04 October, 2007

Blogging the CELTA (or at least trying to)

In addition to other things, I'll be trying to blog about my CELTA course. The main reason is you can't find many first-hand accounts out there. I would have found it helpful, thus I am assuming others will.

The first thing about a CELTA course you should know is it's not cheap. That's not to say it's overpriced, in fact I feel the price asked was fair. If you want cheap sign up at Billy Bob's House of Kebabs and English for an online TEFL certificate. Do you need to take a CELTA course? I don't know, that's really up to you in the end. Can you get a job without the CELTA? Certainly. There are plenty of outfits the world over offering immediate work for people who had the dumb luck to be born in an English-speaking country. I refuse to call native English speaking a skill. Learning the language and learning how to actually teach it in a meaningful and truly educational way is, however, a skill. In fact some of these "schools", and I use the term loosely, don't even bother requiring things like professionalism, maturity, etc. Wander through the various TEFL/TESL discussion boards and you'll read plenty.

I have signed on with one of the "schools" simply looking for "native English speakers" in order to make some income during my course. Istanbul is, sadly, not a place most of us can linger without income. I completed the three day training cycle in this school's "method" yesterday. When I arrived the for my first day of training I was handed a stack of DVDs, yet not informed that there were supposed to be multiple days of training. In my determination and/or stubbornness I spent all of Wednesday in a hot, grey computer lab lit solely by fluorescent plugging diligently through videos of what look to be the most uninspiring lessons ever given. This is training, not educating or teaching. There is no expectation that you write your own lesson plans, that's taken care of in the materials, you only have to fill out the appropriate form properly. The online training is about as challenging as biting my nails and if anybody ever actually managed to fail the subsequent testing I am amazed they could even handle getting out of bed on their own. The live training followed the the lines of the DVD training and we were asked to practice teach mini lessons from the books each day for the trainer. Last night I was asked to observe two high level classes. That was fine, but being warned by a seemingly happy teacher, "Don't hesitate to look for something else." She gave me a knowing look and added, "There are better schools and employment here is a bit uncertain." Then she smiled, winked, and wished me well.

Last Friday was the second day of my course, which will be held every Tuesday and Friday from now until December 14. This is an extended course, as opposed to the one-month accelerated course. The first portion of day one had us squarely in the role of student. We began with the classic ball toss ice-breaker activity to help everyone learn names. However, our trainers also pointed out these activities go beyond helping with names and setting a welcoming classroom environment and can serve as useful diagnostics to assess students' grasp of the language. We ran through a few others, including "two truths and a lie", where you write out three statements about yourself and then have other students try to guess the lie. A bit of time had to be spent on simple administrative tasks, such as passing out textbooks, paperwork, and reviewing scheduling.

The most striking session from the first day was led my Elna who welcomed us back from a short break in a language none of us understood. Elna led us into "My name is," and other short question and responses, all in a language that seemed vaguely German or Dutch, but obviously neither. We all managed, through her review and a series of games, to learn several phrases and how to answer a few questions in only 30 minutes. Elna finally revealed she was teaching us Afrikaans and put us into groups to discuss the lesson from the view of the student and the teacher. It was an interesting role reversal that might be helpful to return to from time to time in one's teaching career in order to regain perspective.

We will be student teaching two groups with about ten students in a group. One group will be teaching at the intermediate level and my group will be teaching the elementary group. We began looking at the subject of lesson planning in the afternoon. During our first teaching practice session each of us in my 5-person group taught a portion of a lesson in 20 minutes. Subsequently, three of us will teach 40 minutes each on Tuesday and the remaining two will teach their 40 minutes on Friday. I found teaching the 20 minutes far more difficult than actually teaching. Not to mention your nervous being observed for the first time and on your first day with your students you've yet to get to know them or assess their skills. Assessment is really the goal of this first lesson and, indeed, by the end of it we knew their names and the two or three who were higher and lower than the average.

We were given our first assignment Friday. Most of the writing assignments will be essay form and must be 750-1000 words. This first assignment, and I don't know how much the assignments or their order changes course to course, is about lesson planning for a reading or listening activity. We discussed receptive and productive skills related to both activities and observed one of our trainers taught us a sample reading lesson, which we later discussed. This time we had to select an appropriate text or listening activity from the Headway book we are using for our students or a related book available from our school, write a lesson plan, and then write an essay discussing what we chose, why, if we altered it and how, and the receptive and productive skills associated with the lesson. Everything is due on Tuesday the 16th, after our week off due to the Bayram holiday. At some point in the course, we will teach these lessons to our teaching practice students.


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