews with teachers and footage of lessons that I found useful.
- If you could sum up your advice to new trainees on a CELTA course in one sentence; what would it be?
The people who are assessing you both enjoy teaching and take it very seriously; if you have the same attitude, you’ll be successful and benefit from the course.
- And finally, now that the course is over what are your plans? How do you intend to use your CELTA qualification?
I am planning to move to Malta and work as a teacher. The island has over forty language institutes, many of which are internationally recognized as being of a high quality. Looking forward to using my teaching skills and getting some sun. In two years I would like to do the DELTA.
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