The CELTA Experience (1)

I found out about CELTA through a fellow English teacher, though I should say, she’s THE teacher that got me into English language teaching to begin with. I basically owe her my entire career because not only did she get me started, but she also believed in me from the very beginning even when I had my doubts. Her support and encouragement has meant so much to me during this whole process and I can’t thank her enough.

I began by doing research on what the course would entail so that I could have some idea of what to expect and how to prepare for it. The Cambridge website is really the best place to start because all the information is there–about the course, FAQs, and most importantly, all the accredited centres that offer the course around the world.

Once I had satisfied all my questions, the next step was to choose a centre. Since my own country doesn’t offer the course, it was inevitable that I would have to go abroad. I started by choosing the possible countries that I could consider within a reasonable and realistic criteria. Reasonable being, “can I afford to go there?” and realistic being, “can I afford to go there?” because I would have loved to have taken the course in England, being the Anglophile that I am, but that was neither reasonable nor realistic (each individual’s criteria will vary). So my choices were down to my closest neighboring countries. I took note of each centre’s important information–website, address, phone number, email address, and person to contact for enquiries–then proceeded to send each one an email requesting for more details about the course. When I received all the replies, I was able to compare pros and cons for each, such as cost of the course (this will vary per centre), cost of living in that country for a month, and services that the centre offers (visa assistance, accommodation assistance, airport pick up, etc.). After seeing all the information, I made my choice–Apollo Education and Training in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I chose this centre because it was affordable and they offered assistance with nearly all arrangements. Additionally, I chose Apollo because it’s affiliated with International House, which is a pretty big name in ELT as far as I know, so that was a big deciding factor as well.

After choosing a centre comes the pre-interview task.  The pre-interview task basically tests your knowledge of the English language, so think grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and the like. It’s a fairly short task consisting of only five sections, and a list of reference materials is provided for help in completing the task should you need it. I probably procrastinated at this step the longest because I wasn’t confident enough that I would pass. Although I consider English to be my first language, my knowledge of grammar wasn’t that high, which is usually the case for people whose first language is English. I could tell you if a sentence was correct or not just by reading it or hearing it, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you why it was right or why it was wrong. So I did know grammar, but not in the way that an English teacher was supposed to know grammar. If I remember correctly, I think I took about two weeks to complete the task and find enough courage to submit it.

Once the pre-interview task is submitted, the final step in the application process is the interview. There will be a set date and time for when this will take place, usually over Skype for international interviews, as was the case with me. I was so nervous on the day of my interview that I had butterflies in my stomach and I was literally sweating through my shirt even though it was a relatively cool day. The person conducting the interview is normally the CELTA tutor who will be running the course, and the aim of the interview is for the tutor to assess a candidate’s skills and likelihood of being successful in the course. Candidates are also advised to have a copy of their answers to the pre-interview task handy as this will be discussed during the interview. Despite my nervousness, the interview went quite smoothly and I remember that the tutor was really nice and also that he sounded a lot like John Malkovich, which I thought was really cool. After that, candidates wait for an email informing them of their acceptance to (or rejection from) the course.

If you’ve successfully been accepted, then there’s a pre-course task to complete that will help for course preparation. I was accepted into the November 2012 course around the beginning of August, which gave me roughly three months to prepare. My preparation included investing in ELT reference books (Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener, and How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer) and taking a free online Grammar for Teachers course at Cambridge English Teacher (which was advertised as a five hour course, but I’m pretty sure I took about twenty hours to finish it). Of course, everybody will have different ways of preparing, mine just happened to be full-on nerd mode, because that is how I learn best.

It’s also important to remember that if you’ve been accepted into the course, it means that tutors see you as capable of passing and they will offer the necessary support that you need in order to make sure that you don’t fail–you, on the other hand, just need to put in the work and the effort required to make the grade.

The best place to start anything is at the beginning.

I never aspired to be a teacher. It was never a well thought out or meticulous plan, nor was it ever a goal I can remember ever having. My first encounter with teaching happened in 2009 after I had just resigned from a long-term job in the corporate world and relocated myself back to my home town and found myself in need of an income. I lasted about two weeks. I became a victim of self-fulfilling prophecy (which in psychology is roughly defined as a misconception that later becomes true). I was convinced that I neither had the patience nor the qualifications to be a teacher, so I quit and told myself, reassuringly, that teaching was not for me and that I could move past the experience with no guilt for barely even trying.

Skip over two years to 2011 when I was a twenty-four year old high school student working towards completing my diploma. A good friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in being an online tutor for conversational English lessons with children. I expressed my concern about not having any experience, and I was in turn assured that these students were only looking for someone to speak in English with. So I thought about it and eventually agreed because, again, I couldn’t turn down the offer of an income. However, I told myself that I would do it for six months, maximum, just so I could have something to put on my CV. As it turned out, six months turned into three years.

My first few weeks of ‘teaching’, that self-fulfilling prophecy kept coming back to me. I was telling myself that I was nowhere near qualified to be in charge of anyone’s learning and I was pretty sure that I was doing a lousy job and that the students would ask for a different tutor at any moment. I did notice, though, that patience wasn’t really an issue anymore and that I was actually even enjoying myself when I wasn’t berating myself for not being an actual teacher. Then a day came, maybe two or three months after I started, when a student’s mother sent me a message thanking me for helping her daughter and that she was noticing a lot of improvement in her English. I felt really touched by her words and it was probably the first time I realised that I was doing something worthwhile. Nice words and compliments continued to come in from other students and parents, to my surprise, and that’s when I started thinking that I might actually be good at this and that this is something that I could actually do as a career.

At that point, I knew that I had a responsibility and that I owed it to my students to be able to give them the legitimate help that they needed. I could have taken their compliments and bloated my ego and told myself that I was doing great just as I was, but deep down, I knew that there was more to it and that I needed to be more than just a conversation partner. That’s when I came across CELTA.

CELTA presented itself to me at such a fortuitous moment. As soon as I found out about it, I began doing the research and it instantly became a top-priority goal. CELTA was very intimidating in so many ways. Firstly, because it comes from the University of Cambridge–which has been my dream school since as far back as I can remember, but that’s another story. Secondly, it’s described as a four-week full-time intensive course that, according to my research, people sometimes drop out of due to the stress and the workload. Thirdly, the application process involved a five-page pre-interview task that would determine whether one qualified for an interview, which would then determine whether one qualified for the course. My doubts resurfaced several times and I questioned myself constantly about whether or not I was capable of doing this. What I did know, however, was that I really wanted it and I was going to do whatever was required to get it.

I got my high school diploma in mid-2011 and once I received it, I was qualified to apply for CELTA. I was accepted into the course and I completed it at the end of 2012. Since then, I’ve encountered some obstacles which have been hindering my career progression as an English language teacher–such as not having a university degree–though slowly but surely, opportunities have presented themselves to offer solutions to the adversities.

This blog is dedicated to the journey that started in 2011–it’s an ongoing journey that hasn’t been easy and has yet to really take off. There are stories to tell and stories that haven’t happened yet and I’m certain that the path I’m on isn’t linear, as it never has been in the past, but as of this writing, my goal is to complete DELTA. Whether this will come true in the coming years or disappear entirely, we will have to wait to find out.

 

For more information about CELTA >> http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/celta/

For more information about DELTA >> http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/delta/