Teaching English abroad- Step 2: Full time CELTA

‘You won’t have any other life for a month.’

Jonny did warn me at the interview, as I assume all CELTA tutors do with their potential students (full details of the interview process here), but no amount of explaining and warning can prepare you for doing a full-time, intensive, month long CELTA course. A level 5 qualification (equivalent to HNC/HND) which normally takes between 6 months/ 1 year full time and 2 years part time squeezed in one month!

Lead in, TPs, Gist Task, Detailed task, Guided Discovery, Monitoring, you pick up the CELTA language from week 1, that’s how intensive it is.

I’ll talk about my experience at Cambridge Regional College but I’m certain the format and the content are similar across the world, as they all follow the Cambridge English syllabus, though not everyone might have been lucky enough to have had such great tutors, classmates and students.

A. format

We started the course on a Friday, to give us time to get to know each other and our surroundings and on the following Monday we taught for the first time, just an introductory, non-assessed class. The following day we had to teach our first assessed Teaching Practice (TP), extremely stressful for someone who struggles with anxiety like me, but it helped we got to know the students the day before first. With most education providers you are required to teach your first assessed lesson on day two. Yes, it’s pretty intense from the start.

-Input sessions

Every morning we had input sessions, where Jonny and Fiona in turns covered the main topics of EFL teaching: learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context, language analysis and awareness, language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing, planning and resources for different teaching contexts and developing teaching skills and professionalism. For more details you can check the Cambridge English CELTA syllabus here.

Input sessions with those two were never dull, they were always fun, engaging and creative, even with typically boring, dreadful subjects like teaching grammar. Jonny’s colour- coordinated flashcards and phonetics jokes were superb and Fiona’s energy, honesty and saying things as they were were refreshing. I won’t go into much detail, I wouldn’t like others to steal Jonny and Fiona’s hard work but I’m not sure many CELTA students got to mime, dance and laugh as much as we did whilst learning.

-Teaching

In the afternoons we were split into two groups. Half of us taught the pre-intermediate group and the other half the upper intermediate (and we switched half way, every teacher has to teach two levels). When we were not teaching we observed and gave feedback to each other. Jonny or Fiona (in turns) were always there assessing and providing us with feedback after each session. We taught six 40 min and two 1hr long sessions (8 sessions and 6 hours in total).

Don’t worry if you’ve never taught before, I hadn’t before this. We were provided with lesson frameworks to use from day one and every morning the day before we were to teach we met with our tutor to help us with the lesson planning, except for the last two sessions where assistance with planning was also assessed and varied depending on what grade you were aiming for (more on that on a separate post).

-Observing

You are also required 6 hours of observing experienced teachers. We observed summer school teachers in the classroom, a video-taped session and our tutors who both were AMAZING at their teaching and way better than the rest we observed. Engaging, building rapport almost instantly, monitoring effectively and making the class fun and interesting. That’s how I aspire to teach.

-Assignments

As if lesson planning, input sessions, teaching and observing are not enough you also have to prepare and hand in 4 assignments, around 1000 words each covering the main topics mentioned above. It’s hard work this course!

-Grades

Possible outcomes are:

-Pass A (about 5% of successful candidates).

-Pass B (about 25% of successful candidates)

-Pass (about 70% of successful candidates)

-Fail

Fiona told us from day one she won’t let anyone fail and nobody did.

B. Day to day work

You may assume you go home around 5pm and you only need an hour or two preparing for the next day but that’s not the case. Lesson planning takes, especially to begin with, at least 4-5 hours- ‘Double the time you think it will take’ Fiona used to say and she was right- and the more you progress through the course the more exhausted, sleep deprived and stressed you become, which slows everything down significantly.

C. How to make it

  • Classmates

All ten of us used to go in as early as possible so we can finish our lesson plans, print our handouts and/or help each other with assignments. Honestly we wouldn’t have made it without each other. I certainly wouldn’t.

We all reached our limit and were about to quit, particularly towards the end of week two. We were warned that would happen, though nobody told us it would happen more than once. If you really want this qualification, persevere. You will feel like quitting at least once, but the sense of achievement will more than make up for it in the end.

Most of us were not from Cambridge, we had no family or friends around, we lived and breathed CELTA for a month and that takes its toll. We kept each other going, read and corrected each other’s assignments, lesson plans, hand outs. We cried together, we laughed together. We bonded a lot, very fast. It’s inevitable when you spend every day with the same people, trying your best for the same thing.

Having a WhatsApp group helped a lot not just with homework but also mentally. Sharing our frustrations and worries was therapeutic.

