I teach English, I train clients in intercultural communication, I blog and I write. But the one thing I enjoy doing most is teacher training. And running CELTA courses allows me to consolidate all that I love about teacher training into a super-intensive course. And trainees who have trained under me would be able to tell you all about the passion I have for it.
This blogpost, however, is not an attempt on my part to join in the debate - if it was, I’d be quite late in doing so. Admittedly, there is much left to be desired from the CELTA, and the fact that this entry qualification only requires a minimum of 120 contact hours and usually lasts a month can understandably incite anger and maybe even ridicule among those who are more used to professionals taking longer to become experts in their subject.
But for what it is, I believe the CELTA serves its purpose as well as it possibly can. Both as a trainee and as a trainer, I find the course intensive, rigorous, comprehensive (as it can be, given its length), and insightful. It provides a starting point, a framework which trainees can build upon so that every lesson they teach post-CELTA will continue to be an opportunity to learn and develop.
So here are ten reasons why I like the CELTA course.
1. It tries to move trainees away from traditional ‘lecture-style’ teaching methods.
It does this by:
- getting trainees to reduce their TTT (teaching talking time)
- emphasising the value of more STT (student talking time) via practice activities
A considerably huge number of my trainees come in thinking that teaching means to impart knowledge. This ‘imparting’ largely includes a lot of time spent with the teacher standing up, talking, and lecturing. And a ‘fun’ teacher would incorporate the occasional joke in their spiel that has his/her students roaring with laughter.
It comes as no surprise that everyone seems to have an idea of what a teacher should or shouldn’t do. After all, the theory of the Apprenticeship of Observation tells us that most of us have had the experience of being in a classroom and observing a teacher in action. This helps shape our preconceived notions of what a teacher is and when we are given the role of teacher, we naturally reenact what we know.
Before you stand up in defence of TTT, let me clarify. There is of course good TTT and then there is unnecessary TTT, and even unhelpful, confusing TTT. But for trainees who are more accustomed to the traditional role of TTT in the classroom, this almost-indiscriminate push for reduced TTT and increased STT can help trainees see the value in letting students practise speaking instead.
To paraphrase what a successful acting coach once said…
“If you have a shy actor, you make them take on extremely dramatic roles; and if you have a very dramatic actor who tends to overact, you make them take on very still roles. By forcing them to embrace the other extreme, you help them break out of what they are used to, and enable them to find middle ground.”
2. It is flexible and every CELTA course is different.
'Cambridge allows the individual trainers to tailor the courses to suit the trainees and to be compatible with the trainer’s own attitudes and beliefs about language teaching. Some CELTA courses I know have a huge focus on the Lexical Approach and encourages the teaching of grammar through lexis. And some CELTA courses believe in fostering an understanding of the reasons for grammatical choices like this one.
Some CELTA tutors I know prefer to teach trainees to use course material and course books successfully, while others I know prefer to have trainees adapt the material, include their own ideas, and create their own activities and tasks.
Because of the flexibility of the CELTA, trainers do not have to sell one standard variety of English (US or UK), but are able to foster an awareness of the different varieties of English that exist and how English is now used as a lingua franca amongst non-native speakers of English. The trainers on the course can then support trainees in making informed decisions about the language models they choose for teaching and for learning.
3. It pushes trainees to think about every decision there is for a teacher to make.
Trainees often complain about the time they spend on writing lesson plans and are daunted by the fact that they might have to spend all day planning for lessons when they begin their professional lives as teachers. I am quick to clarify that the detail which I expect in the plans they submit is no reflection of the plans they will make in real life. So why do I do it?
By encouraging detailed lesson planning, trainees are forced to think through what they would be doing in their lesson meticulously, ensuring that every instruction, every action and every activity is in that lesson because of a judicious choice and not because it just happened to be there and served to fill the time.
