Helter CELTA! Participants disappear off the radar

images-1Sometimes you just need to drop out of sight. I’m not talking about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. No, this isn’t about coasting into oblivion … it’s about dropping off the social radar to get a job done. Giving yourself permission to focus solely on a single goal unhindered by all that is raging around, including ignoring the odd coupling that prompted the newspaper headline: Shock and Gore … Al Gore and Clive Palmer uniting over climate change.

For the uninitiated, gaining CELTA certification – one of the most widely taken and gruelling qualifications of its kind – requires a participant to detach and embrace what Albert Einstein describes as: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life [to] stimulate the creative mind.” This forced isolation is motivated by the desire to be among thousands of people who each year rely on gaining the Certificate in Teaching English credential to travel and teach English around the world.

So is the CELTA gain worth the pain? Given there are more than 286 approved CELTA centres in 54 countries that provide almost 900 CELTA courses every year, those who throw their hat in the ESL ring need to know that on completion they’ll be swimming against the tide in a pool of competitiveness to secure coveted teaching jobs at home and abroad.

You have got to pay attention, you have got to study and you have to do your homework. You have to score higher than everybody else. Otherwise, there is always somebody there waiting to take your place. — Daisy Fuentes

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Talk about survival of the fittest. The idea is that you pay big bucks to be assessed as whether you’re fit for purpose: to teach English to speakers of another language. That is, even the part-time version of the course can take up more time than a full-time job for many candidates, especially those with no teaching.  Really? Yes. The CELTA is awarded upon passing the course, which includes six hours of assessed teaching practice to real EFL classes in at least two different levels of ability. The course grade is determined primarily by the performance of the candidates in this teaching practice; there are also four written assignments due throughout the course, which are graded on a pass/fail basis only.

And the tutors taking you on this journey are tough. Expect to be evaluated on your every move, syllable, gesture. Yes, you’re critiqued hard. After all, you’re dealing with real students. If you can’t tell your past simple from your past perfect, or the adverb of frequency from one of manner and be able to teach that to students who can barely speak English then you’ll quickly learn you’re not worthy of passing!

So best research the three PPPs: Presentation, Practice and Production. Know when to introduce whiteboard analysis, know phonology, know the difference between function and form, concept and context. If you don’t, then perhaps consider some TESOL instruction first, then do the CELTA part-time over several weeks or months as the full-time course runs for just four to five weeks.

As a matter of course

While I previously completed 140 hours of TESOL instruction and taught kids in Costa Rica as a volunteer five hours a day, five days a week over six weeks, nothing could have prepared me for the CELTA course. A survey of peers found that 80 per cent felt like quitting within the first three weeks – all were part-timers.

Now that it’s over we’re glad we hung in. We learnt a lot. We withstood the critique and despite having to disappear off the radar for months, we’re now celebrating the fact our certificates have arrived, glistening with the stamp of approval from Cambridge University.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger who recently undertook more than two months of study to gain CELTA certification.