This may not be the case with everyone who does the CELTA. I think I was lucky I had such sweet, caring, brilliant, funny, all round awesome classmates I now call friends. I miss you all!

  • Tutors

I’ve touched a bit on this already but I feel we were lucky we had such great tutors. It’s obvious they love what they do and they are incredibly amazing at it. They passed on their enthusiasm, skills and knowledge to us, so when we get out there and teach we care and we do it right.

They were there before us in the morning and left after us most days. Whilst they had to train us, they also had to deal with the rest of their day to day job in between as well as read and mark our assignments.

Both Fiona and Jonny supported us as much as they possibly could, me personally, when I was going through my grief having lost my grandpa on week one. I cried in front of them on my first week and they were both understanding, they offered me a break and checked up on me.

Also I wouldn’t have been able to manage my stress and teach so effectively if it wasn’t for Fiona. She helped me more than she realised. She is awesome.

  • Students

I got to teach two lovely groups of students. Before my first teaching session I was terrified of what I was about to face but by the end of the course I loved everyone in both classes. People from all over the world, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Colombia, Lithuania, you name it, who happened to now live in Cambridge and just wanted to improve their English all came together and I was blessed with teaching them. I got to know and chat to every single one of them outside the class, have a laugh with them and hopefully taught them a thing or two.

  • Accommodation

Most of my classmates were not from Cambridge or the UK, so we all lived in a brand new environment dealing with all sorts of situations whilst studying hard every day.

I lived with a host ‘family’, it was only the landlady, Mary in my case, who also provided breakfast and dinner every day and did my laundry every week. It was challenging at times, especially when all the rooms were occupied, noise, queue for the bathroom (though they were three!) but all in all it was brilliant. Mary looked after me and I made great friends, not just Mary but also my Russian flatmates! If you have the option I definitely recommend it, you won’t have time to cook or do anything else for a month, it helps to have dinner prepared for you and a clean room to your disposal.

Overall thoughts

The 4 week CELTA course was one of the most mentally and physically challenging things I ever had to do, it tested my sanity, my health, my limits in more than one way and my anxiety flared up bad, I didn’t sleep more than three/four hours a day, I didn’t get to see much of Cambridge but it was also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, at least for me. I learnt a lot, I fell in love with teaching and I made friends in Cambridge and all over the world, from Peru to Italy and Azerbaijan. Once in a lifetime experience I’ll never forget.

If I had to do it again I’d may opt for the part-time option, though that has its challenges too if you work full-time, and it may take longer to learn as you don’t apply what you learn immediately, but I don’t regret a single moment.

If you decide to do it full time, I’d with no second thought recommend Cambridge Regional College.

If you do it in Cambridge, go a few days early or stay a few days after to enjoy what this gorgeous city has to offer. I’d love to go back some time and go punting, visit the Wren Library, have afternoon tea at Grantchester and do yoga in the park by the river. Who knows, maybe I will one day.

After thoughts

Despite no previous teaching experience I managed to get the highest grade (Grade A), so it is possible, but I will write about that on a separate post.

I just started a part-time job teaching A1 Movers and A2 Key young learners, the CELTA can’t prepare you for that I’m afraid. I’ll write about that soon too but any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Eleni

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Following my dreams (just need to find out what they are) Chapter 1: Cambridge

Saturday morning, 27th of July.

I’m sitting at an old, antique desk in my room in Cambridge. It’s cloudy and raining but I don’t mind for once. I needed the break from the heat. This country was not built for any temperature higher than 25 degrees.

Can I sleep in Your Brain comes up on my little Bluetooth speaker. I just finished my notes for my first teaching exercise on Monday and finally have some free time to sit down and write about all of this. It’s been too long.

A million and one thoughts in my mind I’m not quite sure where to begin.

Today is my grandpa’s birthday. He turned 83. But this time I can’t call him like I do every year. He is at a nursing home. Now my uncle’s recovering from a major operation, my auntie can’t look after both of them.

“He won’t even recognise you”, my mum messaged when I asked how I can contact him. “His dementia is taking over more day by day”. She sent me a picture I took of him and myself a few years ago. A classic mum habit. I told her off not because I was annoyed this time but because it makes me sad. I remember everything about that picture, his excitement when I asked for a selfie, laughing whilst taking it, asking me where to look and afterwards chatting about me splitting with my ex of 7 years.

“Are you happy? That’s all that matters” pappou Costas said then and smiled.

