"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China

Surviving the CELTA
August 25, 2010, 2:59 pm
Filed under: efl world, teaching | Tags: ,

If you’re at all interested in teaching English, you should, without a doubt, get some kind of certification. Think of it as the training wheels of real teaching – the place where you are allowed to bomb majorly without any severe repercussions (like getting fired). And believe me, if you’re a new teacher (or even an experienced teacher), you WILL bomb. It takes guts to get up in front of a class and perform, with anywhere from three to fifteen to forty to a hundred pairs of eyes on you. Anyone who’s ever been a student knows that students pay attention to everything–your voice, your manner, your mismatched outfit, even your zits. So don’t be surprised if you walk in front of the class with your perfectly planned lesson, and all of a sudden you see your hands shaking and your voice sounds thin.

It’s normal.

That’s where getting training helps. A good program will not only teach you effective methods and offer opportunities to practice teaching, but will also encourage you to develop enough self-awareness so that you will continue to improve long after the course ends, when you’re in the “real world.”

This past summer, I got my CELTA (Certificate to Teach English to Adults), a teaching qualification offered by the University of Cambridge. (They have a number of locations around the world; I took the course in New York City, through Teaching House.) It is supposed to be highly recognized around the world, and I have to say, schools took much more of an interest in me once I told them I had my CELTA. I think that the CELTA is a great program for a number of reasons, but if nothing else, it will get you in the EFL door.

I took the four-week intensive course and LOVED it. I had a lot of fun teaching, met awesome people and developed very useful teaching skills. It also helped that the CELTA method is very compatible with my own learning style; they teach you to get the students to actively engage with the material and internalize grammar and vocabulary. Nothing is supposed to be translated or defined; the idea is to “guide” the students toward an understanding of the material, rather than handing it to them. The course also strives to make you, as a teacher, conscious of lesson aims, the students’ backgrounds, and how to adapt each lesson to a range of learning styles, as well as how to make each activity memorable and, yes, even fun.

I felt that not everyone’s experience was as positive as my own. Some people who had extensive teaching experience seemed to have difficulty conforming to the CELTA method. Others seemed to find it extremely stressful. There are online reviews of the course that would have you believe that the side effects of CELTA include stress, stress, the impulse to jump off a bridge, stress, and more stress, sandwiched in between a string of all-nighters. But in my opinion, if you can get yourself through four years of college, you can survive four weeks without pulling all nighters or developing an ulcer; and if you manage your time well, you can even enjoy it.

That’s not to say that the course is a walk in the park. Trainees (as they called us) are expected to teach a forty-minute course every other day and turn in a procedure page and a grammar, language or vocabulary analysis page. In addition, four written assignments are also required, as well as taking detailed notes on other trainees’ performances. So definitely expect to be busy.

The course is supposed to last from 9-5, but generally we were let out at around 4:15-4:30. Class also doesn’t formally start until 9:30; from 9-9:30, people float in and out of the room, making copies of lesson plans and going over their lessons with the instructors to get last-minute tips before they take the plunge. At 9:30, we attended a class to learn about effective teaching methods. Often, our instructors would start with a mock lesson, in which we were the EFL students, and then we would discuss what made the lesson successful or unsuccessful. At noon we had lunch, and then we would have our teaching practicum.

For the teaching practicum (or TP), the class is divided into three groups of six. Every week, the groups rotate between different levels of English classes – Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate and Upper Intermediate. Three trainees teach a class each day, meaning that everyone teaches every other day. Trainees are given lessons to prepare based on a textbook; each week, however, the lessons become less and less detailed, forcing the trainees to do more of the planning. Eventually, the trainees have to come up with their own 60-minute lesson.

After TP, each group gets together for a feedback session, led by one of the instructors. This could be potentially devastating, but it is meant to be a great way to further understand the effectiveness of one’s lesson lesson. I often found that I was too harsh with myself, so the feedback session was a refreshing reality check. I also found that the fellow trainees tended to be generous with praise and offered constructive criticism, probably because we were all in the same boat.

The instructor grades each lesson with At Standard, Below Standard and Above Standard. While it is difficult to earn an Above Standard, it is just as difficult to score below. It’s best not to worry about the grade; as long as you avoid getting Below, you should be able to pass the course. Even so, the instructors made it very clear that if you are in danger of failing, you will be warned well in advance.

