The profile of course participants
Most of the people who take a CELTA course are looking for a career change or wish to travel and teach overseas. They usually have zero teaching experience and though during the interview they claim they realize the intensity of the course, they only do so fully once the course gets underway. What you will often hear them say is ‘I was told that it was hard but I never thought it would be this hard’. This is not a surprise, as most of them tend to think that language teaching involves having a conversation with the students to improve their English. Focusing on language clarification via a more communicative approach is a novel and mind-blowing idea to them. Still, once they comprehend what teaching involves, they are very trainable and willing to try new methods and approaches.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are trainees with lots of teaching experience who attend the course because they want to develop further or they just need the qualification to teach overseas. They usually join the course with their own set of fixed beliefs and assumptions which often rely on a more lecture-based style of instruction. This group is more sceptical to new approaches and ideas and therefore more reluctant to re-evaluate/question what they had been doing for such a long time and seemed to work for them. Unlearning what they already know is not easy and therefore their resistance to change is reasonable. Those who join the course with an open mind and a willingnes to embrace change tend to get a lot more from the experience. Unlearning requires lots of personal work and it takes time which sometimes they cannot afford in such an intensive course.
Responding to course participants’ affective needs
What most trainees struggle with is the workload of such an intensive course and how expectations change as the course unfolds. It’s a constant race and when they think they can see the finish line, new hurdles appear. This can be nerve-wracking and affects their self-confidence. I remember one of the trainees saying. ‘Once I have sorted out my instructions, I have to think of language clarification. And now I have to think about managing feedback’ He referred to it as a series of hardships he was overwhelmed with which often led to a lack of confidence and a great amount of self-doubt. Most trainees, whether they say it out loud or not, feel that way. It is also surprising how trainees tend to focus mainly on what they are not doing rather than celebrate their own progress no matter how small this might be. During feedback they mainly mention what they want to change in their lessons rather than things that went well and they should repeat. Maybe it’s human nature but it’s crucial to be able to spot their strengths and notice their progress. Another trap trainees fall into is comparing themselves with other teachers rather than focus on their progress from one lesson to the other. What I try to instil in teachers is that all of us, myself included, regardless of teaching experience have their own action points and these cannot be the same. Learning is an ongoing process for everyone.
Input sessions and experiential learning
Planning input sessions is also an integral part of the teacher training cycle and I have concluded that ‘less is more’. The first input sessions we run are usually packed with information and it’s only when we run a session a couple of times, we can get a sense of what can be covered at a certain amount of time. And though I have ‘stolen’ great ideas from colleagues, I prefer planning my own input sessions from scratch in my own style. By doing so, the delivery of the session becomes easier and more natural.
Without undermining the importance of theory, as a trainee myself, I had always thought that watching my own tutors demonstrating good teaching techniques during input was far more effective than telling me what to do. Putting trainees in the learners’ position during input by demonstrating activities and employing classroom management techniques that are immediately applicable in the teaching provides trainees with good models to follow. Experiential learning makes all these techniques not only more tangible but also more memorable. While observing lessons and seeing trainees mimicking my techniques and sometimes even my style, I wonder if I have encouraged ‘replicas’ of a more experienced teacher and whether I have stifled their creativity and their ability to think on their feet. Judging from my own experience, as a teacher, I think not. What teachers need at the very beginning is a framework to rely on. Once they get more teaching experience-more likely after the course- and have more time for self-reflection, they can move into a more critical reflection of their own practices and start deviating from the norm and what they know by experimenting even more.
Assessing lessons is another challenging aspect of the job. The criteria do offer the basic framework but their interpretation presents a serious challenge. The questions are similar to what we have been discussing. Is a lesson where the teacher follows standard procedures and implements mechanical techniques always a strong lesson? Do we ‘force’ teachers to go by the book/procedures? Are we more prescriptive than we should be? Do we train them on how to keep a balance between planned input and responsive teaching? For example, one of the criteria refers to ‘teaching a class with an awareness of the students’ needs’ and another that refers to ‘giving students appropriate practice.’ What if a teacher never went into practice, but they gradually helped students with the target language, allowed students to discover the language working at their own pace and gained more confidence? What if they are ready to use the language effectively but not during the lesson due to lack of time?
Still, is this possible with a group of teachers with limited or zero experience? Are we setting the bar a bit higher? Is this part of a more advanced training course? It might be better to encourage newly qualified teachers to conform to more standard procedures and through more teaching experience this might take its course. Despite CELTA being an in-service course, whenever there is a chance and depending on the personality of the trainees, which is also a key factor here, we can light the spark to become more critical professionals.