Tears came streaming down my face thinking of that day. (A few hours later my mum messaged me to give my aunt a call. She was with my grandpa. I called and wished him happy birthday. He recognised me at the beginning but not for the whole duration of the two minute phone call. I could feel his confusion every time he went quiet. At some point he asked me when I’ll go back to Cyprus like he always does and then the next minute he forgot what he was talking about. I promised I go see him as soon as I’m in Cyprus. He said he might leave by then. I choked up. I hope he meant the nursing home. He is slipping away from us…)

I tried hard not to cry last week saying goodbye to my Southampton friends and life, it didn’t feel like goodbye, my brain still struggles to understand what is happening. It feels I’m on a break and I’ll return back to Southampton any minute now.

I don’t think I’ll realise any time soon. One thing is for sure, I will miss so many people, friends I’ve known for years and friends I’ve only just met, because that’s life. It never stops, you meet people and make friends all the time. Thank you to everyone who came to my leaving celebrations (and they were MANY) or made the time to see me before I left.

I will miss every single one of you and all the little special connections I have with each.

Now I’m crying about everything. But I feel good. These are not sad tears. These are cathartic tears, letting everything out and finally hitting the reset button.

Last month feels like a blur. Friends’ birthday celebrations, after work drinks, Graduation week, the stress of dealing with removal companies, getting rid of furniture, cleaning, throwing out things. It was fun, bittersweet, exhausting.

I’ve been living in Cambridge for about three days now and I’m surprised how well I adjusted from living on my own to living with a house full of people (minus a few sleepless nights because of the strong anxiety and heat cocktail mix).

My hostess Mary is wonderfully weird. Though she’s lived in the UK for 28 years, her accent is so strong I struggle to understand her at times but she is adorable. Her cooking is amazing. She won’t let me do my own washing, it’s been years since someone else washed my clothes.

She wears a plastic bag on her head when she makes fish to keep the smell away (I chuckled when I walked into the kitchen for some water and saw her wearing the bag, she then told me to rush so I don’t smell like fish either), she hangs the bed sheets off the staircase to dry faster, unintentionally creating a little fort I found too amusing, and she randomly knocks on my door to ask for help with translation or to give me treats. I haven’t tasted melon that sweet since the last time I was in Cyprus.

My room is small but perfectly formed. Clean with all the essentials. The bathroom is sparkling clean and I only share it with one other. There are two kitchens, both huge, especially the guests one. I’m glad I opted for the host family option (though it’s just Mary, her adult children don’t live here, so thankfully no toddlers are running around screaming off their head), though I worry I’ll soon miss living on my own. It will happen eventually.

On Thursday, when the temperature outside hit 38 degrees, I decided I’d go out to explore Cambridge a little bit, since my course was to start the following day and I may not get the chance to do much wandering when I have homework. ‘I lived in Cyprus for 22 years after all, I can take some heat, if I get to live in a hot country from January, this could be my daily reality’ I told myself.

I’m glad I did (though I can’t remember the last time I sweat that much it felt like peeing myself). Cambridge is gorgeous, there is so much to see and do and a couple of friends already suggested places I’d love to go before I leave the city at the end of August.

Yesterday I had my first day of CELTA teacher training class. It was intense, exhausting but incredibly fun. Going to college, buying stationery, finally using my brain again, felt rejuvenating, even just after a day.

Most of the studying I did throughout my life (and I’ve done a lot, from degrees, to qualifications, diplomas etc), in only few occasions I cared enough to actively participate in the classroom. With this one I wouldn’t shut up. The perks of being a mature student or maybe in my case, finally being confident comfortable enough with myself to not worry too much about what others think.

Fiona, our tutor who ran the session on the day, is amazing (I hope Jonny is as good, though it will be tough to beat Fiona).

My classmates are all very beautifully different and unique, a wonderfully diverse bunch. Some travelled from their home countries, Bangladesh, India, Azerbaijan, Spain just to do this course, others are semi-retired and doing it for fun or to follow their partner to Colombia (ah young love). I’ll write about the course separately when I get the time.

I oddly felt more British even than the British in the group. I guess I’ve lived here for too long. And to think I worried I might find it hard with my accent and everything doing this course.

I worry I’ll struggle in Cyprus. And I worry about so many other things,- Will my stuff make it Cyprus? Will I get my deposit back? Will I manage to keep up with the amount of studying required? Will I make it to Chris’s wedding? What if my uncle or grandpa die and I don’t get to see them again? What if I’m not good enough for anything else and this is a huge mistake? – But I need to stop worrying. There’s nothing I can do about any of this and choosing to leave the comfortable but dull 9 to 5 life means there will be a lot more to worry about.

For now I’ll work hard to get my qualification and enjoy every moment in Cambridge.

Here’s to new beginnings.

Eleni