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.

 

Comments

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.

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Colin
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.

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Steph
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!

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Rachel
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!

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Lee
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.

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Rachel
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.

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Levi
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. 😀

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Michael
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.

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Jimbo
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.

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vi
19/09/2013 09:45

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

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Phil
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?

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Nick
02/07/2013 15:47

Great post Jimbo, absolutely spot on.

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Farheen
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

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Marie
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.

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Jill
04/09/2013 13:10

Will CELTA help to teach in the US?

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M.
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.

Co-Teaching in South Korea

Next week we have the bi-annual open class day at my school. This is when parent are invited to view and evaluate our classes. This is a practice I don’t really agree with, but I go along with it as it’s a part of the Korean system (although I am a huge believer in peer evaluation).

It also just so happened that one of my co-teachers, whom I will be teaching with during the open class read the lesson plan I sent to all my co-teacher for next week, this was the first time this academic year. I knew because she said to me “Alex, this lesson plan, it needs changing as it makes it look like I don’t do anything in the class”, to which I replied “{edited for political correctness as my site is getting quite a large audience nowadays}”. Anyway, I did eventually agree to build a larger role into the lesson plan for her, just as I used to at the beginning of the academic year, before I realised she neither read the lesson plans nor {edit}. This is not a complaint by the way, I love teaching by myself and find the students actually more engaged and concentrate more when I do.

I thought it would be nice to write about what co-teaching is really like for those who are thinking of coming and teaching in Korea. At the moment the internet is filled with information from people who seem to have a serious chip on their shoulder for one reason or another, and have only terrible things to say about teaching in Korea. The other side of the coin are the job agencies trying to get you on the plane as quick as possible so they get their commission!

So here’s my attempt on a guide as to what you expect if you’re thinking about coming to teach in South Korea:

(1) The “I really don’t want to be here” co-teacher.

This co-teacher can be found at the back of the room laughing every time a new kakao talk message comes through!! Oh and the phone won’t be on silent!! But this co-teacher isn’t necessarily a bad thing!! She/he will let you plan the lessons how you want, prepare the materials how you want, and conduct the lesson how you want. I usually find that experienced teachers enjoy the freedom this allows, inexperienced teachers can end up with 30 8 years terrorizing them and making them wonder how someone who looks so cute can possibly be so evil, while the co-teacher receives so many kakao talk messages you wonder if she’s messaging herself!!

(2) The “lack of confidence but wants to get involved” co-teacher.

Some co-teachers will have a huge amount of teaching experience, but a serious lack of confidence speaking English. This can go one of two ways, they can be a fantastic co-teacher, such as one of mine is, and help you control the class and monitor the class, but not really have the confidence to speak in English in front of the students. I think these teachers are usually a bit older. I have heard of other teachers like this that feel the need to get involved in other, sometimes more negative ways. They walk around the class giving a student a good bollocking for some minimal infringement when you’re trying to explain an activity or makes a students do 30 press ups half way through an activity for not working properly, resulting in all the students around the area not working properly either!!

(3) The “I’m in control, you look like a tape recorder” co-teacher.

I’ve never experienced this myself, but I know enough people who have. This co-teacher will have you do lesson plans, tell you they’re a load of crap, make you completely redo them, then take over the lesson and use you as a human tape recorder as and when needed. If you end up with this co-teacher I figure there is two things you can do: a) not give shit, collect your pay at the end of each month and accept you’re getting paid for nothing. b) speak to your co-teacher respectfully and patiently, try to discuss ways in which you can have more involvement with the class, suggest activities you could do with the students for 10 minutes at the end of the lesson and build from there.

(4) The “help you when you need it” co-teacher.

This is probably seen as the ideal co-teacher. They help with your lesson plans if they have a concern, will co-teach with you to help you monitor the students, and if you need it give examples. Or they might set up a system where they teach for half the class and you assist them, and then you teach for half the class and they assist you. Either way they to come to an agreement with you on what the best way to teach the classes is.

