Friday, 19 September 2014

The Pain of CELTA

I waited a LONG time for it.

See, in Australia you need a TESOL or CELTA to be certified to teach at a language school here. If I decided to give up teaching, this of course wouldn't be necessary.

I decided on CELTA as it has a bit more clout than a TESOL certificate. I first applied at an institute in Melbourne as it was slightly cheaper, but I never got contacted back. Instead I went for the course offered at UQ in Brisbane.

I was hoping to be accepted for the April intake of the course, but unfortunately I had to wait until the 25th of August to start the course.

The application form has some grammar tasks and evidence of your written work. If this is accepted, you are offered an interview to see if you are suitable to do the course. Basically at the interview you are told about the course, and they will drill the word, "INTENSIVE". Also you'll be asked if you have anything that might be problematic during the course. At first I thought this strange but as I started, the reason for this "weeding out" of applicants became all so clear once the course commenced.

Once accepted they expect you to do a pre-course task (with an answer key here) to acclimatise you to the content of the course. Although you won't need to hand it in, it does provide a bit of primer to what you will learn.

The course can be taken 4 weeks full-time, or 12 weeks part-time. In the first week I REALLY wish I did the part-time course.

There are 12 trainees split into two groups for two (real) student groups. In my case the students were Upper-Intermediate and Pre-Intermediate. First two weeks you teach one level, and the last two it switched.

I was at university from 10am-6pm. Every day there is input (sessions of information learning), lesson planning and feedback. I had 8 teaching practices, and 4 assignments to complete. Each lesson plan took approximately four hours to prepare every night, and after a teaching practice was done I was expected to write a reflection how I thought the lesson went, to be critiqued by my tutor and peers.

What everybody, including myself wanted to know is "How hard is the CELTA?"

The content itself is not particularly difficult, but every day there is new information being thrown at you, lessons to give, prepare and reflect on, and assignments, that it does feel like juggling. One trainee dropped out after the second day. $3000, no refund. It's demanding for sure.

After the first week I cried. I failed my second teaching practice. There was a lot of pressure. I felt that if I failed the course, I would be failing not only that, but my seven years of teaching in Japan.

My head was buzzing into the second week. My sleeping patterns were totally screwed, and I just wanted it all to be over.. quickly.

By the third week I found my groove. I was better organised. I passed all my assignments. Only one I had to resubmit because I had silly mistakes. It was resubmitted in half an hour.

The tutors you have, make a huge difference. My tutor for the first two weeks was quite abrupt and seemed to dwell more on the negatives. He answered questions with questions and generally made me feel like he was setting me up to fail.

In contrast, the second tutor was much more sympathetic and approachable. In my (short) hindsight, I can see how the first tutor pushed me to do better with "tough love", but at the time I was a complete mess.

There are a few people that find the rigours of the course particularly difficult - us "oldies", trainees that had been teaching for a number of years already, and the emotionally fragile. So, basically me, me and me. If you're even mildly suicidal, I suggest not doing this course (or at least part-time). I did feel there were times like I was going to be pushed over the edge. REALLY.

So how else can I prepare for the CELTA, I hear you ask?

While grammar IS important to be a teacher, it wasn't as critical as one might think. There was a pre-grammar course available, but I decided to cheap it out with the free 5 hour grammar primer on Cambridge English Teacher. DO IT.

For a great grammar textbook get, Practical English Usage (Swan). It's a fantastic reference. While you don't really need to buy anything else, I'd personally HIGHLY recommend Classroom Management Techniques (Scrivener). I have a STRONG feeling, my tutor referred to it quite a bit, and classroom management was a key area I needed improving (for example, Teacher Talk Time).

You really want a step ahead to doing well in the course?

Pre-learn about PPP and PDP frameworks. Also REALLY get your head around, MCQs/CCQs (meaning/concept check questions). These are simple yes/no questions to make sure your students understand what you taught them. They seem deceptively simple, but are very challenging to get perfect. If you get these key areas, you'll be a step ahead.

So, should I have done this course before going to Japan? I think it gave me some great ideas, and has made me an (even) better teacher. It would've saved me this waiting time. To teach in Asia, CELTA isn't necessary, for pretty much anywhere else it's a prerequisite.

Last piece of advice is, make friends with your peers! I started a Facebook group, so we could all support each other. I initially felt isolated so it really helped.

I think that is all I can think of to say. If anyone has any questions or whatever, leave a comment :)