Is a CELTA worth your time or money?

It’s just over a year now since I took my CELTA course, and so I feel this is a good time to reflect on how much it has changed me as a teacher. I also remember weighing up whether or not it was worth the investment of $1600+ and a month of my life, I hope this will make the decision easier for anyone who is thinking about it.

Just in case you don’t already know, a CELTA is basically a 120+ hour TEFL course designed and regulated by Cambridge University. It is undoubtedly the most widely recognised and highly regarded of the entry level EFL/ESL teaching qualifications. However, it is widely touted as being extremely stressful and demanding, they even warn you not to take the course if you have any medical conditions or other stress in your life!

I’m going to break down this review into two parts; 1) The Course 2) Is It Worth It?

1) The Course

Each day lasts between 8-10 hours. Each morning you will be involved in a theory session where they will concentrate on a certain aspect of teaching. It is pretty much a lecture, with some activities at the end. Some of these are interesting, some of these, quite frankly, aren’t. I think this can really depend on your tutor. Each afternoon will be spent doing observed teaching. You will do 6 hours of observed teaching over the month. The rest of the time you will spend observing and evaluating other teachers. The observations of these lessons and corresponding scores will form the backbone of your final grade. After the lessons there will be feedback sessions in which you will discuss, with your tutor, what went wrong, how it can be improved, etc. I think this is supposed to be an introduction to some reflective practice, but it needs to be a lot more focused in my opinion. Your evening will be spent lesson planning and completing the 4 written assignments you have to complete.

All in all it is a large work load, but I didn’t find it anywhere near as tough as they would have you believe. It is time consuming, but it’s not exactly difficult. Out of 24 people on my course one failed, because he couldn’t speak English. The fact is they should never have let him on the course. The tutors will make you believe there is a high risk of failure, they will actually encourage you to feel stressed and worry, but the reality is there is nothing in the course that is really that difficult. Just take it easy, do the work, go with the flow and you will pass (if you can speak English). Without a doubt the thing that will take up most of your time is lesson planning, the level of detail they expect you to go into is quite incredible and, in my opinion, unrealistic, though I understand their reasons for demanding such details.

2) Is It Worth It?

In short yes, I think it is, but proceed with caution. I will explain more….

First of all, as I mentioned, it is the most highly regarded of this type of qualification. It is likely that having it will boost your pay (for me by $200 a month) so you will make the course fee back. It will also open up doors to a lot of jobs that wouldn’t have taken a look at you if you didn’t have it. It’s a brand at the end of the day, and it will get you better jobs. Money shouldn’t be the only reason for doing it, although, if we are honest, it is a reasonable one!

Let’s talk about professional development. The course will teach you a lot of techniques and approaches to teaching that are useful in the classroom. They very much focus, in my opinion, on promoting communication among your students, not a bad thing, right? They will train you in giving instructions clearly, the importance of giving students the correct level of support, how to monitor your students correctly, etc. BUT, go into the course open minded. These methods are not the best methods for every teaching situation you will find yourself in, they may try to convince you they are, as it’s their job to teach you how to teach the ‘CELTA way’, but they’re not.

The methods are aimed at small groups of highly motivated adult students, where you have 4 hours to prepare every lesson. How many of us actually find ourselves in this ideal teaching environment? Not many. Many of the practices they are critical of and mark you down for can be utilized in other teaching situations. To be fair though, they do encourage further professional development beyond the course, although they will most definitely try and sell you the DELTA course! Don’t be fooled, it is all about the money!

Also, many of the methods do make sense, you will never have the time to lesson plan in the detail they encourage you too, but that’s fine, when you learn to drive a car they expect you to do things that will go out the window as soon you rip the ‘L’ plate off, it’s the same theory here. They will be highly critical of your lessons, same theory here. The workload is unnecessarily big, but you know, a lot of TEFL jobs out there are highly demanding of your time and energy for little reward. They’re preparing you for the real world as a TEFL teacher in private academies. In retrospect, they were being cruel to be kind.

There’s no doubt in my mind the course made me a better teacher and made me think more critically about how to teach. My advice would be to take the course, learn as much as you can, but when you come to applying it to your lessons, experiment. Pick and choose what works best in different situations. Don’t presume that because you learnt it on the CELTA course it is a universal ESL teaching truth.

In conclusion, I would say most definitely proceed, but do proceed with caution!

Follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

edit: one thing I would like to add is research very carefully the institution in which you will do the course. The tutor you have will make or break your experience. Ask around for recommendations.



