classroom

Survivor’s Guide to CELTA

Confession: I check my blog stats all the time. All the time. I suspect that many (most?) bloggers do this. There’s a sense of great satisfaction when one of the numbers clicks up. Someone read a thing I wrote! A stranger in Somalia! A stranger in Belgium! I am an Internet Ambassador!

Okay, maybe not quite. Here is the number one Google search which has led people to my blog: turkish men. Here is the number two: turkish man. And number four: türkish men. Five: turkish guys. Not much farther down the list, we have “dating in istanbul”. Good lord, people, it’s like all you think about is sex!

I’m glad we had this little talk.

You know what nobody ever asks me about? The CELTA. It’s kind of frustrating, really. I feel like everyone probably has something like that, something which you know is miserably and utterly uninteresting to most everybody, but which you simultaneously want to talk about so badly that their sobs of boredom seem almost worth it. My “Ask Me About The CELTA” buttons I had specially made sit moldering in my closet.

This is what we have the Internet for. People who want to talk about boring things like cars and baseball can find dozens, possibly even hundreds of people across the world who are also interested in these things. Nobody in my real life (apart from my parents, credit where credit is due) has ever asked me for a slideshow of my travel photos, but on the Internet I can write about my trip to Europe with my boyfriend and there are people out there- people I don’t even know– who will read it on purpose. This, as I said, is the beauty of the Internet. Here, too, I can talk about the CELTA at great length and nobody will suddenly remember that they have a dog grooming appointment.

Would you like some quick facts? Don’t mind if I do!

CELTA:
-Cambridge-accredited course offering certification as a teacher of English as a second language
-Taken by around 10-12,000 people each year
-Offered more or less year-round in over 50 countries at more than 250 centers
-Costs a few thousand USD, plus airfare, expenses, and accommodation
-Can be done full-time over four or five weeks, part-time over a longer time period, or online

Back in March 2011, in the weeks between my first inkling of “hmm, you know what, working at Wendy’s is kind of terrible, perhaps I should do something different” and actually boarding a plane from Raleigh to Prague, I did a lot of frantic Googling. It turns out that there are an enormous number of very professional websites out there which will tell you Basic Things about CELTA. There are surprisingly few- that I could find, anyway- attempting to convey what taking the course is really like as an Average Human. When I searched something normal like “oh god oh god does anybody pass the celta” for instance, I would turn up unhelpful things like its Wikipedia article or the webpage of a testing center, and the banner advertisements in my email would start to hint that maybe retail was for me after all.

oh god oh god does anybody pass the celta

Yes! Very nearly everybody! I found a page today with a detailed breakdown of scores by country here. It varies by a surprising amount, really. Some countries (Bangladesh, Slovenia, Japan) seem to hand out the coveted Pass A’s like Halloween candy, while most everywhere else awards the highest grade to only around 1-7% of trainees. Armenian and Venezuelan centers seem unaware that a regular Pass exists. Ethiopia fails everyone outright (???). On average, though, the Fail and Withdraw categories put together only total up to about 5% of students. You have a 95% chance of passing.

As I understand it, training centers will generally not accept your candidacy unless they feel that you have a strong chance of doing well in the course; that’s the purpose of the pre-acceptance phone or Skype interview, to weed out the unmotivated and grammatically unstable.

most effective bribes for celta interviewers

The phone interview is really, and I can’t stress this enough, really not a huge deal. You send in your initial application with a little quiz on grammar and how you might teach certain concepts, and this is one thing that will come up. You don’t need to get a perfect score. You just need to think about it, do your best, and be prepared to explain your answers. They will make sure that you understand the volume of work the course entails, and check that you are not planning to hold down a job at the same time, which would be a monumentally horrible idea if you opt for full-time.

I did the phone interview twice. The first time I enrolled in CELTA, I backed out at the last second to work at a hostel instead. The second time I went through with it. Both interviews were easy, laid-back, thoroughly unterrifying. Never fear.

celta + stress related fatalities per year

Full-time CELTA is an enormous amount of work. You will be at the training center for roughly eight hours a day, five days a week (100% attendance is mandatory excepting legitimate emergencies). From day one onward, you will have several hours of homework to complete each night- mostly lesson planning and essays- and will more likely than not find yourself showing up at “school” an hour or two early in the morning to finish printing and classroom prep. You will probably drink a lot. By week two, you will lift your head from the puddle of drool on your desk and survey your fellow trainees with a bleary eye. Susie will be crying. Bill is clutching his head- another stress headache, probably. Jonah is rhythmically hammering his forehead into his worksheet on participles. Everybody yawns in unison.