To sum up, I have a few simple tips for surviving the CELTA:

  1. Manage your time. Absolutely key. You DON’T want to plan a lesson the night before, or worse, the day of. On that note, I knew a few people who stayed up till all hours of the night working on their lessons. This is totally unnecessary; planning a lesson shouldn’t take longer than 3-4 hours TOPS. The one time I spent six hours on a lesson and slept four hours that night was probably my worst class; I just had no energy left to teach. So don’t kill yourself over four weeks of your life.
  2. Be positive and get to know your fellow trainees. People tend to be very nervous the day they teach; that’s normal, and I’ve found that the best way to combat it is to think positive thoughts and be social. Plus, you might make some good friendships! The people in my class still keep in touch with each other.
  3. Do the pre-course task, even though it’s technically optional. I know it’s long (something like 50 questions, plus a lot of reading), but try to get as much done as possible. It’s a good grammar review and introduction to the CELTA method that will ultimately save you time and stress throughout the course. Plus, there were times when I could who did it and who didn’t based on peoples’ questions in class–and if I could tell, I’m sure the instructors could, too.
  4. Finally, don’t plop down $2500 for the course unless you know you want to teach. Otherwise, it’s a waste of money, a waste of time, and will not be a pleasant experience. Try volunteering somewhere to see if teaching is your thing before you get too ambitious.

If you are still interested, go here for more info: http://www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/teaching-awards/celta.html

Good luck!


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hi there,
I sincerely enjoyed your post about your CELTA experience. I will be taking the course in London later this month and I have been super anxious with the amount of work that is waiting to be done. It is soooo refreshing to see a post that is positive yet realistic about the intesity of the course. All the best in your teaching adventures 🙂


Comment by Faye

Wow, this is an amazingly written review of what CELTA really is. I’m going to check out Teaching House in NYC now! Thank you.


Comment by Jasmin Zorlu

Hey, where do you get volunteering experience as a teacher of esl. I have volunteered as a tutor for high school kids and didn’t like it as they were nyc public school kids. And middle school kids were worse. I did enjoy tutoring/teaching adults, yet, these adults have major obstacles in life.
Do you know of other volunteering places to feel out teaching adult students/business professionals in new york city?
(I have volunteered with New York Cares for 3-4 years in different projects).


Comment by Cyrus

Hey there 🙂

Thank you for the amazing informative post.

Would you think location of taking CELTA matters though? I can’t decide between St Giles & Teaching House – SFO/BOS & NYC. Do eventually hope to be able to get a job in the States one day, writing from Singapore 🙂



Comment by aly

hi there,

I don’t think it matters where you get your CELTA, but I’m not sure. I’ve heard that St. Giles’ ESL program in SF is disorganized, but I don’t know about their certification program. I can’t recommend working as an ESL teacher in the States. Getting a job is easy, but you can expect to work long hours for very little money, with little to no options career development. You’d literally be living hand to mouth in cities like SF or NYC. Your students will want to go out to lunch with you at the end of the semester and you’ll have to decline because you can’t afford it. Either that, or you’d need to live at home with your parents or rely on your husband/wife/partner.


Comment by altogo

Oh dear.

Thanks for giving perspective though :))


Comment by aly

[…] fancy, just quick tweaks that will make your lesson run smoother, all of which I learned in my CELTA course, and then tested/perfected through personal […]


Pingback by Silent Classroom Syndrome, and Tricks to Fix it | "Wish You Happy Everyday": My Expat Life in China

I just want to tell all of you who are considering taking the CELTA that you’d better spend the money on something else because this course serves for nothing at all. I took it with expectations to find a teaching job immediately but it has been a year since I took it and I still haven’t had this luck. Moreover, I’m graduated and have the CPE but still, it seems that employers will always prefer the unqualified native to the qualified non-native. All the CELTA teachers that went with me have experienced no change in job or salary at all…So, my advice is you will really be throwing your money away.


Comment by sara

[…] fancy, just quick tweaks that will make your lesson run smoother, all of which I learned in my CELTA course, and then tested/perfected through personal […]


Pingback by Silent Classroom Syndrome, and Tricks to Fix it -

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