There have been quite a few blog posts and articles regarding the working conditions for many private English language schools in the UK and abroad. Most of the constructive feedback regarding the private EFL industry revolve around remuneration, or the lack of it. I wanted to share my experiences of working in the UK EFL industry and what made me quit my permanent job.
I should say that this blog post is not a wholly critical look at the EFL industry but rather (I hope) a balanced view of my experiences and what led up to me leaving my last employers.
A previous blog post looked at 10 books recommended for the CELTA course but I also received a number of questions on Twitter, Facebook and this blog from readers wondering about how to prepare for the CELTA or where to take the course. In this post, I will be referring to the four week intensive CELTA (or equivalent), with some additional information transferable towards the 12 week part-time or online CELTA course, and how best to prepare for such a course. The majority of certificate courses are usually held over four weeks and incorporate various teacher training sessions as well as observed teaching practice. Nevertheless, I have provided 9 tips and pieces of advice for those that want to do the CELTA with answers to some of the most common questions asked.
1. Where can I take the CELTA?
This is the first question you need to ask yourself is whether the course is available near to where you reside. You can find this out by going to the Cambridge English website and clicking on “Find a Teaching Qualifications centre near you“. You will then be directed to another page where you can find CELTA centres based on country and region within this country. What I do recommend is that you choose a centre which is in close proximity to where you reside otherwise you will be commuting to and from the centre as well as preparing for lessons in the evening. For example, I had to commute one and a half hours to the centre into Seoul and then back home again (a total of three hours each day) with me having to arrive at least by 8:30am. Thus, I had to be up by 5am to get the train to Seoul at 6am and especially not for the faint hearted. So try to choose a centre which is around 30 minutes away from where you will be residing during the next four weeks. I have heard that some people decide to do a CELTA abroad and find temporary accommodation during the period of their CELTA course.
2. Pre-Interview Task
After applying for the CELTA, you will be asked to complete a pre-interview task. The pre-interview task is your chance to show your awareness of the English language, the differences between similar words, the sounds of the English language as well as completing an essay related to teaching or what constitutes a successful lesson. With regards to the language awareness, you will be provided with several learner errors and asked to correct the mistakes by writing a grammatically correct sentence. Below are examples of the pre-interview tasks which have been sourced and are freely available from the University of Texas.
Each of the exchanges below contains a mistake. In each case:
write the corrected version in the space provided
clarify your correction in simple English to explain the mistake
Mr. Smith: “Do you have much experience in the restaurant business?”
Giorgio: “Yes, I’ve been working as a chef since 10 years.”
I’ve been working as a chef for ten years.
We use ‘since’ before a point in time – for example, since Tuesday, since 1992, since 5 o’clock. We use for before a period of time – for example, for two weeks, for six years, for ten minutes. In this case ‘10 years’ is a period of time, so we need ‘for’.
Differences in meaning:
Comment on the difference in meaning between the following pairs of sentences, and outline how you might teach these differences in meaning.
Claire is working late again; she’s so passionate about her work!
Jane is working late again; she’s so obsessed with her work!
In the first sentence, the word ‘passionate’ suggests that Claire’s reason for working late is that she is driven by a love for her job and a healthy desire to succeed. In the second sentence, the word ‘obsessed’ suggests that Claire’s reason for working late is that she lacks a healthy balance in her life. She is so fixated on her work that perhaps she doesn’t do anything else, or perhaps other areas of her life are negatively affected.
To teach it, I would draw two pictures (or bring in two photographs). The first would be of a person working at her desk in an office. I would show the time with a clock on the wall (showing 9:30 pm). She would have a smile on her face to show that she was happy (and passionate about her work!)
For the second sentence, I would have a picture of Jane at her desk in her office, but she would look tired (and a little stressed). The time would still be 9:30pm on the clock. I hope these two examples would show the positive/negative aspects of the two sentences.
Word stress and stress patterns:
Word stress, which focuses on the stress within particular syllables, such as ‘banana’ and the stress being bolded and underlined: baNAna. You will receive a possible grid of particular stress patterns (oOo, Ooo, ooO, etc.) and you must try to place words under their corresponding stress item. The activity below will help you better understand what is expected.