At the end of the day co-teaching comes down to personalities, outlooks on education, your relationship and also how much support they think you need. I’m sure people have experienced many other types of co-teachers I haven’t mentioned here, but I think these have been the common from my experience and from talking to other people. If you do get to Korea and you have problems with a co-teacher I recommend setting up meetings and sternly, but calmly, explaining what the problem is and offering solutions. As of yet I know very few people, if anyone, who has had their entire experience in Korea ruined by their co-teacher, unless they didn’t even try to do anything about it.

Don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh or pop your email address in the field to the right for automatic updates when I post new blogs.

Learning from the Perils of Student Feedback

At the end of last semester I asked my students for very structured and detailed feedback on their feelings towards their course and my teaching style (to see the blog click here). This semester I decided to approach the task of obtaining student feedback very differently. I simply gave the students two pieces of paper and asked the students to write on one piece of paper ‘one thing they liked about the course that we should keep the same for 1st grade students next year’ and ‘one thing they think we could change to improve the course for the 1st grade students next year’. Their only other direction was that I only wanted to know about my course, not the other native teacher’s course. As you can tell these questions are extremely vague and also very subjective, I designed them like this as I really wanted to know the first thing that popped into my students heads.

They feedback from these questions has been…… interesting and exemplified many of the issues we must take into account when learning from our students’ feedback.

Without a doubt the most common feedback given for ‘a thing we should change’ has been that I should give less homework. That would be fine, apart from the fact I have only given one VERY short homework activity this semester! The other native English teacher has given homework every week though, so I can only imagine the students have got confused regarding where the homework has come from. They have simply thought conversation class = homework. So this presents my first issue:

1. Often students may not be giving feedback specifically on the course we ask, but (consciously or unconsciously) their general feelings towards English, our institution, their feelings towards life or anything else at the forefront of their minds.

For the next few classes that day I purposefully mentioned to the classes, before the feedback activity, that they had not received any homework this semester. I hoped that by slyly getting that in there I might encourage students to think about something other than homework, I was wrong. More than half of the feedback slips then said “give more homework to the students next year” often justified by adding “because it will help them improve and practice their English”. That is a good reason, although I’m sure that somewhere in the back of their minds they just want the new students to have to work even harder than they did! This presents another problem with student feedback:

2. We have to consider the motivations for a student’s feedback. Their comments may not always be motivated by wanting to achieve the same goals as we are.

Another very common comment for something I could change centered around a certain type of activity I have regularly used this semester. This activity involves students having to summarise pieces of information and then share their findings with others in the class to complete the whole task. It’s a very standard mingling activity, one that I find extremely effective and results in a large block of constant speaking and listening practice. Some of the student’s don’t seem to like it as they don’t like getting out of their seats and they don’t like having to speak to so many people in the class in English. It is, however, a fantastic activity for practicing a large number of skills, I find it very effective, but the students suggested removing it. This brings me to a third problem:

3. We are the professionals, not our students (or their parents for that matter). Sometimes we have to go with what we think is best for our students whether they like it or not, this can include curriculum design, classroom activities, rewards and punishments. We should not take negative feedback literally.

Many students also made comments regarding the logistics of the classes, such as that we should have a lesson outside when possible, that they would prefer it if there was no Korean co-teacher in the room or that classes should be mixed. Most of these things I actually agree with them about, apart from the co-teacher suggestion, as I am fortunate to have extremely professional and effective co-teachers at my school. These suggestion are, however, logistically impossible, for legal reasons a co-teacher must be in the class, for safety reason classes are not allowed to be taken outside without permissions from the vice-principle and having mixed classes is a decision that would be made by the school not me, which brings me to the final problem with students feedback:

4. Students are often unaware of the logistical reasons as to why certain decisions are made and why certain limitations are put in place and the boundaries we have to work within as teachers. Unless these issues are discussed with the students after they have given the feedback they may think they are simply being ignored.

Of course I am not suggesting ( even for a nano-second) that we shouldn’t engage in student feedback, for me it is one of the most invaluable tools for professional development we have, but we have to be aware of the limitations in order to make the feedback as useful and meaningful as possible. By being aware of the problems above I can narrow down what I should be learning from the feedback.

