Updated: Feb 9
I want to continue on where we left off when I talked about if CELTA is the right fit for you - so you've decided on taking CELTA and you got in. Your next questions are probably about what the course is like.
But before we get into it, I just want to pre-face this and say that because of COVID19, my CELTA course is not a full course of candidates. Normally my school takes in about 10 to 12 candidates, but due to COVID19, I did my course with only 4 other candidates.
As I said in my previous post, I knew the dangers and you are free to cast judgment on my decision - but I just want to share what my experience has been like: both on the course, and having been able to take an in-person CELTA course during COVID19. I hope you will reserve your judgement on whether that's good or bad, as the point of this post is about CELTA and my experience in it.
What Are the Classes Like?
It was an intense course. Even though I only went in every Saturday for 4 months, and there was only 5 candidates on the course, there was still a lot to unpack. Because you're essentially being evaluated to get a certificate, you had to complete a lot of writing. You can't just... waltz in and just teach, because you've been teaching and already have 20 years of experience.
After all, Cambridge teaches you ONE method of teaching. It's not the end all be all of teaching, per se. But if you're gonna go take a Cambridge course, then of course you are to adapt and learn about this method. And you have to meet their assessment guidelines. This is what is course is all about.
Before you teach, you have to make very detailed lesson plans. You may also need to analysis the language you are teaching, which makes for more paperwork. You only have to do these when your lessons are assessed by the tutors, in which there are 8 in total. On the days you do not have an assessed lesson, you will be observing other candidates or your tutors teach. You will be asked to take part in giving feedback for the other candidates who are teaching.
In my CELTA center/school, the mornings are assigned for these lessons to happen. My school already has several established groups of students, so teaching is part of the course curriculum. However, according to my tutors, some CELTA centers require you to find your own group of students to teach and essentially be assessed on.
I'm very lucky to be able to have that as a part of my course, because as an ALT, I don't really have time to recruit and find a separate other group of students to teach. If this is going to be an issue for you as well, I'd make sure that your course provides you with students for the assessments.
Due to only having 5 CELTA candidates, we also had A LOT of time to do unassessed lessons. These are just filler lessons where we had students, and the tutors gave us materials so we can practice certain techniques we learned in the course without the stress of than assessment. These can be more difficult than an assessed lesson, since we don't really have time to plan. Our tutors will often give us material early in the morning. We'll have an hour or so to think about it.
If you're used to teaching to a certain degree as an ALT, this type of thing shouldn't throw you off too much. And I actually found them kind of fun to do!
We also gained a lot of observation lessons of our tutors. Usually in a full CELTA course, candidates would only be observing their tutors teach maybe once or twice. But as we were not a full course, we were able to observe our tutors every week. This was a great chance to reflect on some of the mistakes we made, because our tutors were just that good that they are able to show and demonstrate good techniques without much planning.
In the afternoons, we talk to our tutors about our lesson feedbacks and we usually do 2 seminars (about 60-90 mins each). Depending on the number of candidates on the course, some Sundays are blocked out for seminars and assessments - so make sure you talk to your tutors and the CELTA center for this.
Assessment & Feedback on Our Teaching
During both assessed and unassessed lessons, we will get feedback from our tutors.
To talk about feedback, I have to talk about what the assessment is. It's hard to explain this part as I'm not a tutor, and I don't have the inner workings of the whole thing, but I'll try to explain it from a candidate's perspective.
There's two parts, really: 1) Whether or not you teach your "target lesson", and 2) Outlining whether you are practicing the Cambridge CELTA techniques. You don't really get a grade - it's all just a "pass" (to standard) or "fail" (not to standard).
Let's talk about the first one - your target lesson. In short, your tutor will give each candidate either a listening, reading or speaking lesson. Each assessed lesson will focus on a different skill. If you're teaching a listening lesson, and you end up doing speaking, then you haven't met your target and you will fail that assessment.
You think this might be a bit of a no brainer, but I promise you - this is probably one of the easiest ways to fail an assessment. You only have 45 minutes to complete a lesson, and it's extremely easy to lose track of time and be left with only 10 or 15 minutes to do your target lesson. I've definitely had a few close calls!
The second one. Like I said before - Cambridge is a style of teaching. Cambridge has set style and set techniques that they want to see in their candidates, and basically your assessment will monitor whether you're following the techniques or not. For example, one thing Cambridge tells you not to do is to hand out worksheets before you give all your instructions. I made this mistake early in the course, and it was commented it on to be fixed for the next assessment.
Your tutors will talk about these points in terms of "weaknesses" and "strengths". Obviously, you'd want to show your tutor that you're trying to work on the weaknesses throughout the course. I think if you are showing improvement, and showing that you're taking in the things you're learning, this part isn't so easy to make you "fail".
Your feedback from tutors will be mostly based on the weakness and strengths you demonstrated in your assessed lesson.
One really great thing I really appreciated from the feedback session is that they don't really comment on your "personality" or comment on really subjective things. Like the way you were holding your flashcards, but not consider that maybe your hands are not the same size as theirs and therefore cannot hold it the way they want you to (yes, this has happened to me before). Feedback was always constructive with reason, and they take into consideration of how the candidates are.
This was one part of CELTA that I really appreciated, and really felt like I've gotten my money's worth. Each tutor has their own style of teaching, and their own things they think are more important than others - so you are guaranteed to get more than one set of feedback.
I feel that if you are looking to get feedback on your teaching, definitely think about doing CELTA.
Assignments, You Say?
Now the bulk of the course is about the lesson assessments, but there's also a part of the course that's about assignments. Yes, there are assignments. Four, to be exact. If you read my last blog post, I talk about the interview process and pre-course tasks.
One assignment is very similar to the pre-course grammar tasks. You will need to analysis grammar, pronunciation and functions.
The other assignments are specific reflection-type assignments and application-type. They're not particularly difficult, but they can be time consuming as they need to be sourced and be done within a set word count.
They are once again a fail/pass type of thing, but you have one chance to resubmit the assignment if you fail it. During my time on the course, I actually did fail two of the four assignments on the first go, and the other candidates were in a similar boat. I don't think it's uncommon to fail at all.
All in all, this is getting quite long so I'm just going to end this blog by saying that I had a wonderful experience. I recommend this to everyone who is teaching in Japan, but I would absolutely inquire with the school you're interested in first to see if their program is for you. I don't think the general flow of the courses is too different across the board, but the people and the tutors you'll be working with throughout the course may differ. And you definitely might want to visit the center, do the interview and get a feel of it first.
If you're in Kansai or Kanto, you'll definitely have more than one option to choose from. But being in other parts of Japan may mean that you might need to look of an online option, or an option where it has reasonable Shinkansen access.
You might not even want to do it in Japan at all! There are 4-week accelerated courses all throughout Asia, and if you have time in the summer, you might have the option of flying out to China or Thailand for a month (which might be cheaper) and then coming back. But as my tutors have warn us, these are usually extremely fast-paced and it will demand your full attention every day for the entire month.
I would not recommend the accelerated course with the amount of course you have to do, unless it's the only option you have.
Good luck, and if you have any questions - please feel free to ask me!