The final activity, related to the corresponding sounds of English, is attempting for you to connect same sounds with different words. If you are able to complete the following activity, it will help you learn about the sounds of isolated units from words. You may receive an activity to connect words with the same vowel sound (lead & sheep). There may also be an activity whereby you have to connect consonants or focus on the endings and beginnings from different words. It is not a tough task but you do need to spend a bit more time on this activity. An example activity is available below and, again, you will be download this task from the University of Texas website.
Match the underlined sound of the words in column A to a word in column B with a corresponding sound. Note: the sound can correspond to any sound in the words in Column B. For example: advice goes with sip. Beware! The spelling of the sound may be different!
When you first decide to do the CELTA (or equivalent), it is best to prepare for your interview. You do not exactly go to a particular centre and expect the red carpet to be rolled out for you. You need to show that you are enthusiastic about teaching and keen to undertake a gruelling training course. One way for trainees and the centre to gauge your suitability for such a course is to interview you. When I went to the British Council in South Korea, I was interviewed with another possible trainee and we both had to work together on a particular task. We were then taken out of the room and interviewed individually. As well as being interviewed in person, we also had to write about a teacher that we admired when were students. So be prepared to write something in a short space of time – I think we had around 20 minutes. There are some questions that you should prepare in advance for the interview, as with any important interview. Some of the following questions you should consider answering for the CELTA interview could include:
Why do you want to do the CELTA course?
What do you know about the CELTA course already?
What is the most important thing to do in first lessons?
How do you see yourself in a team?
How do you react to feedback and criticism?
The interview is essentially to see if you are able to undertake such a demanding course as well as have the personality to that will aid you when working with other trainees.
4. Other Trainees
When you are on the CELTA course with other trainees, it is important that you get on well with them and you should not be on a witch-hunt when observing other trainee’s teaching practice. The first day is important as you will meet the other trainees as well as the trainers. It is vital that you get on well with all people on the course and with your trainers as they will be providing and offering feedback on your very own teaching practice. If you end up giving a lot of negative feedback which is not so constructive and rather personal about your peers’ teaching practice or not listening to your own feedback from the trainers, you will find the course very tough indeed. Trainers will want you to incorporate a lot of what they mention into the teaching practice and you will be expected to offer constructive feedback on your peers’ teaching practice. I remember have heard trainees being shown the door if they are unable to take on board the feedback from input sessions or teaching practice or have difficulty adjusting to what is expected. Treat your other trainees with respect no matter how heavy the pressures are with the course. All trainees are in the same boat and you will be expected to work together as a team and helping each other (when needed) to assist in the preparation of your teaching. The biggest thing is not to lose your cool and not to start any personal vendettas against your fellow trainees.
5. Social Calendar
When you are doing the CELTA course, you will find that you will have very little time to socialise during the week and at the weekend, you will feel like having a rest from the course. It is a very tough and intense course, with very little opportunity to relax so best to cancel all those evenings out with your friends, forget birthday parties as well as your partner. They will see very little of you during the next four weeks. I remember having no social life during the four weeks. The Director of the school came into the session and compared the CELTA Course to a ‘boot camp‘ for English language teachers. It was a simple analogy but it is in fact very true. Once I finished the course, all trainees went out with the trainers to celebrate completion of the course and we had a lovely meal all together. During weekends, I was too tired to do anything and would wake up late on Saturday, spend time with family before returning to lesson preparation on Sunday for the Monday. It was a tough and arduous four weeks but you will feel a great sense of achievement. However, you should ask yourself if you have the support and understanding of family and friends while you are focusing on the CELTA Course for four weeks and have very little time to devote to them.
6. Lesson Planning
Planning your lessons is not meant to be easy and it will take a while for you to get used to the expectation from the CELTA trainers. Your trainers will probably give you an input session on the first day on how to write lesson plans and what they expect from their trainees. It is likely you will receive an electronic lesson plan template which you could use for all your lesson planning needs. Prepare to spend as much time on the lesson planning as much as preparing all the material for your lessons. There are some areas you need to consider when writing your lesson plan and you may have a coursebook to refer to when preparing your lessons. If you have a coursebook which you could refer to during the course, then read the Teacher’s Book. It will have a lot of information about the relevant pages from the coursebook as well as suggested staging of the lesson. You will be expected to supplement the coursebook as much as possible and incorporate some of the teaching ideas and activities suggested during teacher input sessions by the trainers.
