A Day in the Life of a CELTA Candidate

What happens on a typical day in the land of CELTA, the assignments and the Teacher Practice (TP)?

Webinar Summary

What do I need for the CELTA course?
Basically, if you’ve been through the interview process and you’ve done your pre-interview tasks, you’ve had the interview and you’ve been accepted, you paid lots of money, so well done, congratulations, you have survived the application process. Now it’s time to start the course.

Whether you’re doing online or face-to-face, but especially for face-to-face, make sure you’ve got some pens and make sure you’ve got some paper and notebook, and preferably a large ring binder or a folder – the ones that open up where you have to clip your stuff in – that’s particularly good for your lesson plans. You can also bring your laptop, because nowadays even on face-to-face courses we tend to email your handouts to avoid potential contamination. So we will give some handouts – sanitized of course – but most of the time we will email them to you to the WhatsApp group that we make for each course. 

And if you’re doing an online, make sure you’ve got a folder ready called CELTA, and within that folder you need to make some new folders so I would say organize it according to language, for example language analysis, which will have all your vocabulary sessions, your grammar sessions, your language analysis sessions. Then maybe another folder for skills, because we’ll be looking at Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Another folder for phonology, because we do quite a lot of work on that, and another folder for what we call teaching styles or sometimes called lesson shapes because we’ll be looking at least three different techniques of teaching types 

So if you’re doing an online course, you’ll probably have it in Google, but that’s up to you how you do it because everybody has a different one so you can have it online, you can keep it on your laptop or your PC or whatever, and the most important thing is to make sure it’s organized. One more folder of what we call miscellaneous sessions, because in the last week, we have some sessions that are difficult to categorize so you just put them all in that folder and during the course you can ask your tutor, but the more organized you are, the easier it will be to find things.

So probably your most important folder will be your TP teaching practice folder with all your lessons, so we call them TP1, TP2 and so on because when you’re doing a full time course, whether it’s online or face-to-face we’re throwing a lot of information at you, so you don’t want to be sort of going “Oh, where did I put it? Which folder did I put it in?” So whether it’s a real folder or in your computer, you need to be able to find things because you’re stressed out and you sometimes forget. So the simpler it is, the better.

So some of you need to be organized and have a portfolio whether online or hard copy, and use it for your handouts, the things you will learn and the input and to put your lesson plans. 

The notes that we give you in the input sessions, you sometimes need to refer to them for your teaching practice or for your assignments. That’s another folder, assignments. Of course, we talk about that on the course itself when you actually do the course, but these are some of the things that we advise, the more preparation, the better.

Another reminder, make sure you’ve got a good antivirus, and preferably one that you pay for, not the free ones because they don’t always give you the protection that you need.

So what’s a typical day on the CELTA? 
Now this is where you really do kiss your life goodbye. In most places around the world and we’re no different, we start around 9:00 or 9:30 depending on what we’ve decided and so think of it as a 9 till sort of 6-6:30 day, and that’s the same whether you are face-to-face or online.

Usually in the morning, we do some methodology input sessions. These are basically lessons about teaching where we do sessions on how to teach grammar, how to teach vocabulary, how to teach the four skills (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking), how to teach pronunciation and how to analyze grammar for when you’re teaching it in class, and a variety of other sessions, sometimes we have one on authentic materials, like how to use songs in class, how to use video clips and things like this. 

So each session is usually about 75 minutes long, sometimes this will vary depending on the session but most importantly they are not lectures, we do group work, pair work, all the techniques that we want you to use in your teaching practice. So for you as a CELTA candidate, you can experience the sessions as if you were students, this will give you a clearer idea of how you will actually teach when it comes to your teaching practice.

So we don’t do lectures, sometimes we kind of do it like a kind of self-access, we give you a little sort of puzzle, maybe some grammar to analyze, and you do this in groups, and then you present it to the group afterwards to the whole class, so very interactive.

And usually within that morning there is lesson planning and this is basically to repay you for teaching practice.

So from the second day of the course, there will always be some teaching practice. Of course, you won’t teach every day, you will teach every second day. That takes you usually up to lunch time, so usually you have an hour and of course there are breaks during the morning as well. Usually after every 75 minutes, we have a 10-15 minute break, because we know that you get tired quickly and it’s very important to have breaks and it’s good for you to go outside, especially these days where you shouldn’t be spending too much time in the same room with other people, but of course as we said before we do take precautions and we’re using masks, we are sanitizing and everything else. 

