Helpful advice from my CELTA tutors

I have already highlighted some benefits of getting a CELTA in this post about teaching qualifications. You can also read my tips for passing the course with a good grade. I did my CELTA at CELT Athens and it was an amazing experience. The feedback I received was really valuable because I’d had no teaching experience prior to the course. Several years have passed since then, but I still remember my tutors’ advice. Let me share a few important principles that I follow to this day.

Helpful advice from my CELTA tutors

You have to grade your language
I felt really satisfied with the first English lesson of my life; everything went well and I was proud of my performance. Then my tutor told me that showing off is not a good strategy in the classroom. I was talking too fast and using words way above my learners’ level. I remember that I said, ‘Technically, that’s right’ at one point of the lesson. When I came home, I checked the word ‘technically’ in a dictionary and found out that it’s supposed to be used at C2 level. I taught pre-intermediate students that day.

Speaking fast and using fancy words is fine when presenting at a conference, but talking to your students requires you to adapt your language to their current level of English. They need to be exposed to comprehensible input, so slowing down your speech and adjusting your language is certainly a step in the right direction.

You are talking to human beings
At first I thought that this comment was rather amusing, but then I realised the tutor was referring to building rapport with students. They are more than just an item on the attendance list. I know that talking to complete strangers can be a daunting experience, and that’s why a bit of small talk before or after a lesson is extremely helpful. My lessons are more engaging when I know my students’ professions, hobbies, academic background, etc. That knowledge allows me to personalise the lessons and focus on what the learners find relevant.

Another important word here is humility. I believe that my students have amazing talents and abilities that can range from mathematics to sports, music, etc. They can’t express themselves perfectly in a foreign language, but that doesn’t detract anything from what they can do in other areas. I always ask my students to talk about what they are professionally or academically involved in, and I have actually learnt a lot of new things in the process. I love what Hugh Dellar said in this video:

“First and foremost, good teachers care about the people that they’re in the room with. They care about them on a human level. They care about their feelings, their emotions, their lives, their well-being. Because of that, they care about how well they’re progressing academically. They care about what might be stopping them from progressing well academically. They care about their presence. They care about their involvement in the class. They care about their interactions with other students and with themselves.”

You are not talking to grammarians
Grammar knowledge definitely plays an important role in language learning. That said, I don’t think it’s necessary to expect the learners to memorise all kinds of technical terms. Knowing metalanguage can be useful, but I’ve met students who could identify past participles, complements and adverbials without having the ability to string a few sentences together in their spoken production. I think it makes more sense to focus on performance and successful communication with other people.

I spent a few months tutoring a teenager who was struggling with English at school. Her vocabulary was limited and she didn’t know how to produce complex sentences. When she asked me for help with her homework, I was shocked to see that she was expected to pass a test full of complicated verb forms, including the future perfect progressive! Who in their right mind would think that kind of crap is appropriate for a pre-intermediate learner? How exactly was she supposed to benefit from that? No wonder many students end up hating English when they have to memorise unnecessary rules instead of doing something useful.

Just let them talk
Working with people who are naturally talkative in their native language is good fun. If you live in Colombia and speak Spanish, you will inevitably participate in long conversations on all kinds of topics. Of course, it’s not always easy to take advantage of that trait and make the students speak as much as possible in English. The problem is when the teacher is the most talkative person in the room because you may then witness something like this: 

Teacher: Good morning, how are you? Good? That’s great. How was your weekend? What did you do? Nothing? Really?
Student 1: Sleeping.
Teacher: Sleeping? Yes, me too. I also went to the cinema to see The Avengers. I thought it was amazing. Did you like it?
Student 2: Yes.
Teacher: Yes, that’s great. I loved the part when…

You get the picture. The learners can barely get a word in because the lesson is dominated by a teacher with superior language skills. If I were a student in that classroom, I would decide to save my money and watch videos on YouTube instead. I might actually learn English faster that way.

My point is that students should be the ones who talk a lot in the classroom. Sometimes it’s appropriate to simply shut up and let the learners do most of the talking. I’m sure they’re going to enjoy it more than listening to rambling monologues. You don’t need to go full Dogme and make all your classes based on conversation, but I definitely recommend asking a lot information questions to get people to speak. Just don’t forget to give them enough time to answer!

Tips for getting a CELTA Pass A

As I mentioned in the post about teaching qualifications, doing a CELTA is a great choice for new teachers because the 4-week course will prepare you for your first job. The CELTA is also taken by experienced teachers who wish to improve their teaching skills. This standardised course is offered in numerous locations around the world, including Bogotá and Medellín. It can now be done 100% online because of the pandemic, but I will focus only on the in-class option in this text.

