At this point you’ve probably done some research on the CELTA, maybe you’ve already signed up and paid for the course. If that is the case then you’re probably feeling very overwhelmed at the daunting task of embarking on this 4-week intensive ESL teacher training course. But I am here to tell you that you will survive! In fact, you may even do better than that.
I took the course at ILSC Montreal as a 22-year-old, 18 months out of undergrad. In college I’d done a degree in business management with a minor in religious studies. Outside of school I’d babysat and I’d taught horseback riding lessons, apart from those things I had zero teaching experience going into the course.
My goal going in, was to pass. Two weeks after completion of the course, I got my preliminary grade from the school I’d attended, I didn’t just pass, I’d received a pass A. In case you’ve not been briefed on the grading system yet it’s essentially a pass/fail system but they also give out a ‘pass B’ and a ‘pass A’ which one of my tutors explained to me as essentially being honors and high honors. About 70% pass the course, about 25% get a pass B, about 3% get a pass A, and about 2% fail. My pass A was confirmed by Cambridge.
After getting my pass A I did a google search to look for info on ‘how to get a CELTA pass A’ (what had I done right??). I immediately found a blog that stated
I highly doubt that someone on the CELTA course with zero teaching experience could get a Pass A unless they were preternaturally talented or had some indirect experience (i.e. one of their parents was a teacher or some such – that kind of exposure does have value).
I am here to tell you – as a mere mortal – that it’s not impossible.
Of course, there is no one true formula to getting a pass A (or B) some people are going to be naturally stronger at this than others but there are, undoubtedly, a number of things you can do to help yourself out.
First let’s understand what is expected of you throughout your course:
- You’ll be in the classroom 6 hours a day. The exact breakdown of those hours will depend on the school you attend, however, half of them will be you as a student, and the second half will be you either as a teacher or observing others teaching.
- You’ll be put into a teaching practice group, this is a group of your peers who you will observe and be observed by throughout your CELTA month. This group is who you will do peer feedbacks with as well. Depending on the size of your overall program you will most likely transition through the different CELTA tutors as leaders of your teaching practice group, from week to week.
- You will teach a total of six contact hours. At the school I attended we taught every second day for an increasing amount of time. Our longest lessons were 45 minutes in total. Each of your lessons, along with your lesson plans, the materials you prepared, and your feedback session, will be assessed and graded. You will also have four written assignments, one each week, which will contribute to your final grade.
That’s what you’re expected to complete. Now let’s talk about how to complete it a manner so that you walk away with the highest possible grade.
This seems like a given, you are training to become a teacher after all, but to many it is not. For half the day, you’re a student, and for the other half, you’re a teacher, it’s very tempting to let your inner college kid shine through. Don’t.
- Dress nicely (no flip flops, shorts, clothes that are too revealing or frumpy)
- Don’t whine and complain.
- Act professionally towards your colleagues. This isn’t a sorority house and it doesn’t matter how much you like anyone else, be courteous and polite to all of your fellow students.
- Act professionally towards your tutors. They’re the ones who not only have the experience, but are also giving you your grade.
This fits in with professionalism but deserves its own category because it’s that important.
- Be sitting in your seat, ready and waiting when it’s time for class to start, don’t be photo copying for your lesson, don’t be off getting coffee or just barely arriving in the building. Be ready.
- That goes for every time you’re meant to be somewhere. After lunch, or after any break it’s just as important as in the mornings.
- This also applies to handing things in, everything that is due, is due at 8:45AM the morning of. That includes lesson plans, self-evaluations and written assignments. Whether or not your tutors are cut throat about that rule, they do notice, and it will affect the way they grade you.
Or at least let this course teach you how to be.
- Be honest. If something in a lesson didn’t go so well, admit it. It’s better to realize you need to improve than to act as if all is well when it’s not.
- If you’re honestly not sure how things went, ask one of your peers, maybe you really did think your lesson went swimmingly. Find an honest buddy to check in with each day.
- Your tutor doesn’t assign a grade for each teaching practice until after the review, so if you go in knowing what went wrong and how you could do it better you’ll be better off than if you talk about a botched lesson as if it was heaven sent.
This is something that will make all the difference in your final grade.
- Participate actively in the input sessions with your tutors.
- Participate actively in peer feedback. Critique your peers’ lessons, this is an essential aspect of your grade.
- Ask questions, give answers, don’t be afraid to be wrong, I always was. Being involved is so much more important than being right.
