CELTA Bootcamp: Behind the Scenes

CELTA Bootcamp: Behind the Scenes


I feel like I have told some people that I’m doing this CELTA thing, but not many really understand it. Quite frankly, I’m not 100% certain I get it myself, so I’m writing about it to work through and untangle the mystery.

According to Cambridge, CELTA stands for “Certification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.” In my book, the acronym should be CTESOL. But seriously, this other website says it stands for “Certificate in English Language Teaching”… which makes more sense. It also says it’s the “most widely accepted” TESOL program in the world! (Another acronym, go figure).  While I was browsing the Cambridge website, this caught my eye as well: CELTA is now eligible for funding under the Advanced Learner Loans scheme. Scheme? I hope that had a British definition that is a bit less shady than our own.

So why am I taking this class and getting this certification? It all boils down to the fact that I applied to teach English at this one school in Latvia. I sent in my CV and a letter of application. The response I got was that basically, they won’t even look at me unless I have some certification to teach English to non-English speakers. So I did some research, and found out that I can get this certification after a single class, and it was being offered online, so here I am. Sitting in an apartment in Springfield, Missouri teaching English to students from all over the world through Missouri State.

After twenty years of teaching experience in public schools, it has been a very interesting adventure to learn to teach English to non-native speakers. The class began online using a rather confusing system called “Fronter.” It is kind of like Blackboard, but a bit more streamlined. We had about six online “face-to-face” sessions with our instructor and classmates. There are six of us in all. I am, I think, the oldest member of the CELTA crew, and we all have different reasons for being here.

The Classroom

I think all of us have plans to relocate overseas to teach. The certificate seems to be most highly respected in Europe, so it makes sense for me to be taking this class. Because it originates in Cambridge, the training videos and the language of the course has all been in British English. This has made it kind of fun. We have to analyze pronunciations of words using the phonetic alphabet, and you really get to see how differently we speak. I was accused of making fun of the training videos when I did a drawling British accent, but really, it was admiration and emulation!

So after completing 26 or so modules online with all kinds of activities, videos, lessons, and readings, we have come together, face to face in one of the nexuses of the Universe, Springfield, Missouri. The set-up is pretty simple. Three of us are taking turns teaching a group of beginning speakers, and the other three are teaching an intermediate group. After four lessons, we switch, and then, hopefully, get our certificate after teaching eight lessons.

The lessons vary in content. Some are focused on vocabulary, some grammar, some the production of language, and some listening and speaking. We have frameworks to follow, all kinds of new acronyms, and a completely different style and focus than I have grown used to over all these years. In some ways, this has made me a more contemplative and, probably, better teacher. The planning for each 40-minute lesson takes hours. My classmates have literally been spending 6-8 hours getting ready for one teaching session. I tried to explain how crazy this was by putting it in terms of my teaching load at Westside. Imagine prepping for that long for each of my preps for each day of the week? It would be impossible.

Today, I described the feeling like learning to dance a new dance for the first time. I am not sure where my feet go, and everything feels a bit awkward, and I am forgetting to listen to the music because I’m afraid of getting it wrong. With that said, I have watched my fellow teachers, and they are doing a fantastic job. It is actually amazing how comfortable they are in front of the classroom after only having this online instruction!

So, each day, we go to the campus building at 8:30 a.m. We teach until 12:30, and then decompress and analyze our lessons in the afternoon. Most of us then go home, nap, and begin preparing for the next day. When I compare this to boot camp, I don’t think I am exaggerating. My instructor warned us that it would be exhausting, and it is. So why am I writing this? I think it helps.

A sample of the textbook

The hardest part of the pedagogy to wrap my head around is the pedagogy itself. We are teaching rather complex lessons to these beginning learners. It is so hard to think that they won’t really get much of the content, but ultimately, they will learn English in the process. Because we are limited to just this two-week session, and given the curriculum, it is hard for me to imagine what an entire course would look like, but it is all becoming a bit more clear. I am enjoying the challenge of coming up with lessons that are balanced and helpful. I loathe the textbook that we are using because they shove 10 exercises on a single page with difficult instructions and lots of confusing graphics. I don’t know why textbooks are designed that way.

Ultimately, I am looking forward to wrapping up my time here and to feel this immense pressure being released and lifted only to reveal this other, perhaps greater, pressure of moving that is just around the corner. It is hard to focus on the future when the present is right there in front of you! I have to say that I love these students. They are an inspiration to me as they start their new lives in America with very little understanding of our language. We have students from Asia, Africa, and Europe, all striving together to carve out a little piece of the American Dream! What could be more powerful than that?






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