And when trainees enter the real world of teaching, they will hopefully possess the ability to think about the details of a lesson and the choices to be made without needing to write them out in the form of a detailed lesson plan.
4. It provides a good introduction to language analysis.
Many trainees come on the CELTA course not knowing much about the English language and how it works. The non-native speaker teacher would have the advantage of having learnt about English grammar, lexis and pronunciation as an English learner and are often better able to help learners with these areas as a result. The more enthusiastic and/or learned trainee would have gone to great lengths to complete the pre-course tasks and done the pre-course readings and might feel more at ease with language analysis. But many of my CELTA trainees are often very nervous about their ability to deal with grammar.
Although there is no way the CELTA could cover the entire language system in 120 hours, it would certainly provide the trainee with a framework and a starting point at which to examine and analyse language, present its MFP (Meaning, Form, Pronunciation) to students, check for understanding, allow for practice and look out for correction opportunities.
5. It gives trainees the opportunity to observe other teachers in action.
Aside from a minimum of six hours observation of professional teachers, trainees will also be watching their own peers teach. In an assignment they have to complete, trainees are then encouraged to reflect on their observations and to explicitly pick out learning points that they can take away with them.
Naturally, the trainees would be observing their course tutors and the way they deliver the input sessions. But the additional observations allow trainees to see the diverse styles, different methods and range of personalities that influence teaching and would hopefully show trainees that it’s all about making it your own.
6. It gives trainees some teaching practice (minimum of 6 hours)
Trainees will be teaching some real students from the word go, and these are likely to be some of the most encouraging, the most patient and the sweetest students they will ever encounter in their teaching career. There are also opportunities for trainees to teach students at different levels and to experience how this would affect the way they talk to the students and grade their language.
Six hours of teaching practice is not a lot. But the comprehensive feedback that trainees receive after each lesson would hopefully go towards enabling them to evaluate their own future lessons as they continue to practise out in the real world.
7. It encourages trainees to take on feedback about their teaching and also become more reflective about their own teaching.
It is not easy to take on criticism and allow it to be constructive, especially when the feedback relates to things that are as personal as the speed of your speech, your nervous twitches, the way you respond to others, or your need to cut others off when they are speaking. But in order to do well on the CELTA, the ability to take on feedback is incredibly important and can sometimes make a difference between a pass or a fail.
When teaching in a private language school post-CELTA, trainees might have annual/biannual observations carried out by their Director of Studies, but for the rest of the time, they would be in their own teaching haven, and here, the ability to reflect and work on their teaching is what will keep them developing.
CELTA trainers who constantly ask for the trainees’ opinions and thoughts during feedback sessions are trying to cultivate this ability to reflect and notice what worked or might not have worked in a lesson.
8. It encourages trainees to adapt ELT material and create activities using authentic material.
Aside from the opportunities to adapt material and create activities during the lesson planning stages of Teaching Practice, one of the assignments trainees have to submit involves selecting a piece of authentic material and creating a lesson around it complete with reading tasks, language focus and follow-up activities.
Such an assignment gets trainees to look at any piece of text they encounter as a potential resource, allows them to tailor their material to suit the needs and interests of their learners and urges them to think creatively.
9. It encourages trainees to see the world from the students’ points of view.
ELT teachers deal with students of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, different professions, and different motivations for learning English. And the CELTA helps trainees develop an awareness of the different individuals in the classroom, how their needs and preferences can be catered to, and how their first languages can influence their learning of English.
10. The CELTA is but a stepping stone to further development, and it offers ideas and recommendations to the teacher to help them continue developing professionally.
Near the end of the CELTA, trainees are given short input sessions on ESP (English for Specific Purposes), teaching and technology, literacy, and ways of continuing their professional development. The purpose of these sessions is to give trainees a flavour of the variety of English teaching that might be out there, and to suggest ways of finding out more so that when the CELTA ends, the learning doesn’t.
To find out more about the CELTA syllabus and course programmes, go to the Cambridge English site.