The importance of going beyond CELTA

It has been four years since I passed my CELTA course, which proved to be a life-changing experience because it allowed me to start working in a new field and move to another continent. It also gave me an opportunity to be trained by knowledgeable tutors who provided me with useful advice. I highly recommend this course to aspiring teachers.

That said, it’s important to note that CELTA is a foundation-level qualification with very low minimum entry requirements. I often compare it to a four-week boot camp that provides you with basic survival techniques. This blog posts focuses on the course’s shortcomings in order to demonstrate why it’s necessary to keep improving as a teacher after obtaining the certificate.

Tips for getting a CELTA Pass A

It doesn’t address the use of L1 in the classroom
My teaching practice group on the CELTA course comprised students from four different countries, so there was no other choice but to use only English in the classroom. Even if your group is monolingual and you speak the students’ language, CELTA promotes the idea of teaching English through English. Of course, this is something practical because your lessons are observed and you can’t require tutors and assessors to be able to speak all kinds of languages. Being able to teach English without referring to L1 is undoubtedly a very useful skill to have, but if you land a job in a country like Colombia, using the learners’ mother tongue in the classroom can be really helpful.

It doesn’t prepare you for teaching young learners
The A in CELTA used to stand for adults. The certificate’s official name now refers to speakers of other languages instead, but it still didn’t provide me with any kind of training for teaching young students. When I was assigned my first course with ten-year-olds, I was completely out of my depth because you simply can’t treat children as adults. You can eventually figure out how to deal with teenagers, but teaching children while equipped with just a CELTA can be a very challenging experience.

It doesn’t pay much attention to phonology
To be fair, we did have two input sessions on teaching pronunciation. The problem is that this area is so complex that you need to spend much more time on it. The sessions were mainly about having fun with the phonemic chart, which was quite confusing and I had no idea how to use it in the classroom. The observed CELTA lessons didn’t need to include any in-depth pronunciation teaching; simple drilling activities were considered to be sufficient. If you wish to help your learners improve their pronunciation, you need to understand how individual phonemes are produced and why being aware of features connected speech is crucial for understanding spoken English. It all started to make more sense to me a year and a half after my CELTA when I read Adrian Underhill’s book Sound Foundations.

It promotes a flawed approach to teaching skills
If you decide to take a Delta Module Two course, you will most likely be told by your tutors that you need to move on from what you were taught during your CELTA when it comes it teaching skills. This is particularly emphasised when it comes to receptive work because the comprehension approach with the usual pre-, while-, and post- stages is based on testing what the students already know, and that’s not good enough. You can actually do much for your learners by teaching relevant sub-skills and processes that can help them understand texts. I found John Field’s book Listening in the Language Classroom extremely helpful in this regard.

It doesn’t deal with SLA
CELTA is a very practical qualification, which is great because you learn a lot of useful techniques. However, it is quite prescriptive and you are just supposed to do what your tutors tell you. There is no time for reflection on why you are teaching in that particular way. If you are a curious person, you’ll probably want to know how people learn foreign languages. Being aware of the main SLA theories can influence your decisions in the classroom. Again, reading about this area takes a lot of time, so this is not something that can happen overnight.

It can lead to complacency
Obtaining a CELTA is very helpful in terms of career prospects. Even if you have an unrelated degree, you can take this short course and you will find it relatively easy to land an entry-level TEFL position in quite a lot of countries. Losing your job isn’t the end of the world because you are likely to find a new one somewhere else with this certificate. This safety net can have some negative effects, though. The last thing you should do after getting your CELTA is become overconfident, think you’ve made it as a teacher, and rest on your laurels for the rest of your career.

The point of this post is to emphasise that CELTA will show you only the tip of the iceberg, and there is much more to learn about ELT. Taking this course is definitely a good decision, but I think that it should be seen as a starting point in one’s professional development rather than something that will transform you into an amazing teacher. I believe that it’s important to build on the knowledge gained during the CELTA course and be open to learning new ideas about teaching English.

I understand that the idea of professional development may seem overwhelming to newly-certified teachers. There are so many books, articles, blogs, and other resources, and you may not know where to start. In that case I recommend reading the recently published ebook 100+ Professional Development Tips for Post-CELTA Teachers written by Pete Clements, which is a very useful resource for those who have just gotten their CELTA or CertTESOL. You can read my review of the book here.

5 thoughts on “The importance of going beyond CELTA

  1. Good outline of CELTA limitations! The receptive skills point probs rings true the most for me. That was something we covered quite a bit on the dip, and as a teacher/writer I’ve tried to shift much more towards a focus on meaning-building (and subskills) rather than testing.
    Re: SLA, I remember that being ‘addressed’ in one input session when we did that questionnaire at the start of Lightbown/Spada and debated each point. It was a well-meaning session but no one knew enough about the topic to truly discuss it in an informed way – more input would have been better.
    It really is tough to know where to go post-CELTA, and work out what the priorities are. I opted for some teaching micro skills in that book (cheers for mention!), but admittedly I had more grounding in topics like SLA from my first degree.
    Of the flaws you mention, I wonder which one I would prioritize. Probably going beyond the basic lesson frameworks, seeing the bigger picture.
    Cheers, interesting read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting, Pete. I’m actually writing a review of your book at the moment. 🙂

      There’s no clear pathway for post-CELTA development because successful candidates end up working in different teaching contexts, and as you mentioned, their background knowledge varies. I guess the main message would be to emphasise that teacher development is a process and it’s necessary to keep learning as much as possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I almost completely agree with your post. I must say that I had a different experience regarding reflecting on the way you teach. After my teaching practice I was asked to reflect and write about my class and how well I think I did and how I could change or improve certain things. This was followed by an hour feedback class where my tutor questioned my every move and I had to justify all my actions. It sounds intimidating but honestly this was the part that benefited me the most.

    That being said, you’re absolutely right about the phonetics part. Don’t get me wrong, I did learn something but not enough to sound confident in class. However, this year I used English File by Oxford and their books are INCREDIBLE at explaining phonetics. I think I learnt more than my students 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for getting in touch, Joanna. We did have those feedback sessions as well, and I agree that they were very useful. I just remember that I didn’t really understand the rationale behind the activities and approaches used in my lessons because the course didn’t address the main SLA theories and assumptions about the way we learn languages.

      You are right that teaching pronunciation is very challening for new teachers. When I opened Sound Foundations for the first time, I quickly realised how much I didn’t know! 😀


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