When writing your lesson aims, it is best to focus on the following: “By the end of the lesson, students will have …”. This attempts you to reflect on your lesson and what your students will have achieved by the end of the lesson. If you look in the Teacher’s Book of the coursebook, you will see some aims and this will guide you completing this section of the lesson plan. When you look at subsidiary aims – those aims which are not as vital as those primary aims but do play a role in the classroom – you do need to access what skills and systems are being practised during the lesson. For example, if you are focusing on a role-play at a Post Office, then main aims are likely to be functional language and subsidiary aims could be question and answer formation, listening and speaking skills. As well as aims, there are other vitally important areas in the lesson plan, such as the class profile.
While writing the class profile, ask yourself the following:
What are their names?
What are their linguistic strengths and weaknesses?
How long have they been studying English?
Why are they studying English?
Are there any particular pronunciation issues?
It is important to ask students this in the first lesson and to keep a record of your learners as this will help you within this area of the lesson plan. Write your class profile and update if you learn something new and share this information with the other trainees. Finally, when writing the staging of the lesson, try to focus on the methods suggested by the trainers or those demonstrated during the input sessions. While thinking of the stages, think about the activities that you want to cover, the mini-stages as well as how to achieve your primary aims from the lesson plan. The first question asked by the trainers is, “Did you achieve your aims?” followed by “How do you think the lesson went?”. Keep the staging logical and try to refer to it as much as possible. The more practice you have with lesson planning during the course, the better you will get at anticipating how long activities may take.
7. Lesson Observations & Feedback
As mentioned previously, the feedback focus on your teaching practice will look at whether the aims and objectives were achieved but trainers will always ask leading questions to ascertain whether you think your lessons was satisfactory. Lesson feedback is not meant to criticise your teaching but is enabled to support you as a trainee and feedback, as was part of my course, was conducted in front of all other trainees. The other trainees are prompted to provide feedback so do not feel surprised by the trainers asking for opinions from other trainees. During the observation tasks, trainees will be requested to focus on particular areas related to the teaching practice. A memorable activity from my CELTA course which I was asked to conduct was to look at particular tasks or areas of teaching that I would like to incorporate in my classes and some suggestions for things to recommend for the trainee to incorporate into future lessons. It is very important to provide balanced feedback on a lesson that you have observed and to move away from pure criticism. The trainers and your peers, as mentioned previously, would not thank you for your negative contribution.
While teaching, try to take on board some of the feedback that you have received from your fellow trainees as well as from the trainers. If you demonstrate that you are incorporating their suggestions and taking on board their feedback, you will have minimal problems. Your trainers will praise you for doing what they recommended. It is easy to think that you know better than your trainers or fellow trainees but keep your opinions to yourself, there are only four weeks and you can return to what you think works better for your afterward the CELTA course.
8. Primary Reading
A previous post which I wrote related to the top ten CELTA books is incredibly useful but there might be additional reading that your centre will recommend. I would recommend reading as many books as possible related to teaching English as a foreign language whether they made my list of the top ten CELTA books or are recommended by your CELTA centre. You will receive a list of recommended books to purchase prior to starting the CELTA course and the majority of the books that I recommend are very useful. They can be referred to during the course and will help you while preparing your lesson plans as well as the written tasks which are provided later in the course.
The four books you should really consider purchasing for your course are:
“Grammar for English Language Teachers” by Martin Parrott
“Practical English Usage” by Michael Swan
“Learning Teaching” by Jim Scrivener
“Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener
9. Enjoy the Course
The biggest tip that I can give trainees doing the CELTA course would be to enjoy their time and experience. The four weeks ends very quickly and you will find yourself missing the other trainees and trainers when you have finished. The course was fantastic and I learnt so much in such a short space of time. It is difficult to enjoy your time while doing the CELTA but if you relax, learn from all feedback as well as the input sessions and get on well with all other trainees, the course will a lot more manageable and you will receive a great deal more support from others. If you isolate yourself, you will be counting down the days until you finish. If you have enjoyed the course and the other trainees, you will make a lot of new friends and will end up keeping in touch with other teacher trainees. The trainers will also be able to offer some career advice regarding English language teaching and if you make a good impression, it may be possible that you secure some employment with the centre afterwards.