I had never taught English to anyone before taking my CELTA at CELT Athens, so I didn’t know what to expect. In the end, it turned out to be an unforgettable experience that completely changed my professional life. Getting an A grade was a nice bonus, and it made me feel good about my decision to become an English teacher. I can’t provide you with a step-by-step guide to achieve the top grade because there are too many variables, so I will try to share some general advice instead.

Tips for getting a CELTA Pass A

At first, we need to look at relevant statistics. In 2018, the overwhelming majority of trainees (95.4%) successfully passed the course. The CELTA is really demanding, but there is no need to feel anxious about it. Course providers screen candidates by asking them to take a test and undergo an interview in order to select only those who have a real chance of passing the course. If you search for CELTA-related information online, you will probably encounter some terrifying stories of people being on the verge of a nervous breakdown during the course, but I wouldn’t recommend paying too much attention to that. Again, the numbers are clear: if you are accepted on the course, you will most likely pass it.

So who exactly doesn’t pass the CELTA? According to the 2018 statistics, 4% of the candidates withdrew from the course. It’s necessary to emphasise that the full-time CELTA is very time-consuming because you have to spend 8 hours at the centre every day and then do your lesson planning, background reading and assignments in your free time. That’s why taking the course in your hometown may not be the best option because you need to avoid distractions. You should also stay in a place close to the training centre so that you don’t waste a lot of time commuting.

I couldn’t really afford to fail the course because I had quit my job and bought a ticket to Colombia. No pressure then! My solution was simple: I decided to sacrifice four weeks of my life. I spent most of the evenings and weekends studying, and ventured out of the apartment only to do my grocery shopping. It wasn’t the most exciting way of spending June in Greece, but it had to be done. In the second part of the course, I got a little bit more adventurous and went for a walk a couple of times. I even found time to watch two films: Logan was brilliant; T2 Trainspotting disappointing (with the exception of one good scene).

Well, what about the 0.6% candidates who actually failed the course in 2018? All trainees receive constant guidance from their tutors, so you would need to ignore what they tell you in order to fail the course because of your performance in the classroom. In addition, some people think that arguing with the tutors or other trainees is a good idea. Teaching English is a serious profession and it’s important to have that in mind when taking the CELTA. Being punctual and respectful, taking the tutors’ advice into account, and behaving like a decent human being is as important as your performance in the classroom.

Now that I have been teaching for a few years, I know that the bar to pass the CELTA is quite low. You don’t have to do much reading before the course, but you can certainly make life easier for yourself, especially if you are eager to get a good grade. Your centre will probably provide you with a pre-course task, and it’s a good idea to take it seriously. I also recommend that you read the syllabus and assessment guidelines and familiarise yourself with the way the course works. You should also refresh your grammar knowledge to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use, which is aimed at intermediate students, will be sufficient.

If you have some free time before the course, you could read the following books, which are very useful for CELTA trainees:

● Martin Parrott: Grammar for English Language Teachers
● Graham Workman: Concept Questions and Time Lines
● Rosemary Aitken: Teaching Tenses
● Jim Scrivener: Learning Teaching

Each course is externally assessed and it doesn’t really matter where you take it. You can find a lot of websites with detailed information about the CELTA, including my favourite resource ELT Concourse. That said, the most important thing you have to do is listen to your tutors because their feedback is the most valuable part of the course. It’s necessary to pay attention to the tips for improving your teaching that you are going to receive. If you are told to talk to your students and not to the board, you are expected to do that in your next lesson. It’s not exactly rocket science because even the input sessions are done in the same way you are supposed to teach.

I understand that teaching your students while a group of people is observing your every move isn’t the most comfortable experience. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, though. Copying the tutors’ and other trainees’ techniques and using them in your lessons is perfectly acceptable. Your students don’t expect you to be a world-beater either because they know that you are being trained to be a teacher. I highly recommend that you learn their names as soon as possible and try to talk to them during breaks. Teaching people you’ve chatted with before is more pleasant than standing in front of complete strangers.

If you plan to get a CELTA, you need to know that it isn’t a walk in the park. However, if you are a hard-worker with good time-management skills, there is nothing to be afraid of. You are going to receive a lot of support during the course, so you just need to keep an open mind and absorb the knowledge. Chasing an A may leave you feeling disappointed, because the criteria for obtaining that grade are a bit fuzzy; some centres seem to be stricter than others, so luck may play a role as well. Your main objective should be improving as a teacher, and the process of obtaining your CELTA will certainly contribute to that.