It’s a Monday morning, the first of August to be exact, and I’m sat with a coffee in front of me – one of the omnipresent ciggies on the go as well. On the face of it this should be a good morning. Not a great morning, Swansea is serving up a typical (ahem) summer’s day, weather wise; but a good morning nonetheless. Well, it would be save for the fact I’m suffering from a peculiarly individual condition. It’s a very rare condition which necessitated me finding a name it – post-CELTA comedown. Symptoms include: a creeping sense of dread at the prospect of missing deadlines, low level guilt whenever not nose first in a reference book or grappling with IPA translations and, my particular favourite, sleep deprivation.
On Friday I finished a four week intensive CELTA (Certificate in English Teaching for Adults) course at Swansea University. Accredited by the auspicious Cambridge English (part of the venerable old university in the town of the same name) it’s a four week course which, on the face of it, sounds like a relatively minor, straightforward affair.
To quote another member of the Roberts clan (Julia Roberts in the film ‘Pretty Woman’) – “Big mistake. Huge.”
The course managed to include six hours teaching, twenty hours observed teaching preparation, thirty hours teaching observation and sixty guided learning hours. Now, one hundred and sixteen hours in four weeks doesn’t sound awful – after all, many people can and do work more hours than that in any given four week period; however the real fun started with the ‘out-of-hours’ time required to complete assignments, write stage plans, lesson plans and adapt teaching resources. I think I was particularly unlucky as more than my half of my lessons were grammar lessons (there’s going to be a whole post dedicated to the joys of grammar in the coming weeks) which in some cases meant I had to learn before I could plan to teach. Conservatively, I estimate the additional hours doubled the contact time. I reckon I clocked up one hundred and eighty hours. All of which were before 9am, after 5pm or on the weekend. I think it’s safe to say I’ve never paid to work so hard.
It’s also safe to say that on more than one occasion I considered chucking it all for a life working in a shoe shop (preferably a high end shoe shop). Dark nights of the soul were regular features. The principles of Guided Discovery are hammered home. It doesn’t help when you’re not (yet possibly) a huge fan and you struggle to learn when inflicted, sorry taught, to you.
My fellow trainees were an interesting bunch. We had a couple of intensely bright under grads taking the course as a module for their degree programmes, some equally bright and earnest recent graduates, louche and laid back drifters, one with plans to take Dubai by storm, some taking the course for their own lifelong learning and others upskilling to improve their employment prospects and future earnings. One of my favourites (a likeminded soul who knows how to party & recently arrived home from a teaching stint in Vietnam) commented that taking her TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) course was like spring break compared to CELTA. Speaks volumes I think.
So, if like me you’re thinking being an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) Teacher is a passport to seeing the world, which it undoubtedly is, and that CELTA is the gold standard qualification to achieving that dream, which it undoubtedly is; do yourself a favour and follow my personal Tips for Surviving CELTA:
Tip 1: Catch up on your sleep before you start. Four hours per night is common. (Poor Hazel, a fellow trainee, had more than one sleepless night)
Tip 2: If you’re a native speaker, take a grammar course before you start. Cambridge English do a good one online here.
Tip 3: Be open minded and ready for constructive criticism even when knackered.
Tip 4: Never underestimate how demanding this course is going to be.
Tip 5: Have a good support network to cook you meals and tell you everything will be ok (personal thanks to Craig Reason, who saved me on more than one occasion).
I haven’t really sold this course to prospective trainees. (I may even be off Cambridge’s Christmas card list!) One of my fellow trainees summed it up succinctly to me, on our last day and both a little delirious it was over – CELTA is similar to childbirth; all is forgotten when the end result appears (in this case a qualification as opposed to a baby). I think maybe she was right. I wouldn’t do it again but I’m so pleased that I did.