Can you be a good teacher after a CELTA 100% online course?

I’ve talked about it many times and I will say it again – taking CELTA was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my teaching life. It boosted my confidence and taught me many tips and tricks on how to be an even better teacher. However, recently I saw something that got me thinking – Can you be a good teacher after taking an (online) CELTA?

The other day, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw a conversation between two English teachers, Craig Burrows and Javier Martín. They discussed the unfairness of the ESL industry and hiring non-experienced native speakers with a CELTA qualification over non-native speakers with degrees and years of work experience. I read their back and forth with great interest and started thinking about my situation.

In my very first blog post – CELTA – one year later, I talked about my humble beginnings and how the course got me to where I am now. Because of the current situation, I attended one of the very first CELTA 100% online courses. In fact, it was one of the silver linings of the lockdown and being stuck home with ERTE. Getting the qualification was easier than ever, without the hassle of leaving the house, rearranging the schedule and a long commute to Seville. However, there are many times when I wonder if I hadn’t had any prior teaching experience, would I feel the same about this online course? Probably not.

I loved every component of CELTA, but I’m not entirely sure how a month-long course can shape you into a professional teacher. Teaching isn’t easy, and people spend years perfecting this craft. That’s why I understand why so many professionals may feel that such a short course is a mockery, and people with only one certificate suddenly become ‘experts’ in this matter, especially after getting this title online.

Despite having a Pass A, something I talked about here, there are times when the imposter syndrome kicks in, and I question myself. Many times I started wondering if I had taken this course in person, would I still be able to get the same result? Can this online course prepare you for the real world of teaching?

Time management

One of the main differences between teaching online and teaching in class is time management. In my opinion, it’s way easier to follow your lesson plan and stick to the schedule when teaching online. First of all, you can see the time passing without making it obvious. The clock is right there! I remember having my lesson plans right in front of me. Before starting, I would write the starting time and quickly calculate the time when I should ideally finish each activity. For instance, if I started a task at 11:30, I would write the beginning of the next task at 11:37, so once the clock showed the time, I’d swiftly move on to the next activity. I’d say that 90% of the time, I predicted the length of each activity down to a minute. Now, comparing it to my classroom experience, the statistics look a bit worse. In a classroom, I emerge myself in this environment and can’t control the time with that precision. I think it would be just awkward if I kept looking at my watch, the same way I do it when I teach online.

Technical issues

At the beginning of the course, we spent an additional hour or two learning how to use Zoom. We had the opportunity to practise sharing the screen and sound (or both), pausing the screen, opening and closing breakout rooms, becoming and giving away the host, and many more. Luckily, my Internet connection was stable, fast and overall reliable. It helped me reduce some of the stress levels, which were already at an all-time high. Unfortunately, some of my fellow colleagues were not this lucky. I was more than sure that they would have had a much higher success rate if they took the course in person. Just to paint the picture, there were some instances of showing the wrong screen (or nothing at all!), not being able to share the recordings or getting stuck on one exercise and not being able to switch between PDFs and presentations. Even though we were not assessed on our use of technology, the lack of computer skills affected their overall performance.

This reminds me of the time at the beginning of the course, when I was observing a class. The trainee teacher wanted to put everyone into breakout rooms. Unlucky for me, he omitted me and left me alone in the main room. I spent about 8 minutes looking at the black screen waiting for everyone to come back. I didn’t want to bother them and create chaos. We discussed this during the feedback session and had a laugh about it. After all, it was better to leave one of the teachers in a ditch, rather than one of the students!

Now, imagine that you are giving a top teaching performance, but some of your students can’t follow because of some issues on their side. On top of teaching and following your schedule, you are expected to solve their problem. It’s not exactly your problem, but obviously, you feel bad and want everyone to have a good experience. If someone had some kind of problem in a classroom, you would try to help them.

In order to avoid all the technical problems, we would meet up 30 minutes before each teaching practice to test our equipment. In case someone couldn’t open a file or play a recording, one of the trainees would help them out. This was one of the positives of this situation – we created strong and healthy relationships with each other.

Pair work control and teacher feedback

When it comes to pair/group work in a classroom setting, you can easily tune in and out of any conversation. When you teach online, you need to jump in between the breakout rooms and hope that you’ll be able to catch some issues and address them during feedback. As I mentioned before, we had a great relationship with one another.

We quickly reached an agreement that at least one of the other trainees would be always watching a pair or a group for us. In this way, while you were controlling all the technical aspects of Zoom, you had eyes and ears everywhere. Since we were all in a ninja mode (all cameras and microphones were off and all the non-video participants were hidden), it was easy to do and not very intrusive for the students. Zoom has a private message option that we would use with other teachers. If one of the monitors notices some issues with pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar, they would send a short message explaining the situation. Like this, we could finish the class with error corrections and had a solid list of things that we could discuss. This is something that we wouldn’t be able to do in a classroom!

