Unless you are a teacher, I doubt you would be familiar with CELTA. I didn’t either until 2013 when I started researching the quickest way to become a qualified teacher with international recognition and voilá.
When I enrolled for CELTA, I had never read a research paper, didn’t know what ‘pedagogy’ meant and hadn’t successfully learned any foreign or local language as an adult, though I’d tried 🤓 Fortunately, for me, none of these were a prerequisite to take CELTA. Let me compare my journey as a teacher, since the first day of my pre-service, with a popular fiction-comedy-drama Hindi film ‘PK’; one of my favourites.
In the film, a humanoid alien (the lead male actor) lands on Earth on a research mission (probably to understand humans?) but loses (someone steals it) the communication device that he needs to return to the spaceship. His quest to find the device takes him through various popular beliefs and practices prevalent in India. As you would have guessed, his entire quest is marinated in a gamut of emotions, from frustration, failure, confusion, helplessness to moments of joy, empathy, and, eventually, success and lots of new learning. By the end of the film, he has a little better understanding of what it means to be human and, in fact, falls in love with one (the lead female actor). But the director wasn’t done yet – he had one last twist. The movie ends with the humanoid alien returning to earth with a new set of aliens who are about to commence their journey, but before they do, the returning alien issues injunctions (key learning from the previous expedition) to avoid the same pitfalls.
This brings me to the purpose of this post. No, I am not getting on the CELTA roller coster again, but I would like to put forward a few suggestions on how to transform CELTA into a comprehensive pre-service teacher training program instead of just a starting point where trainees are expected to learn the ropes of teaching on the job.
Stricter barrier to entry
Would you hire a personal trainer at a gym who doesn’t work out? Or, will you consider hiring a social media strategist who doesn’t have a social media account? If we agree that the process of learning our first language is different from learning an additional language as an adult, then the concern that troubles me a lot is: how can a teacher who has never experienced the failures and triumphs of learning another language as an adult genuinely understand and empathise with an adult language learner, let alone teach them?
The turning point in my teaching career came when I started learning Thai to communicate with my in-laws. The disconnect between my approach to learning Thai and teaching English to others was an eye-opener. If I were gifted a time machine and asked to choose a point in my past to go back to and resume life, it would definitely be to my first day of teaching to a group of university learners in 2015. It pains me to realise now that I might have discouraged some of my initial learners from pursuing English further due to the frustrations they felt for not being able to perform according to “the aims of the lesson”.
Well, we can’t change the past but it can certainly inform our future. Hence, I am of the opinion that one criterion for pre-service teacher training should be experience of learning a language as an adult. If the candidate doesn’t have any experience, they should be asked to take up a language during the training period and prove their success (B1/B2 level fluency in familiar contexts?) to qualify as a teacher. The idea is to experience the process of learning a language in order to be able to connect with learners on a more humane level.
Not a crash-course
At times, I find myself wondering whether this course was originally created to quickly train individuals from English-speaking countries to cater to the ever-growing influence of English in other parts of the world? To be brutally honest, it shudders to think that with less than three hours of teaching practice – out of which none were with ‘beginners’, I was unleashed on a classroom full of vulnerable learners. Imagine flying with an airline pilot with similar number of hours. Fortunately, you can’t because pilots require a minimum of 250 hours1 of flight time to get on the co-pilot seat.
Quality and confidence come with time and practice. In my humble opinion, the training period should be extended to anywhere between six months and a year. Probably, after the initial exposure to underpinning theories, trainees should be assigned a mentor or an experienced buddy teacher to assist in gradually scaffolding their classroom presence – from giving instructions for an activity to facilitating a complete lesson. At the end, trainees’ success should be determined by taking 360° feedback, including from the tutor, assigned buddy teacher(s), learners, admin team and other trainees. This might seem impractical or cumbersome, but that’s my plan for the future pre-service teaching training program at EngVictus.
Going beyond the subject knowledge and methodology
Here is one of my biggest realisations post CELTA:
“Success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analyses, and more on what goes on inside and between people in the classroom.’’2 – Earl Stevick
Underhill (and others) chimes with the above thought by saying “that a major variable in successful learning lies in a zone beyond both the topic being learned and the teaching method employed, and that it has to do with relationship with oneself and with others”3
He goes on further by outlining three varieties of teacher;
Teacher as “lecturer”: knowledge of subject matter
Teacher as “teacher”: knowledge of subject matter + practical skills & methods
Teacher as “facilitator”: knowledge of subject matter + practical skills & methods + beneath & beyond methodology
If you believe our central role as teachers is to be the bridge between learners and what they are trying to learn, then you might feel the urge to encourage the course designer(s) to broaden the aims a little.
Here are a few topics that, I believe, can help provide a much more firm grounding to teacher trainees:
Topic: Learning L1 vs Learning another language
Topic: How do we learn languages in the real world?
Topic: (Self-) Identity in a language classroom
Topic: Influencing learning: what, who, how and why
Now, if you find the three suggestions a little naive and half-baked, hopefully, the following ones won’t come across that way:
- create teacher trainee forums and include research paper discussions
- include practice-teach classes to ‘beginner’ level learners
- ask teacher trainees to come back after a year of teaching independently, to reflect and share their experiences of teaching in the real world
- appoint tutors who have learned or are learning a foreign language themselves
- appoint tutors who are still connected, in any form, to a real world classroom context
Just yesterday, I watched Nick Peachey’s webinar (thanks Rachel Tsateri for sharing it) suggesting practical ways to leverage Chat GPT for teacher training programs. It is evident teachers can now generate generic lesson plans within seconds using the tool. Hopefully, course designers are ahead of the game and currently busy fine-tuning the course content and assessment criteria.
What do you think? Do you feel the need to update CELTA? I am open to learning and evolving. 🤓 Looking forward to reading your comment.
By the way, the purpose of this post is not to undermine the value of CELTA. On the contrary, this course has played a pivotal role in helping me realise two of my cherished dreams. 😇
(2) Stevick, E. (1980) Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways, Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle
(3) Arnold, J., Murphey, T. (2013: ) ‘Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s Influence on Language Teaching’, Cambridge University Press