The afternoon in our case, and this will vary, some centers do it in the morning, some centers do it in the afternoon, we do our teaching practice in the afternoon. Usually from about 2:15 and for about two and a half hours, we have the teaching practice. This is probably the most important part of the course because this is what you came for, to improve your teaching techniques.

Now the lesson that you teach that day was planned the day before, so when we have lesson planning in the morning, you are preparing for the next day.

This is what teaching practice looks like: you basically have 45 minutes each, and in most courses you have 8 times of 45 minute lessons, which equals hours of assessed teaching or 360 minutes. This is a Cambridge regulation, there is no negotiation, that’s just how it is.

So you’ll teach four lessons with one level and then four lessons with another, so let’s say number one teacher gets up, he or she teaches his or her 45 Minutes, sit down or online you go off for a moment, and then number two comes, teaches his or her lesson, same thing again, then number three teaches his or her lesson and that’s the end.

Now each time you have taught your lesson, you will be given a self-reflection sheet to fill in what you think, “I did this quite well, or maybe I should have been clearer when with my instructions, or maybe I should have done more pair work” and so on.

So once those three lessons are done, then we have another break so that the last teacher can write his or her self-evaluation and then we come together for verbal feedback. Now, this is probably quite hard for some because this is all about constructive criticism and nobody wants to be criticized. Of course, we’re not going to tear you down, but we want you to be sort of honest about how things went, be able to try to be objective, which is quite difficult when it’s your own lesson, but think about “These things went well. These are the things I could work on” and we invite you to talk about each other’s lessons kindly. 

But it’s all in accordance with a set of criteria, it is not the tutor’s opinion. This is the criteria that Cambridge has given us and we will give it to you before you start teaching so that you know what we’re looking for, so there will be no surprises, that’s very important.

We talked about this as a group and at the end of that feedback session, whoever was teaching that day, we give you your personal official written feedback, which will probably only be more detailed than the verbal feedback because there may be things that were in your notes that we didn’t talk about in the group because it was not relevant. 

This is the thing that you need to pay careful attention to, it will list the things that you did well and it will list the things that you need to work on for the next lesson and that’s basically it.

So by this time we’re up to about 6-6:30, it’s a long day, isn’t it? Didn’t even finish lesson planning yet. So remember, if it was your lesson time today, so if this is Monday, then you won’t teach again until Wednesday, but you’ll have your notes from your tutor or your lesson plan guidelines and everything else, but it means that in the evenings you haven’t finished yet because in the evenings, you’re either writing your plan or you’re writing an assignment.

Whether it’s online or face to face, even sometimes when it’s part-time, because really you’re always busy. 
Excellent point, because people often think that part-time will be easier. Part-time is only easier if you’re not working. A lot of people who take part-time are usually working because they can’t afford to take the time off, so in some ways part-time can be more difficult because you’re holding down your job and you’re doing a course, which is one of the most difficult things.

Do think carefully, it is hard doing a course when you’ve got children, especially small. children who want your attention, they need your attention and they don’t understand that you’re studying and doing things. 

That’s very important on the online course because you’re at home and the children might be at home as well, so make sure you’ve got somewhere private to study where you can close the doors.

In this point we will talk about the one-hour break for lunch, how can I make use of it?
If you’re teaching after lunch, this is an opportunity to have something to eat and just have a final check. Make sure that you have all the things you need because you’re a teacher and it’s important to be organized. However, what I would like to say is actually lunch time is lunch time, and you should be eating and resting, so if you were organized in the morning or the night before, you should have everything ready. The only thing I would ever tell a teacher to check for the last time is equipment. Make sure your sound system is working if you’re doing a listening lesson, if you’re using the projector, make sure it’s working, that you’ve got your folders open on the computer that is attached to the projector so that you can open your PowerPoints. And if you’re using anything online, have a backup because things go wrong, things crash, it’s just part of technology and make sure you’ve got all your own board markers for writing on the board, make sure you’ve got your lesson plan.

