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 11.
DAYS 12 & 13: Change of Group
The days begin to blur into each other now. Some would also say the nights are blurring into the days… People are having to juggle assignments with lesson preparation and sometimes sleep gets squeezed. At least today, Wednesday, we started late to give everyone a moment to breathe or sleep an extra 30 minutes or even to put the finishing touches on an assignment.
The first real, assessed lessons with the new level are done now. It’s always sad leaving a group. I think you get particularly attached to the first class you ever teach. Having to learn new names and the faces to attach them to, pick out the characters in the new group, identify the stronger and weaker students just adds an extra layer to life in the classroom. It’s difficult to find the brain space to fit this in while remembering to ask your concept questions at the right time, to drill, to monitor and wasn’t there something else the tutor said I had to do?
Sometimes at this stage of the Course, I feel trainees lose sight of what they are really meant to be doing: affecting the learning process of their students. Instead, they tend to focus on what they are doing or what they think they are meant to be doing or what they think the tutor thinks they ought to be doing. It’s a question now of thinking of the lesson from the students’ point of view. Identifying what the students need at any given point in the lesson and then providing this, using the skills and knowledge that we have discussed in the input phase. This comes with experience, of course, but it can be facilitated by very careful and detailed planning. That’s something that needs time and clear thinking, both tricky to have in these hard days of Week Three.
DAY 14: Timetabling and Dirty Phonemes
Today saw another step in the handing over process as the main part of the morning was spent discussing the principles of timetabling and the two TP groups then sat down to plan out their teaching for the final week. Timetabling is a really important part of teaching. Personally, I get very stressed if I don’t have a timetable and end up spending hours trying to decide what to teach and justify it. A timetable gives the Course real direction and an overall coherence. Life is so much easier if I can go home and ask myself: “What am I doing tomorrow?” and find the answer immediately by looking at my timetable. The actual planning how to do it doesn’t take too long with a bit of experience.
We also spent an hour playing with the phonemic chart and writing rude messages to each other in the script. The idea was to take some of the mystery away from these hieroglyphs and show that: 1) we already know a good half of them and 2) it’s a pretty useful tool to be able to use as we can give students a record of how something is actually said.
In Teaching Practice, we are into the second lesson with the new students and everyone is much more settled and relaxed and beginning to enjoy the new group as much as the old. From a tutor’s point of view, it is payback time. You start to see people really blossom and put the skills we have been discussing into practice. Stronger trainees make it look so easy and it brings a tear to the eye to watch someone roll up their sleeves and really direct the students’ learning, employing the things they have learnt in the last two or three weeks. You go home thinking: “At the beginning of the month that person couldn’t have begun to do that and now they’ve just delivered a perfectly effective lesson”. By watching the students’ faces you can actually see them learn, see the clarity of their understanding and hear them using the new language the trainee has just taught. Hopefully, the trainee feels the same level of satisfaction as I do!
It’s the better than average chance of going home on a real high at the end of the day that keeps me doing the job.
DAY 15: Week 3 Ends
It’s the end of Week Three and suddenly that light is shining brightly at the end of the tunnel; the end is in sight and there is a mood of optimism in the room. People start to realise that they can do this and can make it through to the end. The resubmissions for the assignments are doable, there are only two more lessons to plan and the final assignment to be done over the weekend is the easiest and quickest of the four.
Even so, though, brains are fairly addled/scrambled/poached (however you like them). This morning we talk about something that trainees don’t need to know to pass the Course. Just saying this to them seems to clear their heads as they feel no pressure to struggle and get to grips with more new concepts. I talk about Michael Lewis’ Lexical view of language and tell them the story of how I worked my way round to taking a “process” approach to teaching rather than the “product” approach. It’s a talk that always goes down well and proves something of a revolution for some. “Why didn’t you tell us this to start with?” they always ask. The answer is that I think they needed to grasp the more traditional (in my view, archaic) approach first, the one is a building block for the other. The CELTA syllabus is very much predisposed to a product approach to teaching, too. As much as anything I like to do the talk as it salves my conscience; so far I have been preaching what I don’t necessarily practise and today I have been able to redress the balance.
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.