To provide very brief examples, from the first couple of suggestions I can learn that homework is obviously a sensitive issue to my students. This is understandable considering they are in academies until 10 p.m every night, so I must make sure that next year I make students aware of exactly why they are being given homework, what the benefits to them in completing it are and give them ample time and support in completing it. From the third suggestion I can learn that I need to spread these types of activities out so they don’t over-burden students, this year they were heavily concentrated in the second semester, next year I will plan the syllabus more evenly. The fourth problem can help me realise not that I should ask my co-teacher to leave the room next year, but that her role and how the students can benefit from having her in class must be made clear to the students at the start of the course.

Student feedback is invaluable, but only if we are aware of the difficulties involved with collecting and analysing it. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as getting some feedback and making the changes. Student feedback isn’t always as objective or clear as we would like, but there are always important lessons learn.

Don’t forget you can follow my slightly more concise ramblings on twitter @AlexSWalsh or to keep updated with AlienTeachers ‘like‘ us on facebook!

Things that may not have happened if I didn’t use twitter

It’s a beautiful spring day here in Seoul and whilst sitting outside, enjoying a choco-fudge ice cream (unbeatable at only 700won/70 cents/40 pence), and watching the 3rd grade boys show off their finest football skills in a bid to impress the watching 3rd grade girls, I got thinking about how my involvement with English language education had changed in just the past 18 months.What seemed to be a clear catalyst for many of the changes was my accidental uptake of twitter for professional networking. I never actually meant to use twitter for professional networking (I believe I initially created the account to let Joey Barton know about my particular disdain for him). The professional networking started happening when I began following one or two other teachers here in Korea. From there it began snowballing, and my twitter feed eventually became the network of educators around the world it is now.


PictureIt’s good to talk!

So here are a few things from the past 18 months that may not have happened if it weren’t for twitter:I may not have started this blog. Actually, I didn’t really know what a blog was until some were linked in my twitter feed.I probably wold not have met someone who I now consider my mentor and friend, Mike Griffin.

I definitely would not have presented at three (or any for that matter) conferences.

I definitely would not have been involved with #KELTChat and therefore may not have met people who I now consider colleagues and more importantly friends, to name just a few AlexAnneJosetteGemma and John.

I may not have jointly started the ESL Learners Output Library with John, a project we are still working and presenting on.


Picture

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have begun this morning’s lesson by throwing a ball to my students and asking them questions that reviewing last week’s class. In fact, I wouldn’t be doing a lot of things I do in class that I have learnt from other educators around the world.I may not have kept my job when one of the two teachers here had to leave for budget reasons last year.I definitely would not be as involved or passionate about reflective practice as I am now.

I almost certainly would not have been able to offer my after school class the opportunity to communicate with students in Brazil and Japan.

Finally, as a personal shout out to a friend who is having his wedding party tomorrow, I would most probably would not have been invited to the wedding of two really awesome people, Manpal and his beautiful wife Rachelle!



So what is my point? To be honest I’m not too sure. I know that my point isn’t that we should all be sat on twitter 24/7, especially on beautiful spring days like today and extra-especially when there are choco-fudge ice creams available at such reasonable prices. Actually, I’m not really sure I had a particular point in mind when I started writing this, so, with Friday evening fast approaching, I think I might just live on the wild side and leave this blog post without a point!

I would love to hear from you (either in the comments or on your own blog) about things that have changed for you  thanks to your professional network.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Promoting Student Reflections (failures, successes and lessons)

reflective thinking focuses on the process of making judgments about what has happened. However, reflective thinking is most important in prompting learning during complex problem-solving situations because it provides students with an opportunity to step back and think about how they actually solve problems and how a particular set of problem solving strategies is appropriated for achieving their goal.