I hope all the advice above is useful and you take this on board. What did you take away from the CELTA course? Would you have any words of wisdom for our readers?
It has been a number years since I took the CELTA Course, at least seven years since I actually completed the course at the British Council Seoul. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet other Native English Speaker Teachers (NESTS) and Non-Native English Speaker Teachers (NNESTS) resident in Korea wishing to develop professionally as teachers. We all shared our commitment to the profession and wanted to improve our skills as teachers. I enjoyed the course so much that I created a CELTA Group on Facebook to keep in touch with the other trainees. Anyhow, I have been thinking about books that were recommended before starting the course, as well as books that I have come across after the CELTA course, and I thought a blog post suggesting potential books to aid the CELTA trainee would suffice.
The first book, Learning Teaching, that was recommended for trainees as part of pre-reading and preparation before as well as during the CELTA course. It is an incredible book which looks at teaching various skills (reading, writing, speaking, etc.) and proposed approaches for the classroom, which when learning to teach English to language learners, is invaluable. Also, there are sections within the book which assist teachers, both experienced and less experienced, which cover classroom management, various styles of teaching, methods and approaches to language teaching as well as professional development opportunities to consider. I remember the CELTA trainers advising that this book should be our bible during the course and we should attempt to read the various sections when required. Not only is it a useful book for before and during the CELTA course, but it has always been a book that I have constantly returned to, when getting ideas on developing a curriculum or planning courses and lessons.
Another book which I had discovered invaluable as part of lesson planning, language awareness and teaching practice was Advanced English Grammar in Use. It was incredibly helpful when I wanted to look at particular grammar points in context and in more detail. For example, Raymond Murphy offers additional focus the use of the Present Simple in context with daily routines or habits. You could look at some of these suggestions and personalise it for your teaching practice. As well as the demonstrating of isolated grammar points, Advanced English Grammar in Useoffers some thoughts on written grammar practice and this again could either be recreated and personalised in your teaching practice. If you are new to the teaching of grammar, you could purchase the lower levels of English Grammar in Use to better understand the premise behind certain grammar structures.
This was another book which was on my recommended reading list for the CELTA course and I ordered it specially from the UK and it was delivered a week later in Korea. It is incredibly informative and will help trainees with preparing lessons focused solely on key vocabulary and grammar. This book is very well organised alphabetically from ‘abbreviated styles‘ to ‘yes and no‘. I have used this book to prepare lessons on vocabulary for higher learners such as newspaper headlines as well as focus on grammar. When you combine this book with other recommended books in this post, it is really really useful and I would urge any potential CELTA trainee or experienced teacher to go and buy this book. It is most likely in most English teacher’s staffroom but it is one of those books that you will return to and those teachers that have completed the CELTA, who had not bought this book, should really purchase Practical English Usage.
This is the second book by Scrivener that I am recommending but this is not to suggest that I swayed by his books. Although Teaching English Grammarhad not been published when I took the CELTA course in 2008, I was introduced to it when it was first published. Had this been available in my course, it would have helped immensely during the lesson planning stage. Scrivener aids the reader through various things to consider when teaching areas of grammar with suggested context building activities, language practice ideas, suggested concept checking questions (CCQs) as well as possible learner errors occurring for each grammar item. It is incredibly useful and despite not having this book during my CELTA days, it has been great to get some ideas for teaching.
This is a wonderfully organised book which breaks down grammar into easy-to-understand chapters. As with some of the previous books which I have recommended, Grammar for English Language Teachers was recommended for the CELTA course as it could be referred to during the written assignments. As with previous reference books, this grammar book offers the reader the chance to consider some key aspects, provides the key forms of the referred grammar, typical difficulties for language learners, as well as some consolidation exercises to practice what has been learnt and improve your skills as a language teacher. When I speak to other teachers, they always tell me this is a good place to start when preparing lessons for teaching grammar.
