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!