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Saturday, August 09, 2008

CELTA: 25% down, 75% to go

We made it. First week of CELTA complete. 25% down, 75% to go!

The Wikiepdia description is turning out to be spot-on:
The full-time four-week course is very intensive, and students taking it must be prepared to dedicate all their waking hours to it for the duration. Even the part-time version of the course can take up more time than a full-time job for many students, especially those with no teaching background.
The first three days were the toughest. Studying intensively for over 8 hours a day is not something I've ever done before, and my brain felt like it was under siege. So much so that I had to think of a way to give it some relaxation therapy on the way home - if I just did nothing when sitting on the bus it would just be buzzing with the days learning, and aching. First off, I tried the audio book I've been making my way through over the past month (Colin Thurbron - Shadow of the Silk Road), but after two days of that I realised I just kept on tuning out, my brain was complaining about having to process even more data; it was hard work to listen.

Music Therapy

I think it was Wednesday that I remembered the power of music. A few weeks back I'd bought the new Coldplay album, sort-of listened to it once or twice, and then forgotten about it.

Why not revive that? - if it was suitable, I could even turn it into one of those key soundtracks to a distinct period in my life (a technique mentioned halfway through this mumble).

It's turned out to be ideal. With my big headphones on I'm not bothered by the sound of the chatter on the bus, the stress of the shock absorbers when we hit the speed bumps, the squealing of the brakes. The music does not demand my attention, but rather just offers itself as a place that I can relax in. I can drift in and out of it without feeling that I've missed anything.

Just 30 minutes of music therapy after a long day in the classroom sets me up for further study when I get home.

CELTA course classes

We've covered a huge variety of topics during our first week of classes, including: learner styles and levels; needs analysis; lesson planning; many different teaching methods; grammar; ELT resources; error correction; classroom management ...and much much more.

The thing that really strikes me about this course is that we are deliberately being taught how to teach through loop input. That is, our tutors are using the teaching methods on us that we will be using in the classroom (so, in effect, we're kind of getting 80 hours of teaching in a forty hour week!).

Simple example: We might be put into pairs to do a timed brainstorming exercise on aspects of classroom management, followed by a feedback session in which all students are asked to contribute an idea to a table on the whiteboard - in that lesson then we will not only have learnt classroom management techniques, but will also have picked up more ideas on ways in which to elicit information from students / check understanding of meaning.

Sometimes, our tutors will stop at the end of a mini-exercise and ask us things like, "did you notice that I gave you the instructions before handing out the question sheet...?" (students [myself included] often tune out when given a piece of paper - they just have to read it!). In this way, we are being fed a wealth of little tips that will help us make small improvements to our teaching.

Teaching Practice

The hardest aspect so far has been preparing for our teaching practice. It's not that it's been a particularly difficult activity in itself - being week one, we have basically been told what to teach it, and to a large extent, how to teach it. The issue has been time - or a lack of it. Whilst ideally we would be writing lesson plans in the evenings, the exhaustion has left me feeling unable to do much except read sections of my 'How to Teach English' text book, and thus yesterday's (for example) was created between 8am and 9.30am, and then finished off at lunchtime (I think lunchtime for everyone yesterday turned into "Teaching Practice Planning"!). It's a good lesson in the importance of time management for teachers!

This will of course change the more that we do it. At the moment everything is new, and takes a lot longer than usual.

We've now had three Teaching Practice sessions, attended by students from all over the world who are happy to act as guinea pigs in what are for them free English lessons.

The first one was pretty nerve-wracking. It went Ok though, although I did a very poor job of introducing the vocab, and found myself telling a joke which no-one understood (I'm learning though trial-and-error about the extent to which humour can be used - it's always a bit of a gamble. Keep it simple, or avoid it altogether!).

My second class went a lot better, and I actually enjoyed it; I started to find my confidence. The third class (yesterday) was even more fun, despite a section of my lesson plan inadvertently being made redundant by a colleague who, when teaching the session immediately prior to mine, adjusted their plan so that they ended up doing an exercise that I was going to do! I decided that this was an opportunity to learn about the importance of having a plan B, and it seemed to pay off.


Following our final class last night, we popped off down the pub for a celebratory drink - we'd completed our first week! Looking back on it all now, it's great to see the progress we've made. I've not taken an intensive course before, but I'm impressed by just how much can be covered with a well-designed course and dedicated students (who have no life outside of it). It seems to me to be a pretty effective way to learn, and I feel sure now that CELTA is worth every penny of the not-insignificant sum of money invested in it.

Anyway, this weekend I've got an awful lot of homework to do. Reading, lesson planning, oh, and I have my first written assignment too... best get on.

joseph

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