There are a few books that focus solely on pronunciation and after my CELTA course, I purchased Sound Foundations, by Adrian Underhill. I just found this book a little too theoretical yet with a bit more reading and focus, there were some suggested practical ideas and they were great. I do in fact recommend Sound Foundations for those that are interested in pronunciation as an area. However, with The Book of Pronunciation, the authors have created some fantastic ideas for isolated lessons on a range of pronunciation areas such as homophones, stress, intonation, as well as many other areas. This book offers some interesting areas which CELTA trainees could incorporate as part of their lesson and had I acquired this book before my training, I would have been able to experiment during teaching practice.
When you start your CELTA course, there is a lot of acronyms you need to get your head around; TTT, STT, CCQs, ICQs, PPP, etc. It can all be a bit overwhelming to be honest and you have a lot of other things to think about such as your lesson planning, assignments and input sessions that you need to attend. Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT offers a quick reference for all those hard-to-learn acronyms and abbreviations, and as everything is in alphabetical order you can find terms quite quickly. As well as this, the book provides the trainee some background reading into some of the theories and ideas behind language acquisition and learning. Once you have finished the CELTA, Thornbury’s book can be referred to as you develop as a teacher and is also recommended for the DELTA, should you decide a few years later to do this.
Apologies but this is going to be the third and final book that I recommend which is written by Scrivener, but to be honest his books are great for those individuals undertaking or wishing to undertake the CELTA. Nevertheless, one key element which is focused on the CELTA course is the area of classroom management which is heavily focused upon during the observed teaching practice. I remember the trainers telling me to improve my instructions and reducing teacher talking time (TTT). Of course it is useful to receive such feedback about classroom management but there was minimal reading with relation to this. However, with Scrivener’s latest publication, Classroom Management Techniques, he hopes to fill this void. The book is easy to read with some great illustrations, and it great for any teacher training sessions which I focus on with experienced teachers. There are many areas that Scrivener focuses on which include; the classroom, the teacher, the learner, lessons, etc. As with previous recommendations, this book is invaluable for the day-to-day running of a course and it offers some wonderful ideas to think about should you have trouble with a class or selected learners. At the end of each chapter, there are some questions for reflection on particular areas of classroom management. Unfortunately, this book had not been published when I took the CELTA course but it was one of those books that I purchased immediately as soon as it was available.
This book, by Nigel Turton, seems to be in short supply but if you can get your hands on ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, it would be highly recommended. The book is organised alphabetically with particular words and grammar forms. Nigel illustrates some common errors – these could unsuitable words, word order or grammatical errors – as well as their corrections in a systematic and organised way. This book can be easily referred to during the CELTA course to assist in anticipated errors for students and this could be written into lesson plans. It would also assist in the developing awareness while teaching English and the potential pitfalls that language learners may encounter. With this book, you will be armed to to write your lesson plans in the best way possible. Get this book and you will not regret it. However, what this book lacks in possible errors that particular nationalities may encounter is recommended by the final book in this post.
This is the final book for this list and also the second recommended in this post which is written by Michael Swan. Learner English, much like ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, is a highly informative book which prepares trainees in teaching and possible errors and first language interference possible language learners may encounter while acquiring English. Swan’s book focuses on potential phonological and grammatical errors based upon particular language speakers and this is invaluable for trainee teachers or those teachers new to particular speakers of a language. Each focus on language speaker, such as Arabic, has a general breakdown of phonological areas which are common in their first language and those phonological sounds which are not transferred to English. As well as this, the book also covers grammar and sentence construction with a literal and more reader-friendly translation to aid readers in judging how particular nationalities create sentences in their own language and better anticipate potential first language interference. As with other books, this book will help teachers develop their awareness of teaching various learners as well as monolingual groups of students. It is really useful and I would always recommend this book to trainee and experienced teachers.
So this is my top ten list of recommended books for the CELTA but what books would you recommend? Do you have any favourite books that you like to refer to on a daily or weekly basis? What books do you always read? As always, leave your comments below.