(Why) Promote Student Reflection?This year I set myself a number of goals based on new things I wanted to try, one of those was to introduce student reflections to my course. The main reason for this was that the methods I use in the classroom are often alien to my Picturestudents. Korean students are often used to a teacher centered approach to language teaching that focuses on listening and reading comprehension and recognition of complex grammatical patterns. Given this, I often felt like, and feedback indicated that, students were not sure why we were doing the activities we were doing. Rather than simply tell the students, I wanted them to form their own conclusions about the reasons for and usefulness of the tasks set in my class. Besides this issue, I also believe there are a number of other benefits to promoting student reflection:

  1. It will help students retain information and lessons learnt in English class.
  2. It helps develop critical thinking skills.
  3. It is an opportunity to check student comprehension of tasks and information from class.
  4. It will helps students organise, develop and evaluate their thoughts on English language learning.
  5. It is a chance for me to check what students are enjoying, whether tasks have worked as intended and to improve lessons for the future.

Of course, as ever I had a number of issues to deal with. Firstly, my school didn’t want me to dedicate any class time towards this, I only see my students once a week and the English department did not believe we had the time available. Secondly, my students spend most of their time outside of school in private academies, limiting how much time I could expect students to dedicate to this outside of class. Thirdly, my students have never been asked to do anything like this before (I found out the true extent of this the hard way).


Those who know me will get this joke (I hope!)

(How) Learning from FailureFailure #1. I wanted to keep things simple, so after the first class of the semester I set as homework the task of making 3 goals for the first unit of English conversation class and an explanation as to why they chose each goal. I gave examples, explained why this task was important and was expecting some interesting goals. Next class I took in their homework and read goals such as:”I want to lose weight”            “I want to play in the premier league:Picture“I want to get taller”             “I want to eat more breakfast””I won’t sleep in class”      “I will get a boyfriend”It was a massive failure. In retrospect, I believe there were a number of reasons for this, the main reason being that wasn’t assessed and wouldn’t affect their final grade. The students had obviously not read the question or example properly, had spent no more than two minutes on it and hadn’t thought about it at all. I should have known really, Korean students are so focused on grades that if it isn’t linked to their grade then many just aren’t motivated or in a position to do it.

Failure #2. This was a fail on my part. I decided I would try using exit slips in class that would promote student reflection. The basic premise is that at the end of class students fill in a slip on which they have to answer reflective question, they must then hand it in when leaving the room. I’ve attached a .pdf of the exit slips at then end as I still believe that in certain contexts they can be really useful. I had a number of issues with them though, first of all they took a lot longer than five minutes, secondly, I rarely have even five minutes left at the end of class, thirdly, my students are too exhausted by the end of class to effectively complete the slip.
Success!I decided to have one more throw of the dice, the course I developed is split into four units. At the end of each unit the students get a written assignment, I decided to use this written assignment as a chance to encourage student reflection on the wPictureork we had done in unit 1. I also made the decision to make this an assessed piece of work worth 1% of their final English grade (in Korea 1% if the difference between success and failure). However, it was a simple pass or fail, if the students answered the questions properly and put in their best effort they would pass. I made it this subjective as I didn’t want to fail any of the students, but I wanted them to really think about the questions. The students were given three weeks to complete the assignment.The students answers simply blew me away with their depth of thoughts and reflections. The students were also extremely honest which allowed me to learn about what they want from the class, for example many students commented to they would like more time for free speaking practice in class. I’ve attached a couple of examples just below the lessons learnt.

Lessons Learnt1) The teaching context will greatly affect how the best way to implementing student reflections. I recommend trial and error.2) Keep it simple, if students are struggling with reflective work or have not done it before keep it very structured and keep the questions specific. There will be opportunities to make the process more open once students are accustomed to reflecting on their work.3) Of course it would be great if students did not need to be baited by making the reflections assessed etc., but the most important thing is getting the students reflecting, so use whatever means you can to do this. Again, there is time to change this later once the students are more used to the process.4) Be realistic, both in terms of what your students can do and what you have time to do.Well, that’s about it. I hope this encourages the promotion of some more student reflections. If you use student reflection I would love to know how you go about doing it or any tips you have for me regarding how I can progress my student reflections. If you decided to start promoting reflection with your students, please let me know how it goes!AlienTeachers doesn’t have a mailing list, but if you want to keep up to date you can follow me on twitter or like my facebook page.