Material preparation

There is something comforting about having all the materials ready and printed out, knowing that they are there on your desk and you can get them whenever you need to. This feeling is a bit more stressful when you need to share all your materials via Zoom. You assume that everyone knows how to download files from the chat, they know how to open them on their computers and share them with everyone else if necessary. It’s also good to know that they can send you their work if you practice writing. The truth is, it wasn’t that easy. When splitting students into pairs, we would normally divide them into one that knew how to use Zoom and the other one that didn’t. We did it for the sake of saving time and making sure that we can fulfil our plans as scheduled. That meant that we didn’t always put them into pairs based on their English levels.

Classroom management

If you have never taught in person, CELTA 100% online won’t help you with it. We had a brief input session on classroom arrangement and how sitting positions can be used for different activities. We never got to play around with this idea, though. I must admit that it did remove a lot of stress, as online, everyone was in the spot where you wanted them to be.

Our trainers encouraged us to practise teaching in many different ways. However, it always ended with a good PowerPoint presentation and following the plan by hopping through the slides. We didn’t have to plan the whiteboard distribution beforehand, as our presentations were used as whiteboards. Even though we did talk about the use of digital whiteboards in online classes, none of us ever took that challenge. We had a lot on our plates and there was no need to make it more challenging than it already was. Now that I think of it, using a presentation saves a lot of time compared to writing everything on the board!

I know that some academies frown upon having an online CELTA course, and before taking the course, the trainers assured us that it wouldn’t be mentioned on our certificates (it wasn’t). Clearly, I don’t regret taking the course. I think that having previous teaching experience helped a lot. I think about it as driving – I knew how to use a car after passing the exam, but I only felt comfortable driving after months of doing it daily! Once no one is watching, you dare to experiment with different methods, you try things that may end up being a total hit or miss…and that’s ok! The bottom line is that it’s better to have a certificate than not. So if you still haven’t got yours and you’re thinking of becoming an ESL teacher, then you shouldn’t wait any longer! I promise that it is worth every penny!

CELTA – language skills related tasks

On CELTA you are asked to complete four written assignments. Even though you get plenty of help from your tutors, time is pretty tight, and you need to do a lot of individual research. I’d like to show you my assignment 3 with hopes that it will give you some help and inspiration on your CELTA journey.

Written assignment 3 – language skills related tasks was definitely one of my favourites. In this task, you are asked to find authentic material – a video, a song, an article – the sky is the limit, and make a lesson plan around it. I knew exactly what type of article I wanted to work on.

You see, when I first started teaching I was given the opportunity to teach a B2 group of adults at a private company. They were all great and loved discussing difficult and at times controversial topics. Since the company was located in Extremadura, Spain – the region of jamón and in general meat-lovers, I decided to bring an article on vegan burgers. The class went wild, students were engaged and brought a lot of great points to the table. That’s why when our tutor presented us with CELTA written assignment 3, I knew what to do.

Firstly, we had to select two or three pieces of authentic material and present them to our tutors. I selected two different articles from reputable websites (go for good sources with no grammar or spelling errors!):

  1. Charity shops will be full of ‘treasures’ and ‘gems’ following lockdown clearouts – a very topical and hot topic back in June 2020 by Independent. An article about people doing clothes clearouts while stuck at home and donating them to charity shops.
  2. Burger King ‘plant-based’ Whopper ads banned – an article by BBC News about false and misleading advertising. Another interesting and topical piece of authentic material that can lead to discussions on veganism, misinterpretation of information, fine print and many more.

I presented both of my articles and pushed hard to get a green light on the second one as I’d already had a scaffold of the lesson plan in my head. Luckily, it got approved, and I started working on it immediately. I think that out of all of the tasks, this was the easiest one and the one that took me almost no time to prepare. Scroll down to the end of the post to see the effect of my work and download it for inspiration!

So with the task being chosen and justified, I got on with planning. Following everything I’d learnt by that point, I decided to start with a lead-in by topic prediction based on visuals. Draw or show a burger, vegetables and a TV with a cross/ban sign. Give some time to discuss what they think the article is about.

An example of a lead in topic prediction based on visuals.

It, of course, leads nicely to the next activity – reading for gist. Since the article has about 300 words, your students can quickly skim through it to see if their predictions were correct. It is also a good opportunity for them to underline any new vocab, so you can discuss and explain any new words in the next part.