20/10/2011 23:57

Thanks for this post. I think I’ll share it with some friends who are debating whether to jump in or not.

I didn’t do CELTA, I did a 130-hour Trinity TESOL which markets itself as identical to CELTA. This is probably true in every way except for the global recognition factor. Both have equal rating by the British Council but most employers don’t know this.

Anyway, one thing I would add is to consider how long and in what context you intend to teach English. For example, teaching in Korea for just a year? You can do an online ITTT certificate for a lot less money and time.

I don’t think the preparation with the online certs is anywhere near the preparation with a location-based certificate that includes observed classroom teaching time, but if you’re just looking at getting hired, then the ITTT is sufficient and will give you a basic crash-course in how to teach. Beneficial no matter what. However, if you’re looking to make TEFL a career or even a longer-term pursuit, or if you have absolutely no prior teaching experience, the heavy-duty location-based TESOL certificates are a better idea.

Also, there are parts of the world where online and lesser-known certificates are seen as inferior to CELTA and other more prestigious qualifications. If you are job-searching in a particularly competitive environment, online certs are probably not the greatest weapon unless you already have a lot of other strengths (like prior experience teaching in a similar situation, or a teaching degree).

No matter what, I feel like my certificate was worth every penny. As you said, a lot of the preparation is unrealistic for the actual job environments we end up in. But I entered my TESOL cert program having already earned a teaching degree and having already taught ESL to kids for a few years. I still learned a ton of truly useful techniques and ideas that changed the way I taught. I absolutely recommend it to anyone seeking a career in TEFL.

21/10/2011 00:16

I’d highly recommend the CELTA to anyone who wants to be a teacher outside of Korea. Without it, you’ll have a much smaller chance of getting a job, and will be paid a lot less. Korea is pretty unusual in that it is possible to get a job without one. So pretty much exactly what Amy said! And as she alluded to, the CELTA name carries a lot of weight- a Trinity TESOL or an ACELS CELT are identical in content, but a lot of schools will only take CELTA.

21/10/2011 00:36

I did the course in NZ. Yes, it was incredibly time consuming, I did it during my last year of Uni, but I still managed to pass. I am not the smart/studious type of person but I am really interested in languages and linguistics, it was sure the toughest time out of all the years of my studies, but it was also enjoyable. The lecturers were really professional and experienced. It is much, MUCH better and practical than an online TESOL course, which also explains why it’s so time consuming and expensive, but it was totally worth it. I would totally recommend it! If I can pass, anyone else can!

01/07/2013 18:46

Hi Steph, just out of interest where did you study you’re CELTA course? I’m currently in NZ and looking for the best place to take the course. Any recommendations would be great. Thanks!

21/10/2011 01:10

I did my CELTA in July at Bolton Community College in the UK. Prepared me unbelievably well and prepared me far too much for what I need in Korea but it is perfect to take to other countries. It is extremely intensive and you have to create all lessons from scratch so preparing materials is very time consuming once you get home in the evening. You literally have no life for a month. In the UK we received an extra qualification alongside the CELTA as well which goes towards a teachers licence in the UK. Maybe other countries will do this?? Also, if anybody is interested in working for the British Council around the world (you don’t have to be British) they only accept applications from people with CELTA (I think certTESOL is equivalent) and 2 years experience, unless of course you have full teaching licences in ESOL.

I also have to agree that the teaching methods are the ‘CELTA Way;. There are lots of other methods out there that you should use and that you will acquire in your different teaching positions.

01/07/2013 18:39

Hi Lee, thanks for this! I’m considering taking the CELTA course but I just read your comment about that extra teacher’s license qualification. Excuse my ignorance but could you provide me with a bit more detail? I’ll be studying CELTA abroad not in the UK, so I don’t think that the course will provide the license. Thank you.

