4 weeks just doesn’t cut it.

Now that my first year of teaching is finally over and I have had time to wind down and reflect back on what was an epic 9 months, I find myself continually asking myself the same questions. Firstly, was I really ready for a full-time teaching job with my lack of experience? Secondly, and for me the most important question, had my CELTA course prepared me for a life/career in the EFL/TEFL teaching world?

I’m not setting out to criticize the people who run, design, plan and ultimately teach CELTA courses. I enjoyed my course, the tutors were great, informative and willing to help and give support. It’s just that, if I was a tutor on that course, I probably wouldn’t have passed me. I would have given myself an A+ for effort but in reality failed simply due to a lack of knowledge of the English language. Surely if I don’t know enough about the language I’m not in the position to go out and get paid to teach it to someone else. Or so I thought!

Let me take you back to the beginning. I signed up for my course and a week later some papers arrived that consisted of application forms and also some pre-reading with a general grammar question paper thrown in for good measure. Being unemployed I had lots of time to spare, so set about reading some grammar books and preparing. The start date arrived and I turned up feeling excited, nervous and more importantly willing to learn. Which looking back was a good thing, as my learning curve went through the roof and my eyes were opened to just how expansive the English language was and therefore how much I didn’t actually know.

The phonetic chart was a new one to everyone on the course, which was somewhat of a relief to me, and we had some input sessions introducing us to the different sounds, how they were produced and so on. We were then told we had to learn the whole chart as this was likely to come up on the end of course test and we swiftly moved on to something else. With the course being so intense, no one really thought to stop and ask if that was actually possible in 2 weeks while trying to cram in tons of other information, so heads down, we pressed on. We had three chances to observe other teachers in the school, all the time slots being 30 minutes or so. Surely, I thought, this is something we should be doing everyday and for a whole lesson, with perhaps the chance to sit down with other teachers and get the low down and give feedback. But no, we ploughed on headlong into the next input session, the next observed lesson and so on. By the end of the 4 weeks I just wanted to crawl into my bed, switch off and disconnect. The end of course exams came and went, final observations were planned, executed and slowly taken apart in the feedback sessions and all the paperwork was handed in. 4 weeks seemed like 4 days. I wasn’t quite sure if I had actually retained anything, and I was sure that I had only just scraped through the last exam and was extremely grateful not to be one of the those called back to re-sit. I had passed, I was excited about my future, excited about teaching but despite this I still didn’t feel ready to be a teacher, surely 4 weeks isn’t enough to cut it in the teaching world.

Everything just seemed so rushed and frantic. It was as if we were on some sort of teacher production line, built up, filled in, packed up and shipped out just in time for another course to come in the front door as we went out the back. How is it possible to retain so much information in such a short space of time, while being stressed and sleep deprived? What we needed was time. Time with other teachers, observing, giving feedback. Time to do background reading of our own. Time to put into practice everything that we were being taught. Teachers in other professions spend a year learning how to teach on the job! It just doesn’t compute. And I think this leads into my final point. The standard of teacher that a 4 week course produces. At times, looking back at my first 3 or 4 months of teaching, I felt like a bit of a fraud. I was under prepared and at times out of my depth. I was working all hours to plan and to do my own background reading. When I walked into some lessons I could sense that the students didn’t have confidence in me and this took months of hard work to turn around.

Now maybe this is a one-off. Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself and I should have worked harder, before and after my CELTA. But I do believe that 4 weeks could perhaps become 6 weeks, with an emphasis on being within a teaching environment, interacting and learning through doing and observing, instead of being taught at with the minimum amount of time to actually practise teaching. A variety of teaching methods (Dogme, TBL, the Lexical approach) should be demonstrated and analyzed. The use of technology should be a must in all CELTA courses. I believe that the initial entrance requirements should be tougher and more rigorous. A solid knowledge of the English language is a must and should be demonstrated, before and after the course. I know I wouldn’t have made it through if this was the case. All in all the standard must be higher.

This must all seem very self-deprecating, but it’s generally how I feel. I feel passionate about my job, about not letting down my students and about making a career from teaching. I wanted more from my 4 weeks and not just enough to pass the final exam.

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7 thoughts on “4 weeks just doesn’t cut it.

  1. I agree with you mostly. I did my Trinity Cert embedded in my degree (Linguistics & TESOL) so in essence I studied TESOL for 3+ years instead of the customary 4 weeks.
    I have to say that even after 3 years, there were still elements of teaching which didn’t and still don’t come easy to me and areas in which I felt quite unprepared.
    I personally think 6 weeks is still far too short. I think a year minimum. No other profession, even vocational ones, have such a short training period.
    It does the profession and ourselves no favours and only undermines the profession in the eyes of the world. (If you can learn it in just 4 weeks it can’t be THAT hard! (or valuable)- this line of thinking)
    Especially since teaching is now all about reflection and reflecting on your observations and teaching, peer teaching. How well can you reflect over a 4 week period? Sometimes you need MONTHS even years to REALLY reflect on things, especially your own growth, which rarely can be reflected upon on a day to day basis which much substance.
    I won’t continue (even though I could foreverrrr) i’ll save the rest for the upcoming ELTCHAT!

    • Thanks for the comment. Yes the ELTchat was helpful, perhaps my post would have been different if it was written after that. Yes a year minimum would be great and I liked a comment in the chat about the possibility of a year long online distance learning as a follow up. Your right about how the length of the course reflects badly on us as individuals and as a profession, too many people think it’s a way of funding your travels around the world. What they don’t realize is that some, even the majority of us, take this very seriously and work exceptionally hard at what we do. Thanks again.

  2. Hi Adam,

    Really appreciate this post as I’ve not had any experience of the 4 week CELTA course personally, only hearing about it from friends and colleagues. I agree with what you say that it could be made longer and a bit broader than it sounds. I did a year long full time PGCE, which although wasn’t in much great depth in terms of English or language teaching, did give me the opportunity to spend time in a college, teaching and observing. I think this is where I learnt the most about teaching initially (as you say is probably true in your post).

    I think I’d say that experience is what makes you. I felt very nervous in my first teaching job (also in Spain – Pamplona) and spend weekends planning and preparing lessons, even after having had a full year’s induction, as it were.

    Nice looking blog, and I look forward to seeing where you take it in your second year!

    Best,

    Mike

    • Thanks for the comment Mike. Undoubtedly the best way to learn is in the classroom and my first year teaching has certainly helped me to do that. Looking forward to my second to try new things and gain new experiences.

  3. This is an interesting reflection on your 4-week course. To clarify for anyone interested in initial teacher training courses, the Cambridge ESOL CELTA does not include an exam as part of its assessment. I think you are describing a Trinity TESOL course.

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