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Pass CELTA and keep your sanity

If you’ve spoken to anyone who has taken CELTA, you’ve probably heard them talk about how intensive it is. This worries some people who believe that they are unable to meet the demands of the course. The truth is that CELTA isn’t actually all that difficult providing you give it the required attention, understand what you are actually letting yourself in for and manage your time and wellbeing through the course.

The tips in this article should help you to do these things and ultimately pass CELTA. 

#1: Put everything on hold

CELTA is a demanding course, especially when done full time over 4 weeks. In some cases part time options are available over 3 months.

If you’re doing the CELTA full time, you should treat this as a full time job, and then some. You will be required to attend input sessions through the day and to teach or observe in the evening. Your lesson planning and assignment writing will be on the weekend. Assuming you are one of those people that likes to sleep at night too, that barely leaves you any time for other luxuries like eating.

If you do the CELTA part time, it will still be fairly intensive. You will probably find that at least one day a week is taken up by input sessions and two evenings a week are for observation or teaching. If you work a full time job at the same time, you’ll find your only spare day and remaining evenings are taken up with lesson planning and assignment writing.

Before starting the CELTA therefore, you do need to tell your friends and family that you are going to be very busy. Try to put off any time-consuming plans, and you might want to freeze your gym membership and Netflix account as well.

#2: Get your tech ready

Nowadays everything is done on computers. You will probably need to email assignments and lesson plans and access online resources. You want to make sure that you have a reliable set of technology before you start CELTA. Of course, the provider will most likely have computers you can use, and if that is what you want to do then by all means. However, having your own devices means that you won’t have problems like having to share or finding someone has tampered with it.

I’d recommend ensuring you have the following:

  • Access to a computer or laptop that works well;
  • Reliable internet access where you live/are staying;
  • Microsoft Word or a decent word processor;
  • Access to a printer and copier;
  • A USB memory stick.

You might decide to use the school’s printer and copier. However, don’t expect any sympathy if this breaks. As a back-up it is a good idea to check if there is anywhere near the school that does printing or copying or to make sure you do this in advance.

Also, if the CELTA provider have high-tech classrooms, be cautious about depending on this tech. If the tech doesn’t work, you still have to do a lesson, so make sure you have a plan B. I almost failed a lesson when this happened to me.

#3: Set a schedule

Once you know the course schedule, set your own schedule. You need to allow time for planning your lessons, writing assignments and also to plan a few hours a week to keep your sanity. You will need to decide what time you need to wake up and go to bed and when you will actually be able to eat.

As stated in the first tip, you won’t have much time but you can arrange a phone call to your family and friends, a chat with your significant other or even to go for a walk.

#4: Start the Assignments ASAP

On the topic of time management, don’t wait to start the assignments once they tell you about them. I believe the first is still the “focus on the learner” assignment. For this you need to pick a student and interview them. Make your pick quickly and set the interview up with the student as soon as you can. You don’t want to leave these assignments to the last minute.

#5: Reflect immediately after the lesson

The purpose of reflection is for you to think about what worked and what didn’t in your lesson. It is best to do this immediately after the lesson while it is fresh in your mind.

Note that the tutors are not looking for Shakespeare here, they simply want an idea of what you think went well and what didn’t. You can write in bullet points. It is very important to be critical and find some things that could have gone better, or at the very least could have been done differently. However, make sure you give yourself some positives too, even if you think that these are just really simple things that any teacher would do.

In particular, make sure you reflect on feedback that the tutors gave you before. If you feel you’ve improved on this, say how. If you feel you haven’t, say why.

#6: Act on feedback

The reason why academic managers like CELTA (and the Trinity CertTESOL) over other TEFL certificates is that you get feedback on actual teaching practice from experienced tutors. We know that to pass CELTA this is actually the thing that you need to do – act on the feedback given.

Basically the key to passing CELTA is to be a better teacher at the end of the course than when you started. The way to achieve this is to take what your tutors say and implement it into your lessons.

If your tutors say the 10 minutes you spent presenting language was too long, spend 5 minutes on this in the next lesson. If they say you need to get the students to work in pairs more, next lesson have more pair work activities. If they say you need to stop pacing next to the whiteboard, stop pacing next to the whiteboard. If you think all this seems too simple, it’s really not.

I’m not a CELTA tutor (yet), but I have observed many teachers as an academic manager and it is frustrating when we tell teachers a problem and next lesson there is no change. I don’t hire teachers with a CELTA because it makes them a perfect teacher, I hire them because to pass CELTA you have to listen to and act on feedback!

#7: Get students working together

Two common complaints about English teachers are that firstly they speak too much and secondly the students speak too little. You could say this is one complaint, and certainly solving the second part should solve the first.

The key to getting students doing most of the talking in a lesson is pair and group work. This is not difficult to do at all. For a vocabulary lesson, you can give students pictures to discuss together. Listen for the vocabulary, then afterwards, clarify any vocabulary they didn’t use, drill it and then go into a practice activity. This is much more engaging than students sitting and watching the teacher present 8-10 pictures and saying what they are.

Peer checks are another simple way to have more student to student time. After an individual activity, have students check their answers together. It’s simple, but effective.

#8: Keep instructions simple

Instructions are also a common problem for teachers, and add to the amount of speaking you do in class.

The key here is to plan instructions beforehand. Think about what is the essential information students need, and plan to say this. You can even write a script. It might look something like this:

Ok, we’re going to play a game.

You will be in teams.

1, 2, 1, 2, etc. (give numbers to students)

Put your hand up number 1s. (demo and wait) Number 2s. (demo and wait) (repeat numbering if didn’t work)

Team 1 over here please. (wait for students to move)

Team 2 over here please. (wait for students to move)

One person from your team runs to the board. (demo)

They write a hobby, for example…? (elicit example)

Then they run back, give the pen to the next person and go to the back. (demo)

What’s the first thing you do? (run to the board)

Does everyone run to the board? (no, first person)

Do you write one hobby or three hobbies? (one)

Where do you go when you finished? (back of the line)

Ready? 3, 2, 1, go!

Also, you are expected to use ICQs (instruction checking questions) to check students understand. There are some in the script above. Can you spot them?

#9: Organise your handouts

You will get a lot of handouts on your CELTA course. It’s a good idea to keep them in a folder so that you can refer to them. You want to both on the course and later when you are working in a school.

#10: Work with your colleagues

You are not the only teacher on the CELTA, and in fact you will be part of a teaching practice group. This means that you will teach the same students as the other teachers in this group. You will often share lessons and therefore have to hand over to each other promptly.

You will also observe lessons together and each others’ lessons. It is good therefore to share notes and comments with each other. Of course, you shouldn’t speak with your colleagues while another is teaching, but what you can do is to have a shared document that you all contribute too. I didn’t do this in my CELTA, but on my Delta, we created a google spreadsheet about the students. This was very useful for planning lessons that met their needs.

It was also useful for doing our reflections. When we observed other teachers, we added comments about their lesson so that they could use these in their reflection. Of course, we were supportive of each other, so there was usually more positives than negatives. However, in my CELTA reflections, I often found it harder to write positive things. Not because there weren’t any, but because I was more pre-occupied with what hadn’t gone as planned.

#11: Offload and remember it'll be over soon

Make sure when you are telling people you will be busy you keep a few people open for a chat. At some point during CELTA it will likely get a bit much and you need to be able to call someone and have a rant. It is better to do this than to let it boil up inside and then lose it at your tutors, colleagues or students.

And remember CELTA will be over in one month (or 3 if you’re doing it part time). One day you’ll look back on it and wonder how you are still so sane now!

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