Student Participant Report
CELTA-Skelter in Rome, Italy
Survival Techniques for an Intensive CELTA Course
by Alison Harley
I have recently returned from a month in Rome and people are commenting on how I have lost weight—not the usual response when returning from the land of pasta, vino, and gelato. But then this was no ordinary month, this was an “intensive CELTA” month.
Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults,
is, along with the Trinity Certificate, the
most recognized and highly regarded of the TEFL qualifications.
Courses run part-time over several months or intensively over
I opted for the intensive course and decided to study with International House (IH) as the schools were recommended. I chose IH Rome, as this is the city I ultimately plan to make my home. By studying in Rome, I would also be making contacts in the teaching world. In terms of cost, even with a flight from U.K., it worked out a little cheaper than taking the course at IH London. And if I was going to be studying hard, why not treat myself to a little vita bella in my spare time? But as it turned out, there was no spare time. In fact, there was barely time to sleep and eat; when they say intensive they mean intensive.
“It can’t be as hard as my degree,” you might say. But having completed a law degree, followed by the Bar examinations, I can say without question that I have never worked as hard as during the CELTA course. I felt as though my brain was on a treadmill for 18 hours a day, including weekends.
Courses require a minimum of 120 “contact hours,” and you are expected to put in a minimum of 80 additional hours for the required reading, research, assignments, and lesson preparation. Believe me, those additional 80 hours are only the start.
School hours are typically 9 a.m. to 5-5.30 p.m. and are divided between teaching students, teaching observation, seminars, and workshops.
There are six hours of assessed teaching practice, starting with 40 minute sessions (a 120 minute class divided between you and two fellow CELTA students) and building up to hour-long sessions. Following each lesson you receive oral feedback from your peers, and oral and written feedback from your tutor.
You spend evenings and weekends planning lessons, completing four assignments, learning phonemic script, practising intonation. Then there is the little matter of English grammar. As a native English speaker, you know what is right, but do you know why it is right and can you explain it in simple terms?
Do not underestimate how exhausting it can be to stand in front of a class while being critically observed, nor how draining receiving the feedback can be. Then you have a full afternoon of workshops and seminars to sit through before heading home to start on that ever-pending assignment, revise the Present Continuous, and prepare tomorrow’s lesson. There is no let up—so here are a few rules for surviving an intensive CELTA course:
Where to Take the Course: Country or City?
Given the demands, you need to decide carefully where you take the course. I opted to study abroad. Being away from home certainly was the best option for me, as it meant fewer distractions. At the halfway point of the course, with no light at either end of the tunnel, if I had been able to go home I might not have returned. In addition, being in a foreign country can help keep you focused on your end goal. For most people taking the course, the goal is to enable them to live and work abroad.
In my case, I know Rome and speak some Italian. If you choose somewhere you have never visited, be prepared to see little of it until after the course has finished. Then factor culture shock and language barriers into your stress levels.
If you decide to stay at home while studying, be sure you receive the support of friends and family. Clear your diary and unplug the T.V.
How to Select the School
Make sure the school is accredited (there is a list on the University of Cambridge ESOL website) and visit first if you can. Check the student/tutor ratio, the facilities available at the school such as Internet access, the library, and the opening hours of the school evenings and weekends.
Choose your Lodgings Carefully
If you are studying away from home you need to feel comfortable in your lodging, so think carefully about your needs. The options offered through International House were home stays with families, but I paid extra for an apartment for more space and privacy. Staying in an apartment meant not having to worry about tidying my books away after a late-night study session, or about waking anyone when using the kitchen and bathroom in the small hours. It also provided fellow students with a group space to study off of the school premises, which you will need as you will be working closely with your fellow CELTA students during evenings and weekends.
Also, make sure your lodging is convenient in terms of location from the school; you do not want to add a long commute to your already exhausting day.
Read as much as you can before the course starts as you will have no time for in-depth reading during the course. The teaching mythology books will likely make little sense if read in advance, but the concepts will fall into place later.
Buy the recommended texts (mythology and grammar) so you have your own copies. You do not wish to add to the stress by having to wait your turn with shared library copies. I would also recommend investing in a good dictionary.
If you are studying away from home try to arrive in advance of the start of the course so that you have time to acclimatize, locate your nearest supermarket, stock up on supplies, and find your way to the school. You do not want to arrive stressed and late on the first morning of class.