16/10/2012 21:52

Hey guys, thanks for the great info. I would, however, like your advice. I am graduating this May with a MA in teaching Spanish as a second language. I have also been teaching here as a grad assistant for 2 years. Do you think that the CELTA would still be worth it for me to pay for and go through. I am a native English speaker and I understand that it’s focus is on English (and not another language, which is advantageous) but do you think it will be necessary for me in the long run? I’m actually leaning towards doing it but it is a nice chunk of cash to throw out without thinking it through. Thanks for any advice and/or thoughts on the matter. 😀

27/11/2012 20:26

Great advice guy, thanks a lot. I have been toying with the idea of doing CELTA. I have also been a tad worried about the alleged intensity of it all. A friend who did it told me that one of the other students had a two-hour commute to and from where the course was being held and as a result she had no time to do the necessary work. She broke down and left after a week. So, if you’re going for it, proximity should be a major factor, it seems. Poor girl. I’m just finishing a PhD in Philosophy right now and (being a Philosophy student in recessionary times) I am looking to branch out into different areas in universities. Does anyone know if my PhD will bear any kind of support to a CELTA certificate when looking for a university job in teaching English as a foreign language? Any thoughts you might have, I would love to hear them. Thanks guys.

09/04/2013 01:31

CELTA methods have been designed for a very specific classroom environment and are completely inapplicable anywhere else.

When English-language schools were first set up, teachers were faced with large classes of students with no common language. This led to two problems.

1). It was effectively impossible to explain the grammar in a way that everyone could understand. Students who speak languages that use the definite and indefinite articles will not need to be taught when to say “the”. Asian students, by contrast, find the articles very hard to master.

2). There were so many students that it was impossible to give each one personal attention.

How can you effectively teach a class containing 30 Spaniards and 20 Chinese. The short answer is you can’t. CELTA is a way of pretending that you can so that you can continue to charge fees. It’s a giant con.

Most CELTA graduates will go to countries where the majority of students will have been taught English grammar in their own language. Your job is to be the native speaker. If you have reasonably sized class then you should do what you are there to do, which is converse with the students. They can speak to each other in English in their own time if they wish. Split the class up into groups and have some of them do exercises while you engage with the others on a one-to-one basis.

CELTA courses need to justify their existence and so they can be a little like a military boot camp and the instructors are often a bunch of frustrated drill-sergeants. My experience was doubly unpleasant because one of my fellow students objected to my background and so insulted and threatened me for the entire duration of the course. I felt as if I had regressed to primary school. My case was extreme, but expect to be bullied particularly if you are male.

There was also far too little emphasis on the mechanics of the English language. At least two of my fellow students did not know what a past participle was when they arrived and they still did not know when they left. A grammar test at the end would have been a nice idea. CELTA is a case-study is why continuous assessment does not work.

You need accreditation these days to be a teacher and it’s easy see why. Twenty years ago language schools in Japan were full of semi-literate hippes. CELTA is the certificate that opens the most doors, and so it’s worth having. Grit your teeth, treat the teachers with the respect they seem to think they deserve and be very humble. Then use your common sense. Each class is different and different techniques will be required in each case. CELTA is infected with all the usual educational fads and so should probably be treated with the same contempt as a every other teaching qualification.

Think of CELTA as something you need to get through early in life, like the mumps.

19/09/2013 09:45

What are you talking about? Sounds very horrid. Where did you take your course – Institution, country?

19/05/2013 10:03

I’m considering applying for the CELTA in a few months but I’m still undecided where to go first. My original plan was to take the course in NYC, but after having taken a look at how much I’ll have to shell out to cover expenses, I’ve decided to look for alternatives. So my question is…how relevant taking the CELTA in a country where English is not the native language is? Would I get “extra-credited” by institutions if I take it in NYC or London?

02/07/2013 15:47

Great post Jimbo, absolutely spot on.

27/07/2013 11:42

Is celta recognized or valued for teachers of other subjects.
?I’m an insurance science grad hate with stats n maths as my expertise but I want tlo have a endorsed certificate as a teacher

28/07/2013 15:40

Interesting post. It’s a little bit daunting the way they put it, like a life and death situation. That would turn so many ppl away! Question for everyone is: Can I – with a CELTA certification – get a good paying job, full-time, that can pay my bills and allow me to have a living and support my family? A lot of colleges want part-time intructors only so they don’t have to pay health insurace. Can I work in the U.S with such a certification and be able to basically be in a good position financially, have no idea what such teachers get paid…Your insight is appreciated.

04/09/2013 13:10

Will CELTA help to teach in the US?

12/09/2013 12:20

I totally agree with both the writer of this post and Jimbo’s comment. The ‘CELTA way’ will be of no use once you step into the real world. The way they tackle the teaching of English is pretty much a once-size-fits-all kind of approach, like there’s only one kind of student and one kind of teacher.

By the way, any Spaniard who is entertaining the idea of doing the CELTA, think twice. Good luck in finding a job in Spain if you’re not a native speaker of English.


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