So just go through your checklist of things making sure that you’re ready, but do please use the lunch time for eating because CELTA courses are very stressful and it’s easy to eat badly, please make sure you eat your meals and make sure that you’ve maybe got some you know good snacks, bring some fruit, bring some nuts, some things that are healthy snacks. Lots of carbohydrates because they give you energy, eat and drink as much as you want and maybe take vitamin tablets if you are really worried.

Do you want to give any comments about the CELTA 5?
The CELTA 5 is your official record of everything you do on a CELTA course. This is a booklet issued by Cambridge, so it actually is an incredible source of information. The first few pages are about the grading procedures and the equal opportunities policy. Please remember when you do a British course that we all have to abide by the equal opportunities regulations, and this means that you don’t discriminate against people because of their gender orientation or their religion or their culture, we all have to treat each other with respect, because this is what equal opportunities means.

By attending the CELTA course, this means you have to abide by those regulations so it explains this and then it also explains the procedures for appealing if you’re not happy with your grade, because it does happen, thankfully not too often, but you have the right to appeal and it shows you the procedure which you read and sign to make sure you understood.

Another page lists all the observations that you do of experienced teachers, this is something else that’s included in the course. Observation is something that you have to do as part of the course, so you list all of those, then another page lists all your lessons that you taught and the grade that your tutor gave you. 

Another page is all your assignments. There are four, so each time you complete an assignment and it’s been passed, you have to write in that you’ve done it and of course remember to confirm that it’s your own work because remember the rules about plagiarism. So if you plagiarize an assignment on the CELTA course, it will automatically fail. There is no second chance, whereas if you do an assignment and parts are wrong or missing, Cambridge gives you a second chance called a resubmit. But plagiarism is different. Plagiarism is usually an automatic fail of the assignment, so please don’t, it’s easy to catch. 

Now what is also in the CELTA 5 are the more lengthy details of the Cambridge grading criteria for your lessons.
I think this is very essential to have a look at for the course, not enough people do this now.

Of course, you don’t get it until you start the course, but in the first week, it’s a good idea to go through it and have a look because we give you a summary that you can use for your teaching practice, but the detailed explanations are in the CELTA 5 and on the back page is the information that everybody wants to know, the criteria for the different grades.

Also in the CELTA 5, there are details of the tutorials because you’ll have at least one tutorial on every Celta course where you have a one-to-one meeting with your tutor to talk about your progress. And this is a confidential meeting and nobody else is allowed to attend, not without your permission, as this is one-to-one and this is all recorded. You will know how you’re doing on the course, what you need to work on, anything you wanted to discuss that you couldn’t talk about in front of the rest of the group.

So this is an official document. Usually for an online course, it will be a soft copy. For a face-to-face, it is usually a blue booklet, although nowadays we are using it online again to avoid the risks of concern, potential contamination.

Daniel asks, which textbooks did you read?
If you mean the books to get prepared for the CELTA, we’ve talked about this in the last live we had and if you mean that a text books over the course we use when you give the TPS, do you have any answer for this?

If it’s for methodology and for you to get ready for the course, then of course Practical English Usage by Michael Swan for grammar, that still works, and Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener and we can list those again. When you’re accepted, actually those books will be mentioned, you won’t be surprised to see them because they’re very commonly used on CELTA courses around the world. I would never say read these books from cover to cover because it’s too much, but you could start looking at the sections on teaching grammar or how to teach vocabulary, little things like that and or about lesson planning because Learning Teaching is quite easy to read, Practical English Usage is a book that you use to refer to something so when you’re teaching grammar you go to it to look at the explanations and so on.

If you’re referring to the books that we use to teach the students, they vary. It’s quite common on most CELTA courses to use books like English File, Cutting Edge, sometimes Headway, these are usually the old favorites. The only reason we use them is because these are the books that you will most commonly see around the world, not because we think that these books are better, there are other books, of course that people use like Empower, which is very nice course book and another one like Speak Out, which is a very nice speaking book, and there are lots of books. And Face-to-Face for example, that’s quite commonly used. 

We decide just before the course which course books, the tutors decide that and because we usually don’t use the same series for the levels, like for maybe Elementary we use this series, this book, and in the intermediate a different one because the idea is it will give you so that you have a little experience in using two very commonly used books.

