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!
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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.
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.