In this written assignment you are asked to prepare all the activities yourself! I decided to go with true, false, or information not given. I thought that putting this tiny twist on this exercise would make this activity a bit more challenging. I decided to go with eight sentences, so the task is long enough but not too long so students can stay focused.

To finish this part students discuss some general questions about the article topic. The main topic is who is in the wrong – Burger King for putting fine print or consumers for not reading it. I only prepared three questions, but in a classroom situation, I would be more than happy to put more emphasis on a discussion part.

Lastly, I wanted to put a creative spin. I asked students to change the controversial Whopper and make their own, brand new BK item with the list of ingredients, the name and last but not least, the slogan! For this, I went on the Burger King website and took a screenshot of the way they present their burgers. Students follow the example and prepare their very own burgers.

I had a chance to do this class in September 2020 with my B2 teenage group. It worked out well, and my students came up with the burger called The Cheesy Queen! I don’t think I need to share the list of ingredients as the name speaks for itself.

Good luck with your CELTA ventures! If you feel like you need some help or just an inspirational guideline to follow, don’t be shy and take a look at my assignment.

If you have already done CELTA, don’t be shy and tell me the topic of your language skills related task!

How to get a CELTA Pass A?

So you decided to commit and become an ESL teacher. The next best thing is to apply for the CELTA course and get that teaching certificate.

I can’t lie. I was thinking of taking CELTA for over a year, always finding excuses and thinking that maybe it isn’t as necessary as everyone says. During the quarantine, I was sitting at home telling myself that it is “only two weeks more” when I got an e-mail from CLIC Seville who I had asked a year prior about CELTA. As I had nothing better to do I decided to commit – 100% online CELTA here I come!

I quickly assessed the chances of failing the course and I thought to myself that it is highly unlikely, I should get at least a pass. Pass B? Yeah, probably not. I didn’t even consider getting a pass A. The course started and finished almost immediately. It was the most intense five weeks of my life. On our last day, we had our online celebratory drink, I closed my laptop and decided that I won’t think about my grade – it’s done.

A celebratory drink with some of the best CELTA tutors and ESL teachers.

I found myself having a lot of free time on my hands, I was playing with my phone when I got an e-mail from CLIC: “Hope you’re having a good weekend. Attached is your provisional CELTA result.” My heart was in my throat, I opened it and…PASS A! Towards the end of the course I knew that I was doing quite well, but only 5% of CELTA candidates get a Pass A (Cambridge English: Grade Statistics, 2019). It seemed impossible.

Four or five months later I could finally see it in person. That’s when it truly hit me how important this course was and how much I would have regretted if I “only” got a Pass. Many private academies in Spain require a CELTA certificate, minimum a Pass A or Pass B. Scroll down to see 8 ways in which I got a CELTA Pass A.

1. Devote yourself fully

It was quite easy for me as I did it during quarantine when I had nothing better to do. If you sign up for an intensive course, say goodbye to your family and friends. They will see you in 4-5 weeks. It is a truly intense experience with very little free time. My day started at 10 o’clock with teaching practice, followed by an input session, followed by a reflection/constructive criticism time, ending with a final input session. At 6 o’clock you finish your classes, but you still need to work on your lesson plans and assignments. Of course, take breaks and go for walks to relax, but in general, accept that you won’t have much free time.

2. Share your ideas

Prior to your teaching practice, you will get some planning time and meetings with your tutor. Your first class will be the easiest to plan, as you will get a scaffold of your lesson with objectives and some task ideas. As the course progresses, you will be getting less and less help, until you will have to decide what you want to teach on your own. During your meeting with the tutor, discuss your own ideas and come up with your own tasks. This will add to your teaching independence that may result in a higher grade.

3. Research

Before you blindly follow your tutor’s ideas, maybe think of some other activities or some other ways to start or finish the class. Your ideas don’t have to be used but the internet is saturated with interesting and engaging lesson plans that may be inspiring. Of course, don’t copy-paste them, but you can use some of them as a lead-in or an oral practice. The same goes for doing your assignments. If you fail one of your assignments, you are not eligible for pass A. Get inspired and DON’T PLAGIARISE! So really google it and support everything you do with reputable ESL teaching books (your tutors will let you know what books to use). If you feel a bit shaky about some of the parts of English, watch some YouTube videos so you understand what you’re teaching! You want to sound and look confident in front of your students.

