Some Common Myths About the CELTA
If you surf the Internet, you will see even more misleading or inaccurate comments about the CELTA than about other training courses. Some of these comments are posted in good faith by people who simply do not have access to accurate information. Others are posted by people who have a personal or professional interest in spreading disinformation about the CELTA.
Below, I have tried to dispel some of the most common Internet myths about CELTA courses. My comments are based on postings I made on the ESL Cafe in 2004.
MYTH 1: The CELTA program has no real connection with the University of Cambridge and is not accredited by any significant body.
REALITY: The CELTA program is administered by the ESOL Examinations unit of UCLES -- the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Sydicate. UCLES is a department of Cambridge University, as you can see by looking at the university's web site (www.cambridge.ac.uk). The ESOL Examinations unit has an excellent reputation worldwide, as is shown by the fact that over 1.5 million people take its examinations each year.
The CELTA is accredited by the QCA -- Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The QCA is a public body governed by a board appointed by the UK's Secretary of State for Education and Skills. You can check this by visiting the QCA's web site (www.qca.org.uk).
Note: It has been suggested that the Cambridge link is misleading because some people might think that the CELTA is a degree rather than a certificate. This is just silly! Anyone who thinks that a "certificate" is a BA or BS and that you can get a degree from one of the most respected universities in the world in 4 or 5 weeks is, well, dumb. And, of course, they would be equally "misled" by the certificate programs offered by universities such as Georgetown, UC Berkeley and UCLA.
MYTH 2: CELTA courses are outrageously expensive because centers want to make huge profits and Cambridge charges them high fees.
REALITY: The cost of CELTA courses varies a lot. As you would expect, courses in countries with a high cost-of-living (e.g., the USA) generally charge higher fees than those in less expensive countries (e.g., Poland). However, the cost of CELTA courses is normally competitive with that of quality non-CELTA courses in the same country. You can even find some bargains: CELTA courses run by public colleges (e.g., FE colleges in the UK and community colleges in the USA) may be significantly less expensive than those offered elsewhere.
It is true that CELTA courses (and similar TESOL courses) may cost more than some university certificate programs. This is not because of profiteering but rather because of the trainer:trainee ratio on courses. In my experience, university courses often/usually have a trainer:trainee ratio of 1:10 or worse. CELTA courses usually have a ratio of 1:6 or better.
Cambridge does not charge centers high fees. They charge a fee of about US$150.00 per candidate plus a part of the direct cost (not the salary cost) of an assessment visit to each course.
MYTH 3: Cambridge imposes a syllabus and schedule on all CELTA centers and so all courses are the same.
REALITY: Cambridge imposes a syllabus but individual centers are free to interpret this and they design their own courses and schedules. So course content and approach vary considerably from center to center; they even vary considerably within one center if courses are run by different trainers. It is the responsibility of each center to show Cambridge and assessors how each course effectively realizes the Cambridge syllabus.
Note: We are not talking about minor variations here but about significant differences. I recently assessed a course which based its teaching approach almost entirely on Task-Based Learning. My own courses, on the other hand, take a broader approach to language clarification. They look at and give practice in a variety of approaches, including Test-Teach-Teach, Discovery, Presentation-Practice-Production and Presentation via texts.
MYTH 4: Each CELTA center designs a course and then simply offers this same course over and over again.REALITY: Each team of trainers usually has its own approach and so different teams of trainers within one center usually teach very different courses. Even where the same team of trainers offers several courses a year, there usually are significant changes from course to course. This is because trainers try to adapt their course approach and content to meet the needs of different groups of course participants.
As an example, let me mention just a few of the specific ways in which my last CELTA varied from the previous one.
1. The group seemed to be rather weak on grammar and so we included several extra sessions dealing with grammar analysis and we also included more grammar focus lessons in practice teaching sessions.
2. We included an extra session on sounds because the participants were particularly interested in this area.
3. Most of the participants tended to rely on teacher-centered approaches and so we included extra sessions on using closed pair/group work and on monitoring such work in a learner-centered manner.
4. None of the participants intended to teach children and many already had significant experience with teaching children. So we eliminated a planned session on teaching younger learners.