I don’t think anybody has actually died on a CELTA course. You may take comfort in this fact I just made up.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. This has never been more true than in CELTA. It is not at all difficult to pass… provided you do the work. Of which there is a lot.

by Nazreth, very possibly taken during a CELTA lecture

do you listen to theory lectures all day or what

I am one of those people who like to get the worst stuff out of the way immediately. I eat the eggs (disgusting) before the sausages (delicious). You will never hear me say “no, give me the good news first”. CELTA is designed for people like me, apparently, because here is what you do first thing in the morning:

teaching practice

I was the only one in my unusually small class of eight who had previous classroom experience (in Korea and Palestine). Turns out, though, it’s kind of a different ballgame when you know that you’re actually the one getting graded. The whole thing becomes somewhat more stressful than teaching a bunch of Korean kindergartners the ABC had been.

Each trainee gets at least six hours of observed teaching practice. Our full CELTA group was split into two subgroups of four for morning TP (as they call it, being very big on acronyms). Each group was assigned a different teacher trainer and a different class level, pre-intermediate or upper intermediate, both to be switched after week two. From day two onward, everyone taught a sample lesson on alternating days, during which time the other trainees and the teacher trainer would take notes (what worked well, what was terrible, how was the energy in the classroom?). Snoozing gently on your desk was cruelly forbidden.

Afterwards, the students would shuffle out and we would discuss the day’s lessons. I seem to recall that the criticisms we leveled at one another were very tame and hesitant during that first week. A fellow trainee of mine seemed deeply apologetic while explaining that perhaps I had spoken a bit too loudly, which in retrospect probably meant that my primitive bellows were reverberating mercilessly from the walls of the classroom. “Your lesson was good… supremely excellent really… a marvel…” we would tell one another, and then quickly and quietly tack on a minor bit of criticism at the end (“butmaybejustmaybe andIcouldtotallybewrong, Ithinkthepartaboutparticiples waspossiblyalittleconfusing”).

This politeness took a nosedive, along with our collective energy levels, after about week two. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t, like, jerks or anything. But I think it’s really something that CELTA does well; it fosters an environment where everybody understands the value of constructive suggestions. Nobody was offended (I think) when we would openly say things like “the part about the vocabulary made no sense to me. I don’t think it worked at all. And your overhead slides were…” (laughter here, our ongoing battle against outdated technology being just one of the many factors working constantly to unite us). And the trainee whose vocabulary lesson had sucked would be happy about this. Pleased to receive useful suggestions.

what is the point of celta?!

To open up a world of glorious possibilities, of course! When I first heard about teaching English as a Foreign Language, I believe I was twelve and poring over a second-hand copy of Work Abroad (overall a fairly disappointing book as I remember, but I won’t be too harsh on it here; I was, after all, twelve). “You can DO that?” I thought. “People will PAY me for this?”

Years later, I was still somewhat surprised to discover the sheer number of expats or would-be expats who had the same happy realization. But maybe I shouldn’t have been. Teaching English is pretty much the single easiest way for its native speakers to live sustainably overseas. It seems to be getting easier every day as English becomes increasingly crucial across the world and language schools spring up like weeds anywhere the demand is great enough.

So do you really need CELTA certification? There’s a lot of debate around this question. The short answer is no, not really. There are certain countries in which your chances of employment don’t seem significantly impacted by certification (South Korea among them, which is possibly the number one destination for ESL teachers globally). Others will depend on the particular school you’re applying to, some of which may accept you with a different qualification, even one from the often-scorned online certification courses, or no qualification at all. If you have a degree in teaching, you will be able to parlay that into a good job in many places.

The long answer, though, is yeah, kinda. If you’re serious about teaching English, getting reputable certification (meaning, essentially, either CELTA or Trinity TESOL) is a very, very, very good idea and will open a whole lot of doors. Now that the weeks of pounding headaches are a distant memory for me, I can heartily recommend it.

Extra-special shoutout to AKCENT IH Prague, who mailed me my certificate from nearly three whole years ago with nothing more than a “huh, we were starting to wonder if you still wanted it.”

Happy teaching 🙂

Featured image by Eric James Sarmiento

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