Stories & Tips from My ELT Job Hunt

My regular reader(s) (hi Mum!) may have noticed my lack of recent blogging. Well, to cut a long story short, right after I finished my MA I found out my job had been cut from the school budget. So, armed with 4 years’ experience, a CELTA and an MA TESOL, I have been job hunting. Here are a couple of stories and tips from my experiences; they will hopefully be useful, interesting or just funny for others job hunting. The stories are in order of how far though the application process I got (along with some random irrelevant ratings).
789109870
Story 1 – Universities in KoreaThis is a short story. I applied for around twelve jobs at universities throughout Korea. I didn’t get a reply from a single one. It seems in their infinite wisdom the Korean government has introduced a new regulation stating that to work at a university in Korea, you must have at least two years university teaching experience in Korea. I don’t think you need me to explain the absurdness of this regulation. One friend recommended I apply to his university, but then told me he was unsure if I would get the job because of my appearance. I can only presume he was referring to the fact I have a very short beard and slightly long hair. I decided not to apply for that job.Annoyance rating 8/10Story 2 – High Schools in KoreaI love teaching high school level students and, with my school feeling a bit guilty about leaving me in this situation, the vice principle contacted all the local high schools to ask if they would be hiring a NET next year and, if so, to recommend me personally. Success! A nearby girls’ school was hiring for next semester! Unfortunately though, after reading (haha, ye right) through my resume, cover letter, statement of teaching philosophy and student evaluations for the past two years, there was a problem. You see, I am not Korean, I am also not married, and this meant that, in the eyes of the principle, those two things put together meant I was a sexual risk to the students. Because, as they explained, there have been a number of sexual scandals involving non-married foreign men in Korean public schools in recent years. You didn’t know that? Me neither. I wonder why… So, after being accused of being a potential sexual risk I decided to withdraw that application.

Offensiveness rating 12.5/10


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Kindergarten – not what I’m looking for right now
Story 3 – A University in VietnamMy initial plan was to move to Vietnam. I applied for a couple of positions and heard back from all of them, only one of which was recruiting though. However, unlike Korea, they did all pay me the courtesy of replying. After receiving my application I received a timely response and was asked to fill an application form (I’ve put the full list of questions contained on the application form at the bottom of this post). The application form was very time consuming to fill in, but also very interesting. I found it reassuring that I was being asked detailed questions about my pedagogical approach and educational philosophies, as opposed to my marital status. Following this I was offered an interview which I ended up turning down to accept an offer elsewhere.Professionalism rating 10/10Story 4 – Jobs with the British CouncilWorking for the British Council has been a long term ambition of mine. I respect the amount of work they do to assist teachers throughout the industry and would also enjoy the professional development opportunities they offer. To apply I had to fill in an application form on their website that was then sent to the East Asia recruiting team. I applied for positions in Vietnam, Korea and Thailand. I was left with two impressions from this process:

1) They prefer you to be in country (I was only offered an interview for the Korea position).

2) For the initial application the primary concern is meeting minimum qualifications, which is two years post-CELTA experience.

I was offered an interview in Seoul. The interview was pretty challenging, I was asked a lot of questions about teaching young learners, especially kindergarteners. This was difficult for me as my experience is mainly with teenagers. I was able to answer the questions based on my experience with kindergarteners four years ago, but I left frustrated and feeling I wasn’t able to share the aspects of the teaching that I wanted to. The interviewers were extremely professional though and didn’t rush me at all. On reflection here are a couple of tips on how I would approach a BC interview in the future:

– Find out exactly what age range the job is for. I actually wasn’t aware the BC taught kindergarteners and wasn’t prepared for questions about my experiences teaching this level. My friend who works for the BC Bangkok doesn’t teach students below twelve so it seems it varies from center to center.

– Rather than preparing to answer specific questions for the list of behaviours they will send in advance, think about what five or six things you want them to know about you as a teacher. These things are what I wish I had tried to emphasise in the interview. Next think about how you can relate these to different scenarios. The reason for this is the questions they asked were very specific, for example ‘tell me about a time you have obtained feedback from a group of LOW LEVEL ADULT learners’. With questions so specific it is very hard to predict the questions they will ask, so think of some features about you professionally that you want them to know and emphasise these in your answers. I made the mistake of trying to predict the questions and making specific answers that I never got the opportunity to use. Also, be prepared to make up examples.