4. Reflect on your teaching

After each teaching session, you will complete a form reflecting on your class. You will also hear other candidates and tutors discussing your lesson – in front of you! Don’t worry, the other candidates are usually very nice and focus only on good things. I decided to be very truthful and if I made a mistake, or there were some parts that didn’t work out as I’d expected, I was being honest about it. This shows your awareness and lets everyone know that you are able to adapt if necessary. Another thing – it’s okay to experiment. You can include things that you think will work in class and it’s also okay if the experiment fails! Your tutors want to see your creativity and originality. If you are able to defend your experiments, you have nothing to worry about.

5. Take criticism

Once you talk to your teammates and your tutors, try to accept their criticism and really think about it. There are times that you may disagree, but try including your tutor’s comments in your lesson plans. I did that and I promise you, you will not regret it! If you try doing something for the first time and it doesn’t work out, it’s really fine! Rome wasn’t built in a day! Practice makes perfect and everyone knows that. Your tutor just wants to see you being open to the idea of trying new things and getting outside of your comfort zone.

6. Learn from other teachers

The good thing about teaching practice is that you aren’t the only teacher there! You will get to see other incredible teachers with different teaching methods and behaviour. I must say that I found it so refreshing. I’m so used to my style that I almost forget that we are all different. One of my teammates taught me how to teach while being fully relaxed and true to himself, another taught me how to take risks while teaching, another one taught me how to prepare engaging worksheets and presentations. You should take some ideas from them and maybe implement the ones that you like the most.

7. Participate

It is quite important to be active during those long input hours. I admit I was starting my days full of energy and my will to live was disappearing as the day went by. Nevertheless, I always tried to participate and share my ideas even when I felt like I couldn’t look at my laptop any longer. Input sessions are another great opportunity to learn from your colleagues. I can’t stress how much I learnt from some of the more experienced candidates.

8. Have some prior teaching experience

This one is almost unrealistic for some of the candidates, but there was a huge difference between teachers with experience and people doing it for the first time. First of all, if you have some experience you know how to explain, give instructions, you also understand English grammar rules, you know some of the most common questions and you may have some ideas for tasks. New teachers are overwhelmed by being in the centre of attention. You have to carry the whole class while being watched and judged by many people at the same time. So if you are aiming for that Pass A, give yourself some time before and become a confident speaker at least. For clarification, I did CELTA with 1.5 years of teaching experience. Of course, you may be also one of the gifted ones who are naturally confident and deal well in new situations, in that case…don’t wait!

These are some of my main points that in my opinion helped me get a Pass A. Comment below what other tips you would give to ESL teachers thinking about taking CELTA! And if you are planning on taking CELTA good luck and I hope you found my post at least a little bit useful.

CELTA – one year later

The year 2020 – what else is there to say? This is a story about the time in my life when I lost almost everything, but at the same time gained so much more. It’s the year when finally decided to invest in myself.

I arrived in Spain in September 2018 and decided to change my career path. Up until this point, I was an environmental engineer who was getting a bit unhappy with the career choice. Spain was like a breath of fresh air – a new place, new climate and new job as an ESL teacher.

I quickly learnt to love the profession as it allowed me to be me, have fun and develop my creative side. However, it is not as easy as it seems. It requires a lot of patience, attention and definitely planning – something that I learnt with time.

I was a teacher in a small village in Extremadura and over time I wanted to become a professional. I started researching Cambridge teaching courses when I stumbled upon CELTA. I decided to find out more so I emailed CLIC Seville, the academy that offered a 50% online course and the teaching part done in person every Friday for 10 weeks. Great deal! Except…not as I was already teaching every Friday and was unable to take that time off. Time passed by and I forgot about the course, but then the unexpected happened – 14th March 2020, aka you are unemployed for the next two weeks and another two weeks, and another two weeks…

This is how I ended up having way too much time on my hands. During this time I looked for new jobs, started knitting, watched a lot of films, baked cakes… Suddenly, on one fine May morning, I received a message from CLIC Seville talking about a 100% online CELTA course. There was no time like then. I replied, got an interview, got accepted and paid 1440 euros. That was the beginning of the CELTA adventure.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Benjamin Franklin

1st June 2020 came round and I was very nervous. I was afraid that I would be the worst addition to the course and the tutors would tell me not to teach ever again. I was wrong. It was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I learnt a lot of new techniques, but what I valued the most was the feedback and the observation of other great teachers. After spending five truly exhausting weeks, averaging eight hours a day in front of the computer, teaching, planning, completing the tasks, I made it to the very end with a Pass A.

This is what finally brings me here. This newly found confidence, realization that I am a better teacher than I ever was an engineer and the freedom, and ability to create – is what I truly appreciate about being a teacher. So here I am, at last ready to share my ideas with other teachers.

Hope you embark on this journey with me and help me build this creative space.