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.

Six talks worth watching

Professional development is often associated with attending conferences. In my experience, you can usually tell within the first five minutes if the talk or workshop is going to be any good. The positive effect of moving such events online is that you don’t need to worry about being spotted while trying to sneak away from a lecture that you find excruciatingly boring. To be fair to the speakers, it’s impossible to please everyone when you are talking to a group of teachers with varied experience, qualifications, interests, etc.

Fortunately, there are recordings of some useful education-related talks available on YouTube. I have already mentioned a couple of them on this blog, so I thought it would be a good idea to select a few more videos, write a short summary of each of them, and point out some moments I found humorous. If you’d like to recommend any other talks, let me know in the comments section.

Scott Thornbury: What’s the latest method?
You know that you can always rely on Scott Thornbury to deliver an engaging talk because he is an experienced presenter and skilled public speaker. This talk is an entertaining overview of teaching methods used throughout the years. There are plenty of references to literature and hilarious examples from obscure books for students. I think this talk serves as a pretty good argument against strictly adhering to a magic method that promises amazing results. The talk ends when some guy tentatively walks onto the stage to tell Thornbury that he has run out of time, which shows that issues with timing don’t affect only Delta Module Two candidates.

Stephen Krashen: The power of reading
Everyone remembers Stephen Krashen for his hypotheses related to second language acquisition. He later became involved in educational policy activism, and one of his priorities is improving access to books. In this talk that focuses on the benefits of reading, Krashen refers to relevant research and provides pretty convincing arguments for free voluntary reading. He states that reading influences more aspects of life than just academic results. The talk also includes a Bill Cosby reference, which is something that most likely wouldn’t happen these days.

Russ Mayne: A guide to pseudoscience in ELT
I wonder what strange contraption was used to record this talk because the video definitely doesn’t look like something made in 2014. Anyway, I highly recommend that you ignore the poor audio and image quality and watch this gem of a talk. It has everything you’d want from a guide on myths on ELT. Russ Mayne mentions horoscopes, refers to Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit, and provides a helpful slide with names of major organisations and authors who are complicit in spreading nonsense. Brilliant stuff!

If Karl Pilkington’s superhero idea ever gets made into a movie, I will personally contact film studios with a pitch for a spin-off. Imagine that: He’s just a normal guy who doesn’t need a special costume. When he hears someone somewhere in the world promoting the use of learning styles and multiple intelligences in the classroom, he flies in and…

Philip Kerr: The return of translation
This is a very useful webinar for teachers who work in places that ban using L1 in the classroom. Philip Kerr makes it clear that we should be more open-minded when it comes to using translation because our students can actually benefit from it. I like the fact that he shows practical examples of translation activities that you can use in your teaching practice. If you watch the whole video, you will be rewarded with a funny swear word and the speaker’s heartfelt Christmas wishes. Nice one!

Rod Ellis: Using tasks in language teaching
This webinar will provide you with basic tenets related to using tasks in the classroom, including focus on form. It was nice to see Rod Ellis confirm that TBLT can be used in the online environment because the theory of language learning isn’t affected by the fact that you’re talking to your students through Zoom. There is nothing revolutionary in the webinar, but it’s good to hear everything straight from Rod Ellis’ mouth. By the way, that body part features quite prominently in the top right corner of the video because Cambridge University Press forgot to include the upper half of the speaker’s face in the recording.

Luke Meddings: 3-2-1: A classroom for everyone
One of the main proponents of Dogme gave this thought-provoking talk on the approach twelve years after its creation. Luke Meddings makes some interesting comments about this alternative to coursebook-driven teaching. He briefly mentions learning styles and multiple intelligences. I guess Russ Mayne wasn’t in the audience that day because I didn’t hear any audible groans in the recording. To his credit, Meddings says that we should try to build a community and include a variety of task types rather than pay attention to those theories.

Follow-up post: Six ELT talks raising important questions