How To Get The Most From An Intensive CELTA Course
As you have probably heard, 4-week CELTA courses are very intensive. They have to be because there is a lot to cover in a short time and participants have to demonstrate specific skills during practice teaching classes in order to receive certification. As with all training programs, participants who do not approach their course in the best way will probably not gain the maximum benefit from it.
Jeff Mohamed has trained on over 130 CTEFLA/CELTA courses. Below, he gives advice on what you can do to ensure that you realize your full potential during a 4-week CELTA - and that you enjoy your course!
Like all good TEFL training programs, CELTA courses require a lot of commitment and a lot of work. If you take a 4-week CELTA course (rather than a part-time one spread over 3 or 4 months), you will find that the course is very intensive: you have classes all day and then spend most of your evenings/weekends doing lesson-planning and other assignments.
Almost all of the people I have trained in intensive CELTA courses say that it was the toughest four weeks of their education. However, almost all of them also say that they really enjoyed the course. Why? Precisely because it was so challenging: A typical comment is that "I never realized that I could learn so much in such a short time."
I hope that the advice given below will reassure people who are thinking of taking a CELTA program, and that it will help them to get the most out of what I firmly believe is the best TEFL training program in the world.
BEFORE YOUR COURSE
1. Choose a center which has an experienced team of trainers. I would advise against taking a course in a new center or in one that only offers courses on an occasional basis using "imported" trainers.
Courses in new centers always have teething troubles, as do courses run by trainers who are not used to working with each other. For example, less experienced trainers tend to be overly critical and may not be adept at giving you the kind of specific advice which you need. Also, only established centers are likely to be able to provide enough in-course and post-course job placement help.
2. Do the course at the right time and in the right place.
You really need to be able to focus during your CELTA. So don't do the course when you are recovering from an illness, are in the middle of a divorce, etc. Also, avoid doing it in a location where you will have a long commute, will have language problems and/or may suffer from culture shock.
3. Do some pre-course study.
You will face a heavy learning load during your CELTA. You can reduce this load significantly by doing some pre-course studying. Read a good practical guide to TEFL methodology. (See our 'Some Key TEFL Sources' page.) Even more important, work on improving your language awareness, and particularly your understanding and knowledge of English grammar. (Our 'Publications' page has details of a suitable grammar development book for American teachers of EFL/ESL.)
4. Put your social life on hold for the duration of the course.
Class sessions, homework assignments, lesson planning and sleep will take up virtually all your time except for Friday evenings and one day each weekend. So warn your friends and family that you will not be seeing much of them until the course is over.
5. Organize the rest of your life.
You are expected to attend 100% of your CELTA and you will need to devote most of your time to the course. So arrange your life in such a way that you don't have any significant outside commitments, such as weddings, graduation ceremonies or part-time work.
DURING YOUR COURSE
1. Keep the course in proportion.
Some people become obsessive during their course: they work through the night, become very emotional, etc. Try to remember that it's only a training course and not group therapy! If you start working through the night or breaking down in tears, there's something wrong with the course or, more likely, with how you're approaching it.
2. Be organized and disciplined re. paperwork.
You will take a lot of notes and will be given a lot of summary, advice and feedback sheets by your trainers. It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the papers that you accumulate. Take care to file all these papers so that you can access them easily. Also, start every evening by reading your notes, including the trainers' feedback sheets on your practice lessons. Start your weekend study day by reading the past week's notes and other papers.
3. Be particularly disciplined re. lesson planning.
You will have to plan and teach a series of lessons during your course. When you have a lesson to plan, start by reading through the relevant sections of your notes and of handout sheets given to you by the trainers. Then sit down and start planning your lesson on paper, rather than sit around thinking or worrying about how to plan it. Allow yourself a maximum of 3-4 hours to plan a lesson -- less if you're planning a lesson of only 20-30 minutes.
Note: Many lessons fail because the trainees didn't read their practice assignments carefully. Read your assignment with care before you start planning. Then when you've finished your plan, read the assignment again to make sure that your planned lesson meets the requirements of the assignment.
4. Research language items.
Some of your lessons will involve the clarification and practice of vocabulary or grammar items: words, phrases, verb tenses, etc. With these lessons, it is essential that you research the items before you start planning your lesson. (Just about the worst thing that you can do in a classroom is to teach students an incorrect rule, spelling, etc.) So even if you think you totally understand a word, expression or structure, look it up in a dictionary or grammar book.
5. Don't try to reinvent the wheel.
The CELTA is a basic training course and you don't need to produce startlingly creative lessons. So don't waste hours trying to think up new activities or materials: Plan simple but effective lessons using/adapting published material and based on example/procedure sheets given to you by the trainers. If you spend too much time on planning, you won't have enough energy left to interact with the students when you teach your lesson!
6. Don't stress out if some lessons go wrong.
However hard you work, some of your lessons may go wrong. (If you could produce perfect lessons, why would you be doing the course?) If this happens, remember that mistakes are excellent learning experiences. So don't stress out or become defensive, particularly during the feedback discussions after practice lessons. With help from the trainers and your colleagues, identify what went wrong - and then make a specific effort to avoid making the same mistakes in your next lessons.
7. Get to know the students in your practice classes.
The better you get to know the foreign students in your practice classes, the less intimidating they will seem and the easier it will be for you to anticipate and deal with their language problems during lessons. So chat with the students before the start of practice sessions, during coffee breaks, etc. This is particularly important if you have no TEFL/TESL experience.
8. Learn from lesson observation.
You will observe many hours of lessons given by experienced teachers and by your colleagues. It is really important to focus on these lessons because you can learn an enormous amount from them, irrespective of whether the lessons are weak or strong. (You can often learn more from watching a poor lesson than a good one.)
9. Don't spend too much time on written assignments.
You will have to complete four written assignments during your course. Although you need to pass these, they are of little real importance with regard to your development as a teacher or the grade you will receive at the end of the course. So avoid spending too much time on them: 3 hours per assignment should be ample.
Note: When written assignments fail, it is often/usually because the writers did not follow the directions they were given. So read the directions carefully before you start writing an assignment.
10. Be cooperative and courteous -- and punctual.
Even if you feel stressed, be cooperative and courteous to your colleagues, your students, the trainers and the center's staff. Also, be punctual throughout the course. This is all good practice for how you will be expected to behave as a "real" teacher. Also, your behavior during the course will affect the grade that you receive and the reference that the center writes for you afterwards.
11. Don't obsess about grades.
About 70% of CELTA candidates receive a straight "Pass" grade, while about 22% receive a "Pass A" or "Pass B." In my experience, people who worry about getting an A or B grade often become so uptight that they fail to get the grade they were aiming for. So try not to worry about the grades. (Employers rarely worry about them.) Concentrate instead on getting the maximum benefit from the course and on improving your teaching knowledge and skills.
12. Look after yourself physically.
The CELTA is demanding and so you need to stay fit while you are doing it: the last thing you want to happen is to get sick during the course! So make sure you get enough sleep and enough to eat. Use your free day on the weekends to get out into the fresh air and to get some exercise - apart from keeping you healthy, this will help you to keep the course in proportion.
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