Sunday, 13 January 2019

What was the worst thing about CELTA?

High time for an update methinks. For those of you who remember, a year ago I applied to get onto a CELTA (Cambridge English Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course. I'd been wanting to get a language teaching qualification for years, and finally the time seemed right.

Well, I won't lie, it was hell. Interesting, worthwhile even(!), but hell nonetheless. The workload, as I'd been warned about, was insane, and I found it impossible to maintain my usual level of output in terms of the work that actually pays my bills. This wasn't a major problem for my established clients, they seem to appreciate my contributions and were prepared to be patient, but I was forced to pull out on a project handed to me by a new client. I still feel bad about that, but something had to give.

OK, back to the actual course. What was so horrible about it? Let me tell you...

We had to teach one lesson per week, either to a beginners' (A2) or to an advanced (B2) group. The students, all of them adults, were lovely people of different nationalities, motivated, likeable, no problem with them at all. We were required to write up detailed lesson plans before each session. This was horrendously time consuming, but I actually learnt a lot from that.

The core problem for me was that, when it came down to the classroom teaching, we had to then stick to that lesson plan, and that lesson plan was scripted out to the minute, with us being assessed by our teachers throughout. I felt like an ill-programmed robot, like some kind of automaton, constantly clock-watching, forgetting my lines and unable to properly respond to the students' input.

The sessions left me feeling drained and deeply frustrated. My enthusiasm for the language, my ability to relate to the students' struggles built on years of experience as a language learner myself, my willingness to let them steer the lesson to the points that roused their interest and engaged them - in short, everything I thought that I, as an individual forged by decades of language acquisition and exposure, had to offer - was absolutely stifled by this setup.

I do, of course, understand, from the assessors' point of view, why the protocol was designed like this, and I also realise that real-life teaching is a whole different ballgame. Still, the whole experience left me somewhat traumatised, and six months after finishing the course I can't help but feel crestfallen when I think back to it.

Having said that, I learnt a lot from this, and it's changed my perspective on a couple of things for the better, I think. I shall expand on that in the next post.


  1. Bravo for bravely sharing the trauma in a balanced way!!

    1. And for sticking with it in the first place! I'm sure it will pay off eventually - once the trauma wears off. Like you say, it's very different in a real-life classroom. You've read some of my teaching posts - it's more like a zoo than a science lab ;)

    2. LOL! The trauma has whittled me down to a stump of brittle nerves. Maybe I'll recover one day ;-)

    3. Aw, Carissa you need to come back and give me a good kick up the behind, maybe that'll get me into gear! So, is this move to Munich actually happening...?

  2. Teaching in large is scripted now. No matter the subject or age of the student. I'm glad you survived the course, and the discipline of lesson plan writing is important, but you will need to let the moment from time to time take the students into a meaningful experience. Before I retired I once had a principal tell me that there was no longer time for the "teachable moment". We were to stick to the plan and get our students to "pass the test". If you can pick a moment or two that reaches your students and run with it it breaks the monotony and they really do remember.

    1. Gosh, Lynda, that sounds very disheartening :( You must have lots to tell about your many years at the coalface.

      Maybe I'll get down to teaching eventually. Not planning to do it full-time, I think it would burn me out.

      Lovely to hear from you as always.