How I got Grade A on my CELTA

Now in terms of possible outcomes, most students get a Pass, some get Grade B and very few (usually experienced teachers) get an A. I think you’ll do very well”, I remember Jonny telling me at my CELTA interview.

I had zero previous experience, I didn’t have much time to do any pre-reading and I hadn’t studied for anything for years, so I definitely did not expect or aimed for an A, but I somehow managed to do it.

Does it matter? You may ask.

Not really, I don’t think. It looks good on your CV and it seems to impress recruiters (at least the ones I’ve had interviews with so far), so it might give you a slight advantage, especially if you are newly qualified as I am, but as long as you have the CELTA, the grade doesn’t really matter. It’s tough enough getting the qualification and everyone who has done it knows that!

How did you do it? One might wonder.

Surprise, surprise, there is no recipe. Even if I were to describe you in every single detail what I did, I bet you it wouldn’t work for everyone. So unfortunately I can’t do that. What I can give you is some guidelines and advice to help you achieve an A (no guarantees) based on my experience.

  1. Avoid distractions. Do the full-time variant and away from home if you can. It helps if all you concentrate on is the CELTA. It’s exhausting, physically and mentally but I functioned significantly better focusing only on my course. For me the course actually helped as a distraction from dealing with the sudden death of my grandpa and other life situations.
  2. Listen to your tutors. It’s a no-brainer really. But listen carefully, take in as much as physically possible and actively take part during input sessions. I was craving for a challenge after years in a repetitive, dull job and my brain worked like a sponge and I followed their instructions and guidance religiously.
  3. Work on the feedback your tutors and classmates give you on your teaching. Probably the most important one. Every single time I took their suggestions and feedback on board and I improved after every Teaching Practice (TP).
  4. Help each other. OK, this you can’t control. Your classmates might not be that friendly or helpful but our group was pretty amazing. We helped each other with everything, checking each other’s handouts, reading each other’s assignments, even little things like getting coffee for each other. I wouldn’t have done it without them. Honestly.
  5. Trust yourself. This is a tough one, but in order to get Grade A you need to demonstrate you can work independently, plan and deliver a lesson with minimal guidance (for the last two TPs the only ‘guidance’ I got was nodding). When Fiona, during our second tutoring session, asked me why I was being ‘modest’ when scoring myself as ‘to standard’ for most and a couple of ‘below standard’ of a long list of competences (the ones you are being assessed on your CELTA), I wasn’t really being modest. I thought I was doing OK but I didn’t really believe I was ‘above standard’. I didn’t know what the standard was so I had no idea how I was doing. After that session I did my best, not because I was desperate to get Grade A, but not to let Fiona and Jonny down, who believed in me and gave me the chance to go for a higher grade. I didn’t care about the grade, I cared about them, so I had to believe in and trust myself, particularly for those last two TPs.
  6. Pay attention to detail. Don’t rush into doing your assignments or planning a lesson. Do it carefully and take everything you learn into account. Otherwise you won’t produce quality work and I promise you, you will have to resubmit at least one or two assignments. The reason I didn’t have to resubmit any was due to my overthinking and excruciatingly painful need to keep working and working on something (and probably all the years of studying at uni). Thank God for deadlines.
  7. Be creative. With your lesson plans, your handouts, your PPTs. If you just follow the book to every single detail and not improvise, use other resources, design your own exercises, not only you won’t get an A, you won’t make a great teacher either.
  8. Get to know your students, keep them engaged and interested. You can design the best, most fun, amazing lessons in the world but it means nothing unless you deliver them well. How? Learn your students’ names and personalities, use their first names, ‘read’ the situation, if they look bored or disinterested or baffled, change your lesson plan. For me it was easy, I love chatting to people, getting to know them and I’m good at observing and noticing others reactions. If you don’t care about your students you won’t last long in this job!

So these are my top 8 tips, based on my experience. Some of it may not be easy to follow, not everyone finds it easy to be creative, perceptive (that’s down to personality) or write an assignment (that’s down to experience and I had plenty in academia) and you may not get Grade A even if you follow my advice, but I promise you, you will at least get the most out of this uniquely painful, rewarding and at points surreal experience.