I still don’t actually know if I am accepted for this position, however I have decided to accept an offer elsewhere.

Difficulty rating – 7/10


Story 5 – College Level Position in the Middle EastA friend recommended a job teaching for AMIDEAST who are starting a new project in Saudi Arabia. To be honest, I had never considered teaching in Saudi Arabia, but it looked a very interesting opportunity, a new challenge and an exciting package to go with it. The application process had a number of stages:

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My home to be

1) Send resume + cover letter.

2) Write two short essays; a statement of teaching philosophy and how I use technology in the classroom. (I’ve attached the essays I wrote below).

3) Have an interview with the regional quality control manager of AMIDEAST.

4) Have a second interview with a representative of the university who would be paying me.

The essays were self-explanatory, so I’ll jump into some more details about the interviews.

The first interview was very interesting, the second was very challenging, but both were extremely interesting and professionally conducted. The first lasted around an hour, I was a nice relaxed interview where I didn’t really feel like was being tested so much as being scoped out. We discussed (I’ve put the emphasis on discusses as it really was a two way where we both shared our opinions and views) our beliefs on education, how we deal with culture in the classroom, the importance and need for professional development and so on. The interviewer shared his experiences with me of teaching in Saudi Arabia which was very interesting.

The second interview was a lot more challenging. The questions were very structured, and every single answer I gave was challenged. Not in an aggressive way, but in an ‘I want to know if you’re blagging this’ way. To give an example:

Q) If you took over another teacher’s class, and found the students were very far behind and didn’t seem to know the materials that they would be tested on, what would you do? What would you tell management? What would you tell the students? What would you say to the other teacher?

This was then followed up with:

Q) But, what if the teacher was older than you, do you really think he would want advice from someone as young as you? Don’t you think it is your responsibility to let the students know what situation they’re in? 

Or another question I was asked:

Q) If you watched a teacher’s class, and noticed a couple of students were using the present continuous incorrectly, whose fault is that? Is it the teacher’s fault? The material’s fault? The students’ fault?

Followed up with:

Q) So, in relation to your answer, change it around, if you were the teacher, is it your fault? Is it even a problem?

Followed up with:

Q) Right, so you think it is a problem, what are you going to do about it?

The interview went on like this for almost 1 1/2 hours!

Stress Rating – 10/10

I was offered the job in Saudi Arabia, and so on November 20th I will be moving to Saudi Arabia.

Well, I hope some of that was either useful or entertaining. Hopefully with my MA done and job secured I can get back to blogging!


Questions on the application form for a university in Vietnam:

1. What do you enjoy about EFL/ESL teaching?  Why?
2. Name two of the difficulties you have encountered while teaching in an EFL/ESL classroom and explain how you have handled them?
3. Give an account of what you have done for your own CPD over the past couple of years.
4. What are three of your favourite activities that you use in the classroom to help students reinforce a particular language point or skill?
5. What are some examples of error correction methods you use in the classroom?
6. What are some activities you use to make reading more interesting and fun for students?7. 
7. Please provide an example of an activity you would use to differentiate between past simple and present perfect in class? At what level would you introduce this grammar point?
8. Pronunciation can sometimes be a problem for students.  Please list two specific pronunciation problems your students had and detail how you worked with them to overcome those difficulties.

Job sites
For jobs in the Middle East and Vietnam I used www.tefl.com
For university jobs in Korea and Taiwan I used http://www.profsabroad.com/

Why and How to Create an Online ELT Portfolio

In yet another twist, I was very recently offered, and accepted, a teaching position at the British Council in Seoul. If you’ve read my previous post you know that at the end of my interview with the BC I didn’t feel like I had sold myself to the best of my ability. However, as I’m going to talk about now, I still managed to get myself a job offer out of it.Shortly after receiving the job offer I bumped into my interviewer (it turns out we live on the same street). We got talking, and he mentioned to me that what tipped the job in my favour was that I took to the interview a portfolio of my work, and that they could access my online teaching portfolio to see a video of me teaching and sample materials. In his words, it demonstrated to them my commitment to the profession and my drive to improve as a teacher, as well as giving them something physical to look at when considering my application, compared to the other thirty which were based only on what was said during the interview.This was extremely satisfying to hear as I had invested about 20 hours over the previous weeks creating my online teaching portfolio, with no idea whether anyone would ever actually look at it, but as it turns out it has allowed me to stay in Korea with my fiancée and work for one of the most exciting employers in the industry.So now I’m going to explain a little about how I created my portfolio. I’m going to concentrate on how to create the online portfolio, as the physical portfolio consisted of printed out copies from the materials contained on my online portfolio.What is a Teaching Portfolio?

