I seem to be collecting bad experiences lately. Here is the latest. I signed up for a CELTA course. This is a four week intensive course to gain a certificate in teaching English to Adults.
I have lots of experience in teaching but it has been primary and then English in the private sector. I thought I would be able to manage it. I researched thoroughly. Well, I read some blogs. Most seem to be written by enthusiastic types who said it was stressful but rewarding and well worth it. I phoned around and signed up for a course at a private adult language college in Cambridge. I went for the interview which was fairly straight forward. The premises were swish, the interviewer was nice. It all seemed professional and fine. I submitted my pre-course task and read grammar books and the Bible of TEFL, Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener. I was quite enjoying it all. I had a new sense of purpose and I was looking forward to teaching again, loving the idea of teaching motivated adults.
The alarm bells should have started ringing when I got the bill for the course before my acceptance letter. This was a money making exercise.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned about the intensity of the course. Every blog I read said this. The day was from 915 until 545 pm. There were “lectures” all day and then teaching practice at the end of the day with an hour break for lunch and two coffee breaks. There were four assignments to do which took up most of every evening and long lesson plans to compose. So there was no free time and no time to absorb the information. However, I was managing it and this wasn’t really the problem.
The first major problem was the teaching practice at the end of the day when I was tired from a long day of study. This just seemed insane to me. To teach at one’s best it would have to be first thing in the morning.
I was exhausted by the time my slot arrived. There was no way I could do my best. The tutor sat with a laptop writing up your feedback during the lesson. You were also observed by the rest of your teaching group and a trainee tutor. Seven people were watching the lesson. Never in all my years as a state teacher have so many people been allowed to observe at the same time.
The day after you taught there was a feedback session where trainees were encouraged to slag each other off. There seemed little emphasis on the positive and the tutor did not discourage people from making extremely negative, personal comments. Then the tutor would weigh in. This was the most dispiriting way to train teachers I have ever encountered and there was certainly nothing like it on my PGCE. I was stunned by the unprofessionalism of the comments. I have been observed by OFSTED and usually found to be of a good standard. This is no mean feat so I was taken aback at the truly brutal negativity in the feedback. Apparently now I couldn’t even stand in the right place during a lesson. My colleagues’ lessons were in the main dire but I was polite about them. I really couldn’t bring myself to join in the slagfest. It’s just not me.I sucked it up and realised that teaching English as a foreign language is different to the teaching I had been used to. I determined to listen to the points made and to try my best to pass the course. In fact, I felt the more I tried to teach in the CELTA way the worse my lessons got.
The first tutor was bland but pleasant enough and I had managed to get through the first week with her giving me a reasonable balance of good and bad points. I had plenty to work on but I was doing ok. My main bugbear was being ordered to smile. In normal life I am a laughing, jokey sort of person. In stressful situations I am not and I find it hard to smile to order. The over-emphasis on this aspect of myself hurt me and made me more nervous than ever. It is the sort of comment that would be considered unprofessional if an OFSTED inspector made it.
Things were about to get worse. In the second week we changed tutors and I was given the rotund Emi. Emi was constantly announcing that she had a CELTA, A DELTA (don’t ask) and an MA as if to convince herself that her credentials made her up to the job. She seemed to take an instant dislike to me. The first lesson was passed as to standard but she savaged me in the group feedback with many negatives. Apparently it is wrong in TEFL teaching to say good or to praise your students. It is also wrong to “do too much”. I still don’t know what this actually means.
After her observation of the second lesson she decided we needed individual feedback. She had me in a room along for fifteen minutes and good God did she put the boot in. I was told I was “school marmy”, I went into “teacher mode” (I don’t know what this is), I had bad rapport, I was patronising, I treated the students like children, I spent too long explaining the grammar, I hadn’t allowed enough time to practise… on and on and on. In spite of this avalanche of criticism she passed the lesson as to standard. If it was that bad why had she done this? She should have failed me. I realise in the cold light of day that she did this so that nobody else would have to scrutinise why she failed me. She was taking the opportunity to bully me for her own pleasure. She asked me at one point if I liked teaching. She said I shouldn’t have been allowed on the course as my knowledge of grammar wasn’t good enough. She asked me if I had spent any time around foreign learners. It was all designed to destroy me. There were no witnesses. Every positive point made by the previous tutor was now a negative. I had not done anything right. The most bizarre statement was that according to Emi, TEFL teachers fall into two types: one type does TEFL to travel the world, shag (sic) women and drink beer. The other type is like Emi. I don’t think you are like that Lynn she patronised. Er no. I am forty seven. I would quite like to travel the world, I have never knowingly shagged a woman but I have had the odd beer. I am not like Emi. I am very proud of this aspect of myself. She finished the session by telling me to go and re-read all the grammar books in the library even though she knew there was not time in the schedule to do this.
I saw out the day and went home. I wrote up my second assignment. I tried to plan my next lesson. I re-read the written feedback on my plan and burst into tears. I couldn’t find a single positive to work with. I was told in the first week I had good rapport. Now this was a target to achieve. How could this be the case? In a fog of exhaustion and stress I decided to give up.
I phoned the centre the next day and withdrew. I had wasted £1,500 on the course. For the next week I felt nauseous and ill. I couldn’t sleep and I had night sweats.
I have no idea what I will do now. I have no idea whether I am, as Emi said, the worst teacher in the world. I may have the wrong style for adults. To change this, after twenty years ingrained experience, will be a long road. Part of me want to still TEFL: go out unqualified, learn the ropes on the job, write teach and travel, Hemingwaying my way around the world. Part of me thinks I should accept the criticism and knock teaching on the head.
The CELTA is intensive and stressful but without the bullying I think I would have got through and survived. I am annoyed at myself for being so weak but there was no way I could carry on.
I would say that the course as a whole is a bit Mickey Mouse. The methodologies are out of date, stuck in the eighties and there are very rigid ways of teaching things which I found didn’t work and took too long. The lectures were tiresome in that they were always conducted like lessons with lots of games and partner work where you had to behave like a language student. Many of the activities were incredibly childish considering it was a course for adults. There was no time to process new information and apply it to your lessons so it just kind of washed over you in a fog. At one point my activity partner turned to me and said, “I am too tired to talk.” I concurred. CELTA is like a four week boot camp, brainwashing into a certain way of teaching. It is bizarre. I learned some new things but not very much. Many of the techniques I had covered before many times. The teaching points one had to follow for the lessons were overly prescriptive and heavily reliant on a very boring textbook. There was absolutely no room for creativity whatsoever. This is a system to produce teaching robots.
I studied for the CELTA at the Bell Educational Trust in Cambridge. The tutors were Lynsey and Emi.I would not recommend it unless you are a blue eyed new graduate willing to soak up information uncritically.