While the school may provide what you need, you will find yourself working off-hours, so make sure you have access to the following in or near your lodgings:
PC/laptop: While you can submit handwritten course work, I would recommend using a PC or laptop so you can set up a lesson plan template far more quickly than having to handwrite one each time, and then make revisions to assignments. But be sure to back up your work.
Internet: If you do not have online access at your lodgings find a local Internet café that is open late, since it can be useful for finding extra material for lessons.
Photocopying/printing facilities for student worksheets and lesson plans: Some schools provide a photocopying card with a set number of credits but you may find that you require more than this allowance depending on class sizes.
Start thinking about the assignment topics early on (you will be given a course outline detailing them on day one.) Begin working on them as soon as they are handed out to you, even if it is just an outline before going back to your lesson plan; there is nothing worse than having a deadline approaching while a blank page stares back at you.
Forget Perfection: Think Improvement and Passing
Rule out perfection: Accept that there will not be enough time to do everything as well as you might like. Prioritizing is an intrinsic part of the course and knowing when good enough is a skill in itself. While original ideas are great, remember when planning lessons that you do not have to constantly reinvent the wheel.
Improvement is the key to passing this course. Tutors do not expect you to teach perfect lessons but they do expect you to listen to feedback and then implement it.
The pass rate for CELTA is around 95% and due to continual assessment you will know well in advance if you are in danger of failing—so try to relax in this regard as much as possible.
Sleep and Eat
Get sleep and food when you can–and
remember to eat because if you get run down you will be less likely
to be able to cope emotionally and physically. You might run the
risk of becoming ill and being unable to finish the course you
Build in de-compression time: Get away from
your fellow CELTA students and the constant CELTA talk, which
at times will reach fever pitch. For me this involved 20 minute
walks home each evening. Although the workload for the evening
had not lessened, it did seem more manageable and helped keep
things in perspective.
Stay focused on why you’re doing the course. One way to do so is by getting to know your students. Take time after class for a short chat. You will find your lessons far more rewarding (and forgive the sleep deprivation) when you see the returns on your hard work and how grateful the students are. Also pin up a picture of wherever in the world you would most like to teach. Remember that this crash course is only for a month.
You won’t have time to look for jobs while taking the course, so allocate some time once it is finished. Although you won’t have your official certificate at that stage, the school should provide you with a letter and/or reference stating that you have passed the course.
One of the advantages of studying with an international chain of schools is that worldwide openings were posted on the notice board each week (just reading these lifted flagging spirits), and we were encouraged to submit our CVs to the school at the end of the course—although no promises were made.
The school ran a seminar on working as a teacher and it was made clear to students that people did not teach in Italy to earn a fortune. Your decision concerns how and where you wish to live your life, and most teachers supplement their school salaries by teaching privately evenings and weekends. If it is the big(ger) money that you are after, then head to the Far East—Japan, China, Korea, etc.—where the demand for teachers is greater and so is the pay.
Shortly after completing this course an opportunity arose that brought me to Shanghai, where I can confirm teaching opportunities are plentiful. But even in China—certainly in the major cities—the standard of living is quickly catching up with the E.U.
Am I glad I did an intensive CELTA course? Yes, the sense of achievement is enormous. Would I do it again? Never! Should you do it? Yes, if you are serious about teaching English as a foreign language. The course is tough because it is the best qualification you can obtain, and in you will be astonished at how much you will have absorbed in such a short amount of time. Once you have completed the certificate you will find work anywhere from Japan to Mexico, Russia to Singapore.
For More Info
Find Information on CELTA on the Cambridge ESOL website, as well as accredited centers.
International House website: ihworld.com.
International House Rome: Viale Manzoni, 22, 00185, Roma.
British Council: www.britishcouncil.org.
Download the syllabus from the Cambridge English website.
Recommended texts: (NB: You’ll be given a list of recommended texts by the school: The following are just a selection)
Practical English Usage, Michael Swan (OUP)
English Grammar in Use, Raymond Murphy (Cambridge)
How to Teach English, Jeremy Harmer (Longman)
Learning Teaching, Jim Scrivener (Heinemann).
Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Oxford)
Typical CELTA day:
Arrive at school to photocopy and complete lesson plan and share tales of sleep deprivation with fellow CELTA students
Supervised teaching practice & peer observation
Short break – melt down and strong coffee
Feedback on teaching practice
Assisted lesson planning for next day’s lesson
Lunch - rushed sandwich as you work on an assignment
Teaching methodology seminar
Short break – more coffee and high levels of hysteria
Language analysis workshop
Lesson planning/assignments/grammar revision/ worksheet preparation…