On Friday I finished my month-long English Language teaching course, the CELTA. It’s an entry-level course that lets you get a job in lots of places around the world. CELTA plus two years of experience lets you get a job teaching General English (as opposed to e.g. English for Academic Purposes) in almost any country you would like to go to, as I understand it. Doing CELTA was overkill for my job in Korea, but I wanted to do a proper training course involving lots of feedback on actual teaching so that I can do a really good job when I go.

The course has three main components, the first being “input sessions” which are classes where all twenty-four of us got taught about teaching, including both theoretical and more practical material. Since we were being taught by English teachers, these sessions involved a lot of group work and many very very “student-centered” i.e. the tutor didn’t tell us very much. There were some exceptional sessions which I found interesting and engaging, but as the course went on these got fewer and things got very repetitive. And a few sessions were so hands-off that they weren’t worth going to (unfortunately we had to attend all of them to get the certificate).

The second component of the course is teaching practice. We spent hours constructing very formal and detailed lesson plans, and then tried them out on adults from a huge variety of backgrounds coming in for free lessons. These lessons were assessed and our final grade on the course was based primarily on our performance in these sessions. 95% of people internationally (and 100% of our group) pass, and then there are Pass-B and Pass-A grades available. The idea of the higher grades is to indicate to employers that you’re suitable for being thrown in at the deep end whereas someone with a pass is expected to need support in choosing what to teach etc. No-one on my course got a Pass-A. Maybe eight of us got a Pass-B.

The third component of the course, and the least important, is four written assignments that are academic in tone. They are just pass/fail with one chance to resubmit. I found them very strange because they were so unlike anything I wrote during my degree. I found it hard to write well without trying to push a case: in a philosophy essay you’re trying to fulfill your own criteria: have I made this convincing? How can I do so? With these assignments it was very much a case of ticking a bunch of boxes, and none of these involve arguing for anything. Then there were the citations. I was very uncomfortable citing someone as an authority. I made a claim based on my own experience and then instead of arguing for it I had to find someone published who said the same thing, and appeal straight to that. This makes sense in a scientific subject like EFL, but I was citing textbooks/general reading rather than research papers so I didn’t feel as though I was achieving much.

There were six tutors on the course. Two were particularly inspiring since for different reasons for each, they seemed to be exceptionally good teachers. I would like to be something like that. I feel that if I work hard to continue to put effort into preparing lessons so that I am enthusiastic about delivering them, I could develop my own teaching persona to be as effective as theirs. The other tutors had their strengths, but some were just bad teachers and the others just didn’t care about it.

The other trainees on the course were a really solid bunch. The range of ages was huge. There were a handful of people like me just graduating university, some older ones already teaching looking to enhance their job prospects and some between thirty and sixty looking for a career change. Many were good to learn from, and they were all good fun to be around. Most importantly the vast majority were very driven and motivated to do well and then go around the world teaching, which made for a good environment to work hard in. It’s a shame that I’m not likely to see very many of these people again. Hopefully some meet-ups can be arranged.

I had an easy ride compared to many people with regard to the workload of the course. I was very, very far from being the best teacher of the twenty-four of us. However, quite a lot of the course (at least in terms of the percentage of input sessions) is on grammar and other aspects of language awareness and this is something that I find pretty trivial, but other people found incredibly difficult. I am also quite efficient at writing lesson plans compared to a lot of others and so for most of the course I was at least a day ahead of most people which quickly gained me a reputation for being cleverer than I am. I found this very uncomfortable. There were people with linguistics degrees who were in a better position than me but somehow they managed to avoid getting a similar reputation. As people got to know me as the four weeks went on the effect weakened. I feel dishonest coming across as more confident than I actually am.

Something else that was frustrating about the course was the cult of positivity. It was all about strengths and “areas to improve” rather than weaknesses. There was also a lot self-evaluation. It’s perhaps useful to note down what you think you’re good and bad at and see if your tutor agrees, but we were frequently asked to compare ourselves to the assessment criteria and, indirectly to each other. This was because at least once we had to judge whether we were below, at or above the standard expected for the stage of the course we were at for each assessment criteria. It’s the tutors’ job to know what the standards are. All we had to go on was comparing ourselves to each other. This isn’t a healthy thing to be doing. There was also a lot of peer observation and feedback. The observation was useful, but I did not enjoy spending a long time giving positive and negative comments to people about their lessons. We were steered very definitely to not saying anything negative at all. This sort of stuff makes people end up with no confidence, dependent as they are on praise. I could definitely see that happening to me.

The course reinforced my belief that teaching English to those willing to learn it is really really fun. Even if the preparation is a drag, it’s something that gets faster and faster over time. We also got introduced to the various things that one can progress on to do various jobs other than teaching General English, which was encouraging as one thing I worry about with a job like teaching is getting bored. It seems like there is a lot you can do so I can imagine myself making something of a career out of it.

The course also reinforced my belief that I want to do more philosophy more than anything else, though. It really did feel as though, as fun as English teaching is, it’s never going to be as significant for me as reading and writing philosophy. This too was reassuring, since finals killed off a lot of my enthusiasm. So I will continue with my plans to go to grad school in the US after a year teaching in Korea.

After that I was thinking of coming back to teach in secondary schools in the UK, but I was worried in that about being hamstrung by ridiculous attempts at “modernisation” and also getting bored. But now I could consider going back into EFL at the other end, assuming I could find a job where I didn’t feel I was just making rich people richer. In any case far too far away to be thinking about in detail.