5. Almost all participants intended to teach in local community colleges rather than overseas. So we replaced planned sessions on overseas job searching, handling culture shock and problems of teaching with limited resources with extra course sessions on CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning), developing students' writing, being sensitive to cultural differences within classes, etc.
Note: We did not ignore the needs of the two participants who hoped to teach overseas. We provided them with a lot of extra written material on relevant job search and cultural areas and I will provide them with individual job search help and counseling after the course.
MYTH 5: CELTA courses require participants to slavishly imitate the approach and techniques modeled by trainers. Participants are not allowed to be creative or to experiment.
REALITY: Participants are exposed to a variety of ways to achieve certain objectives, such as the clarification of meaning of vocabulary items or the correction of students' pronunciation mistakes. Participants then decide how best to achieve these objectives in each of their lessons. They can use one of the techniques that were demonstrated, observed or discussed -- or they can use other techniques.
After lessons and before any feedback by the trainer, the latter asks each participant to reflect on how far they achieved each objective and on how effective their techniques were. If the objectives were achieved, the techniques used were clearly effective, no matter where they came from. If the objectives were not achieved, the trainer asks the participants to think of how the techniques used could have been adapted or replaced by others to make the lesson more effective.
So, participants are helped to see a variety of ways to achieve each lesson objective. They are expected to decide which techniques are the most appropriate for their particular lessons. If they use different techniques, this is absolutely fine, provided that the lessons are effective. Trainees are helped and required to reflect on their lessons, to identify problem areas and to decide how to solve these problems in future lessons.
Note: In my view, the main aim of trainers should be to help teachers learn how to reflect effectively on their teaching, to expand their repertoire of techniques and approaches, and to develop their own personal teaching style. This is what I try to do on my courses and it is what I see trainers doing on other CELTA courses that I observe.
MYTH 6: Intensive CELTA courses impose an impossibly heavy workload on participants.
REALITY: CELTA courses normally involve participation in 120 clock hours of course sessions. Cambridge estimates that participants should expect to spend another 80 hours on homework assignments, mainly lesson planning, and I think this estimate is about right for most participants. So an intensive CELTA run over 4 weeks requires about 50 hours of participation and study per week. This is a heavy workload but it is by no means unreasonable, partly when it is limited to only four weeks. I know an awful lot of people in TESOL and other fields who regularly work more than 50 hours a week.
Note 1: Some people certainly spend more than 20 hours per week on homework assignments. In my experience, these people fall into several different categories:
1) people who do not do the pre-course study recommended by centers
2) those who work very inefficiently and take two hours to do what most of us would do in one hour
3) people who are comparatively weak in language awareness
4) people who are motivated to get the absolute maximum benefit from the courses and/or are absolutely determined to complete the course with the highest possible grade.
Note 2: When I talk with participants (on my own courses or those at other centers) who claim to be spending e.g., 40 hours a week on their homework, I usually find that these people are not really spending this amount of time actually DOING homework. They are spending half of the time DOING their homework and half of the time PROCRASTINATING/THINKING/WORRYING ABOUT the homework. You find people like this in most educational programs and in most places of work, and you naturally also find some on CELTA courses.
MYTH: Becoming a CELTA trainer is easy. Someone who has only the CELTA can become a CELTA trainer.REALITY: Cambridge has to approve all prospective new CELTA trainers and the latter have to successfully complete a thorough trainer-in-training program approved and monitored by Cambridge. This program takes place over several months and involves the performance of a variety of tasks, the compilation of an extensive portfolio and the successful planning and leading, under close supervision, of a number of CELTA course sessions.
To enter a trainer-in-training program, a person has to have (and I quote from the most recent Cambridge handbook):
1) "substantial (normally 5 years), varied and current classroom-based ELT experience preferably in more than one context. Experience of teaching a range of levels and different types of class is a requirement."
2) "the Cambridge DTEFLA, Cambridge ESOL DELTA or Trinity Dip. TESOL. If the proposed trainer-in-training does not have any of the above, the CV of the trainer-in-training must be submitted to Cambridge ESOL for special consideration before training can be approved."
3) "demonstrated professional commitment by being involved in staff development, attending conferences, etc."
Note: The exception implied in 2) is so that people who have an MA TESOL or similar postgraduate degree may be considered for training as a trainer.
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