To put it very simply:

A teaching portfolio “describes and documents multiple aspects of your teaching ability”, in other words, it is a collection of resources that show you at your best.

As well as a means of9383198 securing promotions and jobs, teaching portfolios are also an important reflective tool. If you are interested in using a portfolio as a means of reflective practice I highly recommend reading ‘Professional Development for Language Teachers: Strategies for Teacher Learning’ by Thomas Farrell & Jack Richards (Ch.7).

Platform

The first thing you’re going to need is a platform for your online portfolio. I tried at least five different platforms, many of which were specifically designed for creating teaching portfolios. However, in my experience, a website creation service called Weebly was able to produce by far the most professional looking portfolio. The basic Weebly service is free, and although the paid for service offers a couple more options, you can do everything you need with the free service.

Weebly will allow you to pick a theme, and from there you simply drag and drop elements such as documents, videos, text and pictures to where you want them to be. When it comes to publishing the site, Weebly will even give you a free domain name, or you can buy a personalised one. I chose to buy one as I believe it looks more professional.

Content

It’s really up to you what you put in your portfolio, and a lot of the things might take several months to collect. The main thing is you are trying to sell yourself as a teacher and show off your accomplishments and your dedication to future development. I’m going to briefly go over a few things I decided to put in my portfolio and how I went about creating them.

1. Statement of Teaching Philosophy (+ Resume)

This was one of the most time consuming components to put together, and to be honest I still don’t think I have got mine quite right. However, I know for a fact that having this was one of the reasons I was offered the job in Saudi Arabia. I used a number of free resources to put together my teaching philosophy:

Alison Boye – Writing Your Teaching Philosophy

Helen Grundman – Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement

Chris O’Neal et al. – Writing a Teaching Philosophy for the Academic Job Search

2. Evidence of Your Competencies and Commitment to Development

The next thing you want to do is show how good you are as a teacher. Hopefully, you collect regular feedback and evaluations from your students. If not, then I recommend starting now. However, the important thing is not the numbers but what you do with the numbers. Try to also have your reflections regarding what you have learnt from the evaluations and feedback.

I also recommend including the feedback from any assessed open classes you have taught. Again, the most important thing is to also document your reflections on these to show how you are developing as a teacher.

3. What You Teach

I would also include evidence of what you teach and why you teach it. I included sample lesson plans, the high school curriculum I have developed, materials for teacher training workshops and presentations I have conducted and samples of the work I have conducted with my students, especially extra-curricular projects that demonstrate my commitment to their development. Although I haven’t yet, I would also include evidence of how you develop your students, such as examples of feedback you have provided students or how you deal with error correction.

4. Evidence of Your Commitment to the Industry

Finally, I would include anything that can document your commitment the EFL/ESL industry. This could be research you have done, papers you have written, articles for blogs or teaching magazines and/or awards you have received.

If you would like to see my (still under construction) teaching portfolio you can do so at www.alexsrwalsh.com

I recommend starting to collate your portfolio as soon as possible. I was very lucky in that I started putting mine together roughly a month before I found out I would have to find a new job. If I had left it until the job hunting process began it wouldn’t have been possible to collect all the information in time, and I would have probably not received the two job offers I did.

Regarding the materials I took to the interview with me, I basically took printouts of my resume, teaching philosophy, sample lesson plan, student feedback (with reflections) and my assessed class feedback.

Other Useful Links:

UCAT – Guide on Creating a Teaching Portfolio

ICALTEFL – What is a Teaching Portfolio?

WHOHUB – Practice Interviews


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