The following is a journal of one of our CELTA trainers as he goes through each day of the CELTA course. Here is what goes on behind the scenes in the very challenging CELTA program. Specific references to a particular group or time frame are not the most recent CELTA course. Click here for the previous article: Behind the Scenes of CELTA: Day 2
DAY 3: First Teacher Observation Day
This morning the trainees do the first of their three observation mornings. They are required to complete six hours of observation of experienced teachers. They watch our teachers and as the school is quiet at the moment, with mostly just the core staff working, they all get to see Diploma-qualified teachers and other Trainers. We don’t exactly get an easy morning of it, though. There are interviews for new CELTA applicants this morning and a certain amount of e-paperwork to complete for Cambridge. There’s also work to prepare for the visit of the Assessor later in the Course.
After coffee, I do the input session: an introduction to language analysis. This is the subject that is most on people’s minds at the moment. The native speakers have realised that, although they can use the language perfectly, they have little or no idea as to why they use a particular tense in a particular situation. They would be unable to answer a student’s question as to the difference between “I’ll see her tonight” and “I’m seeing her tonight”. This is where the non-native speakers come into their own. They have learnt the language in the way the students do and so know “the grammar”. There is often incredulity on both sides as to why we never get taught this sort of thing at school.
This is where the non-native speakers come into their own. They have learnt the language in the way the students do and so know “the grammar”. There is often incredulity on both sides as to why we never get taught this sort of thing at school. In many other countries, they learn their mother tongue this way. An Italian will be able to tell you exactly how many prepositions there are in her language, what the names of the tenses are and when and why each one is used. I always argue that we don’t need to know this to use the language as native speakers.
But we absolutely need this knowledge to teach the language as we will find ourselves correcting students and telling them they can’t say: “I am in London since two months” but have to say: “I’ve been in London for two months”. The student will ask: “Why?” and as a language teacher, we need to be able to tell them.
We look at some typical mistakes and discover that there are in fact only four types of mistake a student can make. They can get the meaning wrong (as in the above example). They can get the form wrong, for example saying: “I didn’t saw Carlos yesterday”. They can get the pronunciation wrong, too. The fourth area is appropriacy, for example, using very formal language in an informal context or vice-versa.
Trainees leave the session realising there is an awful lot to learn but I reassure them that even after more than 30 years of teaching I don’t always know the answer. What they will need to be able to do is analyse any specific language that they plan to teach in depth. They will certainly not leave the Course knowing all of English grammar.
DAY 4: Lesson Planning
On the menu today is lesson planning. I always hate doing this session because of the look on people’s faces at the end as they realise just how much work is involved in the Course and in teaching. There are always a few people who rock up to the Course thinking that they can speak English and therefore they can teach it and that their lessons can be some kind free-form spontaneous response to the students. Like a Grateful Dead jamming session. (You might get away with it on occasion if you were as good a linguist and teacher as the Dead were musicians…)
A lesson plan comes in two parts: a pre-plan where we identify our aim, make assumptions about our students’ knowledge and anticipate the problems students will have with anything in our lesson. This will mean analysing all and any language we intend to focus on and planning exactly how we are going to absolutely ensure that every member of the class and in particular the weakest is totally clear about the meaning form and pronunciation.
Next comes the plan itself: a blow by blow account of what will be done in the lesson and why. People always ask how much detail there should be. My answer is that if they were to faint two minutes before the lesson, I should be able to give their lesson plan to another teacher and they should be able to teach the lesson.
The lesson plan is a liberating document as with it, you can go into a lesson knowing exactly what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, and why you are doing it. This means that you are not thinking about any of these things in the lesson and so are free to focus on and respond to the students. Just like Gerry Garcia wasn’t trying to work out how to play that next chord, he knew. He was able to listen to and play off the rest of the band.
DAY 5: Week 1 Wraps Up
End of Week One and everyone is looking forward to the weekend. For the Tutors, the weekend is blissfully quiet before the blizzard of marking blows up next week. The trainees will get a beer or two in the pub tonight (probably) and a bit of time to catch their breath and take stock. But there is an assignment to work on.
For the last few days, they have been liaising with one of their students, interviewing and recording them, wringing a piece of writing out of them to analyse their language use, and researching the kinds of problems that speakers of their language have when they come to learn English. They might discover for example that in Russian there are no articles, so Russian students will have big problems with these. Or that Brazilian Portuguese speakers can’t pronounce an initial /r/, replacing it with /h/, similarly they can’t end a word with a hard consonant but need to add a vowel sound. In Brazil, I was always known as Hicky.
We finish the week with a brief Tutorial with each Candidate. This is really just to touch base with each person individually and make sure they are all coping OK and give a little feedback on the lessons so far. It’s usually just a case of listening and giving reassurance, but occasionally there are early signs that someone is slipping behind and we need to give firm, clear guidance as to what is required of them. There are always one or two who started the week very
And there are always one or two who started the week very nervously but are starting to realise that they can actually do this and enjoy it. Watching their confidence blossom is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
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About the Author
Rick Ansell is the Senior Teacher Trainer at Saxoncourt Teacher Training. He has been teaching English since 1985 and has been training people to teach English since 1994. He loves seeing people realise there is a better way of helping people learn than the ways they were subjected to at school. He also loves watching people come to discover their own language as they realise how and why they use it the way they do. When I’m not teaching, he enjoys mountaineering and is an active fell runner, competing regularly on the British hills.
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