- Go to your tutors with questions outside of when they come to you, it shows you care.
This is easier for some than others but it is so vital to your success.
- I’m not an organized person, but I got myself together for the course and it really paid off.
- Keep a binder and keep it neat. Create a filing system, hole punch everything you get and put it in that binder to refer back to.
- This is the only thing you should have going on in your life, if you’re taking other courses or working other jobs it’s not going to work out. So, since it’s the only thing you have to think about, just put all your effort into it, take 10 minutes at the end of each day and organize yourself, it truly will pay off.
- Be organized before you go in to teach your lessons. I had a folder just to bring into my teaching practice, on one side was the things I was going to use for myself: my lesson plan and my personal copy of all my handouts with my notes on the back. On the other side was everything I was going to hand out, copied, with plenty of extras, paper clipped, numbered, and placed in the order I was going to use them. The most disastrous lessons I saw were the ones that were completely and utterly unorganized.
Be friendly with your students
This makes the rest of it a whole lot easier.
- Treat the students formally, but as friends, laugh and joke with them. Having a solid relationship with them will be a huge help to fight any butterflies that might be flitting around.
- When things get rough in a lesson you can, at the very least, continue to be at ease with the students and that type of raport shows. I watched many lessons and a few train wrecks. But there were two types of train wrecks, the type where only those of us observing noticed and the type where everyone, including the students, noticed. The ones where the students noticed were because the teacher had never established a good relationship with them and awkwardness hung thick in the classroom air!
- Remember that they are human, they are there with the full knowledge that you are learning, and they are going to judge you less than anyone else in the room, so have fun with them!
Be able to take suggestions
This is such a huge part of what the tutors are looking for, many of us go in with no experience, it’s how you change and develop that matters.
- The people who I saw struggle the most – unlike what the blogess I mentioned at the beginning implied – were those who had already taught and were set in their ways, unwilling to take suggestions, or change anything that they already did.
- The tutors don’t expect a lot on day one and all they expect on day two is that you take what they told you on day one and work with it. It is better to try it out and fail with it then to ignore that it was ever said.
- Don’t sit in feedback and get defensive when your peers or tutor are giving suggestions, they are only trying to help you out and it is taken into account how you handle that.
Be able to follow direction
This is the CELTA way of teaching and it is a clear script, it is laid out for you point blank and if you don’t like it you will not pass.
- Your tutors will give you an extremely clear formula of how to build everything from a lesson plan, to a handout, to your assignments, take note of what they say and then do exactly that. It’s lovely if you know another way, but during the CELTA – no one cares.
- Each day, as a student you’ll be taught a new strategy either for lesson planning or for teaching. The very best thing you can possibly do is give that element a try in your next lesson.
This is most important when writing your lesson plans.
- Write out your directions, write out your instruction checking question’s, write how long you’re going to give the students, and what you’re going to do during that time, write out your concept checking question’s and write out the answers. Write out EVERYTHING. Not only will the tutors give you a better grade for your thoroughness, but it will in fact help you. If you freeze in front of the class you have a word for word script of what you are going to do and say.
This follows along with professionalism and friendliness but is so important it gets its own number.
- Remember, not only are your tutors grading you but, especially for those of us with no previous experience, they are your references.
- They don’t want to refer someone who they don’t like, and they won’t. They don’t want the CELTA certification getting a bad rep and if they think you are not a nice person they won’t give you a nice reference. It’s that simple. So, for the next four weeks put on a smile and suck up to everyone you meet.
I’ve heard a lot about how you have to get an ‘above standard’ on x out of x teaching practices and you have to pass x out of x assignments to get a ‘pass B’ or a ‘pass A’, don’t believe it. Of course, you do need to do quite well on all of your work and getting high grades is necessary for a high pass but it’s not the only thing that matters and there’s no clear-cut rule. CELTA has a great reputation, it is one of the two most highly recognized ESL teacher certification in the world and that means they want to be turning out teachers who meet that standard. So, do your best, aim to please, and aim to pass, and you just may do much better then you ever expected.
Lastly, I hear a lot about how you have to say good bye to a social life during your course, to cooking dinners or getting a good night’s sleep. During my CELTA course, I ran every other day after class, I cooked myself dinner each night, I went out and had too much fun every Friday night, and I dedicated my Saturdays to nursing my Friday night fun, and during the week I went to sleep by 10:30. It is entirely possible.
Remember to breathe. Remember to enjoy yourself. Good luck.
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