That’s why most CELTA centers around the world tend to use those books, just because it’s very likely that you will see those books again and again, so it gives you an idea, you’re not going in cold into your first teaching job.

What is teaching practice and do we teach real students?
The answer is yes. And as I said, teaching practice is usually something that you have been helped with the day before and basically you will teach a variety of lessons, but you have to teach two levels and this is the same on CELTA courses all over the world. This is the Cambridge rules, so there’s no choice. You can’t be a teacher and teach only one or two levels, that’s not very good for your professional development. So you have to teach a low level and a high level. So our course, like most CELTA courses around the world, has you teaching elementary and intermediate. So some of you will start teaching intermediate and go to elementary after two weeks, some of you will start elementary and then you’ll go to intermediate after two weeks. Because as I said earlier, you have to teach four lessons with each level, so four lessons elementary, four lessons intermediate. 

Within those lessons, we try to give you a variety, so this is also very important for grading purposes. So we try to make sure that you teach grammar at both levels, vocabulary at both levels, and skills in both levels. Again, this helps us with grading because some people, we all have our preferences for levels. And it’s so that we can say at the end of the course that you can teach two levels reasonably. Because what sometimes happens on a course, there’s one level that you teach really well; let’s say you start with intermediate and all your lessons are really good, your tutors are praising you and everything and then you move to elementary and suddenly you realize that you can’t give clear instructions and they don’t understand you and suddenly your progress starts to go down

So this is a very tricky point. When you start with intermediate then you go to elementary, you have to be very ready for the big change in levels between them exactly and the opposite as well.

Yes, because people who got used to teaching elementary, they learned how to simplify everything and then they go to intermediate and suddenly the students are asking really difficult grammar questions. Both levels have their difficulties, there’s no easy way to do something and that’s why it’s important that you teach different levels so that you become comfortable with a variety of levels.

We use real students, so you’re not teaching each other and this is perhaps what separates courses like CELTA and Trinity TESOL from other teaching courses. We have real students, they are young adults from age 16 upwards, they volunteer, they don’t pay for the class and so if they like the lessons they stay, if they don’t they go, so that’s your feedback.

New students stay because they are enjoying it but the nice thing is the fact that if they keep coming, that’s wonderful feedback for you as a teacher because they don’t lose anything by not attending, they could leave anytime. So if they keep coming, that’s really nice because with adults we can’t force them to come to class, it’s not like teaching children. The children have to go to school, and adults have a choice, so if they’re not happy with something they don’t show. So yes, they are real students because otherwise the teaching experience won’t be real, we need to see how you cope with real students not just pretend ones. 

I think actually in many cases your TP students, your Teaching Practice students, will probably be the most motivated students you could meet, they usually really enjoy coming to the classes, it’s a like a social club for them, they meet other people and they like chatting to you in the break times. They usually want to be there, nobody’s being dragged in, so that’s very nice.

Bear that in mind, they want to enjoy the experience as much as you do and I know you’re being assessed and it’s stressful but usually if you just sort of try to relax a bit and not fixate on “Is this going to be an A? Is this going to be a B?” then you probably just get on with the business of teaching and making sure that students learn something because that’s what teaching is.

So be knowledge and learning oriented more than grade oriented.

And if we’re talking about the help provided by the CELTA tutors to the CELTA candidate, before I teach there are just like some input sessions and “go, this is the textbook, teach” or do I have some kind of support? 
You have plenty of support and so we give you at IH Cairo two lessons that are kind of planned for you, your first two. Because nowadays on CELTA courses, we get a mix of experienced and inexperienced teachers, so the inexperienced teachers will be just going “I don’t know what to do” and then the experienced teacher would be like, “oh, well, I’ve always done it this way. So I’m going to do it like this” so we try to give you a different sequence to what you might be used to, this is to help you develop more communicative ways of teaching. 

As the course continues, we still give you an idea of what to teach and we give you some notes and we sit with you.

So this is the assisted lesson planning. So assisted lesson planning sessions, which usually take place in the morning the day before you teach so you have time. In the assisted lesson planning session, you’ve only got an hour, usually the tutor has to talk to three people, so that’ll be like 15-20 minutes each then we’ll make sure that we answer the main questions that you have. After the course is finished, you’re going to sit down and then go through the whole thing again to make sure that you’re feeling ready.

What difficulties trainees might have and what is the most challenging part of CELTA?
Well, I’d say TP (Teaching Practice) because some people find it difficult to accept constructive criticism. So the feedback session and TP is probably one of the most challenging aspects as I said before, please don’t take it personally, it’s to help you, it’s for the sake of improving, we tend to learn by making mistakes, we’re not perfect. And so we’re just here to help you do as well as you can to get the best out of yourself, because remember your success is our success, if you do well then I feel good.

That’s probably one of the greatest difficulties especially sometimes when your lesson didn’t go as well as you’d hoped. You’re a good teacher having a bad day, doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher. In most cases you’re just having a bad day and every lesson is a lesson; some lessons go well, some lessons don’t go well, so you learn from it.

Probably the other most difficult part for most people on the course is organization. Because there is a lot of work to do in a short period of time and this is why we say to you, please clear those schedules, make sure that you haven’t got any work responsibilities. 

Some of us are naturally very organized and some of us aren’t, so the more organized you are, the more comfortable you will feel. This is why I said organize your folders, whether they are virtual or physical, because there’s nothing worse than let’s say you’re doing a reading lesson the next day and you can’t find your reading notes from the session that your tutor gave you.

So try to be as organized as you can and if you’re not naturally an organized person, you will learn how to do it.

It is a bit like a sort of boot camp in a way, isn’t it? Because the deadlines for the work are quite tight, we say here’s your assignment, your first piece of homework. We give you the weekends to do them on full-time courses but remember during that weekend, you might also be preparing a lesson. So the deadlines are quite tight because we need to mark them and give them back to you within 24-48 hours at the latest and especially if you need to redo parts of it you, so you do have to keep on top of things.

And of course if you’re teaching that day, you have to have everything ready because we can’t generally reschedule your teaching practice, so it’s no good coming to your tutor one or two hours before the lesson and saying I haven’t got my lesson plan. So you’re going to have to teach that lesson, unless you had a very serious emergency.

So, organize yourself. If you’re the kind of person that needs to have a little rest at the end of the day, go home, give yourself half an hour’s rest and set the alarm.

So that’s probably one of the most difficult parts, I think dealing with feedback and being organized because there’s a lot to do in a short time. Like I said, academically it’s not so challenging but you do have to be ready, systematic a bit. I know for some people that’s a bit much but teachers are supposed to be organized, you have to be prepared. It’s professional. 

And any special advice for the CELTA candidates?
Enjoy it, work hard, do your best. At the end of the day, teaching is an enjoyable job. With CELTAs, you laugh together, you cry together because like all the other times you are in the same boat, you have similar experiences and you do learn a lot.

It’s like everything else, you learn as much as you want to or can and it’s about doing your best as long as you try. That’s the best advice, just do what you can. Not everybody learns quickly, but as long as you just keep trying and keep making a little bit of progress each time, that’s great, just do your best. We’re teachers and our job essentially is to make sure students learn. If they’re not learning anything then we’re wasting our time and theirs. 

So please, do try to enjoy it, because the thing with teaching adults is adults are much easier than kids, they don’t fight in the classroom, usually you don’t have this huge classroom management problems.And this is not something you can skip in lesson planning, because part of it is classroom anticipated problems and solutions.

You don’t have those problems teaching adults, the worst problem usually with teaching adults is that they speak too much of the mother tongue, so you sometimes have to remind them, please don’t speak Arabic or please don’t speak your language. Adults are generally more enjoyable to teach, because they choose to come to class. 

Hazem asks if we can recommend some activity books for grammar teaching.
Well, I’m sure on the course you use the Reward resource packs if you remember those, and Reward is the series by MacMillan, it’s old but it still has lots of really good ideas for teaching grammar for practicing grammar. So if you’re looking for activity books with activities in them, then there’s Reward resource pack, so there’s like starter, elementary to intermediate and so on. And they also have one for business English as well. 

Basically look at the instructions, look at the index, think which tense to use and then it tells you which tense it’s going to practice or vocabulary, it tells you how long the activity will last and then it gives you some instructions on how to use it, and then a photocopiable worksheet or activity that you need so you can photocopy without breaking copyright. If you need to cut it, it even shows you the cutting lines, so it’s not new but old is gold